Seriously? Pimples? My Cancer Journey

This has got to be a joke. I mean, seriously. Really. Pimples.

Here I am in my late 50s, battling breast cancer and what happens? A number of pimples decide to show up on my chin. I had to rub my eyes and get my reading glasses. Yup! There they are. Three or four pimples on my chin.

This is so not funny. One would think that the cancer drugs that have been injected into me would take care of something as stupid as pimples. I mean, I am filled with drugs that are labelled “Hazardous Drugs”. The nurses put this stuff into me. It’s supposed to get rid of any and all cancer cells. But I guess not pimples.

I rubbed my chin just to be sure and yes, they are pimples. Daring to show up on my skin. This is insane. Ludicrous. Stupid. I mean, for crying out loud. Am I not past the point of still getting pimples? I guess not.

Well, whoever decided to blast my chin with pimples, I hope you are having a good laugh. Bald head with pimples on my chin. Great. Just great. I suppose you can’t mistake my head for a cue ball. What cue ball has pimples? Me. Just so ridiculous.

Auf Wiedersehen – My Cancer Journey

I started taking my anti nausea medication the very next day after the second round of chemotherapy. I still did feel nauseas even with the medication. My energy level was very low. I slept most of the night away Thursday. Riding my horse Friday morning, left me very tired.  But I had decided to make a decision about my hair. It was coming out. There is no way my hair would be spared. If I thought Monday to Wednesday was bad, Thursday and Friday were horrific.

Friday morning after my shower, there was a lot of hair by the shower drain. So much so, that it looked like a small mouse. Then when I combed my hair, there was so much hair in the comb, well, I cried. I put some in a pile beside Bill’s sink so that he could see how much I had lost.

This was it. I decided that after my Neulasta shot, I would go to Great Clips and be done with it. That is me. When I decide something, I do it. I do not let the grass grow beneath my feet. This does not always work out well for me but, unfortunately, that is the way I am and I was done with crying every morning.

Arrived at Great Clips and told the stylist that I needed to have my head shaved. I told him my hair is coming out and I just wanted to be done with it. There were two stylists in the store at that time with one other customer. I was seated and the stylist asked me twice if I was ready for this. I told him I was fine. I did not want to think about this any more. Just do it.

The hair came off really quickly and, surprisingly, there was no sudden gasp or scream or tears or any kind of feeling when I saw my bald head. The stylist told me I had a really nice head, not uneven or a weird shape or anything. I slowly reached up and touched my scalp. There still are hair bristles as the stylist could not shave right down but the hair is gone.

I looked behind the chair to see my hair. I was kind of surprised that I was calm. That I could look at my hair on the floor and have no emotions. Nothing.  Just a firm realization that it needed to be done. I asked the stylist to take a picture of me bald and then wearing the two wigs I had purchased. He was very kind and did so.

The female stylist told me about a young friend who was battling Stage 4 breast cancer and had thick long hair. She shaved it off for her friend when she started chemotherapy. It really hurts me to hear when young people are battling such aggressive types of cancer. I feel I am lucky.

My stylist picked up some of my hair and put it into an envelope. He said it would be a great keepsake which I was thankful for. I got hugs all around and left Great Clips wearing one of my turbans.

I look at myself in the mirror now and I am surprised by the bald head. Surprised a little. Not shocked. Not overly emotional. I have cried a couple of times. This cancer has stripped away some of my feelings of a sensual woman. I now have a puckered left breast. The lumpectomy incision healed but it has made a pucker in the area. Now my hair is gone.

I wonder what my husband thinks when he looks at me. I mean, he has to be feeling something. He says he liked my hair. But now it is gone. Cancer does not just affect the person battling it. Cancer also affects the people around the cancer patient. There is nothing they can do to ease the pain or the emotions or the fatigue or all of the other side effects from the drugs that are bombarding the cancer patient’s body. Well, there is something they can do. Treat us with love, and respect and patience.

Second Round – My Cancer Journey

My second round of chemotherapy went well. I forgot to put the lidocaine ointment over the area of my port. But the nurse is very good at inserting the line and I felt more pressure than anything else. So, no biggie that I forgot the numbing agent.

My blood work came back with good results so my second round of chemotherapy began. First filled up with saline solution. Then two different sets of anti nausea medications. I am not certain why the red “Hazardous Drugs” labels on the Adriamycin screamed out at me this time. I just kept thinking, yes, that is going to be pushed into me.

I was just so tired. I was trying to knit or read and couldn’t. I kept falling asleep. By the time the cytoxin was being dripped into my body, I felt a little more awake. But by the time I got back to the car, I fell asleep on the drive home.

Bill and I went out for dinner and when we got home, I managed to feed the pets, wash the dishes and then sat down on the couch and was gone. We had picked up more anti nausea medication and I took that but by 9:30 pm I crawled into bed and was gone for the rest of the night.

After listening to one woman describe how her hair was now returning and asking Megan, my nurse navigator, about losing hair, I had pretty much decided to wait until the next day and see how much hair would be gone.

Megan said that a number of women did hair cutting parties where they just had their hair cut short. Then there were other women who waited until their hair fell out. Then others, went ahead and had it shaved off. Great Clips does a Clips of Kindness promotion for cancer patients. Great Clips will shave your head for free. Just too tired now to make that decision. That could wait until the next day when I had to go back to the hospital for my shot of Neulasta.

Still Have Hair – My Cancer Journey

Meet Krickett. At least that is what Bill has called my blonde wig. I have to ask him what the auburn wig’s name is.

I still have hair. But for the last three days, after I shower and I comb out my wet hair, there are strands of my hair in the comb. The first day was not so bad. The second day, a little more. When I brushed my hair last night, there was a lot of my hair in the brush.

This morning, after my shower, there was more hair in the comb. I piled it up and left it beside Bill’s sink. It doesn’t hurt as it is coming out. I looked at myself in the mirror. I haven’t really liked my hair. It has always been fine. I was told that there was a lot of it but it is fine. I don’t know why I haven’t liked my hair. We, as women, always wish we could have different hair.

I have been told that when my hair comes back, it will come back differently. So I look at myself in the mirror and wonder how I will react when I see me with no hair. Bald. What will my skin look like? How will it feel? Even though I am trying not to let it bother me, I know it will bother me.

There is so much emotion wrapped into a woman’s hair. Men are more attracted to women with long hair. Hair that is long and free and blowing in the wind. You can hide behind your hair. It is a part of you. Rapunzel had tremendously long tresses. Medusa’s was made up of snakes. But still long. How many people take much time describing a woman’s short hair?  Hair is sensuous and, so with it, a woman is sexy with flowing, long hair. How sexy is a bald woman?

I have already a slightly deformed breast with my lumpectomy and soon I will no longer have any hair. I am getting older and things are not holding up as well as they did when I was younger. And I just got married this year. So my self image has taken a dive. No matter how determined I am or how many times I am told I am beautiful, those words do not really register with the “I have a slightly dimpled scar on my breast and I will no longer have hair”.

It will take time to work through all the emotions. It will take a few good cries. But it is not easy. I wish people would remember that. Not quickly say, don’t worry, don’t stress. Let those of us who are going through this mourn the losses. Let us take our time. Just love us and say you can’t imagine but that you will try to understand.

Feeling Green – My Cancer Journey

Thursday I went back for my Neulasta shot. It was put into the chicken wing of my arm. Not bad, but a bit of a stinging sensation as it was injected. I went home, not certain what to expect.

Did I remember to take the anti nausea medicine as prescribed? No. I wasn’t feeling nauseous, so I didn’t think to do that. Bill and I also had quite the discussion about Claritin. Jolly, the pharmacist, had said to pick up Claritin for the bone ache from the Neulasta shot. Bill could not see what any of the ingredients for the Claritin had anything to do with aches and he did not remember Jolly telling us that the medical field did not know why it works but that it does There is some mechanism in the drug that helps with the pain. Bill and I argued about it then we ended up purchasing the generic brand. Did I remember to start taking the Claritin the day after my Neulasta shot? No.

Sunday I started to feel quite tired and  generally not well. Still no thought of taking my anti nausea medication or the Claritin. Monday morning, I got up, fed the pets, started to eat breakfast and started to feel really sick. Ran to the bathroom and knelt before the toilet god. I emptied everything there was in me.

Staggered back to the couch and tried to call my nurse navigator. But she wasn’t in. So I called my medical oncologist’s nurse.  She told me I needed to be taking the anti nausea medication every day. I was prescribed two and I was supposed to take one of them three times per day and the other one as needed.

While she was telling me that we as women need to stop feeling guilty about not taking care of others during this time, I felt my stomach heave. I was told I needed to take care of myself and sleep. I tried to blurt out that I needed to throw up again and while I was racing again to the bathroom, I hung up on the nurse and even though I thought I had emptied out pretty much everything, there was still a little something left that I managed to retch out.

I brushed my teeth and rinsed out my mouth. Crawled back onto the couch and fell asleep. At some point, I did take the anti nausea medication and nibbled on some crackers. Also managed to get some water in me. My body just does not like having drugs put into it.

The next day I felt better and I made certain to stick with the three times per day medication and the second one in between when my stomach started to twist. But at this point, my whole pelvic region ached. Everything around my hips was sore and ached. I called my nurse navigator and she asked if I was taking the Claritin like I had been told. Oops. My bad. I was supposed to take one Claritin a day right after the Neulasta shot. I was told to try Tylenol or ibuprofen for the pain.

I really do not like to take medication. I always end up with either/and/or dizziness, diarrhea, stomach upset, headaches and aches. But after that Monday, I religiously stuck to taking the anti nausea medicines. I hate throwing up. But then I guess everyone else feels the same way.

I started to feel better. But certain smells started to twist my stomach and I just kept away from them. My mouth started to get rough patches. I rinsed out my mouth with a special mouthwash my dentist had sent to me. The soles of my feet started to feel hot. I was tired. And I started to get really grumpy as I was waiting to see when my hair would start falling out. Each day I announced that I still have my hair. My son kept telling me not to stress out about it. I told him I wasn’t stressing, just remarking that I still have hair.

I still have hair, but it is starting to come out. Tomorrow I go for the second round of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy – My Cancer Journey

It was here. The first day, the first round of chemotherapy. My best friend and her daughter had arrived the night before and went with Bill and I to my appointment. I was frightened. I was nervous. I was anxious. I was so glad Elizabeth and Delaney could be with me.

We first met with my medical oncologist. Bill had applied the lidocaine ointment over the probe for me. I unfortunately managed to get some on my tongue. Yes, this stuff works.

I wasn’t surprised that my blood pressure was elevated. The nurse wasn’t either. The nurse inserted her needle and drew blood. Did not feel a thing until Bill asked the nurse if she could use a larger post the next time. What a man. The nurse left the iv in, sent the blood work off to the labs and we made our way to the infusion room. Infusion room.

It was a busy place. From what I remember, all the chairs were full and I took the last empty one. Large windows behind me. Glass panels on the ceiling with pictures of leaves and the sky. But none of this could detract from what would be happening and was happening to everyone there. The nurse told me they had to wait for the results from the lab before they could get started. The wait times on this varied greatly. If my blood work was good, then they could proceed. The nurse warned me that if at any time my blood work was not acceptable, I would be sent home and asked to come back in one week. Well, that was not going to happen today since this was my first treatment.

A large saline solution was plugged into me. The nurse told me I would be filled with two different types of anti nausea medicine before the chemo drugs. I was told that Zofran causes constipation and that I should alternate between the two drugs. The nurse also showed me the chemo drugs. The first one, Adriamycin, was red in color. The second one, cytoxin, was clear.

The lab results came back clear. Two different anti nausea medicines were given to me via the port. I had to wait 30 minutes once it was complete. Then the nurse put on a gown and gloves and sat beside me. I was told that she had to watch as the Adriamycin was being pushed in that it did not come back out. It took her seven minutes to push the red stuff in. Then I was told I would be given the next drug in 30 minutes.

Thirty minutes later, cytoxin was hung on my iv and it dripped into me after 30 minutes. I was unhooked from the tubes and sent home. I was given instructions to return the next day at 4pm for the Neulasta shot. It would be given into the chicken wing part of my arm.  Except my chicken wing is not so flabby. I am proud of that. Grooming, lifting saddles and riding does that for a person. An easy shot that would take 5 minutes in all.

We went home and I was fine. Tired but fine. Okay, I thought to myself. This is okay. I can do this. I will be fine. Thank goodness I told my medical oncologist that I am a real lightweight with medications. I throw up easily. I get diarrhea. I don’t know if it is my mind that is fighting the medications or my body. Either way, I know myself and that I am a lightweight. I was not prepared for what would happen in the following week.

Wigs and Turbans – My Cancer Journey

I started looking into wigs and turbans. Bill picked the blonde one and I picked something a little more adventurous. The long, light auburn wig. When the wigs arrived, I tried them both on. Then sent pictures to my family to ask for their opinion. My son was the only one who liked the auburn. Everyone else preferred the blonde wig. Bill told me the auburn one looked like she would cruise bars.

A number of wig sites are available for hair loss. When I looked at all the different options, the prices are expensive. There are a lot of wigs made of human hair. I just was not certain about purchasing such an expensive item for a short period of time. My oldest daughter actually grew her hair and then had it cut off to be donated to be made into a wig. She has beautiful hair and I was truly touched that she would do that.

A friend of mine then told me about the Paula Young website. A lot of wonderful wigs at a fraction of the price of other wig websites. These are the wigs I ordered. Just two. I am determined that this is all I will need.

I also ordered a number of turbans. Nothing that I would have to tie. Just have cute colors that I can put on my head. I researched a number of sites and went with bamboo made turbans. We have bamboo pillows and we love the feel and softness of the bamboo. The pillows do not get hot or cold. The temperature stays the same. I thought having something like that on a sensitive scalp would be the best route. The turbans arrived and are cute.

All my friends and family have told me to have fun with the wigs and turbans. Be creative. Be cute. Be adventurous. I know they are trying to be very supportive and helpful. I know they are being encouraging. But still. It is my hair that I will be losing. I don’t know how I will react when the hair starts falling out.

 

Cleared to go – My Cancer Journey

The final appointment before chemo treatments would start was with my surgeon. Bill said everything had healed well and it appeared as if the incision was finally sealed.

We saw her on Friday and she examined my incision. She looked at Bill and asked him what he thought. He told her that he thought it was healed but that he would defer to her opinion. She smiled and said she concurred with him. She also told him that he had done a great job of taking care of my incision.

We then made an appointment for 6 months time to see when I should have my mammogram. She said she wasn’t certain about the left breast but the right breast would definitely need the mammogram. We would then decide on the next steps for mammograms.

A sigh of relief that the incision was healed but a sigh of trepidation and anxiety. Chemo treatments. Hair falling out. Fingernails breaking and becoming brittle. Mouth sores. Achy bones. Nausea. Diarrhea. Constipation. Sleepiness. My body feeling like it was being punched around. The thought of having all these chemicals in my body was stressing me out.

But the greatest joy I was trying to focus on were my husband, my children, my family, friends and my pets. My son and his wife came for a visit one weekend. My youngest daughter and her boyfriend came at the same time. This was the best thing for me. To have them around me, laughing, talking and enjoying each other. Waiting for the birth of my first grandchild is giving me so much joy. I just pray for a safe delivery and that my daughter and her child are healthy. These are the things I need to focus on to help me through this.

I think I am finally getting it that I have cancer. I wouldn’t be having all these appointments and treatments if I didn’t have cancer. But it still just feels all so surreal. Reports are that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. That is such a high number. So many women. So much fear, pain, suffering and loss. I suppose there is a reason for all of this. I don’t know what it is. I just know I can’t do this without knowing God is in my life.  One day at a time with my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my pets and with God.

Lumpectomy – My Cancer Journey

Is there anyone who looks forward to surgery? I am such a lightweight when it comes to medications. The slightest dose and I am done.

I was disappointed with Bill from the night before. He fell asleep on the couch. I needed his arms around me, holding me during the night. But I didn’t verbalize that, merely wished it and when it didn’t happen, I was disappointed.

We arrived at the hospital on time. Registered and then I was called in. Bill was instructed to wait until I was settled. I had been informed the week before that I would be receiving the wire the day of the surgery, not the seed. Bill was ushered in after the nurse had taken my vitals and I had changed into the hospital gown.

I was then taken to radiology where they would do another ultrasound to pinpoint the precise location of the tumor and insert the wire. Bill had to remain behind. The doctor arrived to insert the wire. The doctor said the area would be numbed prior to the insertion of the wire. She said it would be like a bee sting. It was. It startled me because, even though the doctor said, I am giving you the needle, I jumped. I think it had something to do with my nerves. The wire was inserted.

This procedure is done when the tumor is small. My tumor was 1.5 cm. The wire would give the exact location of the tumor to help my surgeon find it. Wire was left protruding out. The technician came and put a clean urine sample bottle over the wire. This was so that I wouldn’t bump the ends and inadvertently pull out the wire. The bottle was taped down to my breast. I was really tempted to take a picture of this to send to my children but I think they were already pretty upset. They didn’t need to be permanently traumatized by seeing their mother’s breast with a urine bottle taped to it. Madonna, move over!

I was wheeled back to my pre surgery bed. My surgeon came next and told me what to expect after the surgery. I don’t think I really heard everything. Okay, all I heard was that I was healthy and I would come out of it great.

My anesthesiologist came next. Dr. Doolittle. How cool is that? I was tempted to ask him if he talked to animals but figured with me there, that was close enough. I told him I vomit easily. He looked at my throat and my charts and said, I will take care of that. Not to worry. He then clapped his hands (really) and said, great. You are healthy and young. You will be fine. I tried to breathe evenly.

Soon enough, they came to wheel me away. I really appreciate how you are very aware of your surroundings one minute and then you are gone. And the next thing you remember is being told to wake up. The nurse got a little annoyed when I said I don’t want to.

I did not want to wake up and see half my boob gone. I did not want to wake up and feel like I wanted to throw up. I did not want to wake up and see one hill rather than two where my left breast used to be. I just did not want to wake up. But when the nurse said, rather sharply like my mother could, Sylvia, you need to wake up, very reluctantly and very slowly did I open my eyes and told her that I am awake.

I looked up at the ceiling. I did not want to look anywhere else. I looked at the nurse and then the ceiling. That was it. The nurse checked me over and I don’t really remember everything that she did, I was so busy avoiding looking at my body. But I was finally wheeled to where Bill could sit with me until I was discharged.

The nurse there checked me over and gave me time before she said I would need to use the restroom and then I could get dressed. I was feeling pretty good. Whatever Dr. Doolittle had given me left me with no nausea, merely a happy tired feeling. I told the nurse I could probably use the restroom.

I toddled off to the restroom and did what the nurse asked. When I got up to flush the toilet, I was shocked to see the toilet bowl filled with blue. I walked out of the restroom and with a frown, told the nurse that my pee was blue. She said good. That I would have blue pee for a number of days. It was from the radioactive dye they inserted into my lymph nodes to test for cancer. Apparently, the surgeon removed 4 lymph nodes.

Then I was told to get dressed and I was forced to look at my chest. I couldn’t see much as it was all padded with surgical pads and tape. I was told I had to keep everything dry and the padding couldn’t come off for two days. My surgeon would see me in one week. When I looked, it appeared as if my left breast was still there, for the most part.

None of it hurt. I was just tired and wanted to go home and go to bed. I went to sleep the rest of the day away.

Probe – err – Port Placement – My Cancer Journey

I was nervous about having something foreign put into my body. It’ll be great – I was told. You will love it – I was told. I was not sure about this. I felt like aliens would be putting a probe into me with a tracking device.

Bill’s sister, Susan, took us to the hospital early that day. Bill was still on brain rest and could not drive. He was still suffering from dizzy spells. Don’t we make a pair? She dropped us off and we went in to the hospital. We did not have to wait long and I was taken to a bed to get into a hospital gown.

Bill was given a not very comfortable chair to sit in. I was hoping he would have something more comfortable so that he could sleep while he was waiting for me. But, Bill can pretty much sleep anywhere.

I was, again, given an iv. I think I am starting to feel like a pin cushion now but this nurse inserted the needle so beautifully, that I did not even feel it. It was wonderful. The nurses I had today asked which side the lumpectomy was done on and were very good about doing everything on the right. One of the nurses placed sticky pads on my back. Both nurses noticed my butterfly tattoo on my back and asked about the ball and chain. I told them the butterfly breaking free of the ball and chain was in celebration of my divorce. Both nurses laughed and were complimentary of my tattoo. I told them I was thinking of getting a tattoo once my chemo and radiation treatments were  done to represent me being a breast cancer survivor.

I was reminded that I would be sedated today. I told them I would be asleep. They asked about anti nausea medication and I told them I would probably be nauseous. I was given more medication and then told I would be sleepy. I do remember being wheeled away for the procedure. I do remember scooting over to the operating table. I do remember seeing two men who said they would be taking care of me and putting the probe, I mean, port into me. Then I do not remember anything else.

I was back with Bill. He kept telling me to drink the water and eat the crackers. There was a table in front of me with the items and I said, okay. I drank some water, ate some crackers and said to Bill, I am going back to sleep. He said to me, oh no you don’t. You need to stay awake now. I told him I don’t want to. I want to sleep. He got a little anxious with me and told me I needed to finish off the water and crackers and get dressed. Apparently, when the nurses first wheeled me back and told me to wake up, I just laughed at them. As I kept sleeping, they were getting concerned and thinking about admitting me to the hospital.

Well, I managed to finish the water and crackers and got myself dressed. I did say to Bill, are you happy? But then I do not remember at all how I got to the car. Joe, Mary’s husband, picked us up at the hospital. I just remember climbing into the back of his car, buckling myself in and saying to both Bill and Joe, I am going back to sleep. I managed to lie down on the back seat and promptly fell asleep.

Joe tried to help me out of the car when we got home and I told him, I’m okay. I managed to walk into our bedroom, got into my pajamas and crawled into bed. I had the best sleep and finally struggled out of bed at 6pm. The procedure had been done at 8am that morning. So what is wrong with just sleeping away the entire day?

I cuddled with Bill on the couch. There was a large plastic see-through bandage covering the port. I also had an incision close to my neck. My neck hurt and was strained. I think the doctor turned my head in such a way during the procedure to be able to get good access at my throat to place the tube. At any rate, my neck was stiff and sore for a good five days after the placement.

Bill was told that I could not shower for 48 hours. The bandage could not get wet. But after the 48 hours, I could shower and remove the bandage. The steri strips covering the port needed to stay on for at least five days. When Bill removed the bandage, I had two areas around the bandage that were red and very sore. Poor Bill had to take care of my lumpectomy incision and now this area. Both areas grossed me out but I did manage to put Neosporin on the sore bandage areas. I thought my skin was allergic to the bandage. Bill thought it was from the tension due to how tightly the bandage was put on to cover the area.

I was getting that much closer to the chemotherapy treatments. I still had an appointment with my surgeon in regards to the lumpectomy incision. It would be her decision if I could proceed with the chemo.