Chemotherapy - javert2

Drug or Chemo Therapy Associated with Breast Cancer. Posted on September 9, 2012 View this journey (8 Experiences)

After surgery and hearing my treatment plan, I began to try and mentally prepare myself for chemo. You hear horror stories and that's all I could think of. One of my paramount concerns was my hair. I have always had long hair, almost to the waist, and it's always been my best feature. I felt totally petty and vain because my hair was all I could think about. I took pictures of it and I basically had to sit and "grieve" over losing it. I did this mostly in private because I felt foolish. It just felt like cancer had already taken so much from me....I still had so much to go through. Why did I have to also lose the hair I loved?? It didn't seem fair to me and I was a little XXX about it. During this time - and at many other moments during this journey - I felt totally alone. The people who loved me the most: my husband, my mom, kids, best friend - as well-intentioned as they were and as much as they tried, they just COULD NOT understand all these feelings and fears. I did have friends who were survivors and they helped the most. I also had a firm faith in Christ, which was the only thing that kept me sane and moving forward.

I began chemo on May 25, 2010. My husband and one of my survivor friends went with me. The first four rounds would be Adamycin/Cytoxin - aka the "red devil", followed by 12 rounds of Taxol. I went every 2 weeks. I sat in a room that first day surrounded by bald people in reclining chairs and was giving a crash course in chemo. They showed me a DVD about what to expect. I fought back tears and they said it was ok to cry. I kept thinking that the next time I came for chemo, I'd be bald too. They give you some anti-nausea and other drugs before chemo so after I got my IV, I got those first. For the AC drugs, a nurse has to sit with you and slowly "push" the medicine in your IV. I kept staring at this huge red vial that she was pushing in my veins, thinking..."she's poisoining me right now." The nurses are very sweet in chemo. They offer you warm blankets and snacks. It really helps if you stay very well hydrated - particularly in the day or two before treatment - so they can get the IV in easier. (I had "good veins" before chemo so they said I didn't need a port. My veins held out - barely - through all of it. But I no longer have "good veins.") I've also heard that if you munch on ice during the treatment, it makes you less likely to develop the mouth sores a lot of patients get. I don't know if that's true, but I never got them. After that first treatment, I felt weak. I got up to go to the bathroom and my pee was red. They gave us a prescription for nausea and I waited in a chair while my husband got it at the on site pharmacy. It seemed to take a really long time and I wanted to lie down really bad. By the time we got a few miles away, I began to feel weird and told him I thought I was hungry. We stopped at a Subway and I gobbled my sandwich down and felt better. We live about an hour and a half away and I went to sleep on the way home. I awoke about 20 minutes from home, sweating, pulse racing, really sick. My parents were standing in my driveway when we pulled up, worried looks on their faces. I hopped out of the car and threw up in the yard. I then went in and threw up in the bathroom. It was violent, projectile vomiting - like nothing I'd ever experienced. My mom was there with a wet cloth, just like when I was little. Over the next two days, I pretty much did nothing but vomit. I was out of my mind with the nausea. I couldn't get a second's relief and I thought I was dying. I have never known such misery. I just kept thinking.... there is NO WAY I can go through this every two weeks! The next morning was my son's "awards day" at school and I tried to go. I took my anti-nausea and somehow made it through the short ceremony before having to run out and back home. After the second day, I called my oncology asst. and she assured me that they would get the nausea under control with stronger meds. I was so afraid to trust that but knew I had to have the treatment. I felt better on the third day and slowly improved to "almost" normal by the next treatment.

I had been told that my hair would come out on Day 14 after that first treatment. I could not bear the thought of seeing those long strands on my pillow or pulling them out in my hand. Instead, I opted to get rid of it myself. It made me feel like I was in control instead of the cancer. On Memorial Day, 2010, my hairdresser, who's also a good friend, came over to my house. The plan was to shave it off. We took a chair out of the porch. She put in up into dozens of tiny pigtails and cut each one off. She, my husband, and I laughed and cried through the whole thing. My kids chose to stay upstairs until it was done. When it came down to it, she said she couldn't stand to cut it all off and instead just cut it really short. My husband loved the new cut but we only got to admire it another week or so. Then my head got itchy and it began to come out. Pretty soon, it just looked all "patchy" and I got annoyed with that. I sat and just pulled the little tufts out until it was all gone.

True to the assistant's word, the next treatments were better. They began to give me Zofran for nausea (by IV). After each treatment, I felt weak, sleepy, and slightly nauseous - but the violent sickness blessedly did not return. The timing was good because - since I'm a teacher - it was the time of year when I wasn't working. Usually summers are when I get all my big projects and closet-cleaning done, but that summer, the couch was my best friend and I did basically nothing. I started back teaching in the fall and was only absent once every couple weeks for chemo. My employers were so awesome and my coworkers were extremly loving and supportive. When I began classes in August, as I saw each new class, I went ahead and confronted the "elephant in the room" and just said, Yes, I'm going through chemo and I'm bald. Then, I'd take off my wig and show them and that was that. Kids are great that way.

In July, my family took their annual trip to the beach. I had just finished my last AC treatment and was taking an extra week break before beginning Taxol. It was nice but different than our other trips. I was really weak and found it difficult just to make the trip out to the beach and once there, I easily tired. I also had to put sunblock on my head. Not that was just weird.

Everything went fair through the rest of treatment with a couple exceptions. Once they started giving me Zofran, I got instantly and severely constipated. No one warned me that would happen and by the time I realized how bad it was, I had a bowel impaction. I will spare details but it happened twice, and was actually worse that the chemo itself. It was a nightmare. Then, in September, I awoke one morning with a swollen eye. I thought I must be having an allergic reaction to something and went on to work. It continued to get worse and by the end of the day, was completly swollen shut. I went to the doctor and was admitted to the hospital but initially they didn't know what was causing it. I was transferred the next day - by now it was swollen the size of a softball - to a eye hospital where they diagnosed me with MRSA (staph) infection. I had somehow contracted it due to my low immunity. It was by now very serious and potentially life-threatening. I was given strong antibiotics, via IV around the clock for the next week. I missed my next two chemo treatments - which just delayed the end of that. It took weeks for the swelling to go down and I joked that I looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame with my bald head and swollen eye. I had to joke or it would've been too depressing.

The remaining treatments of Taxol were easier than the AC treatments. The one side effect that bothered me the most was that it caused me to develop neurothopy in my fingertips and feet. Sometimes, I'd be holding a paper or something and just drop it because my fingers were numb. And the toes were worse....all tingly and uncomfortable. I had restless legs at night and I couldn't stand any contact with my feet. Like walking barefoot was awful. It felt like little shocks were shooting up my leg with every step. I was told this side effect might or might not go away after treatment. It's now been two years and I still have it - though not as severe.

I finished chemo on November 2, 2010 - five months after it began.

Easy to Do: Strongly Disagree
Minimal Side Effects: Disagree
Minimal Impact to Daily Life: Strongly Disagree

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