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.

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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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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!

Two Bald Heads

When I first knew I had cancer, and that the chemo I would take would most likely cause me to lose my hair, one of my lighter moment thoughts was that I would have my picture taken with Steve. He’s my eldest and as you can see, quite scarce of hair.

On Thursday he came to spend some time with us, and before he left, we put our heads together, and Jerry snapped this photograph.

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Two weeks to the day after my first chemo treatment, I lost most of my hair, but not all of it. Every day more of it comes out, but only in small amounts. I’m thinking I may not go completely bald, as does happen with some people who take chemo, but the small amount I have left leaves me less than presentable, so I have accumulated three wigs, and quite an assortment of hats.

Not the worst of things, most likely my hair will grow back. Sad to say, however, not so for my dear son!

Growing Stronger

Great news! I’m continuing to improve. Definitely growing stronger!

The remaining chemo in my body has flung me one last (hopefully) side effect, causing  a little infection, for which I am now taking antibiotics. Other than that, I’m soaring into health.

First walk

Last evening and this morning I engaged in something I have not done in months; went with Jerry to walk Winston. It’s a bit rainy, but none was falling this morning as I joined my two “men.” We didn’t walk all the way to the woods, but more than half way. It was glorious.

First walk-2                                              I  took my camera with me and as Jerry and Winston walked ahead, I paused to photograph these leaves with glittering water drops.

Winston noticed I was behind, and refused to walk again until I caught up with them. Love that little dog. Love life. Love you, my friends.

Last Chemo Day!

When Dr. Chan walked into the room where Jerry and I sat last Monday he said, “Congratulations!” Time for my last chemo treatment! He discussed my lab work, noting that everything was perfect, did a cursory check of my heart and lungs, and cleared me for my final treatment that was waiting just down the hall.

“We’ve had a few bumps in the road,” Dr. Chan recalled, “but we worked through them. You’re doing great.”

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What an exceptional, dear friend is Holly. She calls, visits, brings flowers and other gifts–even once sent a cleaning crew to our home. She joined us in the waiting room, bearing gifts which she revealed once I was settled in my final chemo chair. She set a tiara on my head. In my hand she placed a significant, wonderful placard festooned with curly, streaming ribbons. Other patients smiled; a couple of them spoke congratulatory words to me.

Jerry Last Chemo day

My dear honey. Faithful, giving, and loving. How much harder this detour would be without his support and caring ways.

Three last chemo

Although an innumerable group has supported me through these weeks with prayers, gifts, visits, food, phone calls, cards, flowers, monetary gifts, and internet communication, it is these three whose faces I have seen at my chemo sessions. My only daughter, Rebecca, has spent weeks at our home, she calls every day, brings food, cooks meals, and attended every chemo session.

Nurses last chemo

Two of the four nurses who tended me during my sessions are pictured here. They helped me through some extremely tense, potentially dangerous, moments. Wonderful, dedicated people. During my hours at that last session, suddenly one of the nurses said, “Let’s do the final chemo dance,” and both of them circled about our area for a few minutes of celebration dance. Holly was quick enough to get a short video of it, but I can’t seem to load it here.                                     .Last chemo jerry, shirley, bekRebecca brought balloons to the party!

Jerry Last Chemo dayWe celebrated  with a meal at Cocos in Rialto. Believe it or not, I wore my tiara  and carried in my balloons and chemo sign. We clapped and laughed and planned more celebrations.

(Because I promised honesty paragraph: We had said our good-byes, each of us had taken to our cars, and as Jerry and I drove off the restaurant parking lot, I became violently ill. Had to circle back, park again at Cocos while I rushed to the bathroom. At home, I collapsed onto the couch.)

But here I am seven days later, though very weak, feeling much better. The tiara is on our dresser in my bedroom. Occasionally, I run my hand over its sparkly surface.

 

 

 

 

Comes The Resurrection

For the past three or four days, I have felt wonderful! Almost normal! Close to perfect! How great is that!

And what a weekend to so feel. Jerry and I decided on a little trip down to San Diego, my first “road-trip” since I began my chemo treatments. Friday evening,  with our son Andrew and his family, we attended a “Good Friday” concert at The Anchor Church in San Diego where Pastor Jim Larson was part of The Aqua Quartet that belted out stunning music. Karen Harding joined with her singing as only she can. Following the beautiful message by Brother Tim Spell, communion was offered to the congregation. An extraordinary service.

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Ran around with Andrew and his clan on Saturday, eating at a Burger Lounge in La Jolla–if you see one–stop in. Incredible food. Drove along the ocean, watched the seals, and raved at the splendid views and the glorious air. Spent the rest of the day with Steve and Dearrah, who took us to dinner in Chula Vista for most phenomenal Asian food. My strength held–I felt wonderful all day.

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. . .and now has dawned Easter, the Sunday of resurrection. In all my 77 years, never has this day of celebration personally been more significant.Death did not hold our Savior . . .nor shall it hold us! Be blessed today and always.

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Emerging from Dark Days

There likely is not a mature adult alive who has not in one way or another been knocked to the ground–be it physically, spiritually, or emotionally–likely more times than once. Those people will understand how wonderful it is during these times that loving ones tend to you. They pat your face, send flowers, bring meals, send notes, make phone calls, tell you they’re praying . . .or just sit in silence while you recover.

I am one of those, having over the past few weeks been knocked about by the results of chemotherapy, to the extent that I surely am the poster-kid for side effects. Hey, but I’m still here, and today feeling well enough to communicate in this way!

A known, but rare, allergic response to the chemo drug called Taxotere is serious enough that before the drug is administered other meds, most notably in the steroid family, are prescribed, some orally, others by IV. During my second infusion, I suffered such an allergic response, becoming short of breath, with severe face flushing, and a fierce pain in my back. Immediately the nurses stopped the infusion and gave me oxygen. When the pain had subsided, and my breathing had returned to normal, they again started the infusion–very slowly. I tolerated the drug then, and was able to finish the prescribed amount. Barely into my third infusion of Taxotere, I reacted violently. My doctor had already left the building, but another oncologist was called who observed me for awhile, and subsequently ordered the medication, for the time, discontinued.

My oncologist, Dr. Chan, called me twice the next day and we discussed ways to go forward with my treatment. There were additional pre-medications that could be used, whose function is to prevent the allergic reaction. I returned to the chemo department two days later. My nurses, as always, were sweet and friendly, but were on high-alert, and since early morning had been in contact with Dr. Chan who was in his office down the hall. One of the nurses told me it would be very rare to have another such allergic reaction.

They placed me in the chemo chair closest to their stations. and carefully explained the game plan. All medications would be administered slowly, the on-site pharmacist had prepared a tiny bag of Taxotere, and if I tolerated that, the full infusion would be given. The lead nurse sat down and stared at me as the infusion began. Before a mere 5 ml had entered my body, I reacted. She noted the severe flushing of my face, jumped up and turned off the Taxotere, and began a stout infusion of Benadryl. Another nurse came over and started the oxygen. My lungs were burning, my chest tight, and I was short of breath. I was disoriented. Dr. Chan quickly came and stood by me.

I stayed in the chemo unit for probably a couple of hours, until the staff was sure I was stable, and not in immediate danger of further reaction. So. The end of my treatment with Taxotere. I agreed with Dr. Chan that we had done all we could to assist my body in tolerating that particular drug, but it just did not work out for me. On next Monday I return to the unit for my final chemo treatment, which will  consist only of the Cytoxen, which my body tolerates with only known and expected side-effects. The worst is the extreme fatigue which has plagued me over these months.

Let me add something very important here: My having cancer, my suffering through chemotherapy with dreadful side effects and a rare allergic attack have in no way changed my basic outlook on life. I’m happy to be here. God remains powerful, triumphant, faithful, and in charge–of my life, and of yours. Period. I rest sweetly in that understanding.

Please accept my thanks to you who have ministered to me during these trying weeks and months. I have responded to some of you; others I have not. Every note on paper, every card, every floral arrangement, every comment on any of my internet sites, every prayer, every meal provided,  every personal visit, every phone call . . . all of them mean so very much to me, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

 

 

 

 

Truthfully, a Bit of Ugliness


 

aShirley and red hat Striving always toward the basic tenet of my writings which is truth, I certainly included that thought when I set up this blog, knowing, however,  that at times this would prove difficult, for sometimes the truth is ugly. Now I do understand I am not required to post about the unpleasant, the undesirable, the ugly, and for the most part I adhere to that thinking in all my pieces. By nature I am enthusiastic and upward looking, for it comes natural for me to see the encouraging attributes of most any situation. But this blog is about cancer and sometimes its truth is ugly. It definitely would be unfair of me to skirt these issues.

My reaction to my first chemo session was severe. I suffered intense nausea so that I could hardly eat. However, I was distinctly thankful for the two drugs I had been given to help alleviate the situation. I was instructed to take Zofran at the first inkling of a problem; if I had no relief within an hour, or if the relief lasted less than six hours, I was to take Compazine. Although I continued to have significant nausea for about two weeks, I did not vomit at all. What a blessing that was.

Four other problems hounded me:

1. I developed a severe rash, for which I had to visit a doctor. (Dr. Chan was on vacation so each time I developed a problem I had to see a different doctor, which couldn’t be helped.) Dr. Anderson prescribed an anti-bacterial cream, which worked rapidly and effectively.

2. Deep bone pain is a known affect  of chemo, and of the drug Nupogen. Within the first week I began suffering severely from this situation, and had to drive down the hill where I visited Dr. Baker, who prescribed Norco. Although one was prescribed every six hours, I had to take two of them to get relief. (When I visited Dr. Chan yesterday, he gave me a prescription for the same med, except that it is 10 mg instead of 5 mg.)

3. Extreme weakness is well-known to follow a chemo treatment, and I believe mine was complicated by my blood pressure running very low. During one of the doctor visits, it was suggested we buy a home blood pressure machine. We did that, and because of the continued low readings, I discontinued blood pressure medications, except for Atenolol which keeps my pulse rate down (without which it gets up to 100 or 110 for some reason.) I cut that dose in half. I discussed this with Dr. Chan yesterday, who agreed with my decision. The weakness is such that I would have to sit down to even brush my teeth.

4. Exactly two weeks after my chemo, I lost what is probably 3/4 of my hair. Daily I lose more, so one day last week Rebecca and I went wig and hat shopping. That was a fun day, for I tried on wigs that made me look hilarious . . . and totally unlike me. I’ll post later about the group that supplies wigs free to cancer patients.

In a few hours, I will begin my second chemo session–which means I will be half-way through the treatments. What a great thought!  I truly appreciate all your prayers and good wishes. They mean so much to me.

Cheers! Onward!

 

Sweetness Within the Detour

Well before I was aware of myself as a singular being, I was immersed into what is referred to as the Christian tradition. Peering through my baby eyes into the faces of my mom and dad who bent lovingly over me, I was ignorant of the favored circumstances into which I had been born. It has been said that within every human culture is the innate desire to worship something. Whether it be to a god of millions, a chiseled stone, or an animal of the field, we intrinsically thrust our arms upward, lift our eyes to the heavens in response to this need we have to worship.

Christians worship Jesus Christ, the God-Man, the incarnate One, who, having assumed a human form when He was born in Bethlehem of Judea, lived on the earth for a short period of time, then was crucified, but rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. His shed blood is the source of our redemption. A glorious facet of Christianity is that we experience a personal relationship with Jesus, and are of the keen thought that He hears us when we pray, and that He is distinctly aware of us, and of our situations.

Imagine my delight then as I walk this rugged detour to have one of my four children, my son Andrew, call me today, and after regaling me with encouraging words, say, “Mom, I want to pray with you. Right now.” And so he did. This child, born favored and unknowing as was I, in a simple, informal way, spoke with Jesus, and asked Him to touch his mother. I wept, and added my supplications.

Such are the smooth stones intermingled with that of the rough and sharp of my ugly detour. Such are the tiny flowers scattered about the trail as I go. Such is the sweet incense I press beneath my feet as I press forward.

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