One of the really lovely things about cancer and the chemo that comes with it is all those wonderful side effects. They warn you about some of them. The obvious stuff, like hair loss and potential nausea and/or vomiting, and fatigue, altered taste, and mouth sores (ulcers). These are, obviously, the biggies. Some chemos don’t even cause them. Not everyone taking chemo loses their hair, for instance, though the particular chemos used for breast cancer do pretty much guarantee baldness. And to be fair, the new meds they have these days generally keep the nausea under control. In fact, some don’t have any nausea at all. I’ve had a few hints, nothing more. My meds keep it under control very well. I think the fatigue is pretty much a given for anyone taking chemo, and it does get worse as you go along, Usually, the second week after my chemo is a fairly decent week for me. Last week I was just plain exhausted every single day. Didn’t feel like moving at all. Saturday & Sunday, my taste was as close to normal as it gets, but I was too tired to fix anything. Mark got a giant bucket of chicken, which was good when we got it, but today the very thought of eating any of it makes me feel a little queasy. 😦 I think I’ll just put it in the freezer for some later date.
Anyway, back to the side effects. Along with the hair loss, fatigue, nausea, etc., there’s a long list of other, supposedly less common, side effects. You might read about them in literature about the chemo, but none of the Dr.’s or nurses usually warn you specifically about most of these unless you mention it first. That’s why a site like the CSN is so important. At least there you can learn what to expect so that you don’t start freaking out when you suddenly realize you can’t see or your fingernails and/or toenails turn black and start falling off. (More on that goodie in a later post.) There’s the fact that the chemo will put you into chemically induced menopause, which means no periods but it also means brutal hot flashes. As I type this, my head feels like it’s melting. I’m going to have to go get myself something cold to put on it, but I’ll do that after I finish this. Also, there’s this little issue of acne. Yep, not only am I hot flashing like a menopausal mid-lifer, I’m broken out like a teenager. Oh, and my skin is so dry it looks chapped and it feels like paper or something. Not rough, really, just… brittle. It isn’t prone to tearing or anything like that, it just feels tight and uncomfortable. I put lotion on my arms this morning and it was absorbed in seconds. I think what I really need is to just soak in a vat of lotion. LOL
The altered taste is another common side effect. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had a serious issue with it. Things don’t taste bad to me, they just don’t have any taste at all, for the most part. For example, orange juice or cranberry juice taste like you put half a cup in a big glass full of ice and let it sit all day until the ice was melted, then tried to drink it. Not so good. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that the only things that do taste half-way normal to me are sweet and sour things. So, I tend to reach for sweet stuff just because it tastes kinda normal. That’s not the most nutritionally beneficial option. Salad, which I usually love, tastes too bland to eat. I’ve gotten a different salad dressing and I’m hoping it will be stronger so that I can taste it.
Weight gain is a problem, too. Like I need to get even fatter! Then there are the mouth sores. Praise the Lord, I haven’t had any of them. Many others do have big problems with it, though. I am so thankful that I’ve been spared this problem!
So, one of the things that chemo does is dry you out. Skin, mouth, eyes, everything. That’s what causes the mouth sores. You’re mouth doesn’t make enough saliva to keep bacteria and all those other creepy crawlies that live in our mouths under control. So they take over and next thing you know, you’ve got a nasty ulcer. I’ve had them before. I’m sure everyone has. But I cannot imagine how awful it would be to have a mouth full of them. This is gross, but one of the ladies on the CSN said that during her chemo she would rinse her mouth out and flush out pieces of her tongue every time. She said most of her mouth was fortunately numb at the time, but it’s still a terrible side effect to have.
The dry skin I’ve already talked about. I also have developed dry eyes. It started on Friday. The funny thing about dry eyes is that having them actually causes your eyes to water. Seems beyond ironic, huh? My eyes water constantly. They’re puffy and irritated, blood-shot and itchy. I have been using eye drops designed for dry eyes, but I may not be using them frequently enough because they’re still watering like mad. I get up each morning with them all sticky and half gummed closed. Yesterday I tried cucumber slices and they did help for a little while. I picked up some dry eye ointment today that’s supposed to help keep my eyes moist and lubricated at night. We’ll see if it works. The real problem is that the tears are making the corners of my eyes sore from all the wetness. I look like I’m crying all the time. Thursday night I was watching TV and my eyes got so dry that my vision blurred. I couldn’t focus on anything. I used the drops and eventually it got better, but I’ve been having the watery eyes ever since.
I don’t want to come across like I’m complaining. I’m still very thankful for what I’ve got and for what I don’t have. As annoying as my side effects are, they could be so much worse. I do worry a bit about how tired I’m getting. I’m half-way through the heavy chemo. I got my last Adrimycin/Cytoxin treatment today. (I’d dance a jig if I had the energy… and if I had any idea what a jig is. LOL) In 3-4 weeks I’ll begin a Taxotere/Herceptin regimen. I will get 4 courses of that combination once every 3 weeks, I think it will be. I’ll get more info when I see the Dr. on October 28. Then I’ll continue the Herceptin for a year with just over a month of radiation treatments tossed in sometime after I finish the Taxotere. The Taxotere is supposed to be somewhat easier than the A/C, but my chemo nurse, Candi, was telling me that every time she tells someone that they wind up having awful side effects. So, hopefully I won’t be one of them.
Anyway, I am now bald, with red, puffy, watery eyes, my nose runs like a faucet half the time, my cheeks are broken out with scores of little pimples, and I’m so fatigued that I can barely keep my eyes open half the time. When I am awake, I can hardly work up the energy to move. Basically, I’m pathetic. LOL Poor Mark is having to do almost everything around here. I feel sorry for him. He’s so sweet, though. He does everything for me, even when I don’t ask. God gave me such a great husband!
On a sadder note, I’d like to ask for prayer for some of my fellow CSN members. One of them, Thomas, is a Marine with a wife who is stage IV with multiple tumors in her brain, another on her liver, and cancer cells in her spinal fluid. Her name is Lesley and they have been told that further treatment would just cause her more pain and give her very little additional time. There is, apparently, nothing more they can do about the cancer in her spine. She was originally diagnosed in 2008, so she’s been fighting this battle for two years. They are both younger than I am and they have 5 children. They just celebrated their 7th wedding anniversary. It is as tragic an outcome as any cancer diagnosis can lead to. Thomas is, obviously, heart-broken. His wife is in a lot of pain and the meds she is given to help with that in combination with her brain tumors, keep her out of it a lot of the time. He had to make the difficult decision to call in hospice alone. He did say she was finally cognizant enough yesterday (her birthday, if you can imagine that) for him to sit and talk with her about it. He said she was sad that her disease had progressed so rapidly. Please, lift this family up to the Lord.
There are many others who have recently received bad news about their cancer. God knows all their names. I told Mark that reading the posts usually gives me encouragement because these women are so strong. They battle this dreadful disease, sometimes for years and years, and they rarely complain or whine. They share their strength with each other, always offering encouragement, advice, prayers, or just a shoulder to cry on. This week has been a rough one for everyone on the forum. So many have received bad news in the past several days, including a couple of ladies who have the exactly same kind of cancer I have. One of them was originally diagnosed in October 2008 and then found out it had spread to her liver and spine in March 2009. She received the same Chemo regimen that I am getting and has the same cancer that is not hormone receptive (which means there are less options out there for treatment) and Her2 positive, which means it is more aggressive. There is a targeted chemo out there for Her2 positive cancers. That’s the Herceptin I mentioned earlier. I’m grateful for it, but I can’t help but be a little concerned about my chances of the cancer coming back.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m worrying myself sick. Not intentionally, anyway. I say this because every time I’ve gone into the Dr.’s office since the diagnosis my blood pressure has been too high. A couple of weeks ago when I saw the Dr. he told me he wanted to put me on blood pressure medicine. I REALLY don’t want to do that. I have the medicine, but I just hate the thought of having to use it, even if it is only temporary. It isn’t the chemo causing it. (I specifically asked the Dr. about this.) My oncologist seems to think it is more likely stress related. He wants my general practitioner to manage the bp medicine. I have an appt. with him later this week. Mostly, I suppose I’m a little afraid that once I start taking it I won’t be able to stop. This is exactly what happened to Mark’s dad. He started take blood pressure medicine years ago for some reason and wound up not being able to stop taking it because every time they try to take him off it, his heart goes haywire. I just don’t want to wind up being stuck with something I don’t really need just because having cancer has made me a little anxious. Then again, I also don’t want to be foolish and risk damage being done to my heart. It’s just another decision to have to make. There are so many of those!
I didn’t even realize I was particularly stressed. It seems hard to explain because I truly do trust God in this. I know He’s in charge and that He will take care of me. I trust that completely. But I guess I’m still giving in to my human nature a little, though, because there are issues that concern me. Recurrence is one of them. I tell myself not to worry about something that hasn’t happened, but it’s not easy, especially when I’ve read about so many who’ve had this very thing happen to them. It’s the nature of the disease that it tends to be hard to get rid of for good. The good news is that you can live for quite a while (decades in some cases) with metastatic breast cancer, assuming it’s caught early and treated aggressively. It isn’t necessarily a death sentence, but just the thought of possibly having to face years and years of treatment is definitely daunting. Of course, I try my best to be positive. I want to believe that this thing will be beaten and will not return, but I also don’t want to bury my head in the sand and pretend that nothing bad might ever happen. It’s a fine line between faith and practicality. I’m doing my best to walk it, but I’ll admit that sometimes the worry gets the better of me. I guess that’s what’s driving my blood pressure up.
I guess I’ll get off here for now. I’m tired and feeling a little queasy. I’ve been feeling kinda queasy on and off all day, today. Along with the increasing fatigue is apparently a bit of an increase in the queasiness. I’ve got medicine for it, though, and I’ve just eaten a few of the ginger cookies I bought back when I started chemo. Mark drank all the ginger ale, so I can’t try it. But I’m okay, just a little ill feeling. I’m going to head to bed and try to get some sleep in spite of the massive dose of steroids they pumped into me earlier today.
I’m grateful, as always, for the blessings God has given me. I have so many of them. And, as I said earlier, I know God will do what’s best for me. I just don’t want to let my “rationality” ever get in the way of my faith – something I have to pretty much always be on guard against.
Anyway, I just wanted to post an update. I’m half-way through the worst of the chemo and, God willing, the Taxotere won’t be quite as bad. If it is, I might just be bed-ridden by the end of it! LOL For now, I’m just going to be thankful for the good moments and do what I can, when I can. The muscle relaxer seems to be keeping the muscle spasms in check, which is a great blessing. The queasiness is annoying, but not serious. I have no problems at all that can’t be cured by reminding myself that it could always be worse. It is much worse for some. It’s infinitely worse for Thomas, Lesley, and their families. So, pray for them, and pray for me. I can’t ask for anything more than that.
God bless you all,