The Big Sick or Breast Cancer Sucks

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it might be a good time for an update on how my treatment is going. If you missed the post on my diagnosis, you can read it here, The Big C.

I started my chemotherapy at the end of July. The first two treatments went as well as could be expected. I was sick for about a week and then would bounce back to my normal self. I even attended my 31-year high school reunion a week after my first treatment and right before I started losing my hair. Perfect timing.

Hair Loss

Hair loss started about two weeks after my first treatment. It would come out in huge clumps in the shower and in my hair brush. I had my daughter cut it to my ears in an effort to hold on as long as possible, but also so it wouldn’t look so jarring as it was falling out. That didn’t work and a couple days later, I ended up having my brother in law shave it all off.

Once I shaved it, it actually wasn’t that bad. The holding on part was the worst because it completely messed with me mentally. I started having anxiety about taking a shower or brushing my hair.

I’m not someone who’s going to post cute pictures of myself without hair. That’s not going to happen. I do have several head coverings I wear to my doctor’s appointments and occasionally if it’s dark outside, I’ll wear them in the car. Don’t laugh. I got myself a very good wig and I wear it in public. I’ll be wearing that thing for quite a while. My daughter named it Jenny from the Block.

The Big Sick or Breast Cancer Sucks
Me and Jenny from the Block on a good day

Chemotherapy Round 1

This round is called the A/C or as my doctor says, the Big Guns. It is so toxic they make it red because in case you throw up, it needs to be treated like hazardous waste. I’m not even kidding and I can’t tell you the psychological effect this had on me over the course of two months.

After the first couple treatments, the third and fourth ones really started to take their toll. The chemo has an accumulative effect, so by then my body was fully poisoned and it felt like it. I was not bouncing back after a week, and in fact had very little time, maybe a day or two between treatments when I felt normal.

The nausea was unbearable and no medicine, edible, tea, candy or other “so and so did this” remedy worked. At all. Needless to say, I was barely eating and lost a lot of weight. I didn’t have much to spare in the first place. There was also a lot of dry heaving and throwing up.

My ever optimistic oncologist told me each time we met we could work through it, that it wasn’t supposed to be “like it is in the movies.” I was prescribed SO MUCH anti-nausea medication. It was like it is in the movies and nothing we did worked.

You Have an Infection

The day after I had my third treatment, I ended up with a low-grade fever. If you get a fever of 100.4 or above you’re supposed to go to the emergency room. The fear is a condition called Neutropenia, in which your body doesn’t have enough white blood cells and you can easily succumb to an infection. I monitored the fever, took Tylenol and it went away.

However, after my fourth treatment, I got the fever again. This time I called the doctor who told me to go to the ER to make sure I wasn’t neutropenic. This fever was higher, about 101, so they moved pretty quickly to get me seen to. I had a chest X-ray {checking for pneumonia}, lots of blood work and they checked my pee. After five hours, I was told nothing was wrong and I was sent home after I was given Tylenol which started to bring the fever down.

As soon as the Tylenol wore off, the fever was back. I called my oncologist the next morning and was told to keep taking the Tylenol because all my labs were fine and they couldn’t find anything wrong. The fever got really high at night and I started waking up with horrible night sweats, to the point I had to change my shirt four times one night. Gross.

After three days, I was told to come back in for more blood work, which was all clear, so no one knew what to do. On the fourth day, I met with my oncologist. We decided I had a bladder infection because I had a small amount of bacteria which my body would normally fight off, but in its broken down immune system state, it couldn’t.

We postponed the beginning of the second round of treatment by a week and she put me on antibiotics. I took another pee test and was sent home for the weekend. After receiving the test results a few days later, she called me and told me I had to go back to the ER immediately, that the bladder infection might actually be a kidney infection and I might need to be admitted to the hospital.

By this time, I had been taking the antibiotics for a few days, the fever finally broke and I was starting to feel better. But, I whisked myself to the ER, was given an EKG, lots more blood work, and more peeing in a cup. Everything came back normal. The ER doctor wasn’t convinced I ever had a bladder infection and thought it was a random virus that my body just needed to fight off. God help me, someone please make some sense.

The antibiotics worked and I started to feel much better but I was extremely exhausted and had lost even more weight. I decided to go ahead and start my second round of chemo because I just want to get it over with.

Chemotherapy Round 2

This chemo is called Taxol and I go every week for 12 weeks. I have eight more treatments to go and I’m half way done with all of my chemotherapy.

After “the big guns,” Taxol is supposed to be “easy peasy.” So far, my experience has been okay, but it too has an accumulative effect and I can already tell it’s starting to take its toll. It’s making me physically exhausted but thankfully, I don’t have the nausea I had with the A/C.

The day of treatment and the day after are okay because I’m pumped up on steroids. The second and third days are the worst, I can barely move and my body hurts. The fourth and fifth days I start to feel better and then it’s time to go in for another treatment.

Mental Health

There are dark days where cancer has you questioning what you’re even fighting for. To feel like shit for the rest of your life? It feels like there’s no end in sight and no light at the end of the tunnel. I’m so messed up from the A/C that I dry heave anytime I think of something that reminds me of it.

When I was on that, I honestly thought either the cancer will get me or the chemo will, but I doubt I’m going to make it. I was associating so many things with the chemo, I could barely even drink water and drinking water is very important to your recovery. Going to the bathroom was causing anxiety – hence the bladder infection – and I’ll probably never drink anything red again for the rest of my life.

I have to wear the same outfit to my treatments because I associate those items with throwing up and nausea. They offered me snacks during my first two treatments and now I can never eat those snacks again. They offered me candy because of my nausea, and now hard candy is ruined.

The toll it takes on your mind and well-being is just as bad as the toll it’s taking on your body. I’m struggling right now at this half way point. I. Just. Want. It. To. Be. Over. It’s been hard for me and there’s still a long way to go, but I am looking forward to the day this is just a memory.

My support system is still supporting and I’m still getting lots of packages in the mail, food delivered, text messages and phone calls. I think this piece is vital. And there are days when everything seems manageable and I have more energy.

I’m slowly starting to gain back some of my weight because I’m eating more and drinking protein shakes. Yum! Fingers crossed it lasts.

In the meantime, continue with the prayers and positive thoughts and I’ll keep ticking off each week as it passes. What more can I do?

 

P.S.

If you’re looking to support a breast cancer organization this month, here are a few that have helped me:

Susan G. Komen

Suddenly Pink Foundation

Lasagna Love – Not specific to breast cancer, but this was amazing! After being nominated by a friend, a stranger named Becky dropped off a delicious lasagna and two desserts one night.

 

xoxo

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