No chemo for YOU! NEXT!!

April 16, 2009

(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo)

I felt lost and helpless.

My doctor reassured me that it was okay to skip this treatment. The chemo is working. That is not the problem. (The proof is in the pudding: my markers are on the LOW end of normal.)

It is the side effects that are worrying.

I did not think the side effects were that bad.

True, my tongue is really bothering me. I feel like I have cuts all over my tongue. Over the past few weeks, I noticed that my tongue started hurting about 2-3 days after receiving the Taxol; it healed a few days after that. This time, more than a week later, my tongue is still sore. I cannot eat any citrus fruit or even moderately acidic fruits (after eating two loquats, my tongue started burning).

In the past, I have felt tingling in my fingers and toes, but not recently. What I do feel, as I described to my doctor, is like my hands and feet are pudgy.

Now, my feet have been swollen for weeks, so it did not surprise me that they feel pudgy. But my fingers also feel pudgy.

My doctors asked if I experienced any difficulty with buttons or zippers. Since I rarely use them, I have not noticed any problems. I have noticed that I am dropping things a bit more than usual. But nothing too terrible. And a few more typos than normal. Again, nothing I can’t live with.

My feet bother me the most. My feet and legs are really swollen and often feel quite uncomfortable. At times, walking is downright difficult. It is unclear to me if the swelling is related to my treatment or from some other cause.

My doctor is primarily concerned about the loss of dexterity in my fingers. He does not want to risk an increase in the level of toxicity that might have a permanent impact on my abilities to function.

He wants to see how my fingers and tongue feel after skipping a treatment.

Depending on what happens this week, he will either recommend a lower dose of Taxol or switching to a different chemo. He wants time to think.

I know that skipping treatment this time is not like the last time. The last time I missed a treatment, it was because the chemo no longer worked. This time, the chemo is working, but the side effects might be damaging.

I realize that missing one week of treatment will have no effect on my prognosis.

Still, it is an emotional blow. I feel like I am not doing anything to fight the cancer, like I am doing nothing.

When the doctor told me that we would be skipping today’s treatment, I wanted him to wait, to slow down, to change his mind. I wondered what I said “wrong.”

The doctor was patient. He explained everything.

Intellectually, I understood.

Emotionally, I still felt stunned, let down, all dressed up with nowhere to go….

I was about to leave when E, the woman who manages the bone research, asked where I was going.

I completely forgot that I still had to receive my bone drugs!

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Why is that funny?

March 17, 2009

(cross posted, and edited a bit, from Coffee and Chemo)
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On our way home tonight, tired and giddy, my kids and I were laughing about the whole cancer thing. (I know it sounds strange but, trust me, it was funny)

“What is a support group?” asked my youngest daughter.

My eldest daughter jumped in and answered that my support group is “for women with cancer.”

“Not just any old cancer,” I pointed out.

“OK, women with breast cancer,” my eldest corrected herself.

“Not necessarily breast cancer,” I corrected her this time, “women with metastasis.”

“What’s metastasis?” my youngest asked, still confused.

Here, my son jumped in “cancer that is not going away.”

It might sound like a heavy conversation, but it was really quite lighthearted.

I mentioned that, earlier in the day, my sister mercilessly referred to my group as “poor, sick people who sit around talking about cancer.” my eldest, my son, and I burst out laughing.

“Why is that funny?” my youngest asked, even more confused.

“It’s not,” I answered, after a brief pause…. “which is why it is so funny!”

And we burst out laughing some more.


The Power of Appreciation

December 31, 2008
(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo)
Last week, I was due to receive all three of my treatments on Hanukah: Herceptin, Taxol (plus four premedications), and Zomera/Denosumab. Though I let everyone know that I did not want to come for chemo two days running during Hanukah, I knew that possibility existed.

When I found out that I also needed to do a full body X-ray (which is done every 25 weeks for the Zomera/Denosumab study and takes around 20-minutes) my hopes for one chemo day flickered, then waned.

But, it was Hanukah, after all.

My hope flickered again, then got stronger, as I noticed that everyone was doing their best to try and help me finish all my treatments in time.

In the end, I finished all of my treatments in one day!

When I got home and hugged my kids, I was overwhelmed by gratitude.

I wanted to do something to show my appreciation to the oncology staff.

I decided to make a “Certificate of Appreciation.” It was a bit challenging for me to make it in Hebrew, especially since I wanted the wording to be an accurate reflection of how I felt. But I did it.

Then, I left it at home this Tuesday, when I went in for my next treatment (just Taxol).

I thought I would at least say thank you to the staff, but I got caught up in the details of the day and did not remember until I was finished and on my way out. I realized that I could not leave without expressing my thanks.

By this point, I know that things don’t happen on their own in the chemo ward. There is so much that goes on “behind the scenes.” The nurses work especially hard to make sure that we receive our treatments and the care that we need.

So I went back, and found the four nurses who helped me so much the week before. One by one, I told each nurse how much I appreciated the efforts that she made to ensure that I finished in one day.

Two of the nurses were clearly moved, much more than I expected. Their reaction made me realize how powerful appreciation can be.

I have been in chemotherapy for almost a year and a half now. Most of these nurses have been my health care providers and support team for the entire time. I was not always appreciative of their efforts or their bedside manner.

In the beginning, I was confused by often contradictory behavior. I could not understand why the same nurse could be so kind one moment and so impatient the next.

Over time, I learned to recognize when the nurses were busy, rushed or pulled in a thousand different directions. I learned to ask questions during the quieter moments, like when the nurse is opening my port (and only the two of us are in the room), or at the end of the day, when most of the patients have already left, and the ward is calmer and quieter.

I also learned that the nurses know all about us. They do their homework, they talk to the doctors, and they make sure that we get what we need, even when they are understaffed, overworked, and underpaid.

And they are a tremendous source of knowledge and support.

Most days, I just take it for granted that they will do what they need to do. But, last Tuesday, I could not help but notice that every one of them was really trying to accommodate my needs. I felt like I had an entire support staff taking care of me.

One of the nurses, when I thanked her, looked at me blankly at first. “For what?” she asked. When I told her, she laughed and said, “That’s history; it’s already forgotten.” After all, they have done so much more since then.

“Well, I did not forget,” I answered back, laughing along with her, “For me, it was a big deal.”