The Final One

Tuesday, May 22, 2018 was the last day of radiation treatment. Everyone who finishes treatment gets this certificate. Kind of like when parents or grandparents go on holidays and they bring back a tshirt for their children. Whoopee!

Or I should look at it, like now my poor breast and back can heal. I was told it would get worse before it gets better. It definitely is getting worse. There is bleeding going on from the wounds on my back and in my armpit. Not a lot but enough that I can see it when I dry myself off after a shower. Trotting with my horse is definitely not comfortable right now. I will trudge on with the ointments, that is for sure.

What is next? My port will be removed the beginning of June. Then the end of June, I will see both oncologists. Dr. Bobo will check how things are healing and Dr. Hellner will start me on my medication. I was also told to have my last ovary removed. We do not want any chance of anything leading to estrogen production.

Lately, I have been quite moody. My daughter told me that her friend’s father went through a personality change after his radiation treatments. She wasn’t sure what kind of a change but the friend’s mother said there was a change. I researched that and couldn’t find anything about personality change. I just know that I have been quick to cry and certain sad things hit me harder than before.

Is that because of the chemo drugs and radiation? I don’t know. I certainly know that being diagnosed with cancer, having a lumpectomy that deforms my left breast along with lymph node removal that has left me with no feeling in my left armpit, going through powerful drugs that have warning labels on them, going through radiation where the technicians run out of the room when the machine starts, probably contributes to the emotional feelings.

Right now both my daughters are going through a difficult time and it breaks my heart. I have been crying for them. I have been going through Bill’s old photographs and I have been left in tears. He is such a handsome man and all his old pictures show how handsome he was as a younger man. This has left me feeling inadequate, when I shouldn’t. I see pictures of abused animals and I begin to cry. So far, I am not angry. Just sad and teary eyed.

I am hoping that riding and loving on my horse, going to tai chi and yoga classes will help with my emotions. I am determined to make changes in my lifestyle. I am going green. Not only for myself but for this beautiful planet and my children and grandchildren. I will be using the Environmental Working Group website (ewg.org) to make better selections.

Oh, and I am looking up breast cancer tattoos. At the end of June, I will add a tattoo to my arm of a pink ribbon. I am not sure if I want Warrior or Survivor included on the ribbon. I am still debating that.

Tai Chi/Qigong and yoga

While still living in Canada, I took a number of tai chi classes. I enjoyed them but that was several years ago. Levine Cancer Institute offers free tai chi/qigong and yoga classes to its patients, survivors, care givers and employees. My oncologist recommended that I start taking a class.

I am glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed the first tai chi class. Several people there were quick to let me know that it has taken them three years to remember all the patterns. Not sure how long it will take me. I learned a pattern called, Embrace the Moon. So many different steps, stands, hand movements, all moving together. Not easy but I can laugh at myself and my attempts.

Tai Chi and Qigong are very old forms of martial art. They combine breathing and slow, fluid movements to help restore balance in the body’s energy system. “Qi” (or “Chi”) means the life force or internal energy in our bodies.

The cancer related benefits are many. Tai Chi and Qigong can calm the mind and emotions. Although when you are first learning the movements, it can be frustrating. But if you are patient and keep watching, it will happen. I’m still not sure if I should just focus on my feet and then get the hand movements or what I should do.

Tai Chi and Qigong can improve balance and help prevent falls. I noticed I was focusing on my core and breathing with the movements. This is from my previous days in yoga, I think. So that helps. Also, many cancer patients suffer from neuropathy in the hands or feet. I am experiencing neuropathy in my feet. I have many knitting projects and have found the knitting has helped with my hands. I am noticing that the neuropathy is slowly getting less in my feet. Right now it is just in my toes, a really strange feeling. But I now know that this neuropathy will not last.

It can help reduce muscle and joint pain. Cancer patients suffer with this depending on the chemotherapy drugs given to them. I have noticed more joint pain, especially in my back where I have arthritis in my spine. And now that I think about it, my back felt much better after the class.

It can help promote clear thinking and focus. Boy! Is that true. You have to stay focused on the teacher and people around you or you will walk into someone and/or get run over. I know that I have complained many times about “chemo brain” from the chemotherapy. It is very true and not just old age creeping up on me.

It can increase flexibility and energy. The tai chi has slow, fluid movements which helps with stretching your muscles. I know my energy levels have been quite low from first, the chemotherapy, and now the radiation treatments. But the tai chi will help with that.

It can uplift your spirits and improve breathing. The teacher at the tai chi class kept telling us to smile with our breathing. The people in the group were very encouraging and positive. Surrounding yourself with positive people, helps your state of mind. Following along with all the movements also encouraged me to breathe properly.

All I know is that I really enjoyed the class and I am determined to keep up with it. I know that the tai chi and qigong will help with my core which will benefit my riding abilities. I know Gizmo will appreciate that. Now on to my yoga class!

*Please note that I am referencing an article written by Susan Yaguda, RN, MSN who is with Levine Cancer Institute.

Also, the teacher recommended a series of youtube videos by Dr. Paul Lam (when you google Dr. Paul Lam include tai chi after his name). The videos are free and he gives instructions on tai chi.

Changes

I met with my medical oncologist last week, who scared me a little. Well, she has me rethinking a lot of things now. I started seeing Dr. Bailey-Dorton when my oncologist who was overseeing my chemo treatments thought I would be better suited with Dr. Bailey-Dorton for all my supplement questions.

Dr. Bailey-Dorton gave me a breast cancer integrative health plan where it shows I am overweight. Yah, I knew that. I can’t blame the chemo drugs totally. I think the containers of Ben & Jerry chocolate therapy and Magnum ice creams contributed quite a few pounds. So I know I need to lose weight.

But when Dr. Bailey-Dorton said that all the recommendations she was giving me would be good preventive measures to help stop the cancer from coming back. That is when I sorta kinda stopped breathing a little. I was not expecting that. I thought once the lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments were done, that would be it for me.

She told me that riding my horse was excellent equine therapy. She also said I should find other exercise programs, like yoga or Qigong. Levine Cancer Institute provides these programs free of charge to their cancer patients. I have already done yoga and qigong so I was ready to sign up for those classes.

She gave me a list of supplements to take. Turmeric is used to help with heartburn, stomach ulcers and inflammation. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is an antioxidant which may help decrease inflammation in the body. Long term inflammation may lead to a wide number of chronic health conditions including heart disease and cancer.

It was also recommended to take omega-3 fatty acids, a probiotic, and Vitamin D. She gave me a list of foods that are good for me and told me to eat hormone free meats. She also directed me to the website www.ewg.org, the  Environmental Working Group site. This website has a wealth of information.

Now I am registered for yoga one day per week and qigong one day per week. Along with riding Gizmo four to five times per week, plus walking Roscoe five days per week, my exercise program should be good.

I am slowly going to replace all my cleaning products with environmentally friendly products. I am going to start purchasing healthy food (poor Bill). I need to watch my sun exposure. I have ordered a good sunscreen and two Coolibar long sleeved shirts. The large sun hat I purchased from Coolibar is wonderful. The brim is wide enough to protect my face and my shoulders. I am replacing all my makeup products with verified natural products.

I intend on living a good, long, healthy life. I have a handsome husband I want to grow older with (so he is going to get some changes incorporated into his lifestyle). I have beautiful children and the most adorable grandchildren. I want to be able to play with my grandchildren and spend as much time as possible with them. In other words, I want to be a problem to my children, in that they will never know what to expect from me.

 

 

Radiation Treatments Have Begun

It has been a while since I have been here. Let’s just say that the chemo treatments took their toll on me. But the treatments are done. I rang that bell on March 2nd. My beautiful youngest daughter was with me when I rang the bell. I tried to be sure that everyone was awake and they were. But I still managed to make one woman jump at the sound of the bell.

After the chemo treatments, I was given one month off. Yippee! During that time off, my husband and I drove down to the Keys to visit my good friends. They are a wonderful couple who have opened their house many, many times so that friends and family could visit. The week in the Keys was much needed by both myself and my husband.

The radiation treatments began Wednesday, April 11th and will continue for five days per week for six weeks. A total of thirty treatments. As of today, the treatments have been going fairly well. No side effects or issues to report, as of today.

In the mean time, I am still riding my horse at the most five days per week, walking our dog five days per week, working on my novels and doing knitting and crocheting projects at night. I also take care of cleaning the house and it looks like I might have to start cutting the lawn. And I love to cook so I try to cook, from scratch, our meals at least four or five times per week.

Did I say I will beat this cancer out the door? No? Well, I am. I have a husband, children, grandchildren and pets to spoil and argue with. I have books to write and places to see. I have life to live as long as God will let me. I have a lot of people who are praying for me. So I need to keep up the good fight and keep praying that God will see me through this.

 

Taxol – My Cancer Journey

It is now 2018. The start of a new year. I am into my Taxol treatments. I am scheduled for 12 treatments, once a week over 12 weeks. I will be heading into my fifth treatment on Friday. So far, so good.

I am not as tired as I was. The Adriamycin and Cytoxin with Neulasta treatments were rough. But the Taxol is much easier. I am experiencing a burning, tingling sensation on the soles of my feet but this is only at night and it isn’t constant. My hands have a slight tingling and burning sensation but not worrisome. As long as I can continue knitting and crocheting, I am happy. My mouth is tender and sore so I have switched to Sensodyne which is helping.

Most of the hair on my body has disappeared. My eyebrows are faint and I still have eyelashes. Yeah for eyelashes. I was seriously considering fake eyelashes but I know that I am not very steady or picky and I would end up with crooked eyelashes. I looked into the magnetic eyelashes but the reviews on those are not consistent. Some of my friends suggested I should draw on eyebrows. I could put various angles on the eyebrows which would leave Bill wondering how I was feeling. I could put on angry brows, surprised brows, puzzled brows, or just straight across. Hmmm. Will have to think on that.

We are now experiencing a deep chill here in South Carolina. Temperatures are below freezing. Not good for a woman with no hair. You really become sensitive to the cold with no hair. Even though what hair I had, was thin, it was still better than no hair. My poor horse won’t be seeing me until it warms up a bit. I just can’t do outside. I am prone to bronchitis and I just don’t want that right now.

As for my probe, I mean port, I have been experiencing tenderness and it is sore. The last couple treatments, the nurses had problems drawing blood from my port. Every time the nurses clean off the area with the alcohol, it turns my stomach. I turn my head away every time. But I think the smell of the alcohol will always stay with me and not give me pleasant memories.

All in all, I am feeling better. I even made the comment to Bill that I thought I was better off health wise than Bill. Seriously. But there is an end in sight for me. Once these Taxol treatments are finished, I will get one month of rest and no treatments before the radiation treatments being. Five days a week for six weeks. Bill and I are wanting to get away for one week before radiation begins. Bill and I need to have some alone time with each other. Just relax and rest without thinking about cancer. Without thinking about Bill’s injuries. Somewhere warm with the sun on our faces. I can almost feel it.

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.