Saturday, June 30, 2007

I Can See for Miles and Miles...

I've been having problems with sore gums that just won't go away. Frequenty teeth brushings and salt rinses were not helping. So my doctor prescribed something called "Miles Solution". The nurse wrote out the recipe on my prescription, and I had to wait a while while the pharmacist mixed it up for me. I'm supposed to swish and swallow this stuff four times a day.

There is only one problem. I'm pretty sure (though unwilling to test this theory) that my cat's ass tastes better than this stuff. It is amazingly foul.

You also have to store it in the fridge. Where it separates and starts to look disturbingly embryonic. Keeping it cold does not help with the taste.

I don't even think dropping it into a beer and setting it on fire would help the taste.

It really works though, so I'm just going to have to learn to live with it.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Creeper

It is amazing how much cancer tries to take over your life.

First, you find out that you have it, and if you are like me, you research all your options like crazy. For the last two months, I have almost given up any reading for fun and exclusively read books on breast cancer, coping with cancer, or more recently, coping with chemotherapy and radiation. So that's one source of joy lost - reading for fun.

Next, if you feel as bad as I do, it starts to isolate you. I don't go into the office any more because I don't feel good enough, and I have so many self care routines that I get exhausted just thinking of packing toothbrush, rinses, and snacks to get me through the day. I can work from home, so I still have that sense of purpose and community, but I'm no longer a part of the daily lives of my friends and colleagues. I really miss that. I do have a very demanding job, but it is also something that I dearly love and enjoy and I truly enjoy the social aspect of all the wonderful folks at work. So that's another source of joy gone.

Then, I don't feel good enough to go to my regular Monday night dance, or to go to my Pilates classes. I get a little yoga and walking in here at home, but the music and movement, the social aspects, and the fitness benefits that were all part of my routine are gone too. For now.

And of course you lose these things at the worst time possible, when you are coping with a serious illness, and trying to deal with the reality of going from feeling great and running at 60 mph all the time to feeling awful and barely chugging along.

I realize that I won't always feel like this. I realize that I am just a few short months away from being done with all my treatments, I realize that each treatment is a new one and there is always the chance that I will feel better this time around.

But still, maybe the cruelest thing about a serious illness isn't coping with your potential mortality, or feeling vulnerable because something has gone wrong with your usually faithful and trusty body, maybe the cruelest thing is how much it tries to alienate you from the life that you had built thus far.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Good News?

The last couple of days have been worse than ever. Sore gums, severe fatigue, so bad that I go straight to bed when I am done working, red, itchy palms and soles of my feet. This has really started to feel endless and I have started to feel like a little bag of symptoms.

And so disappointing. I should feel better than last week, not worse.

So, I called the doctor today and they wanted to see me. They checked my blood counts and they look good, so I am still on for my next treatment this Monday. But, the doctor agrees that I am not tolerating this well. In fact, he says only two people in his practice have ever tolerated chemotherapy worse. That's the bad news, I don't tolerate this stuff well.

Here is the good news. He thinks the "F" part of FEC is causing most of my problems. We can eliminate that drug if I switch to AC, and I can switch. He also thinks that I can't possibly tolerate AC worse than I have done on FEC, and the AC cocktail consists of 4 doses, not 6. So even if I don't tolerate it very well, after Monday, I will be half way done not a third of the way done.

He is the nicest guy. He said he really couldn't bear to see me go through this 5 more times. I agree, I didn't know how I was going to do this until late September either.

I am very relieved that we had another option to try. And knowing that I have three treatments left, not five, is a huge weight off my shoulders.

On the hair front, my husband is going to shave my head for me when he gets home tonight. What I have left is very patchy, so it is time to take the plunge. For the most talked about symptom, I find this one the easiest. It feels more like a right of passage than anything else.

I am also very lucky because my husband is not just accepting of my hair loss, he likes it. It would be very hard for me if my bald head needed to be hidden from my spouse.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Right on Schedule

Everything that I've read said that my hair would start to fall out exactly two weeks after my first chemo treatment. And it did! Almost to the minute.

I had my first treatment two weeks ago, on the 11th, and my hair came out by the handful this morning in the shower.

So during lunch (we were both working from home today) my husband took me out to the back patio, and used the trimmer on the lowest possible setting if you still use a guard. I look like a recruit. It's not bothering me though. I fully expected it and it is a temporary but sure sign that the chemo is working.

I am very glad that I got a buzz beforehand though. I think if my long beautiful hair came out in clumps, that would have been hard. But what is falling out is just the stubble that I have left.

Two things helped to prepare me. About a week before my first treatment, my husband shaved his head in support. The first time I saw it, I felt sick. It just looked wrong. I told him that his eyes weren't in the right place any more. But as a few days went by I got used to it, then started to like it.

A few days after that, I put on a nice dress and heels, marched out to the patio, and asked him to trim all my hair down to one inch. Turns out 3/4 looked better. That helped me feel prepared for chemo and eased me into the "hairless wonder" look.

So for one of the most talked about side effects, so far I'm okay with it. It is also nice that a dear friend of mine knitted a couple of "chemo head huggers" for me. They got here yesterday, just in time. I have one on now.

I don't plan to get a wig. Instead I plan to get a henna Buddha on the back of my head and wear hats if I want to or my head gets cold. We will see if I'm still that brave once it is really all gone. I think I just might be.

The other event of the day was that my right leg got pins and needles for hours. Disconcerting. I called the doctor and they said take Aleve and apply some heat. I'm supposed to call tomorrow if it doesn't get better. Turns out that being tingly for hours is fairly annoying.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

World O Xanax

You all know how stubborn I am. And how anti-drug I am. So I refuse to take a Xanax every night.

On nights when I don't, I always seem to wake up around 3 a.m. to enjoy a hot flash. I really can't complain about those, they just seem to wake me up. Then I read for a while, and end up getting hungry, so I have a snack. It is becoming my little ritual.

I did something similar as a kid. My Mom had a bread drawer under the oven. She would put whatever bread, rolls or crackers were leftover from dinner in a chrome penguin container (I have one too, I found it years ago in an antique store in Wisconsin). I would wander down in the middle of the night, grab a snack, then go back to bed. I don't know how long I did this, but whenever I went down, there was a snack there waiting. It's a fond memory for me.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Chemo #1 For Starts

I'm starting this blog to keep my friends and family posted and to help me as I go through my treatments for breast cancer.

I was diagnosed at the beginning of May. It was caught in a routine yearly mammogram, and took me completely by surprise. In a way, I still don't believe it. So far, I've had three surgical procedures and one round of a chemo cocktail called FEC. I've got five more to go.

This week's fun started with an uncontrollable craving, more like a mania, for steak. That doesn't sound so bad does it? Except, I've hated beef all my life. So I had the weird experience of going out at 4 pm on a Sunday for an emergency beef trip. Then cutting into a steak while saying "Ewwwwwww, this tastes SO good!" Honestly, this craving was so strong that it would wake me up! That lasted for about three days. Three wierd, beefy days.

The second strange byproduct was a complete change in my handwriting, and wierd urgencies. I was craving Chinese food, so my husband offered to get take out. I could not just tell him what I wanted ($37 worth as it turns out), I HAD to write it down. And when I wrote it down, I wrote it in somebody's else's hand writing. The characters were much smaller, more cramped, and on many days, you can see that it is shaky. I'm hoping maybe that means the bank won't clear all the checks I've been writing!!! But really, this symptom really bothers me, it just seems so personal and pointless to mess with my handwriting.

Other than that, I've got rashes, the shakes, and thrush. I'm trying to look at the bright side which is that these symptoms mean that the chemo is REALLY working. I don't want to go through this and not have it work, now do I? But, I'm so disappointed too. I had this vision that chemo week would be tough, sure, but the two weeks I'd have to recover, at least at the beginning, would be a breeze. I'm young, I'm strong, why should this knock me back so quickly? But it did. Recovering is a bloody full time job. I had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of all the self care things that I have to do every day. That's good because now I make sure I do all the stuff I need to do, but it's bad because I have no experience with serious illness and I'm so darn young! I have no idea how to cope with all this.