Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chemo #4 - The Finish Line!

My Hubby!
Today was Chemo #4!!  That last one!  Woot!  It was all very exciting.  Today's sidekick was my cutie-pie husband, Greg.  I eschewed my usual Starbucks run on chemo morning (I just had Starbucks yesterday) for a hash brown, mcgriddle thing and orange juice from McDonalds.  I feel a bit guilty saying that it was really delicious.

Upon arrival, I was given a new form to fill out to let them know, on a scale of 1-10 how distressed I'm feeling.  I was really tempted to circle 10 just to freak them out but, instead, I circled a respectable 3.  I do have cancer after all, I'm here for chemo - I'm a little distressed!  Then I made sure the check the box that said I didn't need anyone to contact me about my "issues."  Thanks - I'm good.  Just let me wallow in peace, thank you very much.

When it was time to be led back, we were led a different way...down the hallway...TO...A PRIVATE ROOM!  WOOT!  I don't know what I did to deserve a private room but I was very excited!  Room to spread out - our very own room!  Had this been under different circumstance, it might have been "tax time" with my husband - but, alas, that wasn't feasible.

There are certainly advantages to having your own private room - more privacy, more space, a little calmer, etc.  However there are some drawbacks as well.  First of all it was actually much louder - since it was off a hallway, there were a lot of people coming and going and the hallway was a major sound tunnel and you could hear everything.  Secondly, it was a little lonely - no chatting with the person next to you which I enjoy. Thirdly, no people watching which I very much enjoy.  Lastly, when your IV machine beeps, they have trouble finding you quickly and the machine beeps louder and LOUDER the longer it is ignored!  It. Will. Not. Be. Ignored!

FREE Cookie!
However, I was so exhausted today that a private room was probably a good thing because, once I had my TWO hot blankets (I was cold!), I fell right asleep.  Despite the loudness.  I'm not sure I would have fallen asleep out in the main room.  I have been told I snore (impossible!) and probably I drool since I already have a drooling issue when I'm awake.  But, nap I did in my cozy private room.  I was awakened several times by loud conversations and people walking by but, all in all, it was peaceful enough.  The most jarring noise was the lady from the American Red Cross yelling HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!  But, I forgave her because they gave us FREE Junior Mints and Halloween cookies.  I forgive most people when given free candy and cookies.  I munched down my junior mints and then fell back to sleep for a bit.

Mostly, I napped, ate my snacks, played a bit on my new Ipad (that my hubby bought me when chemo started - of course, I now have to wrestle it away from him to use it...).  And waited.  Waited for it to be over with.

I was excited that it's my last time.  But also apprehensive.  It's kind of bittersweet.  Because, even though chemo SUCKS, I felt like I was DOING something active.  I was fighting cancer!  I was doing everything I could.  And now that it's going to be over, it's a bit of a letdown.  A bit of an unknown.  Did I do enough?  Are they sure this is really enough?  Oh sure, I'll be on a cancer pill for, maybe the rest of my life, and that's an active tangible thing - but chemo, losing my hair, SUFFERING was proof that I was fighting with everything I have!  And, in a weird sicko way, it's hard to give that up. But, it's not really up to me - it's up to my body, I guess.  And fate maybe?  I've done what I can and I have to move on now.

I suffered through that last bag of chemo drugs that makes me hot (2 blankets GONE now!) and gives me a splitting headache.  They gave me both Motrin and Tylenol and it did seem to help a little.  After being unhooked, I was given a certificate signed by the nurse and some of the staff!  I was actually really excited!  The nurse hugged me and other people congratulated me.  It really did feel like a huge accomplishment!

I left knowing that I won't be back - I hope not anyway.  There are no guarantees, of course.  But I did what I could and now we wait and see and hope that going through all of that torture really did work and really was worth it.  I know I'll think about cancer every day for a long long time to come.  And I have at least 3 more surgeries before this journey is truly over.  But finishing chemo is a huge milestone and one that I'm, mostly, glad to put behind me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Lady Parts

Thanks Dr. Walker!
See You on the News!
Today I saw my new oncologist. My other doctor, you may remember, took a job in Seattle to work on research leading to a cancer vaccine. So cool! I miss him already, he was so caring and wonderful. But I told him that I'll probably see his face on the news one day soon for curing cancer. He seemed to like that. I told him to make sure to mention my name since I was his favorite patient and everything. He humored me by saying, " Of course! " I like when people humor me.

Anyway, he's gone and I was assigned to a new doctor. His nurse is a lot of fun even if she did call me onery. I can't imagine what I did to deserve that. The new doctor seems really nice and funny. He was very patient and explained things really well. We spent a long time talking about the benefits (or not) of having a hysterectomy. It's a tough choice to make regardless.

One of the benefits, however, that he explained is that if I were for sure in menopause, I would be given a different more effective cancer drug after chemo is over. Currently, I would be put on a drug called Tamoxifen which is used for pre-menopausal women. This is something I would take for 5 years to prevent the spread of the cancer. The percentages are good with this medication but the medication I would be on were I in menopause is BETTER. That's certainly something to consider.

There are more reasons that I should seriously consider a hysterectomy.  Since I have breast cancer, I'm now at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.  Ovarian cancer is very hard to detect before Stage III so that's scary.  Also, with the syndrome they suspect I have (Cowden's), I'm at a higher risk for uterine cancer.  For as long as I do have my "lady parts," I would need to have something called a "uterine scrape" each year to check for uterine cancer.  Well, let me tell you, I don't want anything to do with anything called a "SCRAPE!!"

I'm finished having children (sadly) so it's not like I'm really USING those parts anymore.  There are, of course, birth control benefits to having a hysterectomy, that's for sure.  (Woot!)  But, it's still, regardless, a hard thing to face.  It means FOR SURE that there are no more babies in my future and that's sad.

It's not that I WANT anymore babies (and I was told that, for my health, I should NOT get pregnant again), I don't really.  I'm old now and I value sleep more than cute babies.  But, it's just so final. going back!  No more cute kids that look like me and are geniuses like me (I may have embellished that part a bit).

I'm not Mormon, but I remember reading once that Mormons often have large families because they believe there is a "pre-existence."  They believe that there are souls waiting to be born, waiting in heaven to join their family.  In a weird way, I get that.  I'm eternally grateful for the two children that I have, I love them to the ends of the earth.  But...sometimes, I feel like something is missing.  Like there should be one more carseat in the back of my car - like someone got left behind.  It's a really hard feeling to shake.  I think I should have had one more.  I wish I could have.

Besides that, having a hysterectomy puts me into instant menopause.  Well, that doesn't sound fun at all.  The chemo was supposed to throw me into menopause (and still may) but it hasn't happened that way - my body has other ideas and, apparently, likes to keep me guessing.  It's super "fun."  I'm not sure, though, if I'm ready to be menopausal.  That just seems so OLD - so grandmotherly.

I think, though, that it would be in my best interest to have it done.  Sometimes peace of mind is worth it.  Plus, I'll do anything to avoid something called a "uterine scrape!" Eek!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hair Report

I was told, by pretty much everyone I know, that when I started chemo, my hair would fall out.  Mostly people were talking about the hair on my head - but I've come to realize that the hair on the rest of my body is doing interesting things too.  Some of my hair, in fact, seems to be quite confused as to what it is supposed to be doing.  Let's start at my head and analyze this situation, shall we:

My Not So Bald Head
HEAD: The hair on my head did start falling out as you may remember.  It got so bad that there was hair everywhere!  It was gross. I did what had to be done and had my husband shave it all off.  I was hoping for that cool Mr. Clean look that you see in all the pictures of cancer patients, but, alas, that did not happen.  I was left with a 5 o'clock shadow.  I was intrigued by this.  However, I was more intrigued when my hair started actually GROWING BACK!  I expected that once it fell out, that was it.  I wouldn't see it until chemo was just a memory.  But, for some reason, my hair seems to be really confused.  It started growing back almost immediately.  And now, a few weeks later, I actually have stubble - quite a bit of it.  This is really ridiculous if you ask me.  Even more disconcerting is that the gray hair seems to be growing at a faster rate than the dark hair so I have longer gray hairs and shorter dark hairs.  Not Cool!  I want my Mr. Clean look Dammit!

Brows and Lashes
(notice how bloodshot my
eyes are :( )
EYEBROWS: My eyebrows are falling out but luckily I do have pretty thick eyebrows, so, while they look a bit thinner, I don't think it's actually noticeable to anyone but me.

EYELASHES: I do find eyelashes in my eyes much more frequently than ever before but, since I have double rows of eyelashes, this isn't really noticeable either.  *whew*

NOSE: I remember a lady at the Cancer Center telling me that she lost her nose hair during chemo.  I was horrified!  Thankfully, my nose hair seems to be intact.  I'd take a picture for you, but no one wants to see that.

FACIAL HAIR: Yes, women have facial hair too!  I have some stray hairs that pop up from time to time that have to be taken care of.  Now, that I'm on chemo though, they are ALL GONE!!  My face is as smooth as a baby's bottom.  (Wow - that sounded really wrong as soon as I typed it)

HAIRY Arm!  (Very
freckly too - hmm)

ARMS:  The hair on my arms does not seem to be affected by all this.  Since I have much less hair on other parts of my body, this is a bit abnormal looking to me.  In relation to the rest of my body, I now look like I have really hairy arms.  It's a super cool look as you can imagine.  Another reason that my bikini modeling career has been ruined by all of this.

UNDERARMS: Like my arms, my underarms do not seem to really be affected which I find strange (and annoying).

THE NETHER REGIONS:  Oh, come on, you know you want to know but are too polite to ask (though a couple of my more perverted friends HAVE asked!).  And if I'm going to do a whole post meticulously outlining the hair on my body, I can't really leave this part out - I have to let it all hang out (sorry for that visual).  The hair in the nether regions is down to about 50% coverage.  Nothing happened down there for a long time and I just figured that nothing would.  But, then, I looked the other day and was shocked.  There are things down there that I haven't seen there for YEARS!  No pictures of this either - sorry.

LEG! (No need to comment on the pasty
white color - thank you very much)
LEGS: Once you come out of shock from reading the previous paragraph, you'll be interested to know (or not) that I've lost about 80% of the hair on my legs.  I had shaved a few days before my port surgery, in mid-August.  I had the surgery and my first chemo the following day - so probably about 5 days after I'd shaved my legs.  My leg hair grows fast and thick.  It continued to grow for a few weeks before it apparently gave up.  Then, I guess it has mostly fallen out.  I have just patches of long hair on my legs - just hair here and there and then massive bald leg spots.  My legs are mostly smooth.  It pretty much looks like I did a really bad job shaving.  It's AWESOME!

After reading this comprehensive hair report, you are probably wondering, as am I, where all this HAIR is going to?  I don't want to know honestly.  There must be hair falling off my body everywhere I go!!  I guess, if you think about it, there is hair falling off everyone's body all the time - I know that the average person loses 100 hairs a day just from their head.  Where do those end up?  Blech!

Doesn't make me want to visit a salad bar anytime soon...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Top 10 GOOD Things About Chemo!

1. You make new friends at the pharmacy since you are there so often.
2. The pharmacist knows you by name and stops asking if you need the medications explained to you.
3. Much less body hair to deal with.
4. Sleeping at all hours of the day becomes completely acceptable behavior.
5. Extra time spent in bathroom (due to constipation and/or diarrhea) can be used to read or as quiet introspection time.
6. You learn to open pill bottles in your sleep or during deep chemo fog.
8. Selective memory can now be attributed to "chemo fog."
9. People believe you when you tell them that ice cream is good for you during chemo.
10. No one expects much from you so procrastination and downright laziness become commonplace and even applauded.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chemo #3

Here I am. Chemo #3. I made it.

Today's sidekick is my Mother. We first made our stop at Starbucks and got my favorite drink and a bagel. Then we were on our way. When we got out of the elevator at the Cancer Center, my Mom called me a "cutie-pie." I was thrilled! How nice of her to notice my innate cuteness! Finally!  I've been waiting years for this kind of love from her...  Sadly, she quickly corrected me and said she was talking about the hot doctor in the elevator with us. Well! Humph! I was highly insulted.

But it's okay, I got her back.  When she said she would slip him her number had she been 20 years younger.  I said, "Um, Mom, you'd better rethink your math - you'd need to be about 40 years younger!" HA!  Try calling me a "cutie-pie" and then take it back again and see what happens!  HA!

After getting over my insult, I checked in and availed myself of the good-smelling hand sanitizer. We were taken back quickly and I was given my complimentary Keebler graham crackers and hooked up. Thankfully, I put the numbing cream on my port area early enough so it's all numb and no pain this time. I made the mistake of putting it on too late earlier this week before my blood test and it was a serious ouch! I learned my lesson.

I'm sitting in chair #12 this time.  There is a man across from me that looks very thin and ill and is in obvious pain. He's really the first obviously sick person I've seen. Most of us, minus our hair, look pretty healthy. I don't know exactly why this man is here but it's a reminder of what cancer can do and it's terrifying.  The woman sitting next to me has breast cancer as well.  It was her first chemo.  She said she was going to bypass chemo because her insurance wasn't going to pay for it but they came through and decided to cover it.  How sad that she would have had to make that choice...

Later, an elderly woman came in for IV fluids.  She was with her daughter and her daughter was very upset and cried several times.  A woman from the Cancer Center came and talked to them for quite a long time.  The daughter had hoped that her mother could look into some clinical trials to help her but was told that she was just too weak and there was nothing else they could do for her.  She was going to be put on hospice care...which means she will die within the next few months.  The daughter was quite obviously devastated.  I don't know exactly what was wrong with the mother or what kind of cancer she had.  But, I did take comfort in the fact that she was older and I hoped she has lived a full life.

Because Cancer Kills.  It's never easy to lose a loved one, but I feel sort of better when it's an elderly person.  I just hope they don't suffer - but at least they've lived their life, they had a chance to make it great.  It's when cancer takes someone too soon that it's particularly tragic.  Someone "younger" like me that still has a lot of life to live.  Or, God forbid, a child.  That's when I hate cancer the most.  Cancer isn't fair and it doesn't only pick on old people.  It doesn't care how old you are of how much life you still have to live.

There are no guarantees, of course, but that's why I'm sitting here in this chair today having poison put in my body.  To get MY chance of living a long life - to get MY chance at making it great!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chemo #3 Tomorrow

The third of four chemo treatments is tomorrow.  I'm ready...sort of.  Now that we've been through this three times, we kind of know what needs to be done to prepare.  Since I lose a few days after, there are a lot of duties that my husband has to take over in the household including homework, making sure everyone gets fed and taking the kids to school, etc.  Once your husband really has to be YOU for a few days, I think that's when they finally appreciate all that you really do to keep things running smoothly.  Maybe.

We are getting better at planning for my "absence" and things are running more smoothly.  After the first chemo, in spite of leaving menu plans, my husband took the kids out to fast food 3 times in 5 days.  Eek!  Though, the kids thought they had died and gone to processed food heaven, this was not ideal to say the least.  I don't even remember what I ate.  I don't have too much interest in food for the first few days but I do eat a little.  The second chemo was much better.  My husband cooked delicacies like spaghetti and chili dogs with macaroni cheese.  See, my husband doesn't know HOW to cook - but he can manage simple items.  This third time, I have the menus ready and we have frozen food from people who have brought us meals - we should be all set to have some healthy dinners.

As for homework, I leave a pretty detailed list of what needs to be done and then just hope that it is all completed.  See, I'm the teacher in the house (my husband is the IT guy) so I've always dealt with all things school related.  My husband only has to step in when I've been really sick or after surgeries.  His methods are questionable but he usually gets the job done.

Even though it's not MOM doing all the normal routines, everyone survives during the few days after chemo when I feel too sick to care what they are eating or whether they flunk their math tests.

Unfortunately, It seems as though the side effects started today (the day before chemo).  I know my friend, Beth, says this happens to her.  The day before chemo she starts to feel sick.  It's anticipatory.  Your brain knows it's coming.  I didn't think this would happen to me!  I already knew about it!  I'm not going to give into something silly like that.  But, I don't know if it's really my brain giving me a hard time today or the medications I have to take the day before chemo that messed with me.  I was feeling pretty tired before taking the medicine (a powerful steroid), but I was wiped out after taking it.  And sick to my stomach.  Blech.  Brain Anticipation + Steroids = Not Good

Today, I've felt just lousy.  I've been sick off and on and I've taken two naps totaling about 4 hours, after sleeping 7 hours last night.  And I've had a headache since yesterday.  No fair!  It's been a long haul of a day because I've had to much to do - the day before chemo is always filled with last minute errands and planning.

I've had a string of good days now so I can't complain too much.  The second chemo was worse than the first and I expect #3 to be worse than #2.  I hear it works that way.  Not something to look forward to.

But, overall, I really am doing okay.  I expect the first week to be pretty bad with the nausea, headaches, fatigue and diarrhea (TMI - you're welcome).  But then things slowly improve from there.

The side effect that seems to be lasting the longest is the fatigue.  I notice that I can only make it to one or two places of errands before I've had it.  I need a nap.  No more marathon shopping for me.  I would say that my husband would be thrilled at saving money but, unfortunately for him, I've found more things to order online!  Woot!

For now, it's time for bed.  Even though it's late, I know I'll make up sleeping in the next few days so going bed late tonight doesn't really matter.  If I felt better, I know I'd be thrilled at the fact that this is #3 out of 4.  I'd say, "Bring it on!!"  Maybe I'll have the energy in the morning...but I doubt it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Doing the Taxes

My 10 year old daughter reads everything I write.  She also listens to every single thing me or my husband say.  She's nosey and curious.  Because of that, sometimes it's necessary to talk in "code" and, now, write in code.  So, for the purposes of this topic, we are going to refer to that thing that men and women (or men and men or women and women - whatever) do together in private (hopefully) in the "bedroom" (usually) as "Doing the Taxes."

My husband and I haven't done our taxes for quite a while now.  In fact, if this were really about "taxes," we'd be up for an audit and one of us would be headed to prison!  Thankfully, you can't be sent to prison for neglecting these "taxes."

First there was the shock of having breast cancer.  And then the fact that you could feel the lump in my breast - that was just creepy and I didn't really feel like having anyone touch me in a "doing the taxes" type of way.  Sure, I offered the opportunity to feel the lump to several people (people I know well, not any strangers on the street or anything); but that was more of an educational thing.  "Feel this, so YOU know what to look for..."  No one took me up on the offer of feeling me up - except my husband, but I MADE him feel it so he doesn't count.  I'm pretty sure my friends that I offered this experience of "feeling the lump" to thought I'd lost my marbles.  I really was trying to be helpful not just get felt up!  Really!  Why do you look suspicious?

Anyway, having the lump THERE didn't make me feel in a doing the taxes kind of mood.  I was so distraught and upset and nervous that taxes were the last thing on my mind.  We meant to "do the taxes" one more time before the mastectomy.  You know, just for fun - one last goodbye.  We talked about it.  But, we didn't seem to get around to it.  (The fact that our 7 year old is camped out in his sleeping bag on our bedroom floor most nights doesn't help!)

And then I had the mastectomy.  I had to recover from that.  And then, I didn't have breasts anymore.  And there was the maintenance of having to deal with the open wound daily which my husband took care of.  Certainly not something that could be considered foreplay.

And now, the chemo.  I don't feel well many days.  I certainly am not thinking about doing taxes, that's for sure.  I have no breasts, no hair and I'm sick to my stomach a lot.  I couldn't care less about taxes!  And I definitely do not FEEL sexy.  I feel like a mutant when it comes to talking about taxes.  I don't think much about my body these days because I feel pretty normal when I'm dressed.  But undressed is a different issue.  My husband has seen my body nearly everyday, he knows what I look like now.  But, I just feel so "wrong."  Also, there's nothing to DO up top now.  How boring.  Definitely not an ideal tax environment.

Plus, I'm terrified of getting pregnant.  TERRIFIED!  I'm no longer allowed to take anything that would prevent us from creating a "deduction" and I'm allergic to latex.  I don't have many options.

So, when you add this all up, it hasn't been a good tax year for us.  We are way overdue.  It's a good thing we aren't talking about actual taxes here or we would have to mortgage the house to pay the fees.  I'd probably have to start selling my tax skills on the street corners to pay for it!

I know that someday again, I'll be actually WANTING to do the taxes.  I'll be thrilled at the thought of it. But, for now, we definitely need to file an extension to get us through these few rough months.  Thankfully, my husband is very understanding and patient and there's no chance of him hiring a professional to help him with the taxes in the meantime.  *whew*

Choose One

I really think that if you have cancer and you have to have chemo, you should get to choose your side effects.  This only seems fair to me.

I say this because I was fully expecting that the chemo would throw me into menopause.  That was the promise. I was prepared for the hot flashes and mood swings - I was ready.  Unfortunately, last week I found out that I am NOT in menopause.  And, in fact, I'm in the exact OPPOSITE of menopause.  I'm in hell.  Without going into too many TMI details, let's just say that I'm experiencing something 10X worse than ever before.

I was so concerned about the "output" coming from my body that I considered going to the emergency room a couple of times.  Finally, I consulted the internet and found out that, especially with the type of breast cancer I have, sometimes things go a little haywire BEFORE your body goes into menopause.  No one warned me about THIS!  THIS is torture!

Which is why I think you should get to choose your side effects.  I mean, I already have cancer - I think it's only fair!  It'd be nice to have no side effects at all, but I realize that's not possible - cancer is supposed to suck.

I've pondered which ones I might choose.  Let's see,  I'll take the overwhelming fatigue, the sleeping 12 hours a day, the menopause (PLEASE!), the hair falling out....and....let's see....

"Would you like constipation or diarrhea?" the doctor would ask.

"Hmm, I'll take constipation to start.  Can I switch later?" I'd say.

"Sure!" he'd reply, "Just let me know..."

But, no.  I get no choices.  The chemo just has its' way with me and does whatever it wants.  I find that very rude.

Bring on the menopause dammit!