Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pink Ribbons - Chemo Class

Pink Ribbons is a feature series I have started that is posted every Wed.  I am a Pink Ribbon Warrior, having gone through the chemo, surgery, radiation, the year of waiting and recently stage 2 reconstruction...which I find is really the first of many little surgeries.  I am at a place in my life where I am willing to open my journal from that time and share with you my anger, fears, challenges and pain of finding out you have cancer.  At the end of the post, you will find the links of the previous posts from the most recent first and going back.  These are not current events.  This is me sharing with you from the other side of breast cancer.

I actually wrote this after my first chemo treatment, but placed it here on the blog for continuity.

I am finding that a lot of people aren't familiar with chemo or the effects on a person. As some said...they thought it was mostly nausea. Ironically the nausea is a side effect most easily controlled. I do have some kind of nausea...the stomach clamps down and just hurts.

So welcome to chemo class.

I'm to be given two drugs for breast cancer...Cytoxin and Taxotere.
The common effects are as follows....

Nausea and vomiting. But they give medications to control that. Before I'm even given the chemo...they start with an iv med called Aloxi. It is an anti-emetic which means it's for nausea and vomiting. This wonder drug stays in your blood for FIVE days! I could definitely tell as it wore off. My actual nausea is under control.

The second effect is loss of appetite. I got that big time. Even when I do manage eat a little, seriously 2 - 3 bites and the stomach cramping starts and I have to quit. I have lost 12 lbs in a week. I know a good deal was water because I was retaining fluids like a sow. My cankles are now gone.

Next on the list is hair and nail loss. Losing your hair seems to be the classic effect of chemo, something everyone expects and notices.    It's nearly the first question asked when you hear "chemo"..."Will I lose my hair?  The worst thing about losing your hair is that you suddenly LOOK ill and people who don't know you start treating you like you are dying.   The other thing I notice is my hair insulated my head more than I ever knew.  I am freezing....I wear caps all day and night time too because my head just feels too cold for comfort.   Many people don't like using wigs and I admit I have a hard time keeping my wig in one place.  It slides all over, so I leaned more toward hats and scarves.

Red Wig from the American Cancer Society
Blond wig from the American Cancer Society
nearly my real hair color

Loved this pink hat purchased from the ACS,
along with a curly blonde "hair halo" from them
as well.
Newsboy's cap purchased from ACS
also a CLASSIC example of 'roid rash.  Even my
eyelids burned from the red rash.

Head Wrap TAUGHT to me by the ACS,
Scarf was gift from my mom.

Nails - They recommend using nail hardener and I have been.  (They did not tell me this effect lasted months after your chemo.  I used nail hardeners until the last week of my chemo.  Then in Dec. *2 months later* I noticed one afternoon that my fingertips were tender.  I pulled off my gloves -I'd been outside in the cold - and discovered all but one nail had lifted over halfway back from the free edge.  This made the fingers very tender and the nails very fragile.  I had to cut them back as far as I could to prevent them snagging on fabrics and tearing off.  But I learned too far back was painful as well.  There is a paper thin lining under the nail that I inadvertently clipped.  I howled (it hurt) and bled like I'd cut the finger nail off.  So to prevent your nails from lifting...continue to use nail hardeners at least 3 months and preferably 6 months after your chemo has completed.)

My nails the last week of chemo...the only part of my body
at that point not suffering.  Nail hardener polishes were
mailed to me by my WOW friends from around the country.

Next is bladder irritation. I have to drink fluids like a horse to keep that from happening.  They had me so afraid of this, that I drank about 125 oz. of water daily.

Next is stopping of menstrual cycles. That may take more than one chemo cycle. Frankly I'm looking forward to that effect. Well except for the hot flashes...(In hind sight I can tell you that Aunt Flo was tougher than chemo.  Although I was told chemo would stop did not for me.  Lupron injections did and the hot flashes WERE intense.)

Then the lovely sore mouth or throat called stomatitis. It can actually happen anywhere along the digestive system. But I swish and spit a saline solution every 4 hours to keep it from happening.

Then next you have the risk of an allergic reaction. Taxotere is famous for causing it. So that's why they add steroids to the chemo AND I have to take dexamethasone the day before the day and after chemo.

Chemo also causes fluid retention.  This is another reason you are given causes you to PEE like a cow in the field. You will believe you have just removed every ounce of fluid IN your body only to realize about 20 minutes later that your bladder is full again.  Your skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes however will be dry, cracked and bleeding.  It can cause diarrhea and I can attest that yes sir it does. :(

Chemo can give you a rash. I haven't gotten one this time at least. I developed intense red, burning rashes from the steroids taken to prevent the chemo rash.  Go figure.

Chemo can cause numbness in the hands and feet. I have had something like that. Kind of like carpel tunnel syndrome.  The more chemo you get, the more possible this effect.  (I did not notice this to be a problem until after my third dose.  It lasted about 6 months...mainly in my toes and my right thumb.  That was irritating.  A sore thumb might stick out but so does a numb thumb.  I lost count how many times I smashed it against something.)

Then there's fatigue. They said it would be like early morning sickness. And early on I think it was.  Again, this is a cumulative effect, meaning it intensifies after each dose.  (By the 4th dose, I felt like a sloth.  Simply unable to move.  It was way more intense than morning sickness.  I had a lot of soups because I was just too tired to chew food.)

Then there's the muscle pain. Only 20% of people on CT will develop muscle pain. I won that lottery. Doc gave me percocet and  with a lot of sleep it helped me get through the pain.   It was singly the hardest thing for me to cope with during chemo...the constant aching and throbbing of muscles and joints. (I don't know this is proven scientifically...but since my chemo I notice intense muscle and bone pain in cold, damp weather.  It seems that chemo sensitized my bones and muscles and they always react to the damp with pain.)

Late in the first week you have low blood counts. As red blood cells diminish you feel a special kind a fatigue. It's like a weary to the bone kind of fatigue and you find yourself puffing just getting up to go to a bathroom. White blood cells and platelets go down too. Basically your bone marrow has stopped working.

Because of the low blood count ....for those at risk they give us an injection called Neulasta. The Neulasta forces the bone marrow to work like a little sweat shop to create white blood cells. That medicine causes bone pain because of the sweat shop effect. It will help protect me from infection but it will hurt as well.   (I will share about the Neulasta injections in a upcoming post.)

Chemo is more than just vomiting and nausea.

So what did I learn in Chemo Class?

Fighting cancer with chemo SUCKS!

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