Better or is it a trick of the mind?
I am delighted to report that this fourth chemo has been less severe so far than the third one. Or perhaps my expectations were so low of this chemo cycle, that in reality the side effects are the same? I had a horrible feeling that the fourth chemo was going to be really hard…which was a trick of my mind; I am very relieved that I’m not feeling as ill as last time.
Having chemo for the second time
My experience with chemo four years ago was so terrible, that in a way, anything had to be better than that. But it is relative. My Oncology nurse says that the chemo drugs this time are just as hard; it’s just that then, chemo was new for me and I didn’t really know how to ‘do’ chemo. In addition, I was working and tired all the time and had a lot more stressors (a mortgage to pay, Herceptin to pay for (just under $70k)) and six months of chemo instead of three. Also, this amazing drug Aprepitant wasn’t available then.
A lesson learned
This time, I have done chemo differently. I don’t have to set the alarm clock to get up for work. I have treated chemo as if it was my job. My job to do the cancer treatments and to get healthy. A friend suggested that I approach it that way and it is a good way to do it. I don’t need to be at a desk achieving results while feeling nauseous, confused, tired, chemo-brained, in pain etc. I am very lucky that I had this opportunity this time to do it differently.
The chemo drugs themselves will be out of my system by December. But the side effects linger on. Last time I had chemo, I didn’t feel ‘right’ again for three years but that isn’t usual. Pre-chemo, I was in much worse shape with the shock of cancer, fatigue and life stress. This time ‘the bottom’ is not as deep so it will be a bit easier to rebuild myself. Chemo can still play tricks though; I still have some side effects from the first chemo (particularly nerve damage in my feet and fingers) and I am only half way through this chemo cycle.
Side effects affecting me at the moment:
- Hair – it is really thinning now. No one else would notice but I can and it looks like I’ve had my hair cut shorter. Also, my scalp is sore with little sores all over my scalp.
- Dull headaches and feeling no energy.
- Chemo brain is becoming more of a problem. I am getting dates mixed up and have to pay careful attention to things I’m writing.
- Chills. Yesterday was day 7 and my white blood cells/immune system crashed (white blood cells go to almost zero for 7-14 days). When I went to bed, I had chills and was hoping that it wasn’t an infection…but, I woke up okay phew.
- The skin on my face is still pretty bad. I can’t wait for that to clear up.
- I am having odd bladder issues as the chemo irritates the bladder.
- I am really tired – mainly sleeping (aided) about ten hours plus a night. I am hoping that in December, I will start to sleep properly.
- My nose is still irritated and sore – eye drops and nasal sprays are helping
Sometimes I find it funny that people look at me and think that I am completely well. Sometimes it bugs me though. Chemo affects everything on the inside and only a couple of things on the outside. Someone from work once told me that they expected that I would be 100% and back to work after the last chemo. It is quite deceptive that some of the people that I know with cancer, doing treatments, doing chemo …look amazing. They are healthy people in practice and on the outside too. It’s just the cells are doing strange things.
Seeing the year in perspective
I am starting to be able to see that chemo is over. It is sheer relief; I can’t imagine what doing six months would be like for me, it would have done my head in. The first cycle was awful. The second was much better. Third, not so good and fourth, better than the third.
I am not yet celebrating completely but trying to plan a few things. I am starting to actually integrate the experiences of the year; there have a couple of traumas this year and I haven’t had time to process them as I’ve been busy ‘doing’ surgery and chemo. There is a lot to think about and move on from and I now have a bit of space to do that.
If cancer hadn’t struck, right now I would have been working and living in Papua New Guinea. Life had really been shaken about this year.
Where from here:
- I continue with Herceptin by IV each 21 days for nine months.
- I will go on a hormone therapy for five years.
- I will have heart scans each 12 weeks (to check that Herceptin doesn’t harm my heart)
- There will be regular check-ups with my GP, Oncologist, Breast Surgeon and Plastic Surgeon.
- I have my third and final breast reconstruction surgery in December.
- I will wait until the chemo is out of my system and then I will start to plan …but the tentative plan is to go back to work in the New Year part time.
- I am focusing on eating well, resting, gentle exercise and rebuilding myself back to the new normal.
What has worked for me
- Meeting others through the Cancer Society
- Treating cancer and chemo ‘as a job’ (and not having to do other work at the same time)
- Taking all the medications recommended for each chemo and side effect
- Doing a spread sheet of all the different medications and time of the day to be taken
- Spending most of my time at home (so not to pick up infections with a compromised immune system
- Seeing cancer as a blip in my life and also seeing it as an opportunity for transformation
- Keeping a blog – it’s great therapy and for those who’ve read it, they’ve been able to better understand what breast cancer is all about
- Staying with supportive family – it takes a whole lot of physical stress off you if you have someone to help
- Always take someone with you to medical appointments
- Reading inspiring books. I can’t handle anything negative or challenging at the moment
- Art therapy and EFT – it’s good to talk and deal with stuff so I don’t keep it in my head
- The Cancer Society is fantastic; their groups, courses, information etc
- Walking on the beach
- Having slow days – time to reflect and let the nervous system have a break.
- Getting lots of sleep, however you get there
- Talking to the Oncology district nurse regularly
- Sketching while having chemo. It is a fantastic distraction and relaxing on a full on, challenging day