One Year Later – December 15, 2015

Today is the one year anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis.  What a year it’s been.  I’ve had:  2 breast MRIs, 4 echocardiograms, 1 blood infusion, 16 rounds of general chemo, 7 rounds (and counting) of targeted chemo,  and 30 radiation treatments.  I won’t even begin to count the number of blood draws, Neulasta shots, and stool samples I’ve endured.  It’s been worth it, though, right?  To be able to say I’m cancer free?  I know the docs won’t say it for another 4 years, but I’ll say it.

I had chemo last Thursday.  I had to move it from Friday because Friday was our office holiday party.  The treatment before, on November 20, was the exciting one.

Because I’d had a positive test for C. Difficile, even thought I’d been treated, the protocol until I had a negative result was that I needed to stay away from other chemo patients and be given my infusion in an isolation room.  The problem is that the Palo Alto facility isn’t yet equipped to do this, so I had to be given my infusion in an exam room.  Thus they had to free up a room, which meant they had to change my appointment from 2 pm to 4 pm.  Exam rooms aren’t nearly as comfortable as the lounge chairs in the infusion center; there’s no music, no juice or crackers – you get the idea. Oddest infusion ever.  I had to give another stool sample to be tested, and fortunately it was negative.  So my infusion on the 10th was back in the infusion center.  I missed it.

I got Herceptin and…you guessed it – magnesium.  My mag remains stubbornly low at 1.4-1.5, so my quick hour long infusions are now 3 hours from beginning to end.  Oh well.  At least there are few side effects – just the ever present diarrhea.

Which leads to my latest problem – the worst hemorrhoids ever. And of course I would get them when I’m going to the Star Wars marathon – all 7 movies in one sitting.  I’m contemplating getting a doughnut to sit on, although what I’d really love is a heating pad. The heat seems to help the pain – at least it did last night.

My next infusion was supposed to be New Year’s Eve, but we will be in southern California to watch my beloved Cardinal take on Iowa in the Rose Bowl.  So I’ll have my next infusion on my first day back to work on January 4.

For now, though – May the Force Be With You!

 

Giving Thanks – November 26, 2015

On this Thanksgiving Day, I have much for which to be thankful. You may not think so – after all, I have breast cancer, and this year, at times, has stretched my limits for tolerance.

But this year has also shown me that I am blessed. I have a wonderful family. My sisters are rock stars and support me no matter what (well, except for my desire to have more cats). I can count on them for anything. I have nieces, a nephew and goddaughters who I adore. I have friends who give everything and ask nothing in return. I have a good job in a profession in which I believe deeply, and a staff which is hardworking and fun to be around. My volunteer work – animal rescue transport – allows me to make a difference in both two legged and four legged lives.

Looking back over the past 11 months, I am amazed by all the support and love I’ve received. Whether it was a comment on a Facebook post, a note, a card, a gift, a gift of time, or knowing that work was humming along even though I was in and out, I had support in my corner. People I’ve never met IRL uplifted me with their words and gifts. Friends gave generously of their time and talent: whether sitting with me at the infusion center, bringing me Jamba Juice or Boost in my hour(s) of need, making or buying me meals to relieve the pressure on Ted – all of it is staggeringly wonderful. Thanks to each and every one of you.

Most of all, I am thankful for Ted.  My love, my life partner, my light – you epitomize what it means to love “in sickness and in health.” I can’t imagine what this year would have been like without you there by my side. I don’t say it enough:  I love you.

Radiation All Done! – November 18, 2015

Last Friday was my last radiation treatment. It was a little bittersweet, actually – you get into a rhythm, going every day to see the same technicians.  I am happy that it’s over, don’t get me wrong!  The technician said that the way my breast looks now, after 5 weeks of treatment, is what most women’s breasts look like after a week. I’m blessed that I tan very easily. I also have tremendous sympathy for those women:  if this was week one and I was facing 5-6 more weeks of treatments, I’d be wondering how to get through it. My breast and armpit were extremely sore all weekend, and now they don’t hurt, but itches like crazy.  Makes sense – essentially I got a burn, and it’s turning into a tan (which is what happens with me) but in the meantime it’s itchy. So if you see me rubbing my breast or armpit, well…you’ll know what’s going on!

I got to keep the mold. The mold kept me in roughly the same position every time during treatment. I surprised the technician when I got excited about being able to keep the mold. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but for now it’s a cool keepsake.

I’d wanted to keep my head shaved until I was done with chemo, but I’m letting it grow out a little. In order to stay bald, Ted needs to shave me at least every other day. Now that I’m feeling better and life is returning a bit back to normal, it was just too hard to find time to shave my head every other day. Right now the hair is a super cool length – like peach fuzz. I’ve had people ask if they could rub my head, to which I say “of course!” because I do it all day long myself. I’ll probably try to keep my head buzzed, at least, rather than shaved. It’s still pretty cool.

I’m still pretty tired from radiation. Today was the 3rd day of full time at work, and I’m pooped. At least tomorrow and Friday I work only half days because I have an appointment with Dr. Priya (tomorrow) and chemo on Friday. I got my blood draw on my way home and Dr. Priya already released the results. Unbelievable, my magnesium is 1.6! It hasn’t been this high for a while. I’d read somewhere that drinking soda could lower magnesium because the phosphates in soda binds with the magnesium. I thought what the heck and am trying to drink less soda (I am a Diet Coke addict). Who knows whether drinking less Diet Coke is what’s helping or just feeling better in general, but the magnesium level is going in the right direction.

What about my favorite topic, diarrhea?  Well, I still have it. It’s not every day, and usually not terrible. I noticed that if I forget to take a probiotic pill, I have diarrhea the next day.  Who knows what’s going on, but if I can stop the diarrhea by taking probiotics, so be it.

With the end of radiation, I feel as if I’m 90% done with my cancer treatment. I have 6 more months of chemo, but it’s only every 3 weeks and the infusions aren’t 6-8 hours long. I also usually feel okay afterwards, which is so different from all the “regular” chemo I had. I think I’m allowed to believe I’m almost done!

 

 

Week 4 of Radiation Done! – November 9, 2015

Things are moving right along!  I finished week 4 of radiation with no difficulties at all.  I finally saw Dr. L on Thursday (he was busy Tuesday and Wednesday) and he told me that I’ll actually only need 25 treatments.  This means that this week is my final week of radiation!  The time has actually flown by, all things considered.  I really do think that Dr. L was able to increase my doses because I’m tolerating the treatments so well.  I don’t have any burns whatsoever; other than feeling more tired than normal (and feeling like I could take a nap any time), things have been “normal.”  Exciting!  I feel that when radiation ends, I’m 90% done with my treatment.

I mentioned in my last post that I hadn’t had to take any Imodium for almost a week. Well, I spoke too soon.  Almost as soon as I hit “Publish” I had diarrhea, and it didn’t really stop until today. I decided to take Imodium when I go to bed which helps the diarrhea in the mornings. I did contact Dr. S (GI doc) but I haven’t heard back yet. I think that this round of diarrhea is the result of chemo; the only way to test the theory is to see what happens after my next round of chemo. In the meantime, I’m managing the diarrhea.

My joints are sore, which leads me to believe I have a mild case of myalgia, which is a possible side effect of Herceptin. It’s hard for me to move if I haven’t moved in a while, such as driving to work (typically a 50 minute drive) or sleeping. It’s hard for me to take off a shirt, too. I’ll ask Dr. Priya about it again when I see her next week. I’d asked her about it before, but I talked about my knees only.  I can deal with it, but I’ve learned to ask rather than keep silent.

Only 4 more radiation treatments to go!

Week 3 of Radiation Done! – October 31, 2015

Week 3 is in the books!  And thus far still no burns. Just a little redness right after the treatment, which is gone by morning. Last night there was a bit of heat along with the redness, but this morning there’s nothing.

Dr. R told me this week that my treatment will indeed be only 30 treatments, which means I’m halfway done with radiation! Apparently I’m tolerating it so well they’ve tinkered with the dosages so that I’m getting a little more each time, which allows me to have only 30 treatments rather than 33-36. I will be done with radiation by November 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving. I’m happy about this, and hope that I continue to tolerate the treatment as well as I have been. I’ve been lathering my breast with 100% aloe,  at least twice a day, along with an aloe cream that a colleague gave me. Maybe that’s why things are going well – that and the fact that I tend to tan rather than burn.

Aside from the lack of burns, I am feeling a little more fatigued, as anticipated. I don’t have as much energy and need more sleep than typical. Not surprising, I suppose, but annoying as heck for someone who is used to having energy to spare and operates on 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Having to sleep 8-9 hours just seems like so much wasted time.  🙂

As for my diarrhea problems, I haven’t had to take any Imodium since Saturday, but mornings continue to be tough. It seems to be getting better, but only ever so slightly. At least I haven’t any diarrhea for a week. I’ll count my blessings.

I had chemo yesterday: Herceptin along with 2 grams of magnesium. Seems to be my typical infusion these days, until we can figure out why my magnesium is so low. Otherwise the infusion was uneventful. I even got a little nap in – which I’m needing in addition to more sleep at night.

Each day brings me closer to the end of my overall cancer treatment. Onward!

Week 2 of Radiation Done – October 27, 2015

I’ve completed 2 weeks of radiation and so far, so good.  Any redness goes away completely by morning. My doc is on a short sabbatical (what is it with my medical team going on sabbatical?), so I saw Dr. R. He said that I was “ahead of schedule,” which I take to mean that I’m not showing any side effects even after almost 2 weeks. I am hoping that my tendency to tan rather than burn will help me get through this with a minimum of discomfort.

Dr. R also said that while I seem to be “well adjusted” that some women, after 6-7 weeks of getting treatment every day, get a little depressed once treatment is completed, so he and Dr. L would like for me to make plans for something after treatment, like a getaway. He said it was doctor’s orders!  We’re going to hope that Stanford football makes a bowl game, and we’ll follow our Cardinal and that will be my getaway.

While the radiation is going well, last week my diarrhea was as bad as it has been. I have to admit that I missed some doses of Flagyl…so I contacted Dr. S, who said I should finish the Flagyl and then we’ll wait to see how things go. I haven’t taken any Imodium since Saturday, so that’s good, although mornings are still tough.  It seems to be getting better, though, so I’m hopeful that the Flagyl did its job. If not, Dr. S said he has another test he’d like to have done. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

My neuropathy is still hanging around. I can’t tell you how many earring backs I’ve lost because I can’t feel the wires or the earring back. And my balance still is a little off at times because I can’t feel my toes. Dr. Priya says it can be months before it goes away. It’s annoying. I’d really like it to go away.

Dr. Priya asked me to participate in a leadership meeting. Turns out I’ll be part of a patient panel in which I’ll discuss my patient experience, both good and bad. The audience is C level executives, department and division heads – about 90 total. I think Dr. Priya asked me to participate because she knew that I am comfortable speaking to a crowd. The panel is tomorrow. Wish me luck!

One Week of Radiation Done! – October 18, 2015

Week 1 of radiation is done, and so far so good.  There’s a little bit of redness on my breast at night but by morning it’s gone, and so far my energy has been good.  The treatment itself is nothing…it takes more time to get me all situated so I’m in the correct position than the actual treatment.  I’m sure it’ll get worse as time goes on, but for now it’s all good.

The Flagyl is doing its job, as are the probiotics and yogurt.  I haven’t had diarrhea in a day or two, and that’s always a good sign.  I even had cheese dip yesterday, and thus far we’re good.  I’ll be on the Flagyl for a few days yet.

Thus far I’m scheduled for treatments until the Friday before Thanksgiving, which is 30 treatments.  The typical treatment plan is 33-36; somehow I have the sneaky suspicion that I’ll be getting radiation the week of Thanksgiving. We are planning to spend a quiet Turkey Day at home with one of those complete Thanksgiving dinners so neither of us have to really cook.  If everything I hear is correct, by Thanksgiving I’ll be pretty fatigued and all I’m going to want to do is sit at home, eat, snuggle with my kitties and maybe knit.  I love to cook Thanksgiving dinner, so maybe I can make Thanksgiving dinner for Christmas. Maybe.