Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Laughter Is The Best Medicine

For those of you who are looking for a little humor between all the doctor appointments, chemo treatments or radiation appointments, I have a couple of recommendations for you.

First, order the book "Cancer Has Its Privileges: Stories of Hope and Laughter" by Christine Clifford. This book was recommended to me right after my diagnosis by someone who has "been there, done that" with breast cancer. It is a collection of personal anecdotes - mostly women - and it is spot on.

Second, check out this new blog called The Perks of Having Cancer. Yes, there are some perks. I personally love Perk #20 (it is so true!).

I think I have come up with my own perk... Now that I am bald, this is a great time to go in for my annual skin cancer screening. No hair = very thorough screening, right? Talk about efficient!

Just a thought.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Feel Human

Do you remember Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" singing "I Feel Pretty?" Sing it with me, folks - only here are the new lyrics:

I feel human!
Oh, so human!
I went poo and now I'm so light!
And I pity
Any girl who isn't me tonight!

You get the picture...

My extreme discomfort for five days following chemo was due mainly to constipation. Yes, I was retaining some fluid but not nearly as much as what was being retained in my colon. EEK. "They" told me this could happen. They told me to take constipation countermeasures. Every good chemo patient hears the same thing. My bowl of All Bran cereal each morning had been enough -- until now.

Now I will start taking appropriate countermeasures (i.e., stool softeners) at least one or two days before my next chemo session. And I will continue to take them along with my bran cereal for at least a week. If I need Miralax, I will toss that in there, too. Whatever it takes. I only have one more round to get through.

In other news, I had also been experiencing nagging pain in my kidneys after this last round of chemo. I was a little worried that maybe my kidneys were not up to the task. I had my blood counts checked today and they also checked my kidney function. They are fine and functioning normally. I just happen to be someone who feels them working extra hard when I am drinking so much water and trying to flush the toxins out of my system.

Speaking of blood counts, my white cell count was a little on the low side but my oncologist is not making me do a Neulasta injection. I would have refused it anyway. She asked me to just be extra careful to wash my hands, stay away from sick people and take it easy over the holiday weekend. I can do that.

Monday, November 21, 2011

They Said This Would Happen

Everyone told me the effects of chemo would be cumulative. They told me I would start out feeling strong and decent. They said I might even feel very normal and not sick at all. Then they assured me that I would slowly wear down.

"They" were right.

I spent most of Friday, Saturday and Sunday either lying on the couch or curled up in bed. I slept, I dozed, I got up and went to the bathroom. Then I laid back down as soon as possible. Even after getting ten hours of sleep the night before, I found myself shutting my eyes for a "quick cat nap" only to wake up three hours later. The entire weekend was like some weird Rip Van Winkle experience. One day it was Friday. The next I knew, it was Sunday.

And the bloating... It is un-freakin-believeable. I have no words to describe it. My stomach literally distends out to a point where I look like I am at least six months pregnant. My entire abdomen is tender and sore. It is mostly caused by fluid retention from the chemo (taxotere). Throw in some good old-fashioned constipation which is a side effect of just about everything I am taking, and you have a recipe for extreme discomfort. (And flatulence but we won't go there!)

I am drinking lots of water, taking my diurectic every day, eating lots of fiber and even taking Miralax. The only thing I can do is wait it out - wait for the chemo to get flushed out of my body. I believe it's starting to happen because today is the first day where I have been able to feel halfway human and also stay awake all day.

I am slowly feeling better... just in time for my last round of chemo on December 7!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Random Thoughts About My Future

This may not be that "deep" but it is what's rolling around in my foggy chemo brain. Pardon the stream of consciousness... I am just going to spill out what's on my mind.

First and foremost, one thing I have learned about breast cancer is that some women beat it and some women don't. It sounds simple but it's not. Some women thrive for 20-plus years and then have a recurrence. Others convert to a vegan lifestyle, practice yoga, run marathons... They do absolutely EVERYTHING they are supposed to do and still end up with metastatic breast cancer.

The harsh and simple truth is, unless a woman was initially diagnosed late and started at Stage IV -- EVERY women out there who is Stage IV started at Stage I or II or III - just like me.

Receiving a diagnosis of Stage I or Stage II is not a guarantee that I will sail through this and not have to deal with this again. There are no guarantees. Yes, my chances are definitely better with early detection and being at Stage II. I would rather have had no lymph node involvement. I would rather have had just a lumpectomy and radiation and skipped the chemo altogether. But that is not how it turned out for me.

Now I am beginning to understand why so many women tell me not to focus on my stage. Stage really means very little.

Surviving and thriving means everything. Living a healthy, balanced life and being happy is what is most important. Being of service, contributing, getting involved and making a difference in someone else's life is important. Being grateful is important.

So what does this all mean? I am not exactly sure but here are some thoughts:

- Get through chemo and rest up over the holidays.

- Get back on green juices.

- Start working out again, slowly, taking babysteps to build up my stamina.

- Eat healthfully but also enjoy eating.

What does this mean for me? I realized I cannot go all the way with a raw, vegan lifestyle. It makes sense to me but I really wouldn't enjoy it. Remember, I want to focus on living a balanced life. Part of that means also enjoying what I eat.

This doesn't mean I am shutting the door on raw, vegan meals. I will make a concerted effort to eliminate more meat from my diet. I can easily eat two vegetarian meals a day. But I still want to enjoy an occasional steak.

This leads me to wine and alcohol in general. I have needed to cut down on my alcohol consumption since before my breast cancer diagnosis. This is a fact. Breast cancer or not, I am working on limiting my alcoholic intake. I am definitely doing better but I have a way to go. Again, moderation and balance while still enjoying my life.

And then there are the things I want to do, the places I want to go. Here is a quick list. I refuse to call it a bucket list. I am not kicking the bucket anytime soon. These are places I have wanted to see and things I have wanted to do for years.

- See Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier and Denali National Parks

- Rent a cottage on the coast of Maine for one or two weeks for summer vacation, eats lots of lobster and read lots of books

- Try horseback riding

- Join a yoga studio, develop my own practice and maybe start a yoga studio of my own

- Finish my Masters degree

- Hike as many trails in the Shenandoah National Park as possible and get to know the park system well

- Find a cause for which I am suited for volunteering my time

- Get back in shape so I can plan a hiking trip to the Grand Canyon and stay at the Phantom Ranch

- Take more three-day and four-day weekends to visit my friends and family

- Go on a WindStar Carribean cruise

And that's just the beginning. I know, I need to hit the lottery!

Five Down - One To Go!

I completed my fifth round of chemo yesterday and it feels so good to be almost done.

I can remember getting the news back in August that I would need six rounds of chemo. I looked at the calendar and marked off December 7, 2011 as my last round. It seemed so far away and now it is almost here.

I must say this time has gone by quickly. Feeling pretty decent and being able to stay busy at work has definitely helped. And I am very thankful for that!

I am experiencing some shortness of breath and my oncologist ordered a CT chest scan. My lungs are clear and everything looks good. She cannot pinpoint why I am having this issue.

I can tell you why I am having this issue. I am carrying 25 extra pounds around my waist (I have a double muffin top!), I am retaining fluid and I am convinced the Neulasta injection is causing some shortness of breath.

So my oncologist agreed to give me both chemo drugs yesterday and hold off on the Neulasta injection. We'll see how I feel over the weekend and have my blood counts checked next week on Wednesday. As long as my blood counts are holding steady, she won't give me Neulast this time around. Let's hope the extra beans, legumes and lentils I will be eating this week will help with my blood counts!

Now I'm gonna get a little deep on you... but I will save it for my next post.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chemo #5 and What's Next

I am coming up on chemo #5 and I have already started thinking about what's next. Obviously, I have chemo #6 to get through (the last round!) and then I will have at least six weeks of radiation.

But I feel like the end is in sight. It is so close... I can almost touch it. But I can't quite get my fingers on it.

I want my life back. I want my body back. I want to feel good again and have hair. I am finding my days consumed with wondering about "What's Next" and how do I get there?

I have gained about 20 lbs. since I was diagnosed. A combination of chemo drugs that encourage fluid retention combined with a raging desire to eat comfort food has resulted in my Michelin Man appearance. I hate it.

One of the women at work who is a 14 year survivor told me that she gained about 50 lbs. and needed to go to Weight Watchers to get the weight off and it took her years. Yes, YEARS. I don't want that to be me. I have a 30 year high school reunion coming up in June 2012. I want to look good and feel good for the event. Perhaps I am being unrealistic. I just don't know.

And then I wonder about my next mammogram. I had a chest CT scan a couple of weeks ago when I was having difficulty breathing. The scan came back clear but guess what the nurse told me? She said they saw "a lot of cysts" in your breast tissue.

No shit. I have dense breasts and lots of cysts. That's me. But the thought of one of those cysts being anything but benign has me worried. I can't stand the thought of going in for my next mammogram and have them do a needle biopsy and say: "It's malignant." What then? A bi-lateral mastectomy? Another lumpectomy and six months of chemo and no hair. Shit.

Truth be told --- this is where I'm at. I am so ready to put this behind me but part of me worries that I won't be able to. I am crazy for worrying about something that hasn't happened. I get that. But it's hard. Once you've had the "Big C" diagnosis, it is really hard not to worry about the what ifs.

Other than that - I'm great. I feel really good and am enjoying my fall in Virginia. The leaves are turning and the weather is gorgeous. I love this time of year here.

All for now...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One More Month

I am really ready to put my breast cancer experience in the rearview mirror and just get on with my life. I am not even sure if that's possible. As Michelle wrote on her blog, even after you finish treatments you still have this "relationship with cancer." So true!

I was getting a little down last week - I think because I was feeling so lousy. But I am feeling better this weekend and just realized -- in only 30 days I will be DONE WITH CHEMO! Just two more sessions. Just one month (and a month goes fast). And I am done with chemo.

Let's hope it is forever.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No More Neulasta

I started to feel well enough on Tuesday to fly out of town on a quick business trip. Just one night in Columbus, Ohio -- nothing major. My oncologist said I was fine to fly.

My husband dropped me off at the airport, I checked my bag and made my way to the gate just pulling my laptop bag. By the time I got there, I was completely winded and felt very tired. I figured it was just fatigue from chemo.

The next two days of my trip were more of the same or worse. I could barely walk the two blocks from the hotel to the office. I had dinner with a friend and had to stop and rest so I could try to get enough air into my lungs. I was having a really tough time breathing.

I got home Wednesday night - winded and tired. I slept great and went into the infusion clinic on Thursday afternoon for my Lupron injection. When I told the nurse practitioner about my shortness of breath, she was concerned. She measured my blood oxygen saturation level which went down pretty dramatically when they had me walk the hallways. She immediately sent me to the ER for a CT chest scan. She told me she was worried I had developed a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) from flying.


So off to the ER I went. The waiting room was full but they took me in immediately. No waiting for me. I saw the doctor, had some chest x-rays, saw some nurses, saw another doctor and then had my CT scan.

Then I waited for the results. And waited. And worried. I thought: "If this is a blood clot, they are going to keep me overnight and put me on coumadin. Yuck."

Then I thought: "What if my cancer has spread to my lungs? What if it isn't a blood clot? What if I have a tumor in my lungs?"

And then the real fear set in. I thought to myself: "You haven't taken this cancer thing seriously. You haven't really adjusted your lifestyle. You are still eating and drinking whatever you want. You haven't even gone to church once. What is WRONG with you?"

It was not a good time. Cancer meltdown #4 (or is this #5?) arrived.

But the CT scan came back negative for clots, tumors or anything else horrific. My lungs were clear. So what was causing the breathing problems?

Our friend Neulasta. I Googled it while the docs were all scurrying around and it looks like Neulasta can cause shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Worst case, it can cause Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Lovely. That is the last thing I need.

For now, I am feeling okay and breathing better. I am taking it easy and will see my oncologist next week. But one thing is definite - no more Neulasta!