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Posts Tagged ‘breast cancer’

Grrr! Aarg!

Oh my goodness, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. I woke up, nauseous, around 7 and staggered out of bed to take my meds. Asleep again on the couch by 9:30, and it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open. I haven’t eaten a bite, and my mouth feels like cotton batting. I’m distressed, because everyone said I’d be fine for the first few days after treatment. This tiredness might be non-cancer related – I always feel a little fatigued this time of the month – but whatever it is I don’t like it.

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So the stories are true – chemo itself is not actually a huge deal. You sit in a reclining chair with a needle in your port (which only stings for a second) and you can’t feel much. They gave me intravenous anti-nausea drugs, which made me sleepy – I slept through most of my 90 minute herceptin dose. Josh has a picture of me hooked up to the machine, which I’ll post later so you can see how truly un-scary, though indeed scifi, it is.

There are snacks and drinks, and little TVs which I didn’t watch because they required headphones and I felt it would be unsociable to have headphones on while Josh was sitting with me. (I have, by the way, the kind of inspired boyfriend who, when he came to pick me up for chemo, had cued up “Birdhouse in Your Soul” so we could harmonize on the way there.) I read comic books – mostly Fables, my current obsession – don’t know why it took me so long to get into that series – and Josh read me a little Two Towers, which knocked me right out. The nurses were very nice, as you would probably expect.

The most frustrating thing about chemo is that no one can tell you in advance what it will be like. Not the infusion – that’s nothing. But everyone I’ve talked to just reiterates that there is no way of knowing how I’ll feel tomorrow or the day after or the day after. No way of knowing how sore or tired I’ll be, when or if I’ll get sores in my mouth, exactly when my hair will fall out. I just have to wait and see, and that doesn’t suit me at all. Today my nurse told me if I get tired or achy it will probably be in about three days – that’s the day of my party! I’d been under the impression I’d be okay until at least the weekend! What if I can’t get out of bed on Friday to bake the cupcakes? What if I feel so lousy my fabulous party is no fun?

Okay, maybe what’s really worrying me is the Party of Awesome – I have been obsessing about it since the day I got my diagnosis, after all. (I wish to be the Martha Stewart of Cancer – is that so wrong?) But in truth, what I most hate is the uncertainty. I know my crazy brain, after all. Tomorrow I’ll probably wake up and find I have hysterical blindness or dogs licking my running sores, just because no doctors will have been able to assure me that doesn’t happen.

And last, a confession: I may seem to be coping (or I may not, who knows?) but I suspect that I am still drifting down the Nile. Yesterday I found myself worrying about what chemo will do to me when it turns out I do not have cancer. Because hello, universe, I am 23! No family history! I do not have cancer! What part of this DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND???

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In … 15 minutes! Where’s my ride?

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To the pharmacy this morning to pick up my exciting new drugs – two anti-nausea drugs, a drug that I pray will prevent cancer-cankles, and a drug that suppresses the immune system, though why that’s a good thing I do not know. Yesterday was bad – my lymph node biopsy site is wicked swollen – I had to sleep with a pillow under my arm – and I was tired and achy all day. I called Roswell and they said it wasn’t a big deal – no fever means no infection, and apparently it’s normal for a biopsy site to start swelling two weeks after the surgery. Whatever, today I feel better – my arm still hurts but the body ache is gone, so I’m declaring it Not Swine Flu and moving on.

I was relieved to find that my insurance is covering the fancy anti-nausea drugs – instead of $35 per pill, I have a $25 copay for three pills, which is enough for one chemo infusion. Getting cancer was, I think, a poor financial decision, but it could be a lot worse than it is.

The good news is that my port is feeling great – the swelling is gone and tomorrow I get to take off the bandage! The port itself is not covered by the bandage, so I can see that it’s just a quarter-sized bump under the skin, not a big deal, and when I last changed the bandage it looked like the incision was healing nicely. Of course, tomorrow the port will be used for my infusion, which will hurt. I hope the infusion center has a DVD player so I can bring some Buffys to watch.

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Today I took the bus to the medical center to have a small metal clip, about the size of the point of a ballpoint pen, installed in my … well, in my tumor. Sorry, I know that’s gross. It was not a very comfortable procedure, but it didn’t take long and was not a big deal. I even got to listen to my iPod while they were doing it, which was nice – OK Go makes fabulous minor surgery music. As it was explained to me, the purpose of the clip is to show the surgeon where the cancer is, on the off chance that chemo shrinks it so much he can’t otherwise find it. I consider it rather unlikely that a 3cm tumor will shrink that much, but apparently it sometimes happens. Along with my port and (as of next week) shiny bald head, the clip will serve as further evidence that I am, in fact, from the future.

After a lunch of jerk-flavored barbecue wings (I felt like a treat after the clip, and Buffalo Wild Wings is basically the only non-doctor thing in that part of town), I went to get an echocardiogram. The clip represents the hope that chemo will totally shrink my tumor; the echo represents the fear that it will damage my heart. They wanted to get a few pictures of my heart in its pristine state so that they can tell, later on, what they’ve done to it. The good news is that my Bloomington and Buffalo oncologists agreed not to give me the chemo drug that can cause irreversible heart damage (and leukemia, which would REALLY piss me off), but the one that causes problems that can be fixed.

The nurse who did my echo was the second medical professional to remark that my having cancer is “unfair.” I pointed out that it’s not really about fairness; besides, do I really deserve cancer less than an older woman? I should probably try not to be difficult, but seriously, what do I gain by whining about unfairness? It’s unattractive in children and it’s no better now.

Anyway, that’s all I have until Tuesday, when I get my first (four hour!!) chemo treatment. Josh has volunteered to read me The Two Towers while that’s going on; hopefully we’ll get through all the deadly boring Legolas/Gimli/Aragorn nonsense and see what’s happening to my plucky hobbit friends at some point. In the meantime, tomorrow I’m invited to a dinner party/reading of The Tempest, my very favorite Shakespearean play. I have called dibs on Caliban, which means that soon I can cross an item off my List of Life Goals. Technically I believe I wrote “play Caliban,” but this is close enough. You taught me language, and my profit on’t is I know how to curse!

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I just got a nice email from my undergraduate adviser, who closed: “Take care, be strong, and defeat this.” This actually made me get misty-eyed for a minute.

Along similar lines, when I told our local epistemologist of my situation, he said, “Courage,” only in French, which is courage. You know – the exact same thing, only French-inflected. Sometimes I think about that when I am frightened and it actually does hearten me, even though it is so silly.

One colleague remarked my penchant for gallows humor is a rare talent, and he’s glad to see it’s not going to waste. I am glad that someone appreciates this, because oncology nurses never seem to.

I also love it when people get specific when they ask if there’s anything they can do. (I like to do this, too, because it sounds more sincere and is itself more helpful than a mere “If you need anything.”) I’ve had an offer to borrow someone’s cat, to be given bubble bath, tabloid magazines (that was Uncle Tommy), mary jane, or gin at three in the morning. I’ve had people offer to drive me around, cook for me, go to the grocery store for me. All in all everyone has been very nice to me lately and I’m sincerely grateful and pleased.

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I really dig Twisty Faster’s irreverent style, and as breast cancer survivors go I could do worse in terms of role models. For example, I am dismayed by this post, but she knows the drill and she’s saying it straight.

Also in the Sass category (my favorite!) we have 10 Things Not to Say When Someone Tells You She Has Breast Cancer.

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