Monday, December 14, 2015

WEEK 19!!!!!!

Today was the start of week 19.

Translation: today was officially the start of my post-chemo life. Since August 10, I've been getting filled up with chemical mishigas every 21 days. No more. Well, I am still getting the Herceptin every three weeks, but that's a biological agent with very little chance of side effect.

I was so chipper at the doc's office, joked around with everyone (but left my beard at home) and spent just 30 minutes in the infusion chair, getting my Herceptin. The doc asked if I'm feeling better emotionally, too. Uh, yeah. Definitely. Even though I've been able to stay out of the really dark places for the most part, it is such a relief to be through the chemo, and I feel lighter as a result.

AND I met with the radiation oncologist. Had to go to the hospital for that. I'll be headed back there next Tuesday for a CAT scan so they can determine a plan of attack for the radiation. Then there will be a lag time of two weeks or so as they put the plan together, so I'm almost sure not to start the radiation till after the holidays. Looks as if it will be 33 sessions - six and a half weeks, Monday through Friday. Oh, joy.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Week 17

Quick update:

After a washed out and tired Thanksgiving, recovery from chemo round number six has been pretty low-key. There's been some weariness, probably from low red cells, but not totally awful. Appetite's been okay. Been laying low.

I'm set up with a consult with the radiation oncologist on the 14th. I've already been warned that starting those treatments won't start immediately - the doc will look at my films and reports, and determine a plan of action from there. Then I'll have to get "marked" with a little tattoo so they have something to aim the zapper at. And then... we begin.

Hopefully it will start before the holidays, but I'm not optimistic.

I'm feeling good, though, about feeling better. "Normal" after chemo will take a while, but I think my overall attitude is starting to help me along the way. I've been avoiding looking at my scalp for a while but have started to wear the skull cap a little less often around the house. Some strands of my hair have been growing all this time, it seems - some look to be close to an inch long. They also all seem to be gray, just my luck, LOL.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


The day arrived = my last chemo infusion! Woo hoo!

I had an early appointment yesterday, all the easier to ensure that there were fewer delays and I could get done with a minimal delay. It turned out to be a fantastically good move, since the infusion room got mobbed around 12:30, when I had about an hour left with the needle in my arm. They'll be closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving, so maybe that has something to do with it.

I was so early on the schedule that I was actually a little worried the doctor would come in before I had a chance to put on my little surprise:

I was debating what I would say (i.e. "you didn't warn me about this side effect!"), but words weren't necessary. She lost it as soon as she saw me. And told me I had to wear it into the infusion room. Which I did. The nurses loved it. Hey, if I gave them all something fun to talk about, all the better.

Oh, and the doc also mentioned that one of her other patients actually started growing a little bit of a mustache after the chemo shut down her ovaries. The poor woman: lost the hair she WANTED to have, got the hair no woman wants!

Anyway, the medical news: the doctor was pretty happy with my numbers. She told me that it looked as if I could skip the Neulasta she was recommending during my last checkup. We'll see what next week brings in terms of white cell counts, but so far, so good. Apparently I'm still exceeding expectations in terms of side effects and the fact that none of my treatments has had to be delayed.

I'm confident that some of my preemptive moves -- heavy water consumption and 3x daily saltwater mouth rinses, for example -- played a role in how I've been faring. And I guess that being relatively young (for breast cancer, at least) and reasonably healthy hasn't hurt either. I do wonder if I've been washing the chemo out of my system too quickly for it to have an effect, but as the doc has told me before, my numbers have proven that the meds are having an effect on my system.

All that said, I have to get through the fatigue and ickiness of the next couple of days, the low immunity next week and then the full recovery. I'm starting to ask about the longer-term recovery stuff -- like when my hormones will get back into gear and I go through puberty again (oh, joy). Not to get all technical and stuff, but right now my body is acting as if I'm nine years old. Not sure if the Neulasta had anything to do with this, but I noticed that I was getting PMS zits last week, so maybe things are waking up again. The doc tells me that it could be as long as a year before my reproductive system gets back to normal. Right about then, I should be starting on Tamoxifen, which should toss me into menopause.

Next couple of weeks, I'll hopefully be getting set up to talk with a radiation oncologist to determine what the length of the radiation treatment course will be. I suspect that just given the way these docs work, plus the intervening holidays, I won't get started until January. Which means this stuff gets done sometime in late February. Aside from the Herceptin treatments, which have me going back to the infusion room once every three weeks until August.

But, at least the folks tell me that radiation is generally well tolerated. Given the early stage of the tumor, I'm hoping they can just target that immediate area and cut down on the skin damage that comes with the treatment.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Week 15

I'm a little late with this update, since I've been working on a couple of deadline projects that need to get finished before Thanksgiving. Sorry!

Monday, thankfully is the day I get my LAST CHEMO INFUSION! Yaaaay!

But this week, the week that's usually my 'feel good because everything's flushed out' week, was not as good as it usually is. The white cell counts are good, thanks to the Neulasta, but my red cells aren't bouncing back. Which equals anemia. Which equals fatigue. I slept more than usual last weekend, including an afternoon nap (and I'm generally never able to nap during the day!), and while I was in pretty good shape on Monday, Tuesday had me zonked from the errands and whatnot I did on my way home from the doc's office.

The doc pointed out the anemia and also suggested that we do another Neulasta dose after my infusion. From what I know, that will only help the white cells, and they seem to be rebounding nicely with the one dose. I'm keeping an open mind about it; since I won't be getting another round of chemo after Monday, we don't have to be concerned about the timing of a possible second dose.

The anemia, however, concerns me. Beyond the medical issues it could present, I don't want to spend the next month feeling exhausted all the time. I've been hibernating enough, and I have work to do. So what can I do about it? I was a little annoyed by my doctor's response - she kind of shrugged and suggested a multivitamin. Gee, thanks, Dr. Obvious. How about nutrition? She didn't jump all over it either way, but what harm could food really do?

I'm still on an unrestricted diet and everything tastes fine, so I stopped at the supermarket and grabbed a bunch of iron-rich foods. I've upped my spinach intake, had a few roast beef sandwiches (which I rarely eat) and double checked the pastas and cereals for their percentage RDAs. I also stocked up on Ensure, the marvelous stuff they tell old people to drink. (For the record, it's pretty tasty in a Vanilla Quik kind of way.) And had a couple of iron supplement pills in addition to my daily multivitamin.

With all that digested, I feel an improvement. I'm not as peppy as I was pre-chemo, but I'm definitely functional without dragging. I'll probably end up laying low over the weekend - no hikes or long excursions - but it seems I might have found a solution I can work with. Hopefully it'll get me through the next three weeks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Week 14

Went to the doc without the Groucho glasses, got decent news.

The Neulasta is working. Monday's blood test showed that my white blood cell count has nearly rebounded to where it was before I started chemo in August. A bunch of the other things they measure are still down, but at least my defenses against infection are back where they need to be, and that's at the point in the chemo cycle when they should be the worst.

AND, I get to eat raw fruits and veggies again! I celebrated by eating a cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato, with a Caesar salad chaser. I've never been happier to see green leafies.

More good news - the doc gleefully told me that the Neulasta shot should get me through my last round of chemo, too. Hopefully that means that in three weeks, when I'm going through the second week of the cycle, I'll have some energy and will still be able to eat what I want.

But, of course, I'll still feel sucky on Thanksgiving, which is just three days after my last treatment.

Monday, November 9, 2015


I can't find my Groucho glasses.


I've been waiting for a good opportunity to prank my oncologist, and I thought that the checkup after the Neulasta injection would be it. How surprised would she be when she walked into the exam room to find that I'd grown bushy eyebrows, a big nose and mustache?

"Doc, I'm feeling pretty good today, but I have this extra facial hair..."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Week *lucky* thirteen

Lotsa stuff this week.

I never did get back to my usual energy level last week. Over the weekend we were out and about, and I really started flagging at a point. I was just plain weary, so much so that I could have probably called in my blood test numbers without making my weekly visit to the oncology phlebotomist. I was pretty well sure the doc was going to follow through on her previous Neulasta recommendation when I saw her on Monday. And I was willing to listen.

Yesterday came, and while my numbers had improved, they weren't quite as good as they usually are at this point, so yes, the recommendation came in. She told me she'd leave it up to me, so I asked which implications were worse: the side effects from the neulasta or what could happen if I went without. Almost immediately, she said "without." Okay. I guess I can deal with some bone pain. And I won't have to delay my next (and LAST) chemo treatment, which was my biggest concern. There only has to be a 14 day delay, which fits right into my regular schedule. I agreed to do it, so she got me set up to get the shot 24 hours after my infusion.

I talked with the infusion nurse during my treatment yesterday, and she said most people only have the bone pain, and that's easily dealt with with Tylenol and Claritin. (Claritin? Oddly enough, yes.) Always candid, she told me not to freak out and think I'm having a heart attack if my sternum hurts. That, apparently, is one of the big marrow-producing bones, so it's affected by the Neulasta. Great.

Oddly enough, I seem to be a little extraordinary for having avoided neulasta for this long. The doc theorized that I must have "good marrow," and both the infusion nurse and the nurse who shot me up today were surprised I hadn't gotten a shot before.

So, we'll see what this does for me, besides making me ingest more pills. Over the next few days, I'll be popping prescription and OTC meds like crazy to manage the side effects of everything that's supposed to make me better. There's Zofran to keep the post-chemo nausea away, and Claritin and acetominophen to keep away the bone pain from the Neulasta. And, of course, the stool softener and laxative for the constipation from the Zofran and the chemo aftereffects. Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall.

I can't wait till don't have to take anything but my usual vitamins. Sometime in the future...

The practice where I go for all of this is a huge medical campus - a mini-hospital of sorts, and I was there for most of the day yesterday. Fortunately, though, the morning was for something fun. A while back the nurse practitioner had told me about a workshop the American Cancer Society runs called "Look Great Feel Better." It covers a bunch of beauty tips geared toward women going through cancer treatment, like skin care, how to draw eyebrows on yourself if you lose 'em, wig and headcovering options, etc.

Oh, and they give you, absolutely free, makeup and skin care stuff worth about $200.

Makeup has never been a big deal for me, and I'm even less focused on it since I work from home, but I'm no stranger to the cosmetics counter for some foundation and nice lipstick. And it sounded like a fun couple of hours, so what the heck? I signed up. Then, a few weeks ago when I went to get my wig at the ACS office, the volunteer told me she would be the lead for the Look Good Feel Better session. I liked her, so I knew it would be fun.

And it was. There were seven or eight women involved, and everyone was into having a good time. It was pretty much like what you'd expect a Mary Kay group session to be like - people poking around the products, joking around about sucking at using some of them (I'm personally awful with eyeliner and avoid it like the plague), and the leader finding something to compliment about everyone's facial features. We shared a couple of war stories, but it was in the course of conversation, not as part of the program. And it was really nice to get positive feedback when I drew in my eyebrows. When I use makeup I'm not accustomed to, I often feel a little clownish, so it's nice to hear when it looks appropriate.

As for the makeup, it was a jumble of different brands - I guess they take whatever they can get from the donors - but we all pretty much got the same product groupings (lipstick, eyeshadow, moisturizer, concealer, powder, etc.). And they were really good brands, including Chanel, Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder, Smashbox and so forth. Some are sample size while others are full freight.
Not exactly worth getting cancer for, but a pretty nice gift, nonetheless
I had to laugh when I saw a small tube of Clinique moisturizer lurking in my bag, because back in my late 20s, I had so many of those containers from their bonus bags. My friends and I would trade news of where the latest Clinique bonus was being offered so we could buy the minimum it took to get the bonus bag, just to get the lipstick and mascara. Being young, we didn't need the moisturizer and considered airlifting our collections to needy women in arid countries. I probably still have some around. At the very least, I have the little makeup bags they came in.

But I at least feel as if I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. After this week, I'll have just five more weeks left. I'm handling things fairly decently and making my way through. The next couple of days should be pretty shitty, as usual, but I'm pretty well assured I'll manage my way through without any real problems.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Week twelve - it's getting old

We're midway through week twelve, and it appears my body may be putting up the white flag.

Or maybe a small white hankie.

Last week I started getting pretty frustrated with all of this -- to the point where I started telling the SO that I'm losing my sense of humor about treatment. And while I've gotten mentally weary of the whole thing, I was also feeling more physically weary at the point in the cycle where I'm usually gathering up a head of steam and feeling more like myself.

My blood test on Monday exposed the cause of the weariness - the physical kind, at least. My numbers aren't recovering the way they usually do by the start of week three of the cycle, specifically when it comes to the white cell count. The condition goes by the name "neutropenia." I wasn't totally bereft of those little infection-fighting buggers, but I was deprived enough that the doc advised me to continue to not eat anything uncooked.

Awesome. Right after I'd had a medium-cooked burger with lettuce and tomato on Sunday. And I'm seriously jonesing for a spinach salad.

I'm also supposed to keep checking my temperature (my usual week two routine) and call her if it hits 100.5, the sign of infection.

The doc also discussed the potential of shooting me up with neulasta if things don't improve. I talked about this last month. It's a lovely drug that pushes the body to produce more white blood cells. It's also got some annoying side effects, like bone pain and other stuff I don't want to think about. As I understand it, and she didn't mention this, getting neulasta would also mean delaying my next chemo infusion, which is scheduled for next week.

Another option, which she didn't mention, would be to reduce the dosages on my next infusion. Given the fact that I'm only undergoing chemo because they haven't done any studies on the effectiveness of herceptin without chemo, I'd rather go with the reduced dose than to drag this whole process out any longer than I have to.

How that works, if it works, is not something I can find on the internet. I tried looking on the pages, but everything there is frustratingly general in nature, probably because BC treatments are so personalized. And though I signed up a while ago to participate on the site's very good discussion boards, I don't want to read through them. Too much of a chance that I'll read about someone else's scary side effects or tribulations - stuff I don't want to even consider will happen to me. Well, I did back down and read some of it, and I'm sorry I did. Compared to them, my little

*sigh* I'll just have to find out from the doc, who will, no doubt, just want to shoot me full of the neulasta.

I know that all of this is ultimately up to me, and I can stop the treatment if I feel strongly enough about it, but what choice do I really have? Either I stop the madness and live with the concern I didn't do enough, or I just muscle through, hoping that going through the whole regimen will inoculate me from ever having to deal with this again.

*sigh again*

Did I mention that I just want this crap to be done????

Saturday, October 17, 2015

October, hair and other concerns

Okay, it seems that I'm past the general crappiness of infusion number four. This time I took the anti-nausea pills before the pre-infusion dose wore off, and I think that helped a lot, but I still felt really run down on Wednesday night and Thursday. Fortunately it was just general malaise and not nausea. But I am SO ready to eat something that's not bland. Even lukewarm pizza tasted really good last night. (Though let's face it: even room-temperature New Jersey pizza is awesome.)

One of the things I'm noticing lately is the weirdness of hair growth on my scalp. From the amount of "whiskers" I occasionally see in the cap I wear to bed, I know I'm still losing hair, but it's not nearly as disturbing to see as it was before I got the buzz cut. And it appears that the gray hairs have the most stubborn follicles, except for this kind of rusty patch towards the back of my head. It's getting to look a little like what one of my balding former clients once called "an extremely high forehead."

But here's the really strange part: while that rusty patch is hanging on, I can see that some of the white/gray hair is actually growing! It's not that much longer, but some strands are long enough to flop over the way hair does when it's longer than a quarter-inch buzz cut.

It amazes me how selective chemo can be in destroying cells. Some hair (like the hair you get when you go through puberty) is very sparse, while other areas (like the arms) retain the same amount as before all this started. Who knows what will happen for the next few weeks - and how it will grow back...

On the other topic: October. Yes, as you know (as ANYONE WHO'S NOT IN A COMA or in a cave in Afghanistan knows), this is breast cancer awareness month. And the sight of the ribbons and the Facebook posts kind of makes me want to throttle someone. I'm quite aware, thank you.

I've long had a free-floating frustration about all this pink ribbon stuff and how it's been co-opted by corporate America. Some of it is the fundraising angle (The pink detergent bottle costs more, with the difference going to Susan G. Komen. No thanks, I'll make my own donations to organizations I've researched.). The other is the marketing angle (Hey, NFL, getting big men to wear hot pink arm thingies for a couple of weeks isn't going to convince me you care about women's health more than the dollars you want us to spend on team gear.).

And don't get me started on the social media memes. We've all seen the Facebook posts that go along the lines of "Breast cancer is an awful thing. If you really care, you'll post this picture on your page for one day to honor the brave women who deal with this terrible affliction. #prayersforbreastcancerpatients"

Does anyone, the moment they see any of this, stop what they're doing and make an appointment for a mammogram? Or do a self-exam? I've never once seen a woman glance at a pink ribbon, immediately throw one arm behind her head and do the pat-down on her breast.

Now that I'm dealing with my own experience, I'm seeing it through a much more personal lens. All the pink in the world isn't going to make me feel any better about going through chemo, nor is it going to change my diagnosis and the fact that every mammogram from now will be tinged with anxiety, no matter how optimistic I try to be. The fact that a police department in Massachusetts is using pink handcuffs to raise awareness (because, of course, when you're being arrested, the first thing on your mind is breast health) isn't going to reduce my chances of recurrence.
Maybe the pink stuff helps some BC patients feel supported, but I can't help but feel a bit cynical about the whole thing. All of this "awareness" does nothing, especially given all of the other issues/conditions/ailments we're encouraged to recognize with ribbons and colors. Checking Wikipedia, I discovered that this month we're also supposed to be aware of dwarfism/little people, eczema, domestic violence and Down syndrome. That's enough ribbons to make a rainbow, which, of course, would support LGBT issues awareness. We're supposed to care about everything, and when everything is a priority ... nothing takes the lead.

What's important is action. Doing things yourself, not sitting back and acting concerned without having skin in the game.
  • Examine yourself (that means you guys, too). Make that mammo appointment. Yeah, I know it's uncomfortable, but trust me, it's nowhere near as sucky as chemo. Get in to see your doctor or call the American Cancer Society if you need a refresher on how to do a proper breast exam. My primary care doctor once told me to look for lumps that feel like "gum in a shag rug," if that helps.
  • Be a pain in the butt to family or friends who put off medical stuff. I'm pushing my sister to get her annual mammo, which she'd been putting off. And I gave her my diagnosis so she can better inform the technicians about her family history. While I know I can't make her do anything, maybe my situation will get her to move on it a little more quickly.
  • Show, don't tell, people your concern. Be a good friend to anyone you might know who's going through treatment. And remember that because breast cancer treatment has become very personalized, the patient's experience is unique to him or her. Thus, don't make assumptions on what s/he needs. Ask. And then follow through. It doesn't need to be a lot or all the time, and it doesn't have to be anything related to her treatment or her physical status. One of the best things my friends have done for me was for all of us and our SOs to get together for dinner one Saturday night. We spent five minutes on my status report, and the rest of the evening on anything else. The bottom line, every bit helps.
If you choose to do none of these things, that's okay. It's your prerogative. In my mind, being honest about your lack of action is a lot more authentic than saying what you think is the 'right' thing and then not acting on it.

Just don't throw a pink ribbon in my face and tell me how much you care.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Week Ten!

Yes, it's week ten. Yesterday I got my fourth infusion of six, so I'm now officially over the hump and into the second half of my treatment regimen. (Even better, with the next one, I'll be two-thirds of the way through!) My oncologist is still feeling really good about my reactions and progress; my blood test numbers are within range, I guess.

Given that we're getting closer to the end of this, I've been getting curious about the timing for the next stage: radiation. She tells me that usually that starts three to four weeks after the last chemo infusion, which would put us right before Christmas. She didn't get too specific -- probably because we can't know now whether I'll need more or less time to have this shit wash out of my system. And who knows what they want to do about the holidays. From what I understand, radiation is five days on (weekdays), two days off (weekend), so they probably don't want to get started when holidays will break up that rhythm.

I'm of two minds about it. I'd like to get it started so it can be over. But, I'd also like to be able to enjoy the holidays without feeling exhausted. I already know I'm going to feel crappy for Thanksgiving, since my last infusion is only three days before that.


I meant to report back on the charity dinner the SO and I went to last week. You remember: the one I'd contemplated going to hairless. I tossed on the new wig, which looked great, and nobody was the wiser, I think. Only one person there has any idea about what I'm going through, and he said nothing to me. There were so many people there that we ended up spending not much time with anyone we know very well... and the folks we did know had nice things to say about my 'new do.' I did kind of wonder if the one "knowing" person had told them ... and they weren't saying anything but trying to be supportive... but whatever.

It was so great to eat whatever I want... and have a couple of drinks. Even if I did end up with a sore throat the next day.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Week nine...

... is moving right along.

Side effects are getting a little more creative, like the very gentle eye tic I picked up a couple of weeks ago. Did you know that you can get tics from dehydration and a magnesium deficiency? That was what the oncologist said, at least. I've been drinking water like a fish, but I'd backed off on my usual overconsumption of bananas, so I went back to my Curious George ways. It seems to have helped a little, but the tics aren't totally gone. From what I've been reading on various discussion boards, this is just one of those side effects that some people pick up. It goes away once all of the chemo washes out.

I have to be the only cancer patient out there who has any concern whatsoever about not feeling worse than I do (which isn't that bad). Just about halfway through this entire process, I don't feel like crap 90 percent of the time. Not that I'm upset about it. Honestly, I'm more concerned about the other shoe dropping at some point.

I asked the doc why things seem to be going so well, and she suggested that maybe I'm doing the things that are right for me: drinking plenty of water, taking it easy, knowing my body and reporting problems as they arise. It's not as if I'm running around like a crazy person, but I'm not playing the martyr, either.

Then again, I'm preparing myself for this time next week, when I'll feel tired and achy from the next treatment. And I won't be as chipper as I am right now.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Meet the new hair...

So, it's my birthday, and I got myself a wig.

Well, actually, I returned a wig and bought a new one, both mail order. The original one didn't look all that great when I got it: I didn't like the color, and it was too long. It made me look like that snobby girl in Sixteen Candles (you know, the snob who was dating Jake Ryan and ended up with Farmer Ted), and all I could think was that Jami Gertz was going to come and snip half of the back of it off. Ultimately, my Pooh Bear ended up wearing it until I finally got around to sending it back. It looked about as good on him as it did on me.

For a while I figured I'd just be brave and go without hair for a couple of months. The scarves were working pretty well, and since the weather is turning cold anyway, it would be easy enough just to wear hats I already have, when appropriate.

A few things changed my mind.

First off, as flaky as this might sound, wearing the scarves has been limiting my wardrobe. While I'm not the biggest fashion plate, it bugs me when stuff doesn't go together. As a result, I've been wearing a lot of black. And while scarves look good with certain tops, they don't look great with polo shirts, which I tend to wear fairly often when I need something a little less informal but still casual. With them, scarves tend not to look like a fashion choice, but a necessity.

The bigger reason: I don't feel like standing out anymore. Or, more accurately, if I'm going to stand out, I want it to be for a reason of my choosing, not something thrust upon me. It'll be another six months before my hair is anywhere close to normal again, and I don't think I can manage a stiff upper lip for that long.

An incident in a restaurant the other night really capped it for me. Admittedly, I was already not in the best of moods - the place was more crowded than usual, and while we'd hoped to see the last couple of innings of the ballgame where the Mets were clinching the division, we ended up at a table with only a partial view of the TV. And the screen was tuned to the Yankees postgame. (Insult on injury, right?) The SO very kindly got management to change the channel, so I got to see the end of the game.

We had to wait a bit longer than usual for our meals, given the crowd, but the table bread kept me from getting hangry (I didn't want to chance the salad bar because I knew my immunity was tanking six days after chemo - salad bar sneezes could pose a big problem,) We finally got our food and were probably about halfway through eating when the couple at the table next to us got up to leave.

The woman stopped, apologized for interrupting and told me she hoped my treatments were going well. Her mom is going through the same thing, she said, so she wanted me to know I'd be in her prayers. I gave her the two-minute speech on my situation, and she said her mom's case is similar. She went on for a minute or two longer and then left.

That pretty much killed the evening. Don't get me wrong: she was tremendously nice, and I appreciate her good wishes. Maybe if I was in a better mood, it wouldn't have annoyed me the way it did. Thing is, I don't want to always have to be generous with my moods. I just don't want to be the target of reactions all the time. I want to control how and when people find out. I don't want to be forever reminded that I'm going through this extraordinary thing. I get enough reminders without the feedback. I just want to blend in.

The SO and I also have a charity dinner to go to next week, which I'm hoping I'll feel ok enough to attend. I seriously considered doing the turban thing, even trying a scarf wrap with a little black dress, which looked fairly okay, maybe a little Norma Desmond-y. Given the self-righteousness of some of the people I knew I'd run into (long story), I almost wanted to create an opportunity for comment, just so I could shove their self-righteous crap in their faces.

Chemo? You think I look sick?
But I realized I don't want to deal with the inevitable comments, even the benign and caring ones. I'd rather just have hair.

And fortunately the new wig arrived yesterday, my early birthday present to myself. True to the photo in the catalog, it looks pretty much like my last normal hairstyle, just slightly redder hair. Folks who haven't seen me in a while are likely not to even notice, as long as they don't look that closely. And really, who looks that closely?

Nobody. That's right.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Week eight starts!

Made it another week through... and one of those kinds of weeks I've come to expect won't be much fun.

Last we checked, I was taking the anti-nausea drugs to see if I could get through the days after chemo infusion with a minimum of barfiness and overall weariness. The good news is that I got over the hump by taking the drugs until Friday. The not so good news: the weariness remained. I guess there's only so much you can expect.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Week Seven -- yay!

Yesterday started week seven on the chemo journey, and all is looking good. My blood test results came back fairly good, with most of the "misses" being fractionally outside of the normal range. My doc is pretty satisfied with where I am.

Feeling pretty good about everything, I asked the big question: is there a chance that I'll continue to do fairly well over the next three rounds? She seems to think so. I'm not considering it a guarantee, but it does give me some hope. Maybe I'll get the hang of this routine.

Yesterday's chemo infusion was number three of six, had good chats with the infusion nurse and the nurse navigator, who always stops by to say hello and check in. Looking to prevent a redux of the icky feeling a few days after the last round, I asked the infusion nurse about the protocol for taking the anti-nausea drugs I was prescribed after the first round of chemo. There are two -- zofran, which is the preventative they give me in a drip before dosing me with the chemo; and compazine, which nails any sudden nausea. At least that's what they told me. She recommended taking the zofran right up, and if I need it, add the compazine.

I woke up kind of queasy this morning, so I started the zofran. My gut is still a little "different" but I've been able to eat just fine, with no nausea. I'll keep taking it for a day or two, see what happens. If I can avoid feeling totally crappy later in the week, I'll be happy.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Some great mysteries of chemo (hair edition)

Today starts my seventh week on this chemo regimen, and I've been collecting various observations on the mysteries surrounding the side effects of this whole process. I could tell you about the gastrointestinal stuff, but rather than grossing you out, I'll go for the easy part: the hair.* Here we go:
  • I got a buzz cut three weeks ago, yet I continue to see long hairs in my bathroom sink. Where do they come from?
  • Along those lines, I no longer have a cat. I no longer have much hair. WHERE ARE THESE DUST BUNNIES GETTING THEIR FUR????? Is there some sort of Hair Fairy that visits chemo patients?
  • Why is it that the gray hairs are the ones that are most persistently staying in my scalp?
  • Okay, I'll hit one gastro issue: why does Cafe Bustelo work when laxatives don't? (Not that I'm complaining, mind you.)
  • Back to that gray hair: why is it that it seems to be showing most prominently in the center of my scalp? I feel like that unfortunate black cat who knocks over the can of white paint in the Merrie Melodies cartoons, only to be relentlessly pursued by Pepe Le Pew.
I've considered asking my oncologist, but I think she's full up on my silly questions for now.

* To be honest, the digestive/gastro stuff hasn't been too awful for me. Not yet at least. Kinahora

Friday, September 18, 2015

The other day I had occasion to clue someone else in on what's been going on. I'd told her about the surgery before it happened, but realized I hadn't followed up with news about the follow-up treatment.

As I've mentioned, it's always interesting to see where the information takes people. This response just blew me away:

"Glad to hear that the surgery was successful and it is amazing to me that you are being treated for something that just a few years ago they wouldn’t have even known to check for (or had the ability to check). Simply amazing."

How cool is that? And, of course, she's right. So much research has been done, and so many new treatments have been developed, and more are being discovered every year. One perspective might be that the more they discover, the more they can tell you what's not treatable or likely to recur... but I prefer to think about the other end: you can't deal with what you don't know.

In any case, it's awfully nice to have people out there who can see the positives.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It continues...

Went in for a toxicity check yesterday, told the doc I've been feeling pretty good, and shared my suspicions that they didn't give me all the stuff I was supposed to get with the last dosing.

She laughed, looked at my blood test results and told me my numbers prove they did.

So that's that. Let's hope the next cycle works out as well. Maybe there's something to the practice of getting some nutrition when I'm still feeling crappy. Just for the record, forcing down a bottle of Ensure when you're not in the mindset of eating solid food? It appears to work.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Surprisingly good

It's getting close to the end of week five of chemo (13 to go, yay!), and I'm feeling surprisingly good. I've got the sniffles and a little bit of a sore throat, which are the expected byproducts of a reduced blood cell count, and the lower intestines are being a bit fussy (no more need be said), but other than that, I'm feeling decent. Appetite is good and I've been able to eat pretty much what I want (Taylor ham, egg and cheese burrito!), though I'm still avoiding red meat that may taste metallic. I've got good energy.

Somewhere between seven and 14 days after each treatment, my immune defenses take a hit, and if my temperature goes above 100.2, I need to call the doc for evaluation and a possible shot of something called neulasta to boost white cell production. I've been taking my temperature several times a day during this week, as I did during week 2 of the last cycle. Where I saw some elevation (never above 100) last time, this cycle has been near normal every time.

I'm really beginning to wonder if they gave me everything I was supposed to get this last time around.

Regardless, I'm not taking anything for granted and am appreciating feeling decent.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Downs and ups and downs and ups

So yeah... late last week wasn't much fun, which is why you haven't heard a lot for me in a week or so.

The steroids from Monday's infusion wore off by Thursday morning, just in time for me to feel crummy for my two-month post-op check-in with my surgeon. Good news is that the incisions are healing the way they're supposed to. I'm now scheduled for a follow up mammogram in May (how time flies). She's also got me coming in in January for a repeat ultrasound on my non-operated-on breast. They'd found a cyst there back in June when I went in for an MRI on the cancerous lump, and while a biopsy came back clean, we need to do a follow up. Okey dokey. Always something fun to think about. I'm not especially concerned about it, especially considering I'm already getting dosed.

By the time I got home Thursday, I was weary and cranky and not very eager to eat or drink, which, of course, isn't good. Basically kept myself going on the minimum and sleeping till my SO came over for the weekend Friday night. Which was just what I needed. He gave me enough space to recover but also offered the incentive to increase the caloric intake, toss on the headscarf, head out to the park and enjoy the nice weather. By yesterday (Labor Day), I was perky enough to get out and do some exploring. Yay!

Did have one somewhat tough experience: heading to our local bar/restaurant. We're usually there a couple times a month for dinner and/or drinks at the bar, to the point where we've gotten cordial with some of the staff and managers. Nobody there knew anything about my surgery or chemo -- how do you fit that into the conversation? "I'll have a bottle of the Rubaeus and by the way, I just got a tumor yanked out of my boob." No. But I also didn't want to avoid the place for the next six months until my hair grows back. So... when my SO suggested going there, I said okay. Have to make the plunge sometime.

After we'd eaten our dinner, the friendliest of the bartenders sidled up and asked me directly, "Are you doing chemo?" Now that's a question, right? I appreciate the directness, and it didn't bother me, but seriously? What if the answer is no? You've basically just told someone she looks really, really sick. Or like a ridiculous parody of Stevie Van Zandt.

I'm not doing chemo.
I just like wearing a do rag on my head in 90 degree heat.

So what else am I going to say but yeah, I'm doing chemo. And follow up with the elevator speech version of the story - "they pulled out the tumor, clean margins, no sign it traveled anywhere else, this is all a big precaution, I'm not worried so you shouldn't be, either." All while she's giving me those big sad concerned deer mama eyes.

Everything ended up okay, but it gave me yet another reason to think that not talking about this so much is a good thing. People understandably jump to bad places in their mind when they hear chemo (and cancer, for that matter), and the reaction got me wondering if I'm not taking the situation seriously enough. Should I be worrying more? Should I be preparing myself for bad things? I don't like living that way, and I know it's my decision how to manage myself, but I can't help wondering from time to time. Guess I just have to find a way to re-balance my viewpoint after it gets a little shake like that.

Incidentally, today's check-in with the oncologist went well. Numbers were at the expected levels (same as after week one of the last cycle) but the doc said she was pleasantly surprised at how I was doing. Good stuff.

Monday, August 31, 2015

I got no hair, Cher.

The timing couldn't have been any better. We're hitting a late summer heat wave, and I took the plunge to cut off all my hair before it departs on its own.  Here's what it looks like up top:

It's not the best photo because there's a shadow over my forehead that looks like a port wine stain, but there you go. Oddly, you can still see my part, maybe because that seemed to be somewhat of a stress area for hair loss when I was still styling my hair. It was starting to look wider than usual, which helped prompt me to start wearing scarves.

And it really was the perfect time to make the move, if not a little late. Over the weekend I was wearing a colorful do-rag night and day just to avoid having to remove the shed hair that was being held in by the still-rooted strands around it. Finally, I went into the backyard and combed out a small tumbleweed, which is still sitting on my SO's back lawn.

My infusion nurse today suggested that I leave some hair long in the back and in the sideburn area so that something's still hanging beyond the scarves and hats, but hey, if I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it. I actually thought it would be hypocritical to leave the fringe when I think that balding guys should just cut their hair short. And besides, the cut reminds me of a kick-ass Marine I know, who keeps her hair intimidatingly short.

I can't say enough about my hairdresser and friend Mare, who offered to come to my house and do the honors. She reminded me that this is just the first step, and that as my hair grows back, we can have a lot of fun with shorter cuts. I've never been a big fan of short hair for myself, but who knows? We had some laughs thinking about the possibilities.

Oh, and I'm saving the big bag of hair. Still haven't figured out what to do with it but I'll undoubtedly come up with something.

BTW, the second treatment went just fine - no negative reactions at all, which is the experience I had last time. Now I'm playing beat the clock, eating flavorful stuff before my taste buds go to crap for two weeks. Prepare for whining ahead as I'm relegated to eating eggs, toast, and unadorned chicken. (God, it was SOOOOO good to eat parmed things over the weekend!)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A bag of hair

Okay, it's happening. The inevitable hair loss is occurring, to the point where it's frustrating when I wash it. Even after combing out a good amount of the hair loss before I get into the shower, even more hair ends up coming out with the shampoo. And I can't just not wash my hair. That would be completely gross.

And, of course, there's the random strands coming out on their own as I'm walking around, living my life. The other day, when I was at my client's office, I could feel it flying out when I walked past a fan. What do you say to people? "Excuse my hair?"

My hairdresser is coming by on Monday to help me come up with a solution (which may end up being a Sinead O'Connor do), but for now, I have to manage. It gets kind of inconvenient to run to the trash can every time I find a couple of strands sitting on my shoulder or something, so I've taken to carrying around a plastic bag to deposit it in.

Yes, I'm carrying a bag of hair. Just saying that is funny. A bag of hair.

I've been thinking about what to do with it. Maybe I'll save it until spring and leave it out for the birds to make nests from.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thank God the Mets are doing well

Since I learned that my breast cancer treatment would include chemo, I've been thinking of ways to incorporate a sense of humor into some of the inevitable side effects. As many of you know, I:
  • am not really big on drama, 
  • don't want the "pink ribbon" treatment, 
  • shy away from the characterization of 'being brave' or what have you when it comes to the treatment. (Like, what the hell am I going to do, NOT have the treatment and constantly worry I'm gonna get cancer of the hoo-hah?)
  • yada yada yada...
So, off and on I've been considering how I'll address the inevitable hair loss that comes with having a bunch of toxic chemicals pumped into your system. 

Honestly, when it was a 'far off' (i.e. a month away) probability, I was able to be a bit more cavalier about it. I joked that for Halloween, my wonderful SO and I could go as Gomez Addams and Uncle Fester. I bragged to some of you that I'd have a couple of joyous months where I don't have to shave my legs or underarms.

Now it's becoming a reality, and while I'm not thrilled about lotsa hair coming out of my locks when I drag a comb through, I realize I have to do something about it. I feel like a freaking dog that sheds a lot. (I mean, do you realize HOW MUCH hair I have? While it's really fine, there's a lot of it!) I have a call in to my hairdresser, who offered to come to my house and help me out (I'm hoping she meant she'll do the honors at this point, not just that she'll help as the hair comes back in and looks like crap.), but in the meantime, I'm kinda dreading that point where it really starts to show on my scalp. 

I bought a few "turbans" to cover my bases -- they're really more like nice caps that fit low on the head, covering half the ear and a good part of the forehead as well as the space in back. That said, I'm also looking through a bunch of hats, caps, etc. that I've collected over the years, determining whether they'll provide enough coverage for my already oversized cranium.

Then I realized: I have a couple of Mets caps that might do the trick. Not the beat-up, grungy, one-size-fits-all cap I insisted on wearing in the early 80s when the team was truly awful, but ones that are appropriately sized. (Do you know how hard it can be to buy a 7-3/4 cap off the shelf?) 

Luckily the Mets are on a good tear right now - hitting like crazy and obliterating the opposition. And after a series of good personnel moves, it appears that they'll continue to perform well during the final stretch of the season. That means that I may be able to use the cap at least to October, provided the team doesn't have another of its epic collapses. 

The big problem is that my cap looks practically brand new. I may have worn it two or three times before putting it on the shelf, which means that I'll end up looking like a bandwagon-jumper. Oh, well. So be it. And hey, if the Mets do have one of their epic collapses, at least I'll know the pitying looks I'm getting are because of the cap and not my bare scalp.