Medical Update ~ 12/11/17
Hi friends ~
I met with my radiology oncologist today to plan my next phase of treatment ~ quite a celebration since that means I'm nearly done with this phase 😊. The Taxol treatments have definitely been taking a greater toll on me physically these last couple of weeks, so I'll be happy when they're over. Since the effects are cumulative, they warned me it would be harder as I got closer to the end - they were right. I've spent more time on the couch these past few weeks as the fatigue and fog increase, but the good news is the other symptoms continue to be fairly manageable. The most concerning side effect that's shown up lately is neuropathy - apparently they watch it closely because it can continue well past treatment ends. Some patients end up with neuropathy symptoms for the rest of their lives. I'm quite thankful that mine seems to be minimal at this point - some have significant pain or balance issues if it affects their feet. It only seems to be affecting my fingertips - no pain, just numb. It started as intermittent numbness a couple of weeks ago, but it's constant now. It makes texting rather challenging, and my hands are sensitive to temperature changes, but other than that, it's not that bad.
I only have two more Taxol treatments left, so hopefully the neuropathy won't increase too much over the next couple of weeks. At the end of my last treatment, my oncologist made the decision to stop my steroids for the last two treatments since they seem to be causing some complications. While I am concerned about how I will manage the treatment without the steroids, I am looking forward to the negative side effects of the steroids diminishing - including the insomnia and weight gain. I've managed the weight gain better than many since I'm still running about 3 miles every day, but it is a constant battle. I also went in for a glucose test today - apparently, chemo-induced diabetes is such a thing and I'm exhibiting some symptoms. Since I had gestational diabetes with my pregnancies, I'm in a higher risk category. I don't have the results yet, but I managed it well during pregnancy with diet and excercise, so I'm not too concerned.
My last Taxol infusion is scheduled for December 21st. Praise God! Unfortunately, that means I won't feel very well for Christmas Eve since the past few Sundays have gotten increasingly more challenging, but I should feel much better for Christmas Day 😊. Looking forward to celebrating with my whole family - the best news is no one will need to cancel if they're sick because it will be past my last Taxol! I can also start hugging people again!! I can't think of a better Christmas present 😊
I will be back in the infusion center on 12/28 for my Herceptin treatment, but then I will only receive chemo treatments every 3 weeks until October. They tell me I will manage the Herceptin treatments signficantly better than the Taxol. The best news is it does not impact my white blood cells, so I no longer need to be so cautious and I can return to the classroom. The listed side effects of Herceptin are flu-like symptoms, but they promise me they're minimal as compared to the Taxol treatments. Since I've been receiving them at the same time as the Taxol through this first phase, it's difficult to distinguish the symptoms. At least it will be every 3 weeks instead of every week if I am impacted with negative symptoms. The most concerning side effect from the Herceptin is the damage to the heart. I will have an echocardiogram in the first week of January - they will compare my heart function to the baseline echo I had at the beginning of October, prior to starting treatments. If my heart function has decreased by 10% or more, they will stop treatments until it returns to normal. If it does not, they will not resume treatments.
My radiology oncologist wants to give my body 3 weeks to recover from the last Taxol treatment before beginning radiation. He shared they've found when they give patients a few weeks to recover, they manage the symptoms of radiation much better. I will be receiving treatments Monday through Friday for 4 weeks instead of the typical 3 weeks. The good news is they've recently discovered they can decrease the time from 6 weeks to 3 weeks if they increase the potency of treatments - it's such a blessing to benefit from all the recent research. They add an extra 5 treatments for hormone negative patients like myself to ensure the cancer doesn't recur. So, I will receive a total of 21 radiation treatments.
Before I begin treatments, I will need to have a CAT scan of the area to determine my actual protocol. My CAT scan is scheduled for January 4th. They told me they will schedule my radiation treatments at that point, but that I could expect them to begin around January 11th...which means I'll receive radiation treatments daily until about February 9th. I also signed an authorization for a tattoo today - that made me chuckle. They will be tattooing a permanent marker for the radiation treatments.
In the meantime, my radiation oncologist has sent me back to the lymphadema specialist for more physical therapy on my right side. I'm thankful to be able to return to therapy since my arm has continued to bother me since the surgery in September - it is numb on the underside of my arm, and the pain throughout my arm and armpit fluctuates with the swelling. I've discovered just how careful I need to be with my right arm and hand now - when I've cut or burned my right hand, or I overuse the muscles, it increases the pain and swelling. It also means I can't ever have my blood pressure taken or blood drawn in my right arm. Apparently without lymph nodes, my right side doesn't move fluid around as well. But I'm getting much better at managing it, or at least I thought I was until the radiology oncologist examined me today and sent me to PT. They need to increase my flexibility and reduce my swelling before radiation starts.
The best news from today is that I was told I can return to work full time after the holidays - woo hoo! My oncologist recommended I take a couple of weeks after the last Taxol treatment to rest and recover, but that I should be feeling well enough to resume my typical level of activity on January 8th. The problem is scheduling the radiation treatments. The Cancer Treatment Center is only open from 8am-4pm, making it impossible for me to schedule daily treatments outside of my work day. As a teacher, I can't just go in 30 minutes late or leave 30 minutes early. So, my plan is to return to work for just the mornings beginning January 8th, taking the afternoon for radiation treatments, until February 9th. I was initially disappointed at having to take half-days for an entire month, but I think it will actually be a great way to transition back to work.
If you've been following me, then you know it is my desire to replace the old caregiver chairs in the infusion center with a comfortable option. A great big THANK YOU to all of you who have gotten us halfway there!! I would love to see the majority of these chairs replaced before I switch to treatments every 3 weeks 😊! Please consider clicking on the link and donating ~ every little bit helps!
Finally, if you are reading this, I have truly appreciated your support in this journey. Knowing so many of you are on the road cheering me on and supporting me gives me such strength to keep smiling and keep pressing on. God is good, my friends, and He is faithful to fulfill His promises ~ He has sent me comfort and strength precisely when I've needed it most through each of your encouraging letters, texts, gifts, and meals. There are just no words to express my gratitude for your support!
Press on ~ you are loved💗
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