The Next Leg

Chemo Day started out like all the others. I was exhausted before I left the house, and with the muscle weakness I’ve had, I’m sure many people I passed in the skyway figured my day had started out with a beverage stronger than coffee. I have a certain “swagger” lately.

I was scheduled to see my oncologist, due to fairly severe issues with my hands and feet. My feet have been feeling like I am walking on bunched up socks, and my toes and fingers have been severely itchy, burning, and painful. Several evenings this week I have sat holding ice packs, just to relieve my fingers. This is called “neuropathy,” and it is a side effect of the main chemo drug I’m on–Taxol.

We parked and hiked 2 blocks (literally) to the Cancer Center. After they accessed my port and drew labs, we waited semi-patiently for an hour to see the oncologist. I really, really appreciate this guy and his approach to medicine. He listens, he explains, he researches, he educates. I feel well cared for. And I could listen to him talk all day.

Anyway, after hearing my symptoms, he said that the Taxol had become toxic to my system and it needed to be stopped. Given that I’ve already had 10 weekly treatments, he determined that the best course of action was to stop the Taxol but continue the last two weeks of Herceptin. What does this mean? I AM DONE WITH CHEMO!!! I have had more than enough of the Taxol to achieve full efficacy, and the remaining Herceptin has no side effects. I cried right there in his office.

Yesterday I had no Benadryl, no Pepcid, no doxycycline, no Taxol. I took two Tylenol and had a 30 minute infusion of Herceptin. No heartburn. No restless legs. Piece of cake. Walk in the park. Last night, I wasn’t sleepless and manic. Today, my face isn’t red, rashy, and sore. It hardly feels like Wednesday.

My mind says “Hey, you’re done! Get up and be normal!” but my body says “Whoa, there. We have a long way to go.” Yesterday ended the tearing down and destroying of my cells. Today, we start the rebuilding. While the “hard” part is supposed to be done, somehow I feel like the actual hard part is just beginning.

It’s going to take time for my strength to return. Fatigue this deep doesn’t resolve overnight. Lord willing, the neuropathy will fade and disappear altogether, but there is a 25% chance at least some of it will be permanent. Over time, the weight will come off, my hair will grow back, and my complexion will clear.

I am not patient with myself, so this rebuilding process will be a challenge for me. I will overdo and expect too much. And so, a new leg of this journey is starting. Thankfully, the Lord will be patient when I am not. He will remind me to pace myself and to give myself grace. He will remind me that the road is long but there’s time. I’m sure my mother will, too.

I am over the moon excited to be done with chemo. I am so grateful for all the support I have had thus far, and for great medical care. Moment by moment, day by day, I’ll work my way back to health. And because my God does all things well, all of the prayer that has been offered up on my behalf will be answered. It already has been.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV

Chemo Day 1

I arrived to my appointment about 8:30, after a pretty rough night and a 1.5 hour drive. Not the best start. My port is still sore from being put it, so the first needle poke wasn’t great, but not too bad. Once the initial needle went in, I was set for the day. That’s so much nicer than finding a decent IV site in my one arm. I’m grateful to have the port.

After the lab draw, I saw my oncologist. Jesus Vera is a great guy. He is conscientious, kind, and takes his time with us. He sounds like Ricky Ricardo. The nurses mention how good he smells. I guess we haven’t been close enough to notice. We appreciate him. I have quipped that Jesus is my oncologist. Who could ask for more?

Once I got to the infusion room, I was given 2 tylenol, then infusions of Benadryl, dexamethasone, and Pepcid, all to counteract infusion reactions and side effects. Next came a 50 min infusion of Taxol, which is the actual chemo drug. They watched me closely for the first 15 minutes, prepared for a reaction. I didn’t have one. So thankful! After that was done, I had a 90 minute infusion of Herceptin. That one is an antibody that counteracts the HER2 protein receptors. This medication has virtually no side effects, as it is an antibody, not an attacking drug. Saline was running throughout the entire process.

I had awful restless legs and was a bit drowsy for the first 45 min, due to the Benedryl. Dr. Vera has already lowered that dose for next time, so that shouldn’t happen again. Other than that, boredom was the worst part of the day. Larry was with me, but the extra chairs in the room are terribly uncomfortable, so he did go for walks. We didn’t end up playing cribbage. I think he avoided it because he was afraid I’d beat him. All in all, it went well.

After the chemo, we went to the plastic surgeon for a fill in my tissue expanders, as part of my breast reconstruction. That also went well, and I the expanders are much more comfortable now that they are fuller. I’m glad because I’ve been pretty frustrated with the level of pain and discomfort they cause. I’m trying to keep my eye on the prize, and know that I will be happy with the outcome.

So far, I’ve had some minor side effects. Last night, my intestines were overactive, partially due to the chemo and partially due to my poor choices in food for the day. I know now that the day before and the day of chemo I need to stick to very mild foods like bananas, oatmeal, rice. Lesson learned.

This morning, my face was terribly flushed and it hurt. That seems to be getting quite a bit better already.

So far, so good. Praise be to God.