Medical Update ~ 10/16/17
The chemo treatment went much more smoothly the second time around - I wasn't nearly as jumpy or jittery on the Benadryl as I was the first week. I was still wide awake and chatty, but I was able to stay in my chair for the entire treatment (praise God!!). I wondered if it was because I didn't receive the Herceptin this time, but the nurse thought it had more to do with the fact that I was feeling more anxious at my first treatment. She said like alcohol, Benedryl can heighten our mood. It makes sense - my blood pressure was a full 20 points lower this time over last time, so I was apparently feeling more at ease. Since I received just the Taxol this time, I was only in the treatment room for about 4 hours. I still brought a bag full of stuff to do because that's how I operate (downtime = productive time), but didn't end up pulling any of it out. My husband and I spent the majority of that time engaged in conversation. Strangely, my chemo time is quickly becoming a special time between us. We bring lunch since we're there for several hours, and enjoy the chance to just sit and talk with each other. I'm so blessed that I still love to just hang out with the man I married 25 years ago💗. It would be even better if he had a comfortable chair to sit in for those 4 hours...still trying to figure out how to get those chairs changed. Somebody please help me.
I also had a delightful conversation with a sweet neighbor in the treatment room - she was knitting a prayer shawl while receiving her treatment. She belongs to a church group who knits prayer shawls for people going through cancer. What a beautiful thing, on so many levels. I just love the idea of creating something so beautiful and comforting for someone else walking the same road, something that would bring peace and strength to a fellow warrior. One of my greatest challenges has been to sit idle through such a large portion of my week. The fatigue has me down more than up these days, and the frustration at not being able to do much of anything definitely gets me most days. "Chemo brain" is no joke, so for the majority of the time, I cannot concentrate on anything that takes too much focus; but my hands just don't sit idle well. I wonder if I can knit. We will see.
The staff in the treatment center is also just amazing. They have all gone so far above and beyond to make this experience as comfortable as possible for me - both physically and emotionally. Every single medical person I've encountered through this process has worked to encourage me and remind me that I have an army of people working with me and for me, their care and treatment of me is genuine, and they easily make me laugh. They have quickly become some of my favorite people.
By far, the best news from Thursday were the results my blood tests. One of the side effects of the Taxol is that it can lower the number of white blood cells (WBC), red blood cells (RBC), and platelets, so they check your levels before beginning each treatment. If they drop too low, they administer additional medications, while occassionally pausing treatment until your numbers have recovered. While my WBC dropped, it was only slightly and still well within the normal range. Praise God! My RBC did drop below the normal range, but only a fraction of a point. I've been intentional about my diet, choosing to eat those things that keep my immune system strong and staying as healthy as possible. I'll definitely be adding more red meat and proteins to my diet this week! While I do realize it is still very early in the process, and the effects are cumulative, I'm thankful for any week we can proceed without concerns.
The nurses reminded me since the side effects are cumulative, I should expect to feel the same symptoms I felt last weekend, only more intensely, but that I shouldn't feel any new symptoms. Unfortunately, that wasn't entirely true. The side effects were significantly more intense this weekend, but there were also some new symptoms.
By the time I got home on Thursday afternoon, the fatigue and headache already had a foothold. Within an hour or two, I was dizzy and laying down. I may have been more tired this past week because I'm struggling to sleep while taking steroids. To avoid a common allergic reaction to Taxol, I take steroids Wednesdays through Fridays, and I don't sleep well those nights. I had only slept about 4 hours the night before my treatment, waking up at 3am wide awake, unable to fall back asleep. On Thursday, I was completely exhausted when I crawled into bed, but was still unable to fall into a restful sleep for most of the night. It's frustrating to lie there unable to keep your eyes open, but unable to drift off to sleep. I chatted on Friday with my oncology nurse - she's hoping to change my steroid dosage since I haven't had any type of reaction to the chemo. The other option was to offer me prescription sleep meds, and I don't want anything to do with those. She reiterated how important it was for me to sleep, so I'm trying to find natural methods to help me sleep over adding to the cocktail of medications I already do take.
Friday and Saturday were a slow, continual spiral downward, with the primary symptoms simply being fatigue and a headache, but both days fairly manageable. I was thankful to be released to start running again on Friday, so I mixed in a run with my 2-mile walk on both days. I found I couldn't do the entire 2 miles as a run because of the pain my port still causes, but I can tell I'll get there soon. I was even able to enjoy a visit from my sister in from out of town for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon, feeling well enough to enjoy laughing and talking. I was also happy to be able to attend church on Saturday night, but by the time I got home that evening, I started feeling some of the more intense side effects. Within a few hours, the pain in my hips was significant enough that I had a difficult time just walking across the room, and by the time I headed up to bed, the digestive issues began. I think the most frustrating part is how desperately your body needs sleep to heal from all the poison being dumped into it, but you are completely unable to sleep because of all horrible side effects. That combination is brutal - not gonna lie.
Most of Sunday is a fog because I spent the majority of it on my couch trying to drift off to sleep for lack of sleep on Saturday night, but by God's grace as the day went on, I started to feel stronger. Sunday remains my most difficult day - emotionally and physically, it seems I bottom out on Sundays. As I said last week, please no visitors on Sundays - it's not a pretty sight. But, I was able to pull myself off the couch for a little while and walk my 2 miles. Some of you may think I'm crazy - I know you do because many of you keep telling me to not to push myself, but I have to tell any of you who struggle with physical or mental illness - get up and move. There is nothing that will have a greater impact on your healing than moving - it is literally what has gotten me over the hump on my most challenging days.
Just as last week, I woke up today feeling so much more like myself. I did have a rough start to the night last night thanks what appears to be the last of the symptoms, but once I was able to fall asleep, I did sleep until the sun rose this morning. Praise God for Monday mornings 😊, especially sunny fall Monday mornings. What a beautiful day it was today! After a sweet time in devotion this morning, I went for a run - not quite my full 2 miles because my hips are still pretty sore, but longer than Friday and Saturday so I'm thankful. My husband and I spent some time outside together raking leaves - don't worry, I stayed in the shade. No sun for me for awhile. It was absolutely wonderful to be outside doing something that felt so normal, on such a beautiful day.
Then I went to be fitted for a wig - this time finally taking one home. Several people have asked if I've started losing my hair yet. I'm definitely thinning, not yet to the point of needing to shave it just yet, but it's probably coming. I notice it more than my family, but we see our own flaws quicker than others do, don't we? For the most part, I'm okay if I lose my hair. I've come to terms with the fact that this is what I need to do to be healthy, but I think what bothers me most is my students. I don't want to make them feel uncomfortable when I return to work. I also noticed as I looked in the mirror today that I've started to look sick - I'm quite pale and I don't look healthy anymore. It's funny, I felt super healthy when this whole process began, but here I am, pretty quickly having that taken from me. Again, my family denies noticing anything, but a sweet friend who came to visit tonight confirmed I'm starting to look sick. Ugh. How could I not with all this poison they're dumping in my body?
But it's important to keep our perspective....to say I now appreciate the little things in life doesn't begin to capture how I feel. I am thankful for sunny fall Monday mornings, I am thankful to be able to spend time raking with my husband, I am thankful for 3 good days a week, I am thankful for fuzzy blankets and socks, and pillows and comfy couches, I am thankful for the way my family cares for me, I am thankful for the friends who continue to go out of their way to serve me - whether it's through the meal train, decorating my front porch, dropping off care packages of wine and chocolate 😉, delivering groceries so I don't want for anything, or the countless number of people who continue to reach out with encouraging words and reminders that I am not alone in this. Thank you just doesn't seem to be enough for all that you have all done for me.
For those of you praying for me, my son and grandbabies are sick. I was with them on Saturday when they started to get sick. Please pray that I do not catch their virus, and that they get well quickly! I cannot see my son or my babies while they are sick, and I need to have them around me as much as possible through this - thank you 😊
Press on ~ you are loved 💗