Rituxan infusions for CAD were a positive experience, thanks to staff

Supportive medical personnel and a therapy dog kept things running smoothly

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by Mary Lott |

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“I’m going to prescribe Rituxan [rituximab] for you,” the doctor said.

I immediately envisioned myself losing all of my hair. I had no idea what to expect, nor did I understand anything about my diagnosis of cold agglutinin disease (CAD). I learned soon enough, though.

Over the years, I’ve received three separate rounds of therapy. I had two rounds of Rituxan therapy, with each round consisting of four infusions spaced one week apart. I also had a round of combination therapy with Rituxan and bendamustine, with the same schedule: four treatments at one-week intervals.

Before my first Rituxan treatment, I imagined all sorts of dreadful things. But I was pleasantly surprised when my vaguely formed imaginings did not materialize. Mostly, I was bored at having to sit in one spot for several hours while the infusion was administered. Nevertheless, while it wasn’t the worst experience I’ve ever had, I’d still never utter the words, “I would love to go to an infusion center!”

Still, the Spencer Cancer Center at the East Alabama Medical Center, where I was treated, takes positive steps to alleviate patient apprehension.

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People are paramount

I hadn’t anticipated that there’d be positive elements of the process. The staff, for example, exuded a supportive demeanor, and the oncology nurse who looked after me was amazingly patient.

At one point, the IV line was inserted into my right arm, near the elbow. I’d brought my laptop to get some work done while I was there. I moved my hand slightly as I typed, then “beep, beep, beep!” It was a signal that the medicine drip had stopped. The nurse came over and fixed it.

Then, I carefully moved just one finger — or so I thought — to scroll down the page. “Beep, beep, beep!” Again, the nurse came to the rescue. Over and over while I worked, she stopped what she was doing, checked the drip, and turned off the beeping. She never complained.

A few services also helped to ease the experience. One of my favorites was the massage therapist who came around to all of us who were receiving treatment. The therapist inquired about our stress levels. She listened to what we said and gave us the massages we requested. Each time she came around, she kneaded and pressed on tissue until we relaxed. Finally, toward the end of the process, our stress levels were discussed again. I always looked forward to seeing her.

Humor and happiness

A medium sized black, furry therapy dog sits on the floor of a clinic. It's wearing a black and orange vest that says "How much do you weigh?"

This big “woofy” visited patients who were receiving infusions at a clinic in Alabama. (Photo by Mary Lott)

I also found humor at the infusion center. One safety measure to ensure that a patient receives the correct medication is a requirement for a second nurse to watch and give approval as the IV bags are hung on poles. When a nurse is ready to begin the process, they often call a second nurse over by shouting, “Can I get a witness?” The only proper response from a good churchgoer from the South is to answer back with a “Hallelujah!” or a “Thank you, Jesus!”

Meeting the infusion center’s therapy dog during one of my last infusions was also delightful. He was just the kind of big dog with a goofy personality that I enjoy. The sight of him brought smiles to everyone’s faces.

The setting of the infusion center is also helpful. The back of the building is lined with large windows overlooking a vast lawn that leads to a cool pine forest. The green grass and pine needles are contrasted by blue skies above. While the idea of having to receive these medicines can be scary, the peaceful setting at the center makes it easier to focus on positive experiences.

Recognizing the good along the way

It’d be incorrect to assume that these bright spots completely offset what might be considered an unpleasant experience. But they do help me to keep everything in perspective.

When I was in the fifth grade, I memorized a poem called “The Rainy Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It reads, in part: “Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;/ Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.” I face infusions with a similar attitude. I consider it a necessary experience and enjoy positive events along the way.

Note: Cold Agglutinin Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cold Agglutinin Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cold agglutinin disease.