Monthly Archives: November 2013

Chemically Induced Shavasana & My Last Round of Chemo

Written @ 4:45 am November 21, 2013

It is November 21 at 4:45 am. I am lying in bed staring at the ceiling.  I have already been up twice tonight with hot flashes and visits to the washroom. My mind is racing. It is my last chemo treatment today at Juravinski.

I thought this day would bring joy and excitement, yet the emotion I feel is complex, a mixture of relief but also sadness.  I have been through a lot since June and I have put on a brave face and created a inner calm and have locked onto a positive energy to keep moving forward during each step — the surgery and round after round of chemo.

Yesterday I drove to Juravinski to get blood work done to allow my oncologist to give me the green light for chemo today. I chose to go alone, as the whole process seemed so routine and almost mechanical. No problem! I arrived at the blood clinic and was handed the number 06 which I immediately misinterpreted for 90. Chemo brain very intense this week. The number board was calling 68. The room was packed again with many seniors, family members but also some patients in their 40’s still with healthy looking faces. I sat and chatted with the woman beside me as we attempted to make sense of the sequential ordering, and listened to a mother and daughter fretting and angry about the wait. I took a deep breath and dove into my book to disappear.

My number was finally called, and as I walked to the room, I hoped for a senior nurse, as the newer ones, while upbeat and bubbly, are not always as efficient at finding a usable vein quickly. My veins are challenging, and have been since I was a kid. My annual blood tests due to low iron levels always resulted in the nurse trying first, failing, then going in other arm, failing and then revisiting first arm again…leaving me white and light-headed and dreading my return visit. Not fond memories. This day was no different. I always warn the nurse that she will need a fine needle and patience. At this point both my arms are sore from previous chemo injections. My veins are fighting back. I guess they, like me, are tired of the process. My vein failed on the first attempt; she then moved to my hand where it frankly hurt. I felt the tears begin. It was like floodgates opened up. I couldn’t control my composure anymore. I said to her through my tears, ” this is my last round and I am emotional”. She congratulated me and went and got another nurse leaving that needle still in. The second nurse took her turn at getting my blood, yet every time she got the needle (still in my hand) close to the vein it would jump. So now, back to the other arm. I took a deep breath and prayed she would get blood. It worked. Apparently 3rd time is the charm as far as extracting blood from me!

As I walked from the clinic down to my oncologist clinic I took deep breaths to try to regain my composure.  I was taken aback by my emotion; the tears kept coming. It doesn’t help that this last round of chemo has resulted in my eyes watering non-stop, to the point where I thought I might have thrush in them. I went to the optometrist who confirmed they were fine albeit very dry from the chemo. I was instructed to wear my glasses instead of contacts for the rest of treatment and was given eye drops to keep my eyes moist. I managed to gain my composure. Then I was called for the obligatory weigh in. I hate hate the weigh in. I have watched every round my body pack on more weight, and I already know I have gained weight as I feel it, and I see it. I don’t want the reminder of the number attached. It read 159lbs. Again I wanted to cry. I haven’t been this heavy since being pregnant!

My appointment with the nurse confirmed that my white blood cells, platelets and other readings were all in normal ranges and I was good to go for chemo. I apologized to her when I cried yet again — the onset of Chemo induced menopause has my mood fluctuating up and down, moving between weepy and reflective. (Although I do have to admit that having no periods lately is something to smile about!) I was told that I will meet with my oncologist in 4 weeks to discuss next steps in my cancer treatment which will be taking Tamoxifen daily for at minimum, the next 5 years. This will help control the estrogen in my body as my original tumours were Er+ and Pr+, meaning that the cancer was fuelled in part by estrogen and progesterone. I will need to watch how much estrogen-based plant foods I take into my body moving forward like flax and soya. I confirmed again with my nurse that after this round there wasn’t a simple test or scan that would provide me with a medically endorsed “cancer free” prognosis.   She informed me that typically with breast cancer if it returns it presents as breast, lung, bone or brain cancer. I don’t like anything about that list. She then informed me that they have moved away from ordering full body scans after chemotherapy treatments as research has showed that this intervention does not lead to better health outcomes.  I also didn’t like this information.  I am confident that cancer is out of my body but it is always nice to be told that emphatically.

Up to now I haven’t been ready to start reading the cancer books friends and other breast cancer survivors have lent me. I needed to stay in my bubble during this process and only take in the information I was ready for at each stage.   This has always been my approach in both my work and personal life. I have to marinate in and digest something, before I can take more information in.  I am now ready to start learning about living as a cancer survivor. That for some odd reason seems daunting as I write this, but educating myself will help. I also want to get back into shape and mentally I need yoga back in my life. Hoping by January I can start baby steps towards finding the physical me again.

It is now 5:30 and the house is quiet and dark. I have grown to love this bewitching hour. It is a time to reflect and be still. No kid demands, no schedules, no work, no agenda. It’s like a chemically induced shavasana but with my mind very alert.

My sister will go with me this afternoon for my last chemo so I will be in good company.  I am getting ready to be poked again today and likely a minimum of two times, although the chemo nurses are like Jedi nights with finding veins. So may the force be with my nurse today!

I know I should be excited, I know my family and friends are for me. This is the day we have all been waiting for, yet I am dreading this round and the coming 3 weeks of recovery. I will attempt today to channel this dread into my recovery plan.

Round 6 here I come!


Written @ 1:30pm November 12, 2013

Frustration: It is very hard to remain positive at this point in my cancer treatment. I am midway through round 5 of 6 chemotherapy sessions, and I am frustrated.  I am tired of experiencing the numerous side effects of the chemo drugs and am done living in a constant merry go round of my 21-day chemo cycles. I am weary and fatigued and finding it hard to remember the endless energy I once had. Feeling normal, seems so far away, and yes, I am aware I am in the homestretch with only one more infusion to go, but this journey is far from over. I have been consumed with cancer since June, it has become a part of me, it has changed me both physically, and mentally. Ironically, I wanted the process to start, I welcomed the infusions as it meant it was killing any potential cancer I may have in my body. What I didn’t realize was how this process slowly strips you down, it makes you raw, weak, pale, sore, tender, emotional, helpless and simply frustrated.

I have to remember I chose willingly to undergo chemotherapy after my oncologist informed me of the statistics of cancer re-occurring when only taking Tamoxifen versus chemotherapy plus Tamoxifen. I have only once during this entire treatment process worried that I still had cancer in my body, and that was shortly after my mastectomy surgery. I admitted to my husband that I thought cancer had spread to my back due to the intense back pain I was experiencing. He reassured me it was simply muscle tightness from the surgery and from lack of mobility.

I now fundamentally believe that I do not have cancer in my body yet to the outside world (and to myself) I look so sick. I have no hair left on my body; my eyes are red, puffy and sore from dryness; my lips are red and  chapped from a mouth infection; my bones ache;  I have low energy, swollen hands, tender nails and am pale as a ghost. I have to keep reminding myself that this is not cancer I feel or see…this is the chemotherapy drugs, which are my insurance that I never have to go through this process again.