Hair – It Returns

Well, hello there eyelashes. Oh how I’ve missed you. You’ve been gone so long. It’s so nice to see you again. 🙂

My eyelashes are almost back. The bottom lashes are fully grown and the top lashes are about half the original full length. I’m very excited about this. I’m even more excited about how thick they are. I think they are thicker than they were before I went through chemo. This is what I used to help accelerate their growth:

Unfortunately, all of the unwanted hair is back as well. Yes, I’m back to shaving my legs again. Since I’m out of practice and didn’t realize my razor was dull, I cut my legs up trying to shave them the other day. This created a horrible mess and I ended up using several of the kids’ Band-Aids.

Happily, my days of wearing a wig are numbered…just in time for cold fall and winter days. The wigs kept my head warm some days in the cold office that I work in. It will be an interesting adjustment to have to style my hair again which I haven’t done in about 6 months. My boys say that their hair is longer than mine, but I think it’s pretty close. If my hair grows as fast as their hair does, I will have something to work with in about eight weeks. Yay!!

I’m happy to start getting back to normal.

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And So It Begins…

As previously mentioned, on Friday, August 22nd, I had what they call a “dry run” radiation session. This means that I went into the radiation room and they lined me up to the machine based on the scans, x-rays and tattoos. My job is to lay heavy on the table and let the technicians move me into position. This is harder than it sounds because it’s natural to want to help. As they moved me, they called out coordinates and someone in another room recorded them. This whole process took about 20 minutes.

On Monday, August 25th, I officially started radiation therapy. This appointment was in the morning. I saw all of the technicians I saw before plus a couple of new ones. One technician was waiting for me when I came out of the dressing room and informed me that I actually need to be ready to go back to the radiation room at my appointment time not arriving at my appointment time. No one had mentioned this to me before so I thanked her for the information. When I get back to the radiation room, the table is all set up and they ask me to sign in. This is where I put the date, day of the week, my pain level and initial it. There is also a place for the technicians to notify the doctor of any skin issues that require attention. Then I go lay down on the table and lay heavy as they adjust me. I just have to make sure I turn my head to the left so they don’t get my throat. Once I’m settled, I’m not to move and everyone leaves the room. Did I mention that the door into this room is probably about 15 inches thick? Anyway, they have a camera on me and microphones in the room so they can see and hear me.

The radiation begins with the machine above me. About 30 seconds pass before it starts and I only know that it’s working because it makes a buzzing sound. Then it moves to my left side at about a 45 degree angle and adjusts the metal things inside (not sure what they’re called but I can see them move). Then it buzzes again. Then the machine moves around me to the right side. I think this one is going for my arm pit but not sure because I’m looking left. 🙂 The machine buzzes again. Each of the buzzing sounds last about 30 seconds. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Believe it or not, I actually dozed off during my second visit.

After this first appointment, I met with a nurse for an orientation. She discussed the do’s and don’t’s of skin care as it relates to radiation therapy. I am changing my soap to Ivory soap and using my usual Aveeno fragrance free lotion because they are on the list of approved skin care items. She gave me a small Biohazard bag (LOL) full of Eucerine Aquaphor and Udderly Smooth samples. I carry one sample in my purse at all times because I’m supposed to apply some to the radiated area after each treatment.

On Wednesday’s, I meet with my radiation oncologist after my treatment and discuss how things are going. On Tuesday’s, they take x-rays during the treatment to ensure they are still radiating the correct locations. Otherwise each treatment session is the same, with wait times that vary between the technicians waiting for me or me waiting up to 45 minutes for them.

Today was treatment day six and it is the first time that I’ve noticed where they are treating me. My pain level is still zero, as they say, but I can definitely tell where the treatments are focused.

Only 19 treatments to go!!

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Radiation Therapy

Happiness is…finding out that I only have five weeks of treatments instead of six. Which translates into 25 treatments on business days (I get Labor Day off) instead of the 30 I was originally told I would have. For those of you not familiar with radiation, this is localized and only treats the area where cancer was found. In my case, the cancerous tumors were found in my right breast and in three lymph nodes including the sentinel lymph node (the “first” in that group of lymph nodes).

On Friday, August 15th, I met with my radiation oncologist. He and I visited for a few minutes in one of the patient rooms. I asked questions about anti-oxidants and what to expect during the treatments. Regarding anti-oxidants, I can eat fresh fruits and veggies. I cannot take anti-oxidant supplements. Regarding what to expect, I won’t feel anything during the treatments but the effects will accumulate as the days/weeks pass and I will begin to feel more and more tired and my skin will become less elastic and damaged like having a sunburn. Unlike a sunburn, my skin will stay tight forever where it has been treated. When I start to feel the effects of the radiation, I am to ask the nurses for creams to treat the affected areas.

Once our conversation ended, I put on one of their lovely hospital gowns and waited to be taken back for a CT scan. The machine is smaller and open ended so it wasn’t as scary as the MRI. Plus, I was able to keep my wig on and most of my clothes including my shoes. They put a thick elastic band around my toes so they stuck together. I’m not sure why. The machine is not nearly as loud as the MRI so I didn’t need to have ear plugs.

They marked with a Sharpie places on my body that were key to lining me up for my radiation treatments. The doctor and lasers identified these locations. Then they started the machine after they all left the room. I moved in and out and in and out and in and out. Then they came back into the room and proceeded to mark the “line up” locations with ink and a needle (aka tattoos). I have six tiny permanent dots that will line me up each day for the treatments.

The rest of the appointment consisted of a walk-through of what I will do each appointment going forward. This includes checking myself in through a touch screen, changing and then waiting in a waiting room to be called back for the treatment. Each appointment should take no more than 20 minutes.

On Friday, August 22nd, I am scheduled for a dry-run of the process. They may or may not do a treatment at this time. According to my oncologist, they don’t start treatments on Fridays. So, it’s very likely a treatment will not occur until Monday, August 25th.

I’m having a little anxiety about this part of the process because I know that the outcome of it will determine which surgery I will have for the reconstruction step of the process. But, I know that everything will be ok.

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Peach Fuzz

It’s a good thing it’s peach season ’cause I’ve got the hair for it. Bwahahahaha. And…that’s why I’m an auditor and not a comedian. 🙂

Seriously, though, I’m super grateful to have hair coming in. It originally looked white but now I can see a bit of my strawberry blonde. The strands are very thin and weak and appear to have the chemo curl I’ve heard so much about. I will continue to wear my wigs and my scarves in public until my hair is long and thick enough to cover my scalp.

Sadly, I only have a few eyelashes left on the top eyelid. They actually started to fall off after my final chemo. I was really hoping to make it through without this happening. After some research online, I learned of a product that helps prevent eyelashes and eyebrows from falling out while you’re going through chemo. I’ll post that information at a later date. Since I didn’t have this product while on chemo, as I understand it my eyelashes and eyebrows will come back after my hair comes back. My eyebrows are sparse as well. I attempted to put on fake eyelashes. It was a disaster. I put one on correctly, the other was pointing down. Those that noticed politely said how great they looked. So sweet of them but the lashes did NOT look great. So, lots of eyeliner and eye shadow it is. I can definitely do that.

I’m thrilled with my hair growth so far and I think I can contribute the success of that to rubbing aloe vera on my head twice a day and taking lots of vitamins. I’m also eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies now that they are an option for me again. My sister gave me a serum to use on my eyelashes and eyebrows to help them grow in more quickly. Fingers crossed that all this works. I long to return to normal.

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Port Removal

I’m happy to report that I had my port removed on July 25th. It was an annoying little thing but it saved my veins. Sadly, without a port, the chemotherapy would have ruined many of my veins. I’m glad that I made the decision to have the port “installed” but I’m also happy to have chemo completed and to have the port removed. For me, the port stuck out a bit from my chest and caused a little sore on my collar bone where the tube passed to my neck. The sore took weeks to heal due to my weakened immune system. It was  also under my skin, closer to the tube so a Band-Aid or topical ointment wouldn’t have helped.

My seat belt always put pressure on the port causing a little pain at first and then a minor annoyance. Probably the most painful would be anytime my little guy, Ethan, was sitting on my lap and he pressed his head back against me. That would actually cause me to scream out in pain. Suffice it to say, I had a love/hate relationship with my port.

I’ll get to the point – On the 25th, in the early afternoon, I went to the hospital to have the port removed. It’s considered a very minor surgery (I’m not sure if I need to include it in my list of surgeries, that’s how minor it is) so, I had to fill out the paperwork again. I got a little bit annoyed with this and in a couple of sections that I knew hadn’t changed, I just put “please see previous paperwork”. I was still filling out paperwork when they took me back to the prep room. The people seemed to be in a rush to prep me…and then I waited about an hour before I was taken back to the surgery room. But, I did get to watch most of an episode of Friends while I waited. I’d forgotten how funny that show is. 🙂

They wheeled me back to the surgery room, asked me what kind of music I liked and I had a better answer this time. I asked for some Maroon 5. They stream Pandora so I figured I would get other artists with the same type of music. I love the song “Moves Like Jagger”. No blood pressure cuff this time. But, they did have a humongous drape for me. I couldn’t see what was going on once they put that over me. While the physician assistant numbed the area with lidocaine, I said “ouch” once and then made faces behind the drape. The nurse peaked around the drape to make sure I was ok and saw me making faces. Hahaha. Yes, it hurt but I was being a little melodramatic. I told him I was fine.

I felt pressure as they cut my skin and tugged out the port. Then the nurse had to put pressure on my neck while the tube was removed as well. They added more lidocaine a bit deeper, behind where the port was. I’m not sure how they cauterized that but soon they were sewing me up which I felt, not in a painful way, just in a “I now know how fabric feels” kind of way. Hopefully that makes sense.   

Finally, they added the surgical glue and rolled me back to my prep room. All-in-all, the appointment took about three hours. I was starving and craving Wendy’s. I saw a Wendy’s commercial while I was watching Friends. The advertising totally worked on me. Yes, it was a delicious celebratory dinner and yes, I did have a Diet Coke. Yum!!

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The Light at the End of the Chemo Tunnel

It’s here!! Just two days away!! I can finally see it!! My final chemo transfusion. Only one more bout of pain. Yippy!! So excited. This journey began in February and it’s been a long five months. But, it’s not over yet. Radiation starts in August.

What a journey it’s been so far. I’ve learned so much about myself and my family. I’ve learned tons about cancer and cancer treatments. I’ve learned how much sickness, pain and weariness I can tolerate. I’ve learned how to be more patient…at least I think I have. 🙂

I’m really looking forward to my final chemo on Friday and, if all goes as anticipated, looking forward to the Friday after that which is when I will start to feel good again. Silver linings.

Another silver lining – My doctor and I have discussed having my port taken out. Yippy!! It’s been a good run, but I’m really ready to have it out.

Summary of next steps: last chemo then four weeks off to recover, have port removed, prep for radiation and follow up appointments with chemo oncologist. Hmmm…that doesn’t really sound like four weeks off, does it?

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Round 7 Recovery

So, I’m recovering from round 7. I know I’ve briefly explained the side effects of Taxol but I thought I would elaborate a little more since I’m in the midst of it.

After the treatment, I am very weary, not just tired but weary. My arms and legs are itchy. My goal is not to scratch them because that just makes it worse. Plus I don’t want to get a rash (which I did the first time I received Taxol). My arms and legs continue to feel itchy when the muscle and bone pain begins which is about 48 hours after treatment. I literally think, “and there it is” when the pain begins. I feel the pain throughout my body – fingertips, pelvis, calves, everywhere. I usually get a headache within hours of the pain starting. I usually take Benedryl to help me sleep but it has its own side effects. Ibuprofen helps bring down the pain a notch. Claritin helps with the pain a bit too. The pain was bad enough last night that it nearly brought me to tears.

With all that said, I would still take the side effects of Taxol over the Adriamycin and Citoxin side effects. For one thing, I don’t feel like I’m in a chemo fog anymore which is nice, but I’m definitely more emotional. I don’t like that.

My eyebrows and eyelashes have almost made it through all of this. They are sparse, but I can still apply make up to them. I’m hoping they make it. I have no idea how to put on fake eyelashes or how to draw eyebrows on.

I’m still looking forward to finishing chemo and moving on to radiation.

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Happy Happy Happy

What am I so happy about? It’s July!! July represents my fourth and last month of chemo. So excited to complete this phase. Yay for July!!

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Round 6

Tomorrow is round 6. I feel like I’ve been on this journey for forever. Taxol hasn’t been nearly as bad as the AC rounds…so far anyway. I spoke to my breast cancer bestie who just finished her treatments last week and it seems her side effects got worse each time. Her last round was terrible and I felt empathy for her trial. She was on Cytoxan and Taxotere (Taxotere and Taxol are in the same medicinal family and have similar side effects).

The side effects I’ve had with Taxol have been fatigue, joint pain, dry peeling skin, back pain and stomach pain. Headaches seem to come easily as well. My hands hurt a bit the first weekend too which means I didn’t ice them enough during the treatment. Icing means to put ice packs on the hands and feet to keep them cold preventing the chemo from going to your toes and fingers. This prevents neuropathy. Janet helps me rotate the ice packs throughout the treatment. I kept her on her toes during round 5 running back and forth to and from the hospital freezer. 🙂 And then I decided I wanted Runts (which I haven’t had since I was probably in high school) and she went and bought a plethora of them. She’s awesome.

I’m keeping this post short but wanted to give a quick update to let all of you know that I’m feeling better than I have in quite some time and I’m looking forward to my last treatment on July 18th.

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Round 5 – Coming Up

I’m not going to sugar coat it. The first four rounds of chemo have been rough. The side effects have been similar to the ones I experienced while pregnant…only about 10 times worse and I actually lost weight. 10 pounds to be exact. I’m back down to my pre-baby weight. But because they (the doctors) don’t want me to lose more than five pounds during this process, I’ve been trying to gain weight this week.

The side effects I’ve experienced with the adriamycin/citoxin therapy (even the thought right now makes me want to hurl): Nausea, vomiting, weary, chemo brain (foggy thoughts and memory), terrible depth perception, no appetite, etc. It’s truly a terrible experience. Adriamycin is nicknamed the “red devil”. I HATE IT!! It only takes about 10-15 minutes for the nurses to push it into the port but THAT is the one that makes me miserable. The nausea is bad enough that they give me three anti-nausea medicines before the chemo’s administered plus I have four different anti-nausea medications I can take at home. One of which, I don’t like at all. Whenever I take it, I sleep for hours and feel funky when I wake up. Lorazapam is preferred. It makes me drowsy, I sleep for a little while and wake up feeling half-way normal. The new normal, that is. The other two anti-nausea medications do not make me sleepy. I asked for these in an effort to avoid suffering through the nausea while trying to work.

One of the medications they were giving me after the chemo’s was one that is supposed prevent blood counts from going too low. This causes bone pain. Lucky for me, I have a wonderful neighbor who has gone through this before and helped me recognize that, for me, the bone pain was in my skull. These headaches were awful as well. But, once I had this hint, I was able to take some Claritin which took the pain away. Yay!!

One of the things they have you do after each treatment is drink TONS of water. Two to three quarts every 24 hours. My experience has been that I feel like I’m drying up from the inside out. I would drink water and then my mouth would instantly dry up. So, I would drink more water and more and more. Just keeping up with the water intake seemed exhausting at times.

Due to low blood counts, I managed to catch between the third and the fourth rounds. Talk about misery. Again – awful. Not only that, my body couldn’t fight it. I finally had to go to the Instacare to get some prescription cold medicine and an antibiotic to help.

Prior to my most recent, and last, A/C treatment, I began experiencing nausea the morning of the appointment. I asked the mid-level about it and she said that it’s called Anticipatory Nausea. It basically means that I was dreading going to the appointment enough that I began psychologically experiencing the side effects. Apparently, it’s normal.

Am I whining enough yet? 🙂

Tomorrow is round 5. The drug I will be given is Taxol. Some of the side effects are the same and some are different.

  • Low blood counts
  • Hair loss (no worries – it’s already gone)
  • Pain in muscles and joints (new)
  • Peripheral Neuropathy (new – this is numbness of fingers and toes)
  • Nausea
  • Other side effects not mentioned above and not mentioned here either (not new)
  • Mouth sores (not new)
  • Reaction that is similar to an allergic reaction

This is what I have to look forward to this weekend. Wish me luck!!

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