Tag Archive | chemo

The Unveiling

So 2012 is drawing to a close which brings us to a new year.  It’s probably a good thing that no one ever knows for sure all that will happen in the coming year or we might not want to face it!  Just because the date changes we somehow feel we are entitled to a fresh or new start but isn’t that true of each new day?  I ‘m not real good with resolutions and have a feeling many others aren’t either.  Rather than making a New Year’s resolution I thought that I would just make a new start in some areas.

Sue 12-12

Bringing in the new year with a new look

I told myself that at the start of the new year I would uncover my head.  Since I lost my hair in May exactly two weeks after my first chemo treatment I have had it covered with a wig or a scarf.  I actually liked how I looked in a wig but didn’t really enjoy wearing it.  It was itchy, sweaty at times, hot, and felt unnatural.  Nothing felt better than taking it off after wearing it all day although I felt good in it.  Cotton scarfs were more comfortable and I had fun with them but at the same time was getting tired of wearing one.  I wanted my hair to come in long enough that I could do something (anything) with it.  Now it has reached a point where I can gel up the top so it isn’t plastered against my head.

Knowing I would finally “go naked” and expose my covered skull I figured Christmas break would be a good time to get use to it before going back to work.  After the “unveiling” the first day I easily got over my lack of self-confidence and now actually enjoy having the freedom of nothing on my head.  It probably isn’t the greatest time of year to be doing this…in fact it’s the worst as even a person with a full head of hair needs a hat!  Then again, it wasn’t like I planned all this to happen either.  I joked with someone and told them that I had told the hairstylist to “Just take a LITTLE off and THIS is what happened!”

I’ve had some comments that it looks like Halle Berry’s hair style.  It may be a similar hair style but it’s obvious that the similarity between us stops there!  Oh how it would be nice to be compared to her body and beauty instead of her hair. Speaking of similarities, once one of my daughter’s friends whom I had never met before was introduced to me while I had my wig on.  He said he could see the similarity between mother and daughter, especially in regards to our hair.  I said, “Really?” and proceeded to pull my wig off.  He almost fell over with shock as my daughter and I laughed.

After having had a “covering” on my head for the last 7 months or so I feel exposed and almost vulnerable, especially with the cold weather.  It reminds me of how God is our covering, like an umbrella over us, protecting us and keeping us safe and warm.  Psalm 91:4 reads, “He will cover you with his wings. Under the feathers of his wings you will find safety.  He is faithful. He will keep you safe like a shield or a tower.” (NIRV)   “His huge outstretched arms protect you— under them you’re perfectly safe; his arms fend off all harm.” (Message)  In Luke 12:34 we see the picture of Jesus like a mother hen longing to gather us under his arms and cover us, take care of us, love us, and protect us; “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (NIV)  Now that is one kind of covering that I don’t ever want to get out from under!

Like I said, resolutions are not my thing.  I am happy I went through with my unveiling.  Some of my other “new starts” also began before the new year like enjoying life daily realizing that none of us knows how much time we have.  Laugh much…I started putting a joke a day as my FB status, even if I’m the only one to laugh at them!  Don’t sweat the small stuff and hand the big stuff over to God.  How about you?  What new starts will you add in your life?

Pins and Needles

You know that unfortunate feeling you get when you stop the blood circulation to a part of your body called “pins and needles?”  Fortunately that only happens to most people after they were in a wrong position for too long and it goes away after shaking the limb out.  Unfortunately, for many cancer patients that undergo chemotherapy as part of their treatment, they deal with pins and needles on a regular basis.

One side effect from chemotherapy can be drug-induced or toxic neuropathy.  When this occurs the patient experiences numbness, tingling and pain in the hands and feet that can travel to the arm or leg as well.  Often there is weakness or an impaired sense of touch. Certain chemo drugs tend to cause damage to or destroy the peripheral sensory nerves and effect the way the brain sends signals to these parts of the body.

Every time I went for an infusion they would ask me if I was experiencing neuropathy.  If it is a problem they can lower the chemo drug dosage or temporarily stop it. Fortunately I only had numbness and tingling in my hands and feet immediately after each chemo session and after a few days the symptoms would subside.  It seemed worse at night and would sometimes wake me up.   For some patients, the pain worsens and the damage is permanent.  I know of some who also experience a burning sensation in their feet.  Others develop clumsiness and some have trouble with fine motor skills like handwriting and fastening buttons.

Symptoms and the severity will vary from person to person.  It is estimated that 30 to 40 % of cancer patients that receive chemo experience neuropathy.  It can begin during treatment or soon after and may progress slowly.  Recovery can take months, a few years, or is even indefinite in some cases.  Medication works for the pain but not for numbness.  Diet and physical therapy will aid in recovery to some extent.

Even temporary neuropathy is unpleasant to deal with.  Until the symptom goes away or subsides there isn’t much you can do at the time.  I never realized how much I depended upon the sensitivity of my fingertips to accomplish tasks.  I would just make do or do without depending on the situation.  We depend upon the use of our hands for things all sorts of things throughout the day and our feet to keep us mobile.

Having hands and feet or even other body parts that aren’t capable of functioning and are useless reminded me of a scripture in Psalm 115:4-8.  “But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands.  They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.  They have ears, but cannot hear,  noses, but cannot smell.  They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats.  Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (NIV)  Those who make idols or trust in them will be like them.  I will continue to put my trust in God and God alone.  I do not want to become numb to feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence or blind to seeing all that God is doing in my life.  I do not want to be deaf to hearing His voice or not speak and give Him praise.  There’s no neuropathy in my spiritual life and that IS something I can have control over!

Feeling Foggy

source RSNA 2012

Okay, so just this week in the news there were numerous articles saying that “chemo brain” is REAL and not just a patient’s imagination.   Guess I am not going crazy.  There are definitely cognitive changes as a side effect from chemotherapy.  I may have finished my “chemo” treatments a few months ago but I am still feeling rather foggy.  At times it seems to be worse instead of getting better. However, the study said that once chemotherapy is finished, chemo brain gets better on its own.  Guess it will just take time.

I had heard about “chemo brain” but thought that maybe it happened just as a result of all the stress and everything on your mind as a result of being treated for cancer.  It’s nice to finally see some studies being done that will now give us a legitimate excuse.  The study was only on breast cancer patients and 82% of the 595  studied reported having problems with memory and concentration.  This was confirmed using PET/CT imaging showing changes in metabolism involved in long-term memory, mental agility, decision making, problem solving, and prioritizing. WOW…women need all these things to run a household on a “normal” day.  Now add spending even more mental energy dealing with doctors, treatments, appointments, insurance bills,etc. while not feeling 100% physically.

What is it like having chemo brain? It is very frustrating to look at someone you know and see on a regular, okay a daily I Have Chemo Brain Mouse Padbasis and call them by the wrong name.  I can picture people, places and events in my head and know what I want to talk about but can’t remember the name or date or location for the life of me sometimes.   Everything is always on the tip of my tongue but doesn’t want to come out.  I have always been a good multitasker but often I forget what I’m doing while in the middle of several things.  I admit that I am not a young chick any more but I really did not want to start practicing for Alzheimers either!

I was trying to remind some coworkers at school about what happened the last time the students had a half day and the staff had to stay for a full day.  They were very puzzled.  I could picture it in my head but when we looked at the calendar there had been no half day yet.  Finally someone reminded me that it had happened the end of the last school year in June, not in this new school calendar.  My timing had been way off but in my head it seemed like it had just been recent.

I was really good at “winning” with my husband because my mind was sharp as a tack and I could recall exactly where and when I informed him of something.  Now I am not so sure myself so I need to shelve that approach which probably isn’t such a bad thing.  My kids think this whole “chemo brain” thing is funny and now every time they tell me something and I look at them funny like I never heard what they are reminding me of, they say “chemo brain.”  They could really use this to their advantage “reminding” me of things that never existed!  This is not a good thing.  This is potentially dangerous.

I have always been a list maker.  It’s part of my personality.  Some of you reading this know exactly what I mean because you can’t live without your lists either!  Every day has a new list and sometimes if I do something that is not on my list I will add it just so I can get the pleasure of crossing it off.  Now you have evidence that I am really in a fog!  Anyway, I have always gotten through my day with a list.  With chemo brain for me it is even more vital to have a list so I don’t  forget what I need to do or would like to accomplish.  Ironically in the articles they suggest having family members or friends help make lists for you to get through the period of mental fog.  I don’t need or want anyone making lists for me…I just need someone to help me FIND my lists!  I don’t remember where I put them.

I know they didn’t have chemotherapy back in Bible times but I think 1 Corinthians 13:12 was written with chemo brain in mind.  It says, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (MSG)  Yes, whether my chemo fog clears in 6 months or a year, I know that one day the fog will lift, the sun will shine and the only thing that really matters will be seen clearly, my Savior!

Just a few of the articles this week on the chemobrain study:


Some books on chemobrain:  www.chemobraininfo.org

All Things New

When you are in the midst of any kind of trial it is hard to imagine that it will be over some day.  Fortunately, we occasionally get to begin to see glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel, or at least in that direction.  I have been marking milestones along the way of treatment.  It is too overwhelming at first to think about all that is ahead as far as treatment is concerned.

First it was anticipating the surgery, waiting for results, praying the drains would come out soon, and healing.  Then it was counting each dreaded chemo infusion down and looking forward to the good week in between.  Next came radiation with an almost daily countdown but it still seemed to last forever.  Now it’s the herception infusion every three weeks but it’s still too far away to even begin to think about a countdown.  In the meantime it’s little things like waiting for all the fatigue to disappear, for the “chemo brain” fuzz to go away (although that’s a good one to keep as an excuse as you get older), for my brittle nails to stop chipping, and achy joints to improve.

light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnelThe light at the end of the tunnel is becoming brighter as my hair begins to grow back.  It was kind of nice not having to shave my legs or underarms, or tweeze my eyebrows.  At the same time as I have to start doing those things again it makes me smile to know that my body is slowly mending itself and getting back to normal.  It will still probably be awhile before I go out without wearing a wig or scarf as the hair on my scalp is so short and I don’t like the way I look.

When radiation was finished my radiologist told me to continue to moisturize my breast twice a day and that in a month it should look normal again.  I found this hard to believe as it was literally blackened in areas, especially around the surgery site from radiation burning.  I also had hard scar tissue there as well.  To my surprise  three weeks later even the appearance of my radiated breast looks almost normal again.

By the time I had started radiation I had finally stopped gaining weight but have not lost any weight since.  Between going back to work in September, and the winter and the holidays coming, I don’t see any coming off for a while.  Guess this will be one are that will not be returning to normal for awhile.

I have a feeling that “normal” for me will be a “new” normal.  I guess I can’t expect things to be the same as “BC” (before cancer) as “AD” (after diagnosis).  Many things have changed that can never be the same again and actually there are things that I hope will never be the same as BC.  Having cancer has changed me not only physically but in other areas as well.  I have had the time to reevaluate my life, my relationships, my goals, and to think about what really matters.  I feel like a new person, like I’ve been given the chance to start over.  A fresh start.  A new start with whatever time I have left in this world.

I watched a DVD the other week on Joni Eareckson Tada who after 45 years in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic (from a diving accident) was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  http://www.joniandfriends.org/television/cancer-jonis-journey-part-1/  She mentions how it was a good experience in that it changed her on the inside and has helps her to live her life now in the moment.  Galatians 5:25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Joni does not dwell in the future, but is taking one step at a time, responding in the “now.”  She is able to wake up happy each day wondering what God has in store for her for the day.

We are all given the opportunity to begin a new life here on earth.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT)  In Revelation 21:4-5 we are given a glimpse into eternity for those who belong to Christ, “ God will take away all their tears. There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain (OR CANCER).  All the old things have passed away Then the One sitting on the throne said, ‘See! I am making all things new. Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”  A pain free, disease free, burden free future for eternity.  That makes me smile from ear to ear.

Skin deep Beauty

I have tried to take advantage of the different workshops and activities offered through the cancer department at the hospital I am treated at.  One particular class is a two hour workshop on how to make yourself look beautiful so you  can feel better about yourself while going through cancer treatment.  Due to scheduling difficulties I was not able to attend one of these until very recently and had to drive a little distance to a different hospital in order to attend.

When I entered the conference room I felt like I was walking into a little girl’s princess birthday party.  The table had little mirrors standing up at each place with bags of makeup and various things at each place.  The only thing missing was cake but they did have bottles of water for everyone.  We sat on sides of the table depending on the color of our skin tone because the makeup kits were arranged that way.  It didn’t take long for all of us to start meeting each other and sharing where we were in our treatment, comparing hospitals, side-effects, etc.  Again, it was that cancer camaraderie as we were quickly joined in sisterhood.  During the course of the night, the “host” had to ask everyone to be quiet several times because we were so wrapped up in conversation.

Our “host” spent the evening “demonstrating” not only how to put makeup on but instructing us in the order to do it in.  There were twelve steps.  No one had told  me I was going to a twelve step program!  “Hi!  My name is Sue and I am a recovering cancer patient.”  I said our host was “demonstrating” in quotes because she never took her makeup off at the start and never actually touched her face with anything the entire evening.  She also was not allowed to physically help any of us or apply makeup to our face but was only allowed to demonstrate, so demonstrate she did by pretending to put it on her face! It really was quite comical.  Just as comical was the sorry looking lot of us.  I think the majority of us were the type that hardly wore makeup even when we didn’t have cancer.  Either women were there looking for a social gathering or the fact that we normally don’t wear much makeup meant we really needed this class especially now!  I was amazed at all the different products to use.  What was really nice is that companies donate all the products and we were each able to leave with a large bag full (our goody bag from the “party”).

In addition to the makeup, we also had a brief session on wigs although I think everyone there already had a wig.  Different types of hats and head coverings were also shown.  I must say that all of us did look very pretty by the end of the evening and probably felt a little better about how we looked at the moment anyway.

The next morning I was excited to try to repeat what I learned the previous night after I got out of the shower.  I opened the bag of supplies I was sent home with and was dumbfounded.  What was I supposed to put on first?  Twelve steps were far too many to remember this early in the morning.  Okay, I lied.  It’s too many steps to remember at any time of the day!  Which one is for the eyes?  What direction are you supposed to start applying from?  It was time consuming too.  Remember how I said it was so quick for me to get ready for work now that I have no hair?  Putting on all the stuff to make yourself look beautiful is very time consuming!  I decided after that first morning that I would stick to just a few simple things so my eyes and eyebrows can be seen since my lashes and brows are gone.  It helps to give others something to at least focus on and know it’s your face they are looking at.  Other than that, I’m still me and am happy being plain me.  I do congratulate all you beautiful looking women knowing the time it took for you to get ready!

I met a woman at radiation who told me she was going to get her eyelashes “done.”  I didn’t know what she was referring to and she said you can get individual eyelashes applied/glued on to fill in places you lost them during chemo.  I asked her where you go to get that done assuming it was some expensive type of salon and to my surprise she said, “Walmart.”  Now that sounds like something doable in the future.

It’s important to take care of yourself and to look presentable but we don’t all need to look gorgeous everyday unless we’re a model and even then someone else does it all for you.  It’s fun to dress up and follow the 12 steps if we’re going somewhere special or for a certain occasion but that’s not for me on a regular basis.  I tend to believe that real beauty is deeper than skin deep.  Proverbs 31:30 reads, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;  but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (NIV)  1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(NIV)  In Galatians 2:6 it says that God does not judge by external appearances.  “ Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV) I’ll take striving to be a model for inner beauty any day over outer beauty.  I’d rather spend my time and effort working on the inside than the outside.  You know what, I feel better too!

Do you need to hear that YOU are beautiful?!  Check out this link to “Beautiful” by Mercy Me:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmUfJtsaqps&feature=related

Sitting on a rock, the need for support

I honestly don’t know how I would be doing today if it wasn’t for a great support system.  I am so thankful for both family and friends for all they have done for me through this trial.  Just knowing not only that others care about you and are concerned, but have taken the extra step to actively do something means a lot.

Going back to March when I had my surgery and was out of work for two weeks recovering, I had my parents stay with me for awhile.  When they left, I had friends fill in and bring me meals and run errands, etc.  With each chemo infusion again I had my parents take me and stay with me.  Again, friends took over and brought meals for me and my family and offered to do errands.  I had numerous people call and check in on me.  I received cards and gifts in the mail, many from those that lived far away.   So many of them have prayed and continue to pray for me.  I feel so blessed to be surrounded by these people who genuinely care.

What is “support”?  In a plant, the stem is the support, the foundation or prop for the plant.  Without it, the branches, leaves and fruit would not be held up.  In other words, it would be worthless.  One definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary for support  is “to keep something going.”  I know that in order for me to have been able to keep going through this trial of breast cancer, I have needed support.

Receiving support has not been easy.  For me, I like to be on the giving end.  I like to be the one  offering support, helping and encouraging others.  This has been hard for me to be on the receiving end and to say “yes” to offers.  I am usually the one in charge.  It has been a humbling experience but one for which I have been most grateful and appreciative of.  There are times in life when we need to just give in and receive the blessing and allow others to be blessed by being on the giving end.

I think of a battle that happened hundreds of years ago between the Israelites and the Amalekites in Rephidim.  Moses sent Joshua and his men to fight and he climbed a hill to watch.  During the battle as long as Moses’s hands were lifted with the staff of God, the Israelites were winning.  Whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.  When Moses got tired he sat on a rock and Aaron and Hur (his buddies) stood next to him on each side and supported his hands until sunset.  Joshua ended up defeating the Amalekites. (see Exodus 17)

We get tired and weary and begin to feel defeated sitting on that rock while the battle rages on in. You may feel helpless as you watch it happen before your eyes.   During the battle, whatever that may be for you, we need the support of others to see us through!  Notice that Moses’ hands were not empty either.  Not only do we need others supporting us but we need to be holding on to God.  It has been first my faith, and second my support system, that has gotten me through this trial so far.

They not only prayed for me, they sent postcards telling me they prayed!

Perhaps you know someone personally going through some sort of trial that looks like they could use support.  Even if you don’t know them that well, don’t be afraid to not only offer help but take the next step and just do something you feel led to do.  I REALLY appreciated all the offers and know that they were sincere.  Like I said, it’s hard for some of us to take people up on an offer if you’re use to being on the giving end.  Most of the time, other than meals, I would say “no”  unless there was a real need for a ride or something.  However, sometimes the “offer” happened…it wasn’t asked.  For instance, I was concerned about my family eating.  I had no appetite, no energy to cook, no taste buds, and didn’t even want to be in the kitchen.  Knowing that my family was being fed and that I didn’t have to do it was a tremendous help.  Then there were the times that someone would simply show up on my doorstep with containers of homemade soup or other healthy food just for me.  It was all I could get down for several days and it would tide me over until I could eat normally again.  Would I have asked for it?  No.  Would I have said “yes” if someone asked?  No.  I never wanted someone to go out of their way and was concerned only about my family.

Some practical things you can do is send a card and let them know you are thinking about them, that they are not alone, that you’re praying for them, etc.  In this day and age technology has taken over.  It’s nice to get an email or a post on Facebook but it’s even nicer to get a card in the mail.  Who doesn’t like mail, something you can look at over and over.  I even received letters and a poem written just for me!  Surprise gifts in the mail were very exciting too knowing that someone went out of their way and took the time to purchase something, package it up, and take it to the post office because they cared for me! some of my surprises were “breast cancer” related and a portion of the purchase supported breast cancer.  I even had someone pay for my wig, they insisted!  If you bring a meal to someone, bring it in a disposable container so they don’t have to keep track of who it belongs to and remember to get it back to them.  I had people even bring me disposable plates and utensils so we wouldn’t have dirty dishes to clean after the meal!  Often they included extras such as salad dressing, bread, and dessert.  Offer to pick up a load or two of laundry or better yet, show up and just take it!  Remember, the key is to just do it!  Take the next step!

Some of the gifts I received

If you are the one that is in need of support, don’t be a lone ranger!  Reach out, humble yourself and begin to say “yes.”  It’s ok to be on the receiving end.  Don’t rob others of the blessing.  You’ll get through it and then you can be on the giving end.  You say you don’t have friends and family?  Don’t forget you need to be holding onto God.  He is there with you through whatever you are going through.  Joshua 1:5 says, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.”

I dedicate this post to my Aarons and Hurs:  In addition to family and friends, I would like to acknowledge my church family at Christ Fellowship, Manna meals ministry, Bridge youth leaders, Prayer teams, Christian Homeschoolers of Union County, and my co-workers.  I do not want to mention any names for fear of leaving anyone out but you all know who you are.  You rock!

A weighty issue with chemo

Who would ever have guessed that chemotherapy would put on extra pounds?  Not I !  I was actually looking at the bright side of all this and figured once I started chemo that I would actually lose a few pounds without any effort.  I had always pictured the stereotypical chemo patient as thin and gaunt.  Right? In the past yes, but not so much anymore.

No thanks to the drugs they have found that suppress the nausea and vomiting, a downside is that the steroid medication  given actually contributes to weight gain. Corticosteroids contribute to fluid retention and increase your appetite as well.  I had to take steroids beginning the day before a treatment until two days after, in addition to the ones they give you intravenously the day of treatment. Your metabolism slows down.  The chemo leaves you fatigued and you are much less active.  The strange taste bud changes take away your appetite. Then when you do feel like eating, it’s the wrong foods. Intense food cravings with chemo often involve sweets and carbohydrates.  There is a change in body composition as your body gains more body fat and loses lean muscle as they redistribute muscle mass from the extremities into the abdominal area as fat.

“Unlike typical weight gain caused simply by overeating and lack of momentum, where you are gaining both lean and fatty tissue, the weight you gain during chemotherapy is comprised only of fat. The change in body composition that is brought on by chemotherapy is normally seen as a part of the normal aging process. Unfortunately, in terms of body composition, a woman going through chemotherapy ages 10 years in the course of a year.” http://www.thebreastcaresite.com/tbcs/InTreatment/Chemotherapy/WeightGain.htm

Before each chemo infusion you have a mini checkup with a weigh in, temperature taken, blood pressure and blood work.  The scale is a digital one in a hospital calibrated to the tenths and I have a strange feeling that it is pretty accurate.  Each time I stepped on, it went higher.  It ended up averaging one pound per week over the course of treatment.  I now weigh more than I ever have in my life.  I started inquiring with other patients and heard that it was referred to as the “Chemo 30.”  Fortunately for me it was the “Chemo 20” although everything I have read says the typical gain is much less.  So much for being typical.

It’s bad enough going through chemo and losing your hair but then to have to deal with all the extra pounds is kind of discouraging.  I recently looked a full body picture of myself sitting with my daughters by the ocean and all I saw was a plump pirate!  I had to buy new clothes for the summer to fit into and really don’t want to buy a bigger size fall wardrobe.

OK, so for most of my life I never had to watch what I ate or how much I ate.  I had one of those metabolisms that everyone wants.  Even after three pregnancies I went back to my pre-baby weight within one  month after giving birth without even trying.  Then with a combination of my fourth pregnancy and nearing 40, the inevitable happened.  The pounds did not disappear and for the first time in my life I had to start watching what I ate.  After a few years I figured it was easier to carry the pounds around because now I was approaching middle age and it’s acceptable to not have a skinny waist.  Right?

I have never been to a gym.  However, prior to going back to work full time last year I worked as a dog walker.  I loved it.  I loved the dogs.  I loved being paid to walk daily.  I would push them to a brisk pace when possible although anyone who walks a dog knows that it is not always possible.  This was my exercise and I loved it.  Some pounds started coming back on once I had to stop dog walking and these were the pounds that I was hoping to LOSE once I started chemo!

Cancer survivors that are overweight are more likely to have a re-occurrence than those that are thin.  I WANT to lose this weight!  I NEED to!  Like I said, I don’t do the gym.  I do have to do something however.  I am hoping the GAIN part is over now that my chemo cocktail is finished.  I am blogging this so I can be accountable (and also so you understand why, yes, strangely I have put on extra weight).  I have a cousin who has lost over 100 pounds in the last year and is blogging about “Tomorrow is a lighter day.”  She has inspired me to do something about this.  So what will I do you ask?  I still feel crummy from my treatment last week but know that my energy will be returning.  I do have a mini trampoline and a stepper in my basement and found some exercise tapes.  They are all dusty and so is my basement.  I plan to dust them all off, well maybe not the basement.  I also plan on starting to walk again even though no one will be paying me!  Perhaps after a bit I will add a little running to it.  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,” Isaiah 40:31.  I did jog in high school and college and enjoyed it then, although that was over 30 years ago.  I need to be careful with any  upper body lifting to prevent lymphedema.  Any other suggestions?  I will take it slow so as not to get discouraged but I will start doing something!

I am really praying my taste buds straighten out so I can get on track with eating right again as well.  You have no idea what it is like when everything tastes like cardboard, metal, chalk or absolutely nothing.  You stand in front of the refrigerator or cabinets and nothing looks appealing.  Or you sink your teeth into something that does look appealing and then you can’t even take another bite.  One thing that has remained appealing through this ordeal has been the Word.  No surprises there.  Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

I’m not going to be a “pirate who doesn’t do anything but stay home and lie around…” like in Veggie Tales.  I’m ready to soar…


Conquering Chemo

Whoever said winning isn’t everything didn’t have to fight cancer. Chemo does kill some good cells but it also saves lives by destroying cancer cells! Yesterday was my last day of my chemo treatments with the “full cocktail”!  I will still have to continue to go every three weeks through May 2013 (1 full year) to receive a short infusion of only one drug called herceptin which takes less than an hour that I can fit in after work.  Best news is it does not give any chemo side effects because it does not destroy good cells.  Yeah! It is designed to shut down a factor that stimulates the growth of new cancer cells (HER-2) which I tested positive for which is why I needed any chemo at all despite being diagnosed stage 1.

Before becoming a cancer patient myself I would hear people talk about their treatments and mention chemo and radiation.  I could never remember which was which and what was really involved.  To make things more complicated I never really understood that each cancer diagnosis is unique and catered to the patient as to drugs used, dosages, number of treatments, how often, etc.  Not everyone with the same diagnosis follows exactly the same course even with the same doctor.  Let me give you a little insight into what my chemo has been like.

“Chemotherapy is a general term used for any treatment that involves the use of drugs or chemicals to stop cancer cells from growing. You may receive one drug or a combination of drugs. You may also receive chemotherapy in addition to other treatments such as surgery, radiation, or biological therapy.  It works by destroying fast growing cancer cells.  Different types of chemotherapy drugs target the different growth patterns of cancer cells.  Each drug has a different way of working and is effective at a specific time in the life cycle of the cell.  Since it cannot tell the difference between cancer cells and normal cells, the normal healthy cells in your body are also affected by chemotherapy.  It can be given in different ways including: orally by mouth, injection (shot), vein(IV), body space (injected into the abdomen or around the lungs), or transdermal (application directly on skin).”

The chemo I received so far is by infusion with an IV over the course of several hours.  I have not had a port surgically inserted so they pick a new vein each time for the infusion, usually in my hand.  The “cocktail” I received for 6 treatments every three weeks was TCH – taxotere, carboplatin, and herceptin.  I’m not much of a drinker and kind of got a chuckle that now I would be getting a cocktail of drugs no less! I was also given an infusion of pre-meds each time of steroids, anti-nausea, and Benadryl before the cocktail.  The “infusion” center at the hospital I go to consists of 23 private treatment rooms with either reclining lounge chairs or beds.  They each have a flat screen TV, DVD player, and CD stereo player with WiFi access. They also have a community short stay room that accommodates 6 patients  for infusions of an hour or less which I will be in for my remaining infusions.  There is a refreshment area that provides coffee, tea, and other beverages as well as bagels and light snacks.  The staff and volunteers have been wonderful.

Not every infusion has gone smooth.  One drug is mixed according to my blood results that day and sometimes the lab has had problems or was backed up adding further wait time to my treatment.  Other times there have been blockages in the hookups.  Every bag of drugs runs through a pump that programs the flow time.  This pump has a beeping alarm that goes off to indicate a blockage somewhere as well as announcing when the bag has emptied.  It gets louder and louder until a nurse comes and can be pretty annoying.  One drug took several treatments to figure out the right way to time it and dilute it with saline because of the intense burning it created when it entered my vein.  I have had leakages occur too but the worst was when I did not realize it until that drug was almost done. It had been soaking up in a blanket I had over me. They brought me hospital scrubs to wear home and took my capris from me because they were “contaminated.”  I was afraid something like the scene from the movie Monsters Inc. was going to occur! Some IV sites have left the area more bruised or sore than others for days afterward.

Initially I was disappointed that we were secluded in private rooms but it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings.  From my first treatment my parents offered to come from Pennsylvania (sometimes the night before), drive me to the hospital, stay with me for the entire treatment, bring me home and then return to their home.  Quite the sacrifice of their time!  We were able to sit and share and talk and spend an entire day together every three weeks.  We don’t get to see each other that often on a regular basis and certainly don’t have hours alone when we are together.  We used the refreshment area but NEVER even used the TV, DVD, CD or WiFi in the room.  This turned out to be a precious time with my parents.

Because chemo drugs can also damage or destroy your normal cells you experience side effects from these drugs.  Side effects vary depending on the treatment and on the person receiving it.  Patients receiving similar treatments can experience different side effects. Thankfully with all the advances in breast cancer treatment, chemo side effects are not typical of what they once were.  Yes, certain drugs will still make your hair fall out (why haven’t they figured that one out?) but they have been able to come up with even more drugs to combat the nausea.  I HATE taking drugs but they practically guaranteed that I would not throw up if I took everything so I did and I never threw up and it was definitely worth it!

I tend to put myself in the category of a health conscious person.  Prior to receiving a cancer diagnosis myself I always thought that if that day came I would NEVER go the route of chemo and radiation but take a more holistic route once I had the surgery to cut it out.  Other than check-ups, we rarely run to the doctor for any ailments and even then don’t run to fill a prescription but have it as a last resort if necessary.  For me it was a whole different thing once I became the cancer patient.  I explored my options and had a peace about what I chose to do to conquer this.  It has not been as bad as what I had thought in the past but I definitely would not want to go through all this again and so far it has only been surgery (lumpectomy) and chemo (which will go until May to a lesser degree).  Radiation will begin in September and I’ll blog info on that then.

I purposely did not read the paperwork they gave me on the drugs I would be infused with because I did not want to subconsciously think I was having some of the side effects mentioned.  Every time you go for your chemo infusion you first have blood work done because chemo lowers your counts and they test your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  They also take your temperature and weigh you. Initially I thought this would be the time I would be losing weight.  WRONG!  No one told me that with all the steroids I would be given orally and intravenously that I would be GAINING.  I weigh more now than I did with any of my pregnancies! So much for that fallacy now a days with the thin gaunt chemo patient! Next you meet with your oncologist for a brief consultation before receiving the infusion.  Remember I said I purposely had not read about the side-effects?  Each time I met with my oncologist she would run down a list of questions asking if I had experienced “such and such”!

Fortunately for me the side effects I have experienced were hair loss, fatigue, upset stomach, loss of appetite, horrible taste changes, occasional swelling in ankles and feet, tingling of hands and feet, skin rash, jitteryness, nosebleeds, and ringing in ears.  It could have been worse. I did not have all the symptoms at the same time or even after each treatment.  Most are gone by the end of one week to 10 days after a treatment.  It has not stopped me from doing too much of anything and I was able to work through the first half of my treatments until school was out.  It has been nice having the remaining treatments over the summer.  I look back and wonder how I made it through the first half going to work daily.  I am thankful for all the support (physical and prayerful) that I have been receiving and know that is what has made going through this possible but more on that in another blog.

Because of the problems that some of these drugs can cause there are also different tests that are done prior to receiving the first treatment and then given periodically during the course of treatments.  I have had to have echo cardiograms (heart) and blood work to measure my kidney function.  The day after each infusion I return to the hospital and receive a shot called Neulasta to prevent or treat neutopenia which is having a lower than normal number of white blood cells.  Getting this shot lowers my risk of serious infection.  It must be a powerful shot because it costs $7,000 each time!  Initially it really wiped me out several days later with achy joints and muscles but got better as time went on.  I could not schedule much for the week following a treatment and had help with meals and other things but was still able to do things around the house and local driving.  I am thankful to close the chapter on this portion of my treatment.  I have survived, but not on my own strength!

Cancer is a horrible thing.  No one wants it.  No one wants anyone they know to get it.  But it happens.  Whether it is cancer you are trying to conquer or some other giant in your life don’t think for one moment that God is not good.  We may not understand what He is doing but He is still good and He is there with you through it all.  Nahum 1:7 says, “The Lord is good, a strong refuge when trouble comes.  He is close to those who trust in Him.” (NLT)  You may think life is difficult or that is unfair that you have to be going through whatever circumstance you are facing now.  Don’t let it overwhelm you to the point that you forget how much God loves you and is concerned for you down to every detail (like the number of hairs on your head-read my last post).  Don’t forget that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them” (Romans 8:28, NLT).  He has given me the strength I needed, the peace I needed, the courage I needed.  He has not forgotten you and doesn’t expect you to go through anything alone.  Trust Him, seek Him, rely on Him and His Word and He WILL get you through it.  Romans 8:37 says, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (NKJV) .  Go out and conquer!

Say goodbye to bad hair days

I ended my first blog posing the questions of “What is it like to have your hair fall out?” and “Do you have to shave your legs?” I decided to dedicate this blog to answering those questions. And by the way, I really do mean feel free to ask any questions you may be wondering.

Matthew 10:30 says, “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Imagine that. God has the hairs on your head counted and numbered! Well in my case I gave God a break lately and made the job easier for Him. I think I could even count the hairs on my head but would have a little trouble seeing the ones in the back since my eyes are in the front.

When I first found out that I would have to undergo chemo I immediately thought of hair loss. Not all chemo drugs have the same side effects but the next sentence out of the doctor’s mouth confirmed what I feared. Yes, one of the drugs I would need would most likely cause my hair to fall out within 2-3 weeks after my first treatment. It wasn’t so much a vanity issue or that I loved my hair so much as that I didn’t want to “look” like a “chemo patient.” To me it would be like wearing a name tag that said, “Yes, I have a cancer” and I wasn’t ready for that.

A few other cancer survivors I spoke with said that it was no big deal when their hair fell out. I thought to myself, “no big deal” for you maybe but for me it is. I went out and purchased a wig to have on hand for the day it happened. As two weeks neared, each time I showered there would be a little hair in the drain or on my pillow. My hair was beginning to thin out. Exactly on my two week due date, clumps came out in the shower. There was no way I could go to work (in a school) and risk having it continue to fall out in clumps (possibly) throughout the day. I got out of the shower and 1-2-3 chopped off my hair, threw on the wig and ran out the door. I didn’t give it much thought and surprisingly it really didn’t bother me. It was just something that had to be done.

The funny thing is both the faculty and the students thought I had my hair cut and colored. Everyone loved “my” hair. I had decided to buy a blonde wig and get something different and fun and I am so glad I did. I realized that the” thought of losing” my hair was much worse than “actually losing” it. It really wasn’t a big deal after all like other survivors had said. How many things in life do we dread or put off or worry about and live possibly in fear of when in reality if we just did it or said “yes” to it and got it over with, we could move on? Don’t get stuck or hung up on something because of fear. It probably isn’t half as bad as you think it is.

I didn’t realize that not only the hair on your head falls out, but hair anywhere on your body. This means REALLY QUICK showers!!!! Imagine taking a shower that involves NO SHAVING of the hair on your legs or underarms and using NO shampoo or conditioner. Add to that getting out of the shower and NOT HAVING TO COMB, BRUSH, STYLE, BLOW-DRY, SPRAY or use additional products on your hair! It’s a big decision of wig or which scarf to wear. By the way, even the wigs now have a memory in them so you don’t have to style them. No spending time coloring your hair or worrying about the roots showing either.

OK, now that YOU are jealous that I have no hair and you have to spend time on yours I guess I will share the negatives. Let’s see…there are none. Well, I guess it sucks that I have to draw my eyebrows on. When I wake up and don’t have my contacts in I really have to search for my eyes on my face without those eyebrows guiding me. They are kind of like the lights along the runway framing your eyes. It also stinks when midway through the day you look in the mirror and realize that you wiped off an eyebrow or part of one and wonder how long you’ve been walking around like that! People sometimes are polite enough to tell you that you have something stuck in your teeth but don’t know how to tell you that you are missing an eyebrow! I guess the only other negative is that the hair around your face hides the fat on your neck and chin and now that I have no hair and a short wig, the fat’s all exposed.

This has been a hot summer. I can usually take the heat but with chemo I have been indoors most of the summer with the air conditioning on. I was able to go away and spend a few days at the ocean. If I sat by the water’s edge where there was a breeze it was relaxing. This was the first sun I had been in all summer. I tend to tan easily and made especially sure to keep my head covered. After the first day at the beach when I took a shower and removed my head scarf I burst into laughter. It looked like I was wearing a white bathing cap!!!! My entire scalp was white…never having seen the sun…plus my hair growing back is white contrasted with my much tanned face.

Getting back to “God numbering the hairs on our head,” if you look at that verse in context it’s really saying that He cares about each of us and knows every detail of our lives.  Matthew 10:29-31 in The Message translation of the Bible says,”What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”   He knows what each of us is going through and we matter to Him.  That’s why I can go through chemo (or really anything) in life.  I know that He knows everything about me and cares. He has my back.  I’d say that’s pretty reassuring and encouraging!