Fingernails, Burns, and Chemo Curl

My chest and the skin under my right arm were more severely burned than I had thought, so that for about two weeks following my final radiation treatment I had a significant amount of pain. Healing has come, although my chest wall is still tender after having a layer of all my skin in that area peel away in ugly grey strips. I’m thanking God that I developed no infection.

A result of the chemotherapy is that I am losing all my fingernails. As the old ones slough off, new nails are growing, beautiful and fresh. No pain at all.

DSC_4226Chemo curl. I’ve always had very straight, fine hair, and when I heard about the chance of curls developing after chemo, I ordered some! Voila! I now have curls, and am loving it. I’ve read fairly extensively about this phenomenon, but no one seems to know why this change often develops after chemo treatments. Usually the change is temporary; I’m hoping mine will be permanent.

I am feeling extremely well, and believe all my strength has returned. My 78th birthday was the 24th of July and my children threw me a delightful party in San Diego at the South Beach Jetty of the Pacific. Three grandchildren came home with Jerry and me, and at the end of their visit of almost a week I felt no more tired than I would have before this little session with cancer. I am extremely grateful, and with all my heart worship Jesus because of His extreme mercy to me.

Again, I want to thank each of you who is following me during this little detour. Your love, prayers, and comments are wonderfully significant to me. I treasure every word you are kind enough to send.

Recovery Monday

On other days, recent days, we would have pointed our faithful Jeep down the hill toward Ontario for one more radiation treatment, perhaps a short stand-in-line at the pharmacy, or a visit with one of my doctors. Not today.

Today, I recover. This morning I sat for awhile on the cement steps leading to our front deck. I watched. I looked and listened. I have blisters under my right arm, a sore, decimated chest wall beneath which is a grateful heart, and today I have a head that reels. I’m a follower of the news, one who listens much, who is interested in the election that looms before us. I’m aghast at our world. How can we humans speak as we do? How is it that we slaughter each other at such a rate? How.can.this.be.so?

The steps, though. Where I sit. I watch as two lizards dart before me. My camera is beside me, lens cover removed, and as I lift it to my eyes, the couple spatted, I guess, and in a flash one is gone. This one, though. This brave critter stopped quite near me. He posed, and held. Steady, he displayed his long “fingers.”

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Behind him stands a frog. Well, a replica of a frog, who is of green metal, and who appears to be holding a clarinet or some such instrument. I laughed when I noted these two critters in this juxtaposition.

DSC_3809-2And it was better than police shootings, or blatant lying, or coarse, vulgar language. Or the utterly ridiculous question of whose lives matter.

DSC_3788Hummingbirds rushed by Jerry’s face today as he watered plants in the front.

DSC_3795Bokeh, they call it. Light, unfocussed light shines through the scarlet bird feeder.

DSC_3782The bigger birds have scratched about and their food is scattered on the railing, and this morning there was a dead bird in our driveway.

And God knows. He is in charge. Still. Capable. Not in trouble. I rest. I recover.

 

Radiation 25

The night before, I baked the goodies I would take. Yesterday morning I wrapped them in a festive way. I chose cards and wrote notes on them. One for the exceptional clerk who checked me in almost every day at the Kaiser facility; the other for the sweet crew that manned Linac # 3 where they tended me over a 5 week period, 5 days a week. Linac is the name of the radiation machine. Number 3 is the one to which I was assigned.

From the first day, the calibre of people whom I have encountered during this quite unexpected detour in my life’s road has amazed me. I have been treated not only professionally, but in loving ways, and with utmost care and dignity. Yesterday was no exception. When I gave the little gifts, the staff were so appreciative. We hugged–some of us more than once–and yesterday  I felt as though I was leaving friends when Jerry and I walked from the facility to our car in the parking lot. “I’ll miss you,” a couple of them said to me. “Maybe we’ll see each other in a grocery store or something like that,” Zack said almost shyly to me.

DSC_3775Because it was my last visit, I was scheduled to see my radiation oncologist, Dr. Ro. I was surprised when after he examined me he said I had significant radiation burns under my arm, so that he must prescribe a cream designed for severe burns. I will see him for a follow-up visit in about a month. For a couple of days I had noted a little discomfort, but didn’t think too much about it. Perhaps because my entire chest wall where I had the mastectomy is quite numb is the reason for my feeling very little pain. The danger is infection, Dr. Ro told me, indicating that we must stay “on top of it.”

“Come by here after you’ve seen the doctor,” the receptionist told me when I checked in. “We have something to give you.” When I returned to her desk, she smiled broadly and handed me this certificate. Wished me well, said she would miss me.

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Rebecca had wanted to be with her dad and me, but she could not, so it was only loyal and faithful Jerry and me who went to lunch at Lucille’s Barbecue to celebrate my last radiation treatment. With not one complaint, this dear husband of mine has driven me every day to my radiation treatments–80 miles round trip. How blessed, how very blessed I am.

Sweetest daughter, Rebecca, came to our home later in the day, bearing lovely flowers, a balloon, and a precious hand-written card.

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So. I’ve jumped another hurdle, and am looking ever upward and forward. God is so dear and precious to me. Has held me close during these challenging months, and blesses me more than I could possibly deserve. I am forever grateful.

Sixty and Eighteen Go Together

It is the 18th day. It is the 60th year.

…….Counting the one this morning, eighteen is the number of radiation treatments I have had.

……Totaling them all, sixty is the number of years Jerry and I have been married. Today is our anniversary.

A year or so ago, as we talked about this momentous occasion and how we would celebrate it, high on our list was a Mediterranean cruise. Then came November 2015, my routine mammogram, and the quite unexpected diagnosis of breast cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. We changed plans. The cruise deal was out, but after my chemo was finished and I had regained my strength, here in Crestline, we would have a nice party with our family and close friends. We decided on a date and made sure all our children were free at that time. Then Dr. Chan recommended I meet with a radiation doctor. I did so, and was shocked when Dr. Ro advised me to have 25 radiation treatments. We cancelled the party plans, understanding that when today arrived, I would be deeply into daily radiation treatments, and not knowing how sick or well I would be feeling.

So, today is the big day, and despite no momentous celebration, I am extraordinarily happy. And Jerry is happy. God has been extremely good to us. Blessed us. Favored us. Chose us. Gave us four remarkable children, a passel of grandchildren, a flock of great-grandchildren, and an enormous group of exceptional friends and other family.

Rebecca went with us to Ontario for my treatment, then we all went to The Cheesecake Factory in Victoria Gardens for lunch. Delicious food. Rebecca snapped a couple of pictures.

 

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Toward the end of Summer or the beginning of Fall, we plan to take a road trip up the coast of California. We have wonderful friends scattered here and there in this great western part of the United States, and we haven’t seen some of you for a long time. Maybe we’ll pop in for a visit. 🙂

EDIT: Just as I was finishing up this piece, a delivery lady  brought to our home the most beautiful deep red roses. Jerry grinned as she brought them in to me. Sure enough: Love, from Jerry. He is the best!

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Only Eight to Go!

My 17th radiation treatment this morning followed the pattern of the previous 16–no negative reactions at all! In the afternoon I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Chan, whom you may recall, is my primary oncologist. My blood pressure was 128/67, my heart and lungs were clear, and my oxygen saturation was 99%.  He grinned when I told him how wonderful I am feeling.

We visited for a while, discussed a few things, then he stood, extended his hand, and said, “I won’t need to see you again until 6 months have passed. You have been a trooper!”

It was late afternoon when Jerry and I arrived home. He lighted the smoker on the back deck to grill the salmon we would be having for dinner. I seasoned the fish, then he placed it on a cedar plank and cooked it to perfection.

Fresh blackberries that needed to be eaten were in my fridge, so I engaged in a major indulgence and whipped up a blackberry cobbler.

DSC_3614DSC_3619It is said that cancer feeds on sugar, so I have made the commitment to drastically reduce my intake of the luscious white stuff. Notice I said, reduce, not delete!

So, because a bowl of warm blackberry cobbler is not quite complete without a scoop of vanilla ice cream, I indulged in a major splurge and tackled this . . .

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Only 8 to go, friends.  (Radiation treatments that is, not bowls of blackberry cobbler oozing with melting vanilla ice cream!)

No Chemo Curl

“You will lose your hair,” Dr. Victor said to me early on as we discussed side effects of chemotherapy. “But it will grow back,” he said with that kind, infectious smile of his.

Hair that grows back after chemo is sometimes a different color than before, and a formerly straight-haired girl may be blessed with what is called chemo curl. That curly hair that sprouts from her balded head usually doesn’t stay curly, I’m told, but eventually reverts to its former texture. Well, since I would be going through this little hair transition, I thought I would just order up a beautiful configuration for my head.

My paternal grandmother had glowing red hair. My dad had black curly hair. My husband has beautiful, curly wavy hair that looks better uncombed than mine does when I’ve just arranged it. You see, I have straight, stringy hair . . .well, that’s what I used to have . . .so I put in my order for red, curly hair. Sounds like a good choice, wouldn’t you say!DSC_2899I’ve mentioned before that most of my hair came out two weeks after my first chemo treatment, with a few hardy little bits hanging on these many weeks later. A few days ago, they all surrendered, and after a shampoo job, I no longer had any long hair. But already, my head is covered with new hair. Alas, I see no curls, nor any red sections. I have patches of white and what looks to be black. Guess I’ll resemble a skunk when it all arranges itself.

But check this out: Doesn’t that look like a little wave coming off in the back there!

My Tattoos

I have never secretly desired to have any part of my body tattooed, and certainly I have never voiced a hankering for such an intrusion onto this aging body of mine–actually I think the process is a bit on the silly side. Now, though I must tell you, that I have six tattoos! Five are on my chest area. One is on my neck. They are tiny little things, and if you look closely here you will see the black dot on my neck.

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Happened this way. Yesterday was my second visit to the Oncology Radiation Department at Kaiser Permanente in Ontario. After I had checked in and waited a very short time to be called, I was introduced to a darling young lady named Zac, who introduced me to two other women who will be involved with my treatments. After I had stripped to my waist and had donned a beautiful hospital gown, I climbed onto the table where overhead were machines that would photograph once again the area that is to be radiated. Both my arms were stretched over my head and I was asked not to move at all. They positioned my body a few times, and the picture taking began. A doctor analyzed and approved the film. The technicians then removed the red temporary markings on my body and began the tattoo job.

“May I choose butterflies or flowers or something like that?” I asked.

“No, afraid not. We only do one style here,” one of the techs replied.

There was little pain involved in the scenario. The worst part was not moving for a half hour or so, and besides I’m of the curious type and wanted to look around and see everything that was going on, but I could not. I did see a few reflections in one of the camera lenses. My face itched and I wanted desperately to scratch it, but I muttered to myself that I shouldn’t be a sissy . . .and I thought of persons who are paralyzed . . .

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Zac gave me a printed treatment schedule, along with guidelines to help me through the process. Beginning June 2, I will travel to Ontario (about an hour from our home) 25 times for radiation treatment. July 7th will be the grand finale. A party will be in order . . .and you’re all invited.

First Chemotherapy–Part 2

On the first try in which I felt hardly any pain, Barbara inserted the needle that would infuse me with the cancer-killing medications that had been chosen for me, which were two; Taxotere and Cytoxan. Before they were started, though, a bag of saline solution was hung which I believe ran alone for about half an hour. One of those little white fluted cups was presented to me containing two large potassium pills, and if I recall correctly, a couple of pills to prevent nausea.

“We’re starting it now,” Barbara said at one point.

During recent weeks I had thought frequently of that moment and the concept it represented, for surely a dichotomy of sorts is represented here. I am a recipient of these drugs because they are known killers of cancer cells, known killers of the breast cancer cells that were discovered in my right breast; ductal carcinoma. Yet I know these drugs have the very real capacity to cause my death. How can that be? A drug that may cure me, yet may kill me? A dichotomy. For these powerful drugs have demonstrated that not only do they kill cancer cells, which are fast-growing cells, they may kill other fast-growing cells in my body. The medicines are not yet engineered to attack only the abnormal places in my body, but they may go after my hair, my stomach, my bladder, my mouth and various other parts of my body. They will significantly lower my immune system, and I will become very tired, and subject to infection. Much of our time with Lia before this session was a discussion of this reality, and the things I should do to protect myself.

In the beginning, I felt no different as the fluid from the hanging bottle began its infusion, but after awhile I noted a slight nauseous sensation, which did not develop into a significant problem. I talked with my family and Holly, the nurse checked me frequently, and I was given a laptop computer and encouraged to watch a short film which repeated much of what Lia had said (in quite a boring way, I am sad to add. Confession: I found a way to speed up the film until it ended rather quickly! Sorry Kaiser.)

The medications do not run simultaneously, and I don’t believe I noted which ran first. After the first one was completed, a bottle of Benadryl was hung. Almost immediately I felt flushed, woozy, and sleepy, although I did not sleep. Probably could have then, but I was eager to note everything going on about me, and I continued talking with my family. Patients moved about the room, pushing their bottles with them. Rebecca walked over to the area just across from us, introduced herself, and struck up a little friendship with a lady named Carol, who a bit later came over to meet me. So sweet, she told me of her experience and gave me lots of practical advice.

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“You’re finished,” Barbara said, and I noted the time to be around 3:30. She removed the needle, we gathered our things, said good-bye to those we had met, and headed down the hall. Lia had insisted that it was very important I drink lots of water, so that the chemo would be flushed from my body . . .so I took a bottle of water with me in the car. We stopped at the pharmacy where we bought the Benadryl product. Outside, Holly said good-bye. I hugged her and thanked her for her exceptional kind, loving friendship.

It was 6:30 by the time we took Rebecca home, picked up Winston, and drove up to our home in Crestline. I was thoroughly exhausted, changed my clothes and collapsed on the couch. After I had gained some strength, I took a dose of the Benadryl, submerged myself in a warm bath, and headed for the bed. I slept well, awaking more than once, (all that water helped), but going back to sleep easily.

Choosing Chemotherapy

On my first appointment with Dr. Victor after my mastectomy, he checked me thoroughly, said I was doing well, then reported the lab’s analyzation of my breast tissue and of the nine lymph nodes he had removed. I was a bit disappointed to learn that the cancer had metastasized not only to the one lymph node which was discovered by the ultrasound, but to one other. Lots of good news, though. The margins were wide; my prognosis was good.

“Dr. Victor, do you have any influence as to the oncologist I will see?”

“Yes,” he told me.

“I want someone who is ‘good,’ and who is friendly.”

He hesitated saying all the doctors in the oncology department were excellent, but I pressed a little, and finally he recommended Dr. Chan.

Dr. Chan's longivity chart

My husband, Rebecca, and Holly were with me at the first meeting with Dr. Chan. So kind, upbeat, and patient; answering all our questions. I suspect he spent an hour with us, going over my charts, then at the end showing me this one. May be a little difficult for you to read. The chart shows that by using all three approaches; mastectomy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy, as compared with other combinations, or exclusions, a small rise in my life expectancy is obtained. I judge the rigors of chemotherapy worth the extension of my life.

(I’ve read widely. Friends have emailed me with information. Some of them advise me not to have chemotherapy or traditional treatments at all. Others support traditional medicine. I’ve listened, and will continue to do so. I’m in full agreement that a healthy body is greatly desirable, and it only makes sense that a healthy well-nourished person will be more successful in fighting a disease, so I have made the decision to eat in even healthier ways than I have in the past–in particular curtailing my intake of sugar. I will continue exercising–no doubt ramping it up a bit.)

The choice of treatment was mine, and I made it quickly. After doing so, Dr. Chan, my family, and my friend agreed that I had made the right choice.

I begin chemo tomorrow, January 26, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Sherrie’s Pink Flower

During the time of my mastectomy recovery our home resembled a fine florist shop. Sherrie, a sweet, kind, friend sent this bloom by Rebecca one day when she came up. Nothing fancy, merely a single-stemmed flower stitched of long-lasting silky material. Perched inside the blossom is a ceramic bird who will never die.Sherrie's pink flower