Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chemo Tips

I have 2 AC infusions left to go.  By the time I recover from my last infusion, I'll have been through about 6 months of chemo.  I'm not looking forward to surgery, radiation, and reconstruction, but I can't wait to finish chemo!

For anyone who'll be going through chemo themselves, I'm hoping this can be helpful to you.  Feel free to email me for more info on specific products I've used. 

These are the things I've found most helpful during this process.  I'm leaving out the things you can't buy, because I think it goes without saying that supportive and loving family and friends are the number one thing you need to make it through.  Though for some people, maybe buying friends is an option.  Who knows?

I didn't use cold caps (which can lessen hair loss), but have used ice socks and ice mitts throughout chemo.  I have had absolutely no neuropathy, and my MedOnc is going to recommend that her other patients use them as well, since I've had such success.  I bought mine on Amazon; I think they're all similar.  Buy extra ice packs so you (or your chemo companion) can switch them out partway through each infusion.  My ice socks & mitts went on about 10 minutes before chemo started (but after the premeds) each time and stayed on until it ended, usually with 1 quick bathroom break.  They're miserable - especially the socks - but it's worth it to not have ended up with neuropathy.

I had someone with me for each infusion, but almost always preferred to zone out with something on my Kindle Fire.  I bought a 10 inch HD version and some good earbuds before starting chemo and it's been a lifesaver.  We have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime and I caught up on Doctor Who, rewatched (for the third time...) Parks & Rec, watched all of Psych...  I've used it during infusions, but also at home when I feel terrible and need to block out any outside stimulus.  You can also play games or read books on it.  I highly recommend a good tablet for chemo.  We call mine my Chemo Fire to differentiate it from my regular Fire or my Paperwhite.  I like Kindles.

Hard candies!  I found corn-free ones (I'm allergic), but have read that Jolly Ranchers are popular for most ladies.  Anytime my port was flushed when it was accessed, the saline tasted nasty, so the hard candies helped to cover that.  I went through 2-3 each infusion.

Saltines.  Jamie would bring something more substantial for him to eat while we were there, but I was usually feeling pretty cruddy and didn't want an actual meal.  Also, my hands were in huge ice mitts.  So he would feed me saltines so I'd have something in my tummy.  It worked.

A cozy blanket from home.  The kids (with my mom's help) made me a fleece blanket that I have had with me for each infusion.  I'm always cold because of the ice socks/mitts, so having that has been wonderful.  

A big water cup with a handle and flexible straw.  Mine is a hospital maternity gift we've had forever; it holds 32 ounces, so I know if I get through 2 of them a day I'm doing well with my water.  The handle and flexible straw make it easy to drink from whether I'm wearing ice mitts or simply feeling weak and cruddy.

At home, a comfy recliner with a side table.  I spend most of my recovery days in the recliner and the side table is full of my stuff - chapstick, Kleenex (with a trash can next to the table), prescription bottles, etc.  

Next to the recliner - an extension cord with all my chargers plugged into it.  Everything can reach the recliner so I don't have to worry about anything running out of juice.

Chemo hasn't been easy, but I've escaped some of the side effects that I was told I would get.  Granted, I still have 2 infusions left, but things have been "good" so far.  A few things that have helped:

A daily probiotic.  I've been taking one for a while - since before my diagnosis - and I think that has helped me escape the diarrhea and/or constipation that chemo normally causes.  I still get "chemo tummy" the day of an infusion (diarrhea) and take stool softeners to counter my pain killer's constipation side effect, but really haven't had any major issues.  I think the probiotic has really helped with that.  I use the Target (Up & Up) brand of the Culturelle Kids stir-in powder.  (It's corn-free.)

Multiple swishings every day of a baking soda & water solution.  Chemo (especially AC) can cause mouth sores, but I've swished 3-4 times a day with this solution and haven't had that problem.  (about 1 tsp baking soda in 20 oz of water.)  I also use a toothpaste (Tom's) that has both fluoride and baking soda in it.

Dark nail polish.  Other breast cancer patients had said that using dark polish during treatment was a way to protect your nails (a lot of times chemo causes them to fall off, develop sores underneath, etc.), so I got permission from my MedOnc to use it.  I'm alternated OPI Black Onyx and OPI Lincoln Park After Dark and have had no nail issues whatsoever.  I've lost my brows and lashes, but at least I still have pretty nails!

2 ACs to go, and then surgery will be toward the end of July.  I'll just keep trusting God and let Him handle this!

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Thursday, May 3, 2018


I met with my MedOnc yesterday.  Well, technically I met with my nurse and then a PA because my (pregnant) MedOnc had an appointment herself.  I'm hoping she won't be put on bedrest because (selfishly) I don't want to switch to a new doctor partway through my treatment.  And on a truly-I'm-a-nice-person note, I'd hate for anything to be wrong with her pregnancy, so bedrest wouldn't be good thing for her right now.

Nothing to report about the appointment itself.  I had no questions, got a couple medication refills, and then got my bloodwork done to make sure my counts were high enough for this week's chemo - AC #2.  (I wasn't worried since I'd had three weeks for my neutrophils to come up after my first infusion.)

I got a call a couple hours after my appointment, though.  It was the PA, letting me know that my neutrophils were 0.68.  That's the lowest they've ever been, and definitely below the 1.0 needed to get my chemo infusion.  I was told we'd delay for a week and go through the same routine next week - appointment & bloodwork on Wednesday with chemo (hopefully) on Thursday.  I held it together on the phone, and then started crying as soon as I hung up.

For the first time since my diagnosis, I feel like the cancer is winning.

I made it through 12 weeks of Taxol with flying colors - no neuropathy and minimal side effects, with an 82% reduction in the tumors and no delays in chemo.  (The lowest my neutrophils got was the last week - 1.01.)  I came into AC with my expectations high, so this is hard.  It feels like I've been in the ring with cancer, getting blow after blow in, and just got a strong right hook to the jaw, leaving my head spinning.  It's hard not to feel like this week's delay is going to allow the cancer a chance to start growing again.  I'm a cancer patient; my job is to power through treatment and keep killing the cancer.  If I'm not getting treatment, what am I doing?

When AC started as scheduled, I assumed everything would stay on track.  We made all of our summer plans - scheduled surgery, the kids' summer camps, my monthly Xolair shots, and even a couple out-of-town trips - around what I knew the "set in stone" treatment plan would be.  With chemo brain causing white noise to permeate my thoughts, having the calendar set helped me feel a lot more settled.  Now that chemo is being pushed back (which delays my other infusions, which may delay surgery, etc.), everything is up in the air again, and I'm back to realizing how little control over all of this I truly have.

Two things have helped me through this.

First, I have the most amazing family and friends in the world.  I have so many people praying for me and loving me that I know I'll get through this.  And I have an amazing husband and mom who both endured teary phone calls right after the delayed-chemo news, and both calmly told me that this wasn't a big deal - that I was strong, the cancer wasn't going to start growing again, and we'd just play everything by ear and be okay.

Second, Jamie and I have a playlist that has helped me through this entire process.  I've been tweeting out the songs periodically and then listing them on the right side of the blog.  Most, though not all, are by Christian artists, because knowing that God is in control is the most reassuring thing of all.  I like to think I'm in control of my life, but knowing I'm not - since I can make a mess of things so easily - puts me at peace.  He's got this.  That playlist will grow throughout treatment; we currently have about 235 songs on the list and are adding more all the time.  If you're going through anything difficult in your life, listen to some of the songs on that list.

Another week of regaining strength and neutrophils, staying away from anyone remotely sick, and trying not to lose weight.  I can do this!

Partway through chemo, with most of my lashes and brows gone!
(I have eyeliner and brow pencil on here.)

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