Inching Closer to Last Treatment – April 9, 2016

I had my 3rd to last Herceptin treatment on Good Friday.  While the chemo treatment is usually 3-4 hours, I’ve been taking the entire day off and getting other things done.  This past time was breakfast with my former boss, a trip to the Post Office, a contact lens fitting, a diagnostic mammogram, and THEN chemo.

While Herceptin is a lot less hard on the body than “regular” chemo, I continue to have side effects.  I should have bought stock in Imodium when all this started; I take 2 every night and on some days I take more as needed.  I take Advil for headaches and muscle aches, and added Vitamin D to my regimen to help with muscle aches.  I get stomach cramps, intestinal cramps and the occasional nausea, but nothing is as bad as last year. It’s all sort of manageable.

I still have neuropathy, especially in my feet.  A friend described it perfectly – it’s like I’m wearing wrinkled socks all the time.  In my hands it’s not so bad, but with my feet it can make me a little unsteady at times.  Often upon standing from a sitting position, I have to make sure my feet are truly under me, and coupled with my muscle aches, I have to take a minute before I can actually move.  The neuropathy is still from last year’s chemo; the chemo I’m receiving now shouldn’t be contributing to the problem.  Given that it’s been 9 months since my last general chemo infusion, I’m getting a little concerned that I’ll always been wearing wrinkled socks.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reflecting:  reflecting on my work life and my volunteer life.  I think I’ve said before in this blog that life is too short, and while I’ve always had that philosophy, having cancer really reinforces this for me.  And so I’m practicing what I preach.  I resigned from a volunteer position I loved because I discovered that the founders, while perhaps not doing anything strictly illegal, are skirting the line of law, and are most certainly unethical.  It’s disappointing to realize that one’s been duped for 3 years by 2 of the most unethical people I’ve ever had the displeasure to know.  I have to keep reminding myself that I was a part of a lot of good done in those 3 years, but life is too short to spend working for people I can’t respect.

As for work, I’ve been reflecting on that, too – what makes me happy, what doesn’t.  No job is perfect, but some things are easier to let go than others.  I’m trying to decide how much I can let go and what I can’t.  Life IS too short – too short to be unfulfilled or unhappy whether working professionally or as a volunteer.  Life also goes on, and that’s a very good thing.

 

A Year Ago Today – January 29, 2016

A year ago today I had my first chemo infusion.  Little did I know that day what my year would be like.  It’s a little surreal to think about all that’s happened.

After last week’s infusion, I stopped to talk to a young woman who was just starting her chemo treatments.  She and her family had a lot of questions, which I hope I was able to answer.  What I found interesting was that I’ve actually forgotten the names of my chemo drugs, except for Taxotere, Perjeta and Herceptin.  I had to look them up to remember what I got and when.  Honestly, I don’t think I’d wish chemo on my worst enemy.  And I don’t think I had it as bad as some folks.

It’s been a while since my last post!  The holidays were nice; my whole family was able to gather for Christmas Eve.  Our dryer broke (it’s okay, it was over 25 years old) so we ordered a new one, but that meant cleaning out a path in the garage so it could be delivered and installed.  That took up much of what free time we had over the holidays. And then we left for Anaheim and the Rose Bowl – a little vacation with friends.  We went to California Great Adventure, Disneyland, and, of course, the Rose Bowl, where my beloved Cardinal destroyed the Iowa Hawkeyes to win its 2nd Rose Bowl in 4 years.  We drove back on the 3rd, and when we got home, I was feeling off.  I thought it was just the busy vacation.  I took the morning off and then headed for chemo on the 4th.  I was running a little fever, 99.1 degrees.  Well, that was just a precursor to the worst flu I’ve had in years.  I got a flu shot, but apparently it wasn’t very effective this year.  With all the people at Disneyland/Great Adventure and the Rose Bowl, I’m sure I picked up the flu bug there.  I had a fever of 103.3 for a night, and over 101 for several days.  And then I got a cough which I still have, although it’s getting much better.  Not the way I wanted to start 2016!

When I was finally able to go to work, it was to unpack my office – my staff and I moved locations while I was home sick.  I’m finally starting to feel settled at work, and we love our new space.

At my appointment with Dr. P last week, I asked her if taking Vitamin D would help with my muscle aches.  I also asked if I should contact my PCP about switching out one of my high blood pressure meds, as was suggested by Dr. S’s consult with the nephrology doctors, to help with my low magnesium.  So now I’m taking Vitamin D and I’ve changed one of my meds.  This week I’ve had my usual bout of diarrhea.  I also had a terrible headache on Monday, and I’ve had terrible muscle aches.  I know the Vitamin D, if it’s going to help, will take a few weeks to kick in.  But I decided to look up the side effects of Herceptin again, because I’ve obviously forgotten.  First 3 side effects?  Diarrhea, headache, muscle aches!  So I guess this will continue until at least May.  I think I’ll take Imodium every night for a week after my next infusion to see if that helps with the diarrhea; I can take Advil for headaches and I’ll hope the Vitamin D helps with the muscle aches (Advil helps with that).

Here’s to 2016!

 

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!

 

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!

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.

Back from Vacation, Back to Work – October 9, 2015

The past month has flown by!  My last entry was about a week before we left for 10 glorious days on Maui.  I was seen 3 times in that week about my scars; they were no longer infected, but they were very slow to heal.  In the end, I was given some tegaderm film bandages- basically really stretchy, sticky saran wrap-like bandages – to put over the parts of the scars which hadn’t healed yet.  I could keep them on all the time, if I chose, but I only used the tegaderm when I was going into the ocean.  One of the surgeons whom I saw in that week warned me to be careful of swimsuit straps.  I have little to no feeling around the scars, and indeed, by the end of the vacation, I’d reopened a little part of my scar from wearing a bikini top too long.

Other than the minor inconvenience of making sure my scars were clean and using the tegaderm, vacation was lovely.  The weather was perfect and our condo was literally on the beach.  I didn’t have a ton of stamina, but how much stamina is needed to sit on a beach?  🙂

A few days after our return to the mainland I had an appointment with my radiation oncologist and for the “simulation.”  During the simulation, a mold is made to help me achieve the same position every time I receive radiation.  Measurements were taken and recorded; the whole process took about an hour.  I got 2 tattoos, or radiation markers.  I told the radiologist that I’d always wanted to get a tattoo, so now I could cross that off my bucket list.  I got a chuckle out of him.

I start radiation therapy on October 12.  It’ll be every weekday for at least 6 weeks, so if it’s 3 pm, you’ll find me at radiation therapy.  The nurse told me that the first hour or two right after receiving treatment is when most patients report feeling tired, so I decided to get radiation later in the day and then I’ll just go home afterwards.  She also told me that because I tan, I may not feel the burn that fair skinned people feel.  I hope that’s the case.  Currently I’m scheduled for treatment until the Friday before Thanksgiving, which is 30 treatments; my understanding was that typical treatments are 33-36 treatments, so I’ll have to ask on Monday whether I need more treatments scheduled.  I hope this means that I’ll be done by the beginning of December at the latest; I still hope I can host Christmas for my family this year, but we’ll have to see how fatigued I am.

This week has been a reality check – returning to work full time after 7 weeks off.  It’s not just being at work, but the commute on top of that which has put a strain on whatever energy I have.  I really need to go to bed much earlier than my usual bedtime because I simply need more sleep.

I had an appointment with my oncologist yesterday.  I asked her about some general soreness I have in my knees, and she said that it could take up to a year before I feel better.  In the meantime she suggested that I walk more.

My magnesium was still low, and I still get diarrhea.  She is also concerned because my calcium is increasing. The diarrhea is not all the time, as before, but at least a few times a week.  About an hour after I left, I got a call from Dr. P’s nurse, telling me that Dr. P put in an urgent referral to the Gastroenterology (GI) department.  When I asked why, Velia said that Dr. P is concerned about my diarrhea.  I managed to get an appointment for today, before chemo.

After much discussion, Dr. S said that there was one thing he could test.  I’ve had diarrhea since the start of chemo (late January), and since I started, I’ve been on 4 rounds of antibiotics.  (port infection, tooth infection, 2 rounds post-surgery).  He said it’s possible that while I was on all those antibiotics and because I’ve been hanging around medical facilities that while the good bacteria was wiped out some bad bacteria got in, albeit at a low level.  My diarrhea isn’t every day now, and it’s not bloody, and I don’t have some of the other symptoms one might expect with a more serious case.  But worth checking out regardless.  Now I get the joy of getting a stool sample.  Ugh.

He’s also puzzled by the low magnesium.  He said he was going to consult some other folks because he couldn’t fathom a reason and it just bothers him that we don’t have a cause.  But other than that he didn’t feel an endoscopy was necessary, and since I wasn’t really complaining, we’d forgo that procedure for now.

I got a jury summons for November 4.  I am more than happy to do my civic duty, but I simply can’t while undergoing radiation therapy and chemo.  I can ask for a continuance for no stated reason for 6 months, but that would only be good until May.  I’ll still be undergoing chemo through May, so I asked Dr. P to write me a note to excuse me from jury duty for medical reasons.  She wrote it to give me a year off. Hopefully the county will accept that.

I’m here in the infusion center, getting magnesium and Herceptin.  Just another Friday in my life this year.