My Cancer Journey
Aug 5th 2016
This has been on my mind for the last couple of days about whether to start a blog or Facebook posts. So now until I figure it out I need to get ideas of my mind. My grammar is not the best either but try and keep up. I should have started this journal thing back earlier in the year when this all got rolling but hind sight and all. I can’t say this will be all positive or all negative but this will just be me. But I’m a believer of state of mind, if you think you are old than you will be, if you think you are happy than you are and if I think Cancer will beat me than it will. Cancer does suck!
I’ve been racking my brain to figure out why the darkness has come into my life again. My personal cancer track record is not good. Pretty much a death sentence. First with a couple of uncles passed away when I was young, then Mom with lung cancer in 2003, our beloved cat Bernie in 2011 and the last warrior Bruce Coutts just this past January from liver cancer.
So when I had a doctors apt to check on an elevated heart rate in early March, I did a self-examination of my breasts here I was surprised to not find the previous benign lump found in my breast in 2008 but a new one in a different position.
So here is the timeline
March 7th – original dr apt
March 14th – ultrasound and mammogram
March 29th – biopsy
April 12th 2016 – diagnosed with Her2 positive breast cancer
May 9th – mapping and mastectomy of right breast
After surgery I was informed that my overall stage was stage llA, with 3 tumours removed measuring between 2-3.5 cm in diameter and no activity in my lymph nodes. Chemotherapy treatment and unfortunately radiation has been added due to one of the tumours being so close to the muscle, the drs want to make sure all cancerous cells are done with.
Phew, crazy how events are flying by.
The surgery was a major obstacle.
My worry was I wouldn’t be whole again or less of a woman because I didn’t have a breast. The girls are a part of me and what sets me apart from other woman. Plus knowing my woman was a boob woman made me a little concerned. . However, as my lovely fiancé phrased it, “I’d rather have you than your boob!” One of the many good points she will make during this dark times.
The surgery day had lots of support. My sisters, Deb and Tricia and of course my rock Lynn was there, along with all the friends and family on social network cheering me.
I treated it like I knew how, game day! Just stay relaxed and confident what I was doing. Ok, that’s not all I was thinking. As I was leaving the house to go, my thought was “was this the last time I hugged my kitties? Will they know what happened to me?” Would I lay in my own bed once again hearing Lynn breathe? Damn I should have check the aurora watch last night as the northern lights were out in full force the night before.
At the hospital met some amazing people. I wish I had a list of names going but you are imprinted in my mind. The only thing I really didn’t care for is after getting up from pre surgery and walking to the surgery area, I waited for 45 minutes in the surgery reception area, like a doctor’s office waiting for my appointment. There I was alone for majority of the time, other than the quick visits from Dr Lafreniere and nurses. Lots of time to ponder over what may or may not happen. What I should have done before and maybe things would have been different. Then surgery, again walking into the room, bright lights and a window. The doctor even accounted how windy it was outside. That was a major comfort for me as I knew Mom was here with me.
That is one thing threw out this whole process, is that I feel closer to Mom than I have been in a while. She had radiation treatment to try and shrink her tumour. I understand now how tired you get on treatment. I remember walking through Mayfair mall with Mom looking for a store that we couldn’t seem to find and all Mom kept asking was where is this store and how much further? Now I know Mom that your muscles are not getting the oxygen they needed from your cells and that’s why you are sooo tired.
Back to surgery, the surgery took less than an hour but you have to remember that my support group at the hospital thinks I’ve gone right to surgery and now they are patiently waiting for my colour on the screen to change to green. The hospital has an ingenious way to display patients as like airline flights. Everyone has a code, doctor and its colour coded depending on where the patient stage is during surgery. However, it makes staring at the kettle to make it boil to a new level. I’m in post op and apparently I’m not too relaxed of the idea to morphine. My eyes can’t get any wider and all I see is numbers on the screen and the tattoo the nurse had on her arm. I did ask what the tattoo meant and all the numbers but that I can’t remember the answers to. I’m wheeled out to not only seeing my two sisters, one holding a cookie which looked really good but my love sprinting down the hallway as she thought I was already in my room. In ward #41b. Mom is still here.
My stay at the hospital was only one night but it was long. Getting up for a couple of laps around the ward to help with circulation in my legs and getting things back to regular function. The food was pretty good. The following day my trio brought me breaky from the hotel, ate almost everything and then proceeded to eat most of the hospital breaky too. Can’t say I was never a bad eater. The nurse was astounded on my pain threshold as I had not requested morphine but wanted to make sure I wasn’t holding out until I really couldn’t deal with the pain.
Recovery was great. And looking back it’s been the easiest part. I accepted my boob is gone. Lynn has requested that I get eyelashes tattooed on my scare so it will look like I’m winking at her. We will see. All healed good. Just a touch of infection but was taken care of quickly. The swelling and numbness has subsided and I have almost full range of my shoulder. The drain was a painful experience coming out but what isn’t when you are coming out!
Now chemotherapy treatment.
First treatment July 8th 2016
My first thought of chemo was I am going to have to get sicker before I get better. That idea is still not grasped yet and not sure if it will. Success rate of cancer of not coming back is 92% after five years.
My treatment will consist of Herceptin, docetaxel and carboplatin for 6 cycles at 3 week intervals. Then radiation and continued 11 cycles of Herceptin.
A little medical explanation. California researcher Dennis Slamon developed Herceptin after more than a dozen years pursuing why the HER-2 mutation of breast cancer was particularly difficult to treat. Unlike chemotherapy, which destroys both good and bad cells, Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody, specifically targets the receptor of HER-2 and stops or slows the growth of those cells. Herceptin is hard on the heart and so an echocardiogram was ordered to see what my baseline heart rate is and hopefully remain.
Docetaxel and carboplatin are chemotherapy treatment. They go in a kill all quick growing cells good and bad. Side effects are the nausea, loss of hair, brain fog to name a few.
Administration of medicine was 5.5 hrs. Herceptin for an hour. Wait an hour for any issues. Doctaxel next, placed ice on finger and toe nails to reduce the effects to nails. Had some chest tightness at first and some muscle spasm in my left groin but once the meds were stopped the pain went away. Then carboplatin took another hour.
The first cycle was really hard. THE hardest week I have had in my life! You can read all you can online and books but it will not prepare you fully. I believe knowledge is power and that is why I started this. I was worried at first about what people would think and say but if I can guide someone better than let’s do that! I was also worried that if I let cancer concept consume me than it will. The whole mind over matter state of mind that I believe in. But guess what, cancer does consume me. I think about it every time I touch my head and feel the ostrich hairs sticking out. I think about it every time I’m going to the toilet after chemo and making sure I flush twice as to flush all the medication down the drain and not harm my love or kitties. I worried my own perception of myself will not be strong as cancer sucks every energy I have left. I just had a thought of a dementor in my head from Harry Potter
Granted things could be worse. I could have terminal cancer and we would be talking a whole other game right now.
Going back to my first chemo. It feels like I have a major concussion. Bright lights, loud noise are hard. Everything is exaggerated. I have trouble walking, talking and basic function is just not there. Take your worst sick day times that by 10, Very scary! Being mad as well. Questions of what did I do to deserve this? Why me? I didn’t know if this effect lasts all treatment or comes and goes.
All I wanted to do was sleep it off. When I do go to bed, I’m so exhausted just going up the stairs that I’m crying before I even lay down. I just want to be held and with be held by Mom.
Chemo #2 July 29th 2016
Good thing is I know what to expect, bad thing is I know what is coming.
Day 1 after chemo I am tired but reasonably all there.
Day 2, start to have a very heavy head, very weak. I inject myself with a medication call Neulasta. It promotes white blood cells in your body so you will not be as prone to infections. Very expensive but thanks to the Victory program and my medical coverage I will not have to pay for the $1032 per injection for 6 times.
Day 3, the Neulasta makes every joint and muscle ache, just to make getting around all that much better. Day 3 has been the hardest. I’m exhausted, I know I’ll be feeling this way for a couple of days. Hours, minutes tick by without moving. The first round I tried to walk it off, thinking getting up and about would make it better. It makes it worse. All my cells are being invaded with the drug and killed off, that then contributes to muscles not getting any oxygen to move and in the end I have realized that day 3-5 are major cat days. I have hard time speaking and understanding what people are saying. The lights are on but nobody is home. Just listening to my body has been the biggest information source. I am on my own schedule. No 9-5 Monday to Friday, I am at my pace. If I’m tired, sleep.
Day 4, still achy. And the metal taste I have in my mouth is brutal. I found out salty, spicey and acidic foods send your taste buds into a frantic. I had vinegar with my fries the first round and it destroyed my whole dinner. I had to get Lynn to taste to make sure everything was ok before continuing. I have combat this issue with excel gum, scotch mints and a swirl of club soda every now and then to balance out my mouth to the point where I can eat. On contrary belief, most people actually gain weight during chemo because of too much calories in vs exercising calories out. Made me disappointed. However, when I have metal mouth food is awful! I try and eat as much as I can but it is not pleasurable. Also another weight gainer could be sugary foods are the best option for me. Lynn made me her famous crepes the other night and I was a full and happy girl. The egg I had with ketchup with it, not the greatest but it was protein. For as chemo week goes, the plainer the better for foods so far.
Day 5. Starting to feel better, head is starting to get out of the fog but still achy. This is a critical day. Do too much physically and I am set back but I’m starting to get cabin fever. I find my toes get really cold or really hot. Notice a small cough every now and then, like when you are almost over that flu but it wants to remind you where you have been.
Day 6, less achy muscles and awake feeling normal. Went to the grocery store to pick up breaky items and by the time I got back into the car I was done. I am able to walk up and down stairs better, still needing breaks in-between floors though. Noticed when trying to fall asleep I have bed spins, my brain felt swollen and heart is racing to the point it feels like my heart is out of my chest. Could this be vertigo? To get rid of the bed spins and head puffy I awoke and read a book. I know now not to stress about this as the symptom do eventually go away.
Day 7, well been up since 4am and it is now 7:42am. Head is ok, could be that I am hungry. Was able to walk down the stairs with no light and not hanging on the railing and wall for stability.
Aug 11 2016
Well this week has been a struggle. No energy and always having a head ache. The head ache may be from watching too much Olympics and playing too many games on the tablet because today has been better for the head as I have been more active with laundry and dishes and I went to the pool today. It was only a 15 minute swim/run in the outdoor pool but again not much energy in my muscles. I love being in the outdoor pool as I can see the relaxing dance of the light and water on the bottom of the pool. I also met a lady in the change room who politely asked why no hair, I responded by saying I was having chemo, her response was she had had chemo 3 years ago and her hair was bone straight and now is just as curly as my hair was. Man oh man, is mine going to be an afro? We chuckled when I said that.
Just one more week till #3 chemo, good thing though is the treatment is in Drumheller! Less travel time, free parking and hopefully the cafeteria is just as good as Calgary. Also, Lynn is on holidays this next week. Hopefully we can go somewhere for a night and see more of Alberta.
I contacted a friend of Tricia’s on facebook. Her name is Andrea and she has had 3 different treatments of chemo so I asked her about the metal mouth and whether walking the first couple of days of chemo is good. She recommended baking soda rinse which I will try next round. Also she said she wasn’t able to walk but have herd it does help. My first round of chemo I walked more and seem to recover faster than the second time so I will try and do more walking even though it feels awful.
My sleep has been much better this round but I am still having muscle spasms and eye lid spasms which is very annoying. A couple of days ago I started having very bad heartburn which has settled somewhat but is still there. My stool is very skinny and small and is consistent so I don’t think I am constipated. I will try and get more veggies in me.
Aug 26, 2016
Wow, 15 days Tam! I’ve been in my own bubble since. #3 Chemo was in Drumheller. Got there at 8:30 and the Dr didn’t show up till 9:30. Should have given me a clue what was about to come. Short story, slept wayyyy tooo much, it was hot outside and didn’t eat hardly at all. End result, symptoms have lasted way longer and I’m still not at 75%
I have a consult radiation apt today in Calgary. And me sistors drove out yesterday to Calgary, yes Debbie was in a car for 12 hours but not driving. So I will pick this up tomorrow. Promise.