Archive | October 2013

Second MuGA test

I’m just about done with chemo (have I mentioned there’s only one left!), which means I’m entering a new phase of testing. Today I had my second MuGA test. MuGA stands for Multi-Gated Acquisition. One of the potential side effects of Herceptin, which treats a specific mutation in my cancer, is heart failure. Since heart failure is generally considered a bad thing, I have to get a MuGA test every three months to make sure my heart is still functioning fine. This was first test since I started Herceptin, but I had one before treatment to get a baseline number.

In the myriad of tests I’ve had in the past six months, the MuGA is probably the easiest. The worst part is it requires two injections – one to prime my red blood cells, and one to inject the technetium that will then attach to my red blood cells, with about thirty minutes between injections. I had the waiting room all to myself, and I got to sit and read my book in peace. As an added bonus, the view from the waiting room was lovely:

View of the Erie Bayfront from the waiting room.

View of the Erie Bayfront from the waiting room.

I don’t remember the view from the first time, but I was probably a bit more stressed and distracted. This time, I spent some time at the window, enjoying the view of Presque Isle in fall colors and the bayfront. The hospital is built on a little rise just a block from the water, and it was quite a relaxing view.

As I said, MuGA tests are easy. You lie on a board under a sensor panel for about ten minutes. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic, though, since the sensor panel is only about six inches above your head while you’re in there. I did learn some interesting things about the test from the technician afterwards. The technetium has a half-life of six hours, so it will be completely gone from my body within twenty-four hours. Because of the short half-life, the hospital gets technetium shipments three times a day and the technetium is produced as a byproduct of radioactive decay of molybdenum. The source of the molybdenum is either Canada or South Africa. I was sure to share those elemental facts with Mr. Curiosity, who immediately asked if he could get some molybdenum. I had to remind him we have a strict no radiation policy in our house.

Element added: I’m totally counting molybdenum


Staying healthy

I’m coming out of the side effects of this cycle of chemo, and I find it fascinating (when I don’t find it completely annoying) that each cycle has its own flavor to it. This cycle wasn’t too hard, at least in terms of direct chemo side effects. Outside of the two hard days last week, I really only had a little bit of nasty mouth taste and a little bit of nausea. That’s not to say I had it easy. Instead, what I’ve been dealing with is a cold.

Just before chemo, I was thinking to myself how healthy I’ve managed to stay. Sadly, that streak was broken and I caught a cold two days before this cycle of chemo. I knew there was no way I’d be completely healthy by the time I went into chemo, and I was right. Dr. Li reminded me I’d be longer getting over the cold because of chemo, and he was right. It’s a week and a half later and I’m still battling that cold.

It seems to have settled on my vocal cords and just makes me cough. For a while there, I was singing bass in the choir, if I could manage to croak anything out. My voice is back, but the cough is still with me. It’s not too bad, until evening. Once I start getting tired, even trying to talk makes me cough. I am getting better, but it is in tiny little steps. I would like to be completely better soon. At the rate I’m going through honey and lemon (makes great tea that seems to help a little), I will need to replenish my stocks soon.

I also noticed I don’t heal from scrapes and scratches as quickly as normal. I scraped my finger while removing that root ball (it comes back to that again) and it still hasn’t healed completely. Sadly, the scab keeps coming off and then it oozes all over the next finger… So, currently, I’ve got it slathered in vitamin E oil and wrapped in a bandage. If I do that every day until it heals, I don’t need to worry about it cracking open. I just have to remember to take the time.

So, my goal is to be healthy and whole going into my final bout of chemo so I don’t have to deal with these annoyances again.

Planning ahead

I think everyone’s getting a bit tired of chemo wiping me out every three weeks. Tempers have been a bit short and it’s been hard to see the good choices these past few days. It doesn’t help that the weather has changed and it’s no longer fun to go out and play. Good thing Miss Adventure has her gymnastics and Mr. Curiosity has started soccer so they have some physical outlet.

I did realize I would not be at my best since this weekend and made plans for something fun for the kids. They got a sleepover Saturday night and spent the entire next day at the friends’ house. This gave me some much-needed down time to just rest. I find it very difficult to rest before I’m tired, but my body really appreciates the consideration and chance to recuperate.

The Tuesday after chemo turns out to be mentally a very difficult day. Any time I’ve felt like I’m never going to get better and I’ll be stuck feeling awful forever, it turns out it’s the Tuesday after chemo. This time I was more prepared and decided it would not be a school day for the kids. I did not need to hassle them on top of my internal negative monologue. I also planned for the kids to go to a friend’s house for dinner. That was my lifeline. All day, as I was irrationally annoyed at every little thing, I just kept reminding myself they would be leaving at 4:15. Sadly, even when I know I’m being irrational, I can’t stop myself from doing it.

The Wednesday after chemo is always my “high nausea day” so today my mother came down to help me. I did such a good job at preventing the nausea and resting before it was a problem that I thought I was clear today and didn’t need an afternoon on the couch. I was soon disabused of that notion. Turns out, resting is a good idea and keeps the nausea at bay just fine. If I try to do anything else, though, the nausea comes creeping back.

But, that should be the worst of it for this time, and there’s only one cycle left! Five down, one to go! I’m thinking endgame here!

Chemo #5

Unfortunately, not as fun as Mambo #5, but my sister came with me this time and made it as fun as it can be. Sarah and I don’t get to visit for hours uninterrupted and even talking on the phone is a lesson in Mommy Conversations, since one of her kids (being still on the young side) likes to interrupt every minute or so. All the chatting certainly made the chemo go by quickly. I was sure I had another drug to infuse, but nope – all done. Starting at 8am also helped it go faster, I think, since I was done by 1pm. Lots of time to run some errands on the west side of town afterwards.

Me and my sister, Sarah.

Me and my sister, Sarah.

Bloodwork came back on Wednesday with no surprises. My anemia is still holding steady, with white blood cells and platelets in the normal range. My liver enzymes were still high, though. One had gone down a bit, and the other up just a touch, but since my alkaline phosphate and bilirubin levels were normal, I could still get chemo. Turns out, damaging my muscles, whether through heavy exercise or bruising, can also raise my liver enzymes. So, you’re saying I shouldn’t have dug out that root ball from a bush in front of my house? Maybe you should have warned me about that exercise connection a bit earlier. Once I feel fine, I go back to my normal levels of activity, which tend to be on the high side. Ah well, at least I know better for my last chemo treatment. Maybe I can get those liver enzymes to go down again.

The other thing I learned was not to take my Zofran the day after chemo since it can interfere with some of the anti-nausea drugs they infused in me during chemo. Luckily this time I didn’t start to feel nauseous while the chemo drugs were going in, which puts me ahead of the game from last time. Speaking of last times, there’s just one chemo cycle left. I’m having a big party when this part of my treatment is done!

The hair loss continues, slowly

Subtitled: But I still have hair!

I am two-thirds of the way through chemo (Can I hear a big “Yeah!” for that!), and I am still surprised that I have hair. Now, the amount varies depending on the body part, but I haven’t lost all the hair anywhere but my nose. Losing your nose hair is actually quite annoying. Turns out, nose hair catches those little drips of snot. Now that I don’t have nose hair, I have very little time between the feeling of “I should wipe my nose” and “Eww, it dripped into my mouth.” Needless to say, I am never without a hankie – just in case.

If I’ve lost all my nose hair, I haven’t lost any of my arm hair, which is much more noticeable and therefore more important, visually. As for the most important hair, that on my head, I’ve still got some but not much. It’s still a little and feels really weird if the wind blows on my bare head because it moves all the little hairs. I don’t think what’s left is growing at all (and that’s true everywhere on my body). I also lose a bit more hair after every chemo cycle, but I’m not completely bald. The biggest difference I’ve noticed with having no hair is the back of my neck gets cold when the wind blows. There’s been several times when I’ve walked the dog that I’ve put on a winter hat just to keep the back of my neck warm.

My eyebrows are much thinner, but still in existence. Good thing because even though my mother-in-law was kind enough to buy me an eyebrow pencil, I don’t think I have the patience to actually use it. My eyelashes look pretty much the same. So, as long as I’m wearing a hat, you can’t tell just by looking at me that I’m undergoing chemo. The exception is if you know someone who went through chemo, you’ll recognize the subtle signs. That’s OK – I just don’t want to have cancer conversations with random people I run into doing errands.

Remembering the good things

The weather this weekend was glorious, and I had a chance to go hiking twice. Once in Allegheny State Park and once at Six Mile Park. It was a chance to remember that even though my mouth tastes like metal and food isn’t enjoyable, there are good things in life. I thought I’d share a few photos from the hikes to keep the good mood flowing a little longer, as the rains come back today.

Allegheny State Park

Allegheny State Park

We spent the night in a cabin near Allegany State Park and Allegheny National Forest.

Crossing a streamlet

Crossing a streamlet

We hiked down an old road through the woods. It was very foggy the night before so the grass was soaking wet and there were lots of little streams to cross over, most of which had log crossings.


I love pictures of my kids heading off into the woods.

And a couple of macro shots to end my photo tour of Allegany:

The top of an old fallen tree

The top of an old fallen tree

Some of the leaves were quite brilliant

Some of the leaves were quite brilliant

The next day we went creek walking at a park near our house. It’s probably our last chance to do so. While the air temperature was near 80 degrees, the water was cold.

Walking sticks for stability

Walking sticks for stability

Even the dog enjoyed our walks:



I’m feeling a little more refreshed mentally now that I’ve had a chance to spend some quality time in nature.




Tuesday doldrums and Wednesday nausea

The past couple of days have been a little tough going, but I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel from this cycle of chemo. At least I hope that’s the end of the tunnel, and not another train come to run me over.

The iron infusions have done some great things for my energy levels. I haven’t felt any fatigue this time around, and haven’t needed an afternoon or an early bedtime. Surprisingly, this isn’t necessarily all good. If I’m tired, I can nap and then be unconscious to the annoying side effects for at least a bit of time. As it was, I got no break from the annoying side effects.

This time around, my main complaint was with my mouth. For a couple of days, it felt like the cells in my mouth were oozing a nasty flavor. It’s probably associated with the platinum in the Carboplatin. I likened the flavor to that of the powder they put in balloons to make sure the insides don’t stick together. Mornings weren’t too bad, but the intensity would grow throughout the day until, by evening, it was nearly gagging me. Some food would mask the flavor, but only while the food was in my mouth. As soon as I stopped eating, the balloon powder flavor would come rushing back. Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate it, and by the end of Tuesday evening, I was frustrated and annoyed and in most ways just irritated with cancer in general and chemo in particular.

Wednesday was slightly better. The balloon taste was gone from my mouth, but now food tasted awful whenever I tried to eat. Nothing worse than being hungry, and yet not wanting to eat. I did plan ahead and took my anti-nausea meds early in the afternoon. By the time the nausea kicked in (as it does, every Wednesday after chemo), it wasn’t too bad at all. I just needed to sit on the couch and relax for a while. As a bonus, and again with the planning ahead, my mother-in-law had come down for the afternoon to help me out when I needed to sit quietly and the kids had work to do.

Overall, I survived. There’s been no puking and hopefully I’ve kept the annoyance mostly to myself. I know my kids are aware I’m not too happy right now. Mr. Curiosity has been making me get well charms, and Miss Adventure told me how happy she was for me when I found some food that almost tasted good. Looking forward to being done with these side effects.