Happy Posters on the Ceiling

Dr. Chan  is the doctor who ordered that I have a bone scan. Consequently, yesterday Jerry and I drove to Kaiser in Fontana where we parked at building 2, then took an elevator to the fourth floor where the Dexa Imaging Department is located. I was early for my 10:15 appointment, and they were quick to take me back where they weighed and measured me before leading me to the room where the test would be done.

IMG_0317 3In the early days of my diagnosis, my cancer was found to be an infiltrating ductal carcinoma with the further distinction of being hormone receptive. That means my cancer was feeding on the hormones my body produced. So, in addition to a mastectomy, chemotherapy, and 25 radiation treatments Dr. Chan prescribed a five-year regimen of a hormone blocker called Anastrozole. Unfortunately, one of the side-effects of this medication is the danger of bone weakening, leading to bone fractures. Thus Dr. Chan’s decision to have the density of my bones tested.

Dr. Chan highly regards hormone blocker medication as a very effective treatment for the type of cancer I have. He has mentioned this to me several times. “Out of all the treatments you are having for your cancer, this hormone blocker, which has fewer side-effects than any of them, is the most effective.” He went on to tell me that current literature suggests that in the near future it may be that women with my diagnosis may not need chemo, but that the hormone blocker could be all that is prescribed.

The bone density test was quick and painless. I lay flat on a table as a large, white imaging apparatus moved slowly over my body, measuring the density of my spine and of my hips.

I gazed upward, of course, and was delighted to see on the ceiling above me the posters I have pictured here. What a considerate act someone had thought of.  Someone then had hauled in a ladder, climbed up to the ceiling and with some sort of mastic had fastened those cheerful pictures and slogans. I loved it, and when the testing was finished I asked the technician if I could get my phone and take a picture. She smiled really big and said, “Yes!”

Yesterday was the first time I’ve looked at a ceiling to be reminded to hug, smile, and to take time for my family and friends, and that doing all those things contributes to my good health. How cool is that!

 

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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.

Radiation Treatments

I was able to report during my follow-up visit with Dr. Chan a few weeks after my last chemo treatment that I was feeling well, very well, in fact. I had regained all my strength. My energy level was high, and my spirits were soaring. Dr. Chan smiled, and I could tell that my words pleased him.

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He spoke again of my needing to be on a five-year regimen of hormone blockers, and as he spoke, he typed an order into the computer. On our way out I stopped at the pharmacy and picked up the first of what will be many bottles over such a long time. More on this segment of my treatment later.

Dr. Chan surprised me during this visit by saying he wanted to refer me to a radiation oncologist. Although he explained that his reasoning for this reference was that he wanted me to have access to every possible treatment, I gathered he might be leaning toward thinking I would not need to have radiation. So, on the day that Jerry and I drove to the Ontario Kaiser facility where such treatments are done in this area, I was feeling well and rather carefree, for I did not expect to hear what I did.

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His name is Dr. Ro, the radiation oncologist, to whom I was assigned. Kind and generous with his information, he spoke to us at length about this line of cancer treatment, and of my particular case. Should I have such radiation? The decision was mine, of course, but when Jerry pressed Dr. Ro, he offered his opinion that I should. And so I will.

There will be 25 of them, daily five days a week, for five weeks. Last Tuesday I had my first visit in the unit, where multiple pictures and X-rays were taken. My chest area is covered widely with red marks that will be used to guide the technician. On Monday, I go there again for further studies, permanent markings, and a full schedule of my treatments.

I’m not happy about this development, and at one point last week had the thought that I would call and cancel, but I quickly discarded that idea, for my thinking is that I want to do all I can to cure and/or prevent the return of this hateful disease. I’m feeling extremely well, and honestly don’t anticipate another round of weakness and other side effects. (Dr. Ro said the fatigue that comes with radiation treatments is not as severe as that I suffered from chemo.)

Anyway, I am up to it. Have God’s mighty hand holding my feeble one. Can do it. Am strong.. .besides that I’ve been working in my gardens, and they are beautiful. I’m sharing with you. Hope they bless your day.

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Role Reversal

Glorious!

……..well except I was sorry Jerry was sick, but the glorious part was that I was now the caretaker and someone else was the patient! Within the past couple of weeks I have completely regained my strength . . .now feeling wonderful. So when Jerry came down with chills, fever, and a general achy-ness, we knew from his history, he was in for a bout of cellulitis. Cellulitis can be a very mild condition; Jerry’s cases are serious, even to the point that at times he has been hospitalized with such a flare-up. (He’s been troubled with this condition off-and-on for 40 years, always in his legs.) Fortunately, his cellulitis responds quickly to antibiotics. So off we went, I the driver, down to Kaiser in Fontana. He’s well now. We’re both well! Glorious!

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Thanks again for all the love, prayers, and concern.

 

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!

 

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.