Tag Archive | chemo

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

I must say, with the change in weather, I’ve noticed the cold a lot more than I used to. The back of my neck, particularly, feels the cold air. It’s really not used to being exposed this time of year. The only time I used to have my neck bare was in the summer when it was really hot and sweaty. My hats keep the top of my head nice and warm, but my neck feels left out. The one advantage of the cold weather is it’s easy to cool off when I get a hot flash – just pull the hat off for a couple of minutes and I cool right down.

Amazingly, my hair is already starting to grow back on my head. It never really all fell out, but it’s definitely thicker now than it was a month ago.

Fuzzy head

Fuzzy head

The sad part is you can’t really see it yet. It’s nice and fuzzy, and there are some longer bits of where it wasn’t shaved too tight to my head, but it’s still baby fine. Miss Curiosity asked me today when I would stop wearing my hats, and my answer is when I can not see scalp on my head. As you can see in the picture below, the scalp is pretty evident. I wish it would regrow the way StatsGuy’s hair does – nice and dark.

Fuzzy head and eyebrows

Fuzzy head and eyebrows

The other advantage of the hats is they hide my lack of eyebrows. All but a few eyebrow hairs managed to fall out, but there’s a sprinkling of regrowth (you can kind of see it in the picture above). I’m half tempted to just pull the long hairs out so everything is even as it regrows. At least I’m done with chemo and everything can start to regrow together. I haven’t minded the lack of body hair, but I would like the facial hair to come back quickly. We’ll see if the eyelashes fall out – I’ve heard from several friends who went through chemo that they lost their eyelashes weeks after chemo ended.

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Last chemo!!!

You can’t see me, but I’m doing a little chair dance today. My last cycle of chemo is currently infusing to my body, and I am very happy about that. I won’t consider chemo to be over until all the side effects have cleared out, but today is a momentous occasion nonetheless. I will continue to come to the RCC every three weeks for a year in order to get my Herceptin infusions, but that is a biological and not chemo. Those infusions will be much easier than chemo. The infusion itself is only 30 minutes, I won’t need bloodwork or to meet with Dr. Li prior, and I won’t see all the chemo side effects.

This is the IV stand an infuser for the eight drugs I get each chemo cycle.

This is the IV stand an infuser for the eight drugs I get each chemo cycle.

I met with Dr. Li yesterday to get the results of my blood work and MuGA test. My red blood cell count, hemoglobin and hemocrit all came back higher. They’re still lower than the normal range, but higher than I’ve had in the past. My liver enzymes are still high, but at least they didn’t go up. I was disappointed the levels didn’t go down, since I was good and didn’t do too much physically this time. Dr. Li said I was fine, though, since they were stable and the other liver measurements were within normal ranges. My MuGA came back with my heart function at the maximum measurable level

StatsGuy came with me to chemo since it was the last one, and we celebrated just a bit by ordering lunch from the Panera in the plaza across the street.

Me and StatsGuy sitting at the RCC

Me and StatsGuy sitting at the RCC

Now that chemo is about done, I’m moving on to the next treatment – surgery. I meet with Dr. Engel two weeks from today to find out how much surgery he’ll be doing and the time frame. I’m hoping for early December for the surgery – StatsGuy won’t be teaching and I have family events scheduled for Christmas.

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!

Chemo four of six

Subtitled: In which there is good news and bad news

Good news: This cycle of chemo means I’m two-thirds done

Bad news: I don’t really count it as done until the side effects are gone, and the nausea started early this time. I felt a bit nauseous once the chemo drugs started going into my system, even with all the anti-nauseous pre-meds they pumped into me. Today is the same, but that’s typical.

Good news: My white blood cell count went up, and my platelets are still in the normal range.

Bad news: My red blood cell count is now low, and my hemoglobin and hemocrit levels remain low.

Good news: While the hemoglobin is low, it is stable, and my iron levels are normal, so no more iron infusions on the schedule, and I won’t need a blood transfusion any time soon. That means my chemo only took five hours this time – the shortest one yet!

Bad news: My liver enzymes went way up, even higher than that first time when they were high. Unfortunately, I didn’t have those values when I saw Dr. Li on Tuesday, so I’m not sure what it’s going to mean for the last two cycles of chemo. Questions to ask the next time I see him (and I’ll have new bloodwork at that point, so we can see if they continue to go up). The frustrating thing for me is there’s really not much I can do to improve my liver, beyond not stressing it out with other drugs to detoxify, which is why I’ve given up alcohol for chemo and only take Tylenol as a last resort (which I haven’t needed since my surgery for my port).

And I’ll end on unmitigated Good news: The breast MRI showed that the tumor which was taking up nearly my entire right breast has almost completely disappeared. There’s just a residual piece about one cubic centimeter in size, and that was after only half the chemo cycle. The last half of chemo should wipe that right out, which significantly improves my outlook. Here’s to good drugs!

Half-way through chemo

Today’s my third round of chemo, which means I’m half-way through chemo. I won’t really count it as half-way done until I’m side effect free, but I have only three more times I have to come in for chemo. That fact definitely counts as a good one. StatsGuy came to sit with my today, so it’s been very quiet as we both sit and work. I get interrupted by the occasional “Can I get you anything?” from the nurses or StatsGuy.

I found this hat in Montreal. It's reversible and solid black on the other side.

I found this hat in Montreal. It’s reversible and solid black on the other side.

I saw my results from the latest round of blood work. Good news, my liver functions seems to have improved. My AST (aspartate transferase) levels dropped back to normal, and my ALT (alanine transferase) dropped thirty points. The ALT is still high, but at least it moved much closer to normal. I guess the lack of alcohol and occasional avocado consumption seems to have paid off. I’ll keep those changes up for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, my hemoglobin and hemocrit levels are still low. In fact, the low iron levels messed with the red blood cells enough so they came back abnormal in morphology and RDW (red blood cell distribution width). To combat the low iron levels, Dr. Li prescribed Venofer (iron sucrose) on a weekly basis. Therefore, I get ten drugs through my port today, instead of the usual nine, and I have to come back to the RCC on my non-chemo weeks for iron infusions. It also means I’m sitting in the chair an extra two hours today, which makes for a long day. What can you do. Hopefully the kids are behaving for my mother-in-law today!

Chemo side effects

Chemo was five days ago, and I’m starting to come out from the fog of fatigue. We had an hour and a half chemo education class before I even went through chemo, but it’s hard to believe any of those side effects will actually happen to me – until they do, at which point I just want to feel not sick.

I’ve been making the comparison of chemo to pregnancy – there’s all these potential changes that you’ll experience, but you’ll probably only experience a subset of all the possibles. Everyone warns you about all of them, though. At this point, the hardest to deal with has been the fatigue. The day after chemo was great – no problems whatsoever, and my energy level was normal. I tried really hard not to push it too hard, since I knew I was working on borrowed time. Fatigue was the one side effect the doctor kept mentioning, so I knew it was coming.

Chemo minus two days was when the fatigue set in, and it’s just now lifting, four days later. My body wasn’t tired so much as my mind and my head was tired. My eyes would feel like they were crossing, I was so tired. If I could get up the motivation to do something, I’d feel fine during the activity, but I’d want to go to sleep as soon as I was done. Reading or even watching TV seemed too taxing to me as well. Laying on the bed, listening to a podcast or radio show was about my speed, and by 9pm, I was ready for bed.

Today, I have felt a bit more energetic, which is great, but I’ve also had a bit more nausea. It was 2:30 before I felt like I wanted a nap, and I actually got a few things done this morning (like laundry). By late afternoon, though, my stomach was telling me to sit quietly on the couch. At least I had enough energy to do some reading for a change, and the Compazine finally seems to have taken the edge off the nausea. I don’t think the dog is getting a walk this evening, though. He’s all snuggled up on his bed anyways, so I’m not feeling too guilty for taking a night off.

First chemo

Nicole was my chemo nurse today, which meant she was the primary person who put each medication on my stand and started the IV through the port. You can see me all set and ready to get started in the photo.

All set to start adding drugs to my port

All set to start adding drugs to my port

I didn’t bother with the pain-numbing cream over my port. It just seemed like too much work for a little needle stick that hurts for only five seconds.

I get nine drugs each time I come for chemo. They start out with two anti-nausea drugs, Emend and Aloxi. Next I got an IV injection of a steroid, dexamethasone. I have to take the steroid the day before and for three days after to prevent edema from one of the chemo drugs. Yesterday, after taking my second dose of the dexamethasone, I noticed my first side effect – the lower side of my forearms was tingly and I felt pressure in the muscle. It was the weirdest feeling that went away about six hours after taking the dose. I know, because I was still awake at midnight, and 2am, and several other times in the night. I’m hoping that was mostly nerves, because I’d like to be able to sleep for the next few days.

After the steroid, I got Pepsid, to prevent heartburn and an allergic reaction. Then came Benadryl, which made me feel a little drunk and made my legs twitch (odd, but a common side effect). Finally, I got to my chemo drugs. We started out with a slow drip of Taxotere. Allergic reactions are common enough with this drug, they monitor you closely, and start it slow, increasing the drip rate over time. Next was Carboplatin, a pt78platinum-based chemo drug. I got two Tylenol, and then the last drug, Herceptin. Herceptin is a biological, treating specifically HER2-positive cancers. It’s not technically chemo, so it has less side effects, but I will get that one for a full year.

All the nurses are quite chipper and helpful. Although I pretty much had the place to myself when I started at 9am, by 1pm, all the chemo chairs have filled up. However, any of the nurses in the chemo area were able to help out. Ever once in a while, someone would be by with snacks and drinks if I wanted anything. The chemo room is pretty cold, and you’re sitting all the time. I ended up in a sweater, long pants, and still needed a blanket over my legs. I’ll have to force myself to wear pants to all chemo days, or I will be quite cold.

Overall, wasn’t a bad start to the process. We got in at 8am to see the doctor, and were out by 3:30pm. The only drug I noticed going in was Benadryl, and that wasn’t at all surprising. Now to see what the side effects are going to be like.

Element added: platinum