Sunday, October 30, 2011

Neulasta sucks

On Friday morning following my Wednesday chemo, I go back to the infusion clinic and receive my Neulasta injection. According to the manufacturer's website, Neulasta helps support "your natural defenses" during chemo. It is a white blood cell booster that is intended to help your body fight off infection. Side effects include bone and joint pain.

All I can tell you is that right after I get my Neulasta injection, I feel like I have been run over by a very big truck. The first time around, I had some bone pain that wasn't too bad. I took Aleve and it went away. But now that I have had four rounds of chemo, my body must be weaker and the side effects from Neulasta are stronger. I get the worst body aches and chills and just basically feel like I have the flu for about 48 hours.

So yeah -- this is a whiney blog post today. I felt horrible yesterday and stayed in bed until 3 PM. Most of my pain is in my lower back and thighs. My kidneys are really sore. I hate to sound like a baby, but once you have cancer, you wonder if every little ache and pain is related.

One thing I know for sure -- as soon as I am done with chemo and Neulasta, I need to heal my body through more holistic and natural means. I can already tell that I am going to have a lot of "repair" work to do after this experience. And then there is the radiation treatment and five years of tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors.

For now my goals are simple. Get through this phase as best as I can. Drink lots of water, stay hydrated and flush this crap out of my body. Get plenty of rest (no problems there!). Start a walking routine. Meditate. Maybe do some gentle stretching/yoga at home. I am not sure that I can manage a regular yoga class. I get tired very quickly. Eat well.

I am almost there. I can see the chemo finish line...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I Had Cancer and Four Down, Two to Go

The outpouring of support and encouragment from my co-workers just keeps on coming...

When I got to the office today, I was presented with MORE thoughtful breast cancer awareness gifts. The women in our Staunton, Virginia office put together a cute pink gift bag just FILLED with pink ribbon items and inspirational sentiments. I was really overwhelmed. Here is a picture of me with all my little pink goodies... I am so blessed to work with so many wonderful people!

In other news...

I had my fourth round of chemo and met with my oncologist. Everything is going really well. No major side effects from the chemo besides the water retention. Even my hair is starting to sprout back just a little. I told my oncologist that I am feeling pretty good all things considered, if it weren't for this "cancer thing."

And she said: "You need to start saying 'you HAD cancer' -- there is no indication that you have cancer now. This chemo is just a little extra precaution."

So there you have it -- I HAD CANCER. That is going to take some getting used to saying. I really don't take cancer lightly. Can I ever be sure it's gone? Absolutely not. But I might as well stop living like it's lurking over my shoulder. As I said in my last post -- and this is what I said to my doctor -- I am ready to get this behind me and get my life back on track. She could not agree more.

So this is my new mantra: I HAD CANCER. I HAD CANCER.

I am a little tired from chemo but went to work today. I know that tomorrow and Saturday will be my days to crash and burn. That's fine, it's supposed to be cold and rainy here this weekend. It will be perfect for curling up in bed and reading or watching old movies. My husband and I have been watching "Mad Men" through Netflix on our Roku. We also queued up the old mini-series "The Winds of War."

So my plan is to just get as much rest as possible this weekend because I am flying to Columbus, Ohio for a business trip on Tuesday and Wednesday. My oncologist saw no problem with flying and just told me to move if I am seated next to a coughing, sneezing person. She didn't even think I needed to wear a mask. That's good, right?

I did have my flu shot while I was in for chemo yesterday. No reactions to it -- at least not any as of today. I have to go in for my Neulasta injection tomorrow morning. That usually gives me some joint and bone pain so I start taking Aleve twice a day on the day of the injection. I take it for about four days and that usually handles the initial pain and then I'm fine. My oncologist was very happy with that report because she said some people really can't handle the Neulasta injection.

So that is my update as of today. Four down - two to go! woo hoo!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Attitude and Intention

Happy Sunday! I am back from my wonderful week visiting family in New Hampshire and Vermont and am ready for my fourth round of chemo this coming Wednesday.

During my vacation, I realized that my attitude is starting to change. Now that I am halfway through chemo, I am less scared and that is a very good feeling. Those first couple of months when I was diagnosed and didn't know what to expect -- that was the WORST time. Going through all the biopsies and surgery, waiting for results, starting chemo, worrying about being sick and losing my hair... those experiences are all in the rearview mirror and now I feel more in control and hopeful.

I feel less like a cancer patient and more like myself, if that makes sense. I still have three more rounds of chemo to go plus radiation, but I am not afraid. I feel like these past four months have made me a stronger person. I feel more able to overcome adversity and cope with challenges.

Ten years ago, I was in really good shape -- very physically fit and strong. I worked out almost every day and took yoga classes at least twice a week. Then, after my mom died in 2007, I lost my motivation. You would have thought her death from cancer would have been a great motivator for me to keep working out and taking care of myself. Instead, it was like a light just turned off and I couldn't seem to pull myself out of the rut.

There is a big difference between just wanting to do something and intending to do something. When you want to do something, you are basically just wishing for something to happen. But when you intend to do something, you are committed to making it happen. You take action.

So today on my blog I am declaring my intention to build a healthier lifestyle both physically and spiritually. It is time to stop worrying about cancer and being afraid. It is time to start rebuilding my health and loving my life again.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sweet Relief

Sorry I have not posted in awhile. After my mini meltdown last week, everything seems to have turned around -- thank God.

I have been so darn uncomfortable in my clothes that I finally broke down and bought bigger pants. I had no choice. My tight pants were making my life miserable. It is amazing how much your life changes when you finally put on something comfortable. Ahhhh! Relief!

Another huge relief is that my period finally stopped. I think the lupron injection is working. And my bloating is wayyyy down. I haven't taken my prescription diuretic lately because I haven't felt like I need to. My ankles are not huge like they were and my new bigger pants are more comfortable. I am planning to take it only when I really need it and right now, I don't feel like I need it.

And finally -- I am on vacation! Relief from work! haha! I am enjoying the fall weather in New Hampshire visiting friends and family. The fall foliage is a little past peak but I don't care. The weather has been nice and we're having a great time.

Then it's back to work next week and chemo #4 next Wednesday. Time flies...

Monday, October 10, 2011

I HATE the New Normal

I started this morning in tears and ended it pretty much the same way... but for very different reasons.

One of the hardest parts about having cancer and going through chemo is this whole "getting ready for work" thing. Absolutely nothing fits. And I am bald. I know, I know -- it's what's on the inside that counts. I get it. But honestly, I am fighting for my life here AND trying to maintain some sense of normalcy. It's not easy and getting ready for work in the morning can be a real torture session.

I guess this is what they call "the new normal." I fucking hate the new normal, okay? And this morning I didn't want to deal with the new normal -- figuring out which scarf goes with my outfit or how to unbutton my pants without anything showing. And then I put on my new wig (so I could avoid the whole scarf-matching dilemma) and I lost it. I absolutely fucking lost it.

While my wig looks good, it's not my hair. It's too straight. It doesn't move the way my hair used to move. It cannot be styled because it might melt (it is a monofilament wig). It's just not ME.

And I want ME back. I want to get rid of these 20 extra pounds that are making my life hell. I want some color in my skin. I want thick eyebrows and eyelashes. I want my hair back and not this stubbly white shit that is sprouting up all over my skull. I want MY hair.

Then my darling husband made a most unfortunate mistake. He suggested I work from home.

I DON'T WANT TO WORK FROM HOME! I want to go to the office like everyone else. I want my normal life back!

So as you can see, my morning did not get off to a good start. I had another cancer meltdown. I dried my tears and went to the office where I could pretend to be normal.

And there, sitting on my desk, was a gift wrapped in festive paper with a card sitting next to it.

For me? But of course - this is the "new normal!"

I opened the card which was a humorous little note congratulating me on making it halfway through my chemo. From my boss. How nice is that? And the gift was a sweet coffee mug which he had picked out for me. It was covered with these inspirational wishes:

This is my wish for you:

- Comfort on difficult days
- Smiles when sadness intrudes
- Rainbows to follow the clouds
- Laughter to kiss your lips
- Sunsets to warm your heart
- Hugs when spirits sag
- Beauty for your eyes to see
- Friendships to brighten your being
- Faith so that you can believe
- Confidence for when you doubt
- Courage to know yourself
- Patience to accept the truth
- Love to complete your life

It was exactly what I needed this morning. EXACTLY. But that wasn't the end... Not even close. This is the "new normal."

At lunchtime I received this Edible Arrangement from three women I work with.

Then after lunch, another co-worker came to my office and gave me a beautiful pink bromeliad in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I put it on my filing cabinet and marveled at how many wonderful people I work with.

Before I knew it, the day was over and it was quitting time. I arrived home to find a little package in the mail addressed to me. When I opened it, I found a lovely card from another co-worker telling me to keep the faith. And she had picked out two sets of earrings and enclosed them in the package telling me that she thought they would look nice on me.

AND there was a sweet card from my sister which read: "Do you know how many calories are in a glass of wine? No, you don't. That's why we're friends!" And she added "sisters" underneath the word "friends." Love it!

I am absolutely amazed at the outpouring of support I have received since my diagnosis. But today was something all together different. I really needed it today.

Maybe I don't hate the new normal after all...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Run Over By A Truck

I was doing fine on Friday but probably overdid things by going to an art festival yesterday. By the time I returned home, I was wiped out. All I could do was lay on the couch and wait for it to pass. I wasn't nauseous. I was just clammy, sweaty and had body aches.

Luckily, I slept well last night and basically stayed in bed until now. I feel better but definitely am not back to 100%. I am extremely fatigued. So my plan is to just take it easy the rest of tonight and work from home tomorrow if I have to. I am supposed to travel for business this coming week but I have already decided to change my plans.

Barry and I leave for New Hampshire on Saturday. It's an 11 hour drive. I want to stay close to home this week and get plenty of rest. Plus, I can get caught up on some work while everyone else is out of town.

In other news, I bought a new wig this past week. I really like it. There is so much to learn about wigs. You can truly spend a fortune if you are so inclined. I made the mistake of buying a cheap synthetic wig the first time around. It looks okay but it is hot and heavy and very uncomfortable. This time I spent more $$$ and bought a monofilament wig which is very lightweight and comfortable.

I will post some pictures at some point when I am so inclined. Right now, I just want to go lay down...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Doing Well

Last night was a little rough. I wasn't sick but I was incredibly uncomfortable. All the bloating in my abdomen was horrible. I took my prescription diuretic and just laid on the couch in my sweat pants most of the evening, then I went to bed. I wasn't "sick." I was just miserable, if that makes any sense. Imagine your worst PMS bloat with your worst constipation bloat and multiple that by about ten and that's how I felt. HORRIBLE!

But I am doing well today. I went in for my Neulasta injection this morning and thought I might work from home afterward. But I felt good and decided to go into the office. I worked all day -- not hard, no serious deadlines, just regular stuff -- so it was a fairly easy day.

The diurectic must be working because I was able to get my fat jeans on this morning which was good enough to go to work since I did not have any meetings scheduled. Hallelujah!

Anyway - just wanted to check in real quick. I am doing well enough after Round 3 of chemo that I am hoping to go to the Fall Art Festival in Waynesboro, Virginia with a friend this weekend.

Nite, nite!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Halfway there!

I completed my third round of chemo today and it was my best experience so far -- not that the first two were bad. But today was very special because it started with a Facetime session with my sister Patricia. It is so good to be able to actually see her when we are talking - even if it is first thing in the morning and I am waiting for my chemo infusion. It makes me feel like she is here with me although she lives almost 1000 miles away. It's comforting.

Then I had a good (new) friend join me for lunch during my chemo session. "M" brought lunch from Panera's, we had a wonderful conversation and got to know one another just a little bit better which is always a great thing. She's been there, done that with breast cancer and is a five year survivor. "M," thank you so much! I am so glad that we have connected -- and next time -- lunch is on me. Period. No arguments!

I also met with my oncologist today who gave me a high five for how well I am doing. She was happy to hear that I am tolerating the chemo well and listened to my complaints about the fluid retention. She admitted it was one of the most common side effects of the taxotere and wrote me a script for Lasix (a prescription diuretic) which I will start taking this weekend. She wants me to go slowly by taking just a half of a pill and see how I feel.

Her main concern is that I lose too much fluid and too much potassium. But since I eat a pretty healthy diet which includes a banana almost every day and lots of broccoli, she thought I would be okay with taking it. I sure hope it works!

"Female problems alert" -- if there are any men reading this blog (are there any? I hope not!) -- please divert your eyes. I warned you!

The oncologist expected that my period would end once I started chemo. Everything I've read says pretty much the same thing. I guess I am the exception to the rule. Not only has it not ended, it's gotten worse. Way worse.

I asked the oncologist if it would be possible to shut down my ovaries with an injection of Lupron. She thought it was a good idea and gave me an injection today. I will have an injection once a month until I finish chemo and go on hormonal therapy which is tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is an oral chemotherapy which shuts down the ovaries in pre-menopausal breast cancer patients who are ER positive (me).

I will take tamoxifen until I decide when to have my hysterectomy. Even after a hysterectomy, I will still need to be on a hormonal therapy which is a slightly different class of drug called an aromatase inhibitor. This drug is given to post-menopausal breast cancer patients or those who have had their ovaries removed. It is also slightly more effective than tamoxifen.

Either way, I am really looking forward to not going through a 14 day-plus cycle every month. It is really putting a damper on my (love) life! I already have hot flashes so it can't be that big of a difference. We'll see how it goes.

My hope is that if I lose this bloat and stop having periods from hell, I will feel decent through my next three rounds of chemo. Fingers are crossed. Prayers are said. Positive energy is sent into the Universe. I do believe someone is listening!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

How am I doing?

I have been gently prodded to update my blog. Thank you, Grace for checking in on me! I will agree, it is a bit overdue.

So here's the latest... I am the Energizer Bunny!

Last weekend I had so much energy, it was insane. I completely took apart our home theater system and re-assembled all the components on the opposite side of our family room. I have been wanting to do this for ages because our current surround sound system just wasn't working well (crackling speakers, poor sound quality and a programmable remote control that required a Ph.D. to operate). I also bought a Roku and got our TV connected to the internet. So now our sound system issues are completely fixed, our cable signal is stronger, we are streaming TV and movies from our Netflix account and listening to Pandora. And I did it myself. Yay!

And that's not all... I also cooked several meals with lots of leftovers for the week, decorated my house for Fall and ran a bunch of errands. My husband was a little concerned and told me to slow down and conserve my energy for the coming week. He was probably right but I just couldn't stop.

Feeling like the Energizer Bunny is great, but I am also feeling like a puffer fish.

My weight is continuing to creep up and my ankles are nearly non-existent. When I look at pictures of myself, my face is round and bloated. Elastic waist pants are my new best friends. Ugh.

I looked up the side effects of my chemo drugs online. The taxotere seems to be the culprit. One of its main side effects is water retention and bloating, particularly in the abdomen, which is where I am experiencing it the most. When I see my oncologist on Wednesday, I am going to ask her if she can prescribe a diuretic or if I can take something over the counter. If not, I guess I will just have to suffer through this until I finish my chemo in December.

By the way, I go in for Round 3 on Wednesday, October 5th which is the HALFWAY point for me! I know I will be pretty tired a few days later but believe me, I will be having a small celebration of making it to this point.

As for this weekend, I am feeling very good (albeit puffy) and plan to make a few meals ahead of my chemo and have them stocked in my fridge and freezer. I didn't do this the last time and it was a mistake. This time I will make sure I am more prepared.

The weather has really turned and we are experiencing some lovely, cool autumn temperatures. I went to Lowe's last night and picked out all my autumn flowers. I need to stop here so I can get outside and do some gardening.

All for now!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month which means we must now face a full four weeks where everything from household appliances to gardening tools are awash in pink. If the item isn't pink, it has a pink ribbon attached to it. Just my opinion but it seems unnatural for a KitchenAid mixer to be pink!

I was diagnosed on June 2, 2011 -- four months ago -- so this October I am fully aware of what it means to fight breast cancer. I have nothing against the Komen Foundation or their huge marketing machine. Their efforts encouraged me to pay attention to self-exams, annual mammograms and early detection. And for that, I am very thankful.

Yesterday I attended the Komen Foundation of Central Virginia's annual Survivors' Luncheon which was held at the gorgeous Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond. Part of the ceremony recognized the survivors in the audience by asking them to stand up if they had survived 20 or more years, 15 years, 10 years, etc. I stood up when they called for survivors with less than one year. I was surrounded by women who offered me their support and encouragement.

While I am confident in my own recovery, it never hurts to be around other women who have survived this disease. More than once I was told: "If I can do it, you can, too!" It was exactly what I needed.