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Archive for the tag “Perjeta”

Chemo Tips for Cancer Buddies

cancer_card_by_patchSince I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in March 2015, three women I know have joined the sisterhood. Two of them found it early enough to get by with surgery plus radiation, but one is about to embark on a few rounds of chemotherapy. She reached out to me for advice and I realized that I actually do have some. And since I’m ostensibly writing this cancer junk for fellow cancer peeps (what? do I call us “patients” “victims” “sufferers”? If you’re currently in treatment are you a “survivor”? What about my friend that beat Stage 2 only to have it metastasize three years later in her lungs, brain, and bones? Is she a “former survivor”? Because you can fight and hold off and delay, but ladies and gents, you don’t survive Stage 4), I do believe it is time to bust out my…

CHEMO TIPS FOR CANCER BUDDIES!

  1. Say goodbye to your hair. Don’t listen to anyone (hi Mom) who suggests “Maybe you won’t lose your hair!”. You’re going to lose it. You can cry about it, you can turn it into a party or you can do both. Most people shave their heads when they reach some point of critical wispyness. It’s a matter of taking charge; of doing instead of being done to. Each of my three kids plus my husband had a go at cutting my hair and then using the clippers. And it was fun. It actually was. I believe it really helped my youngest (age six) deal with the way Mommy’s look was changing. I’d imagined a sobbing breakdown once I got a good look in the mirror, but that didn’t happen. It turns out my skull is rather nicely shaped. My Dad reports that my great-grandmother upon meeting me as a baby declared my head “perfect.” IMG_1884
  2. Embrace the bald. Try out crazy wigs. Enjoy hats. Go straight-up cue ball. 99% of the time I keep covered up so as not to freak people out, but if I need special treatment or consideration somewhere I have absolutely no shame about whipping my hat off. You just don’t say no to Chemo Girl. Also, enjoy the benefits of bald. Take super quick showers! Save money on shampoo, conditioner, unguents and elixirs. Take back all the time you won’t be blow-drying, hot-rolling, or flat-ironing! No more bad hair days, baby!

    Rocking the chrome dome during Round 3

    Rocking the chrome dome during Round 3

  3. Embrace the other bald. Enjoy smooth never-need-shaving legs and armpits (remember the quick showers I promised you?). Two more words: Free Brazilian.
  4. Be selfish. Seriously. You can do no wrong right now because you have cancer. You won the Lottery of Suck so you get to take long naps, avoid housework, bail on social engagements, not sign up for shit at the kids’ school, hog the remote, hog the covers, eat the last cookie, and just let everyone else deal with “stuff.” I mean, don’t be a dick. Just…act like a dude for a few months. (Kidding. Sort of.)
  5. Invest in Imodium and flushable wipes. The chemo-shits are bad, yo. You are going to poop like you have never pooped before and your little butthole is going to beg for mercy. So do yourself a favor and baby your bum. I’m serious about the Imodium, too. Keep some with you at all times.
  6. Don’t go to chemo alone. Remember all those people that offered to help when you announced your cancer? Now is the time to take them up on it. Choose someone to accompany you to each round of chemo. Someone to pick your ass up at home, drive you to the hospital, sit with you and amuse you, and then drive your ass back home. If you’re very popular you can have them do shifts. Chemo takes a long-ass time. I planned to do a bunch of stuff during chemo (sleep, do my nails, read), and ended up doing none of them. I chatted with my friends and the nurses, munched on snacks, played with my phone. You know what? I had a good time. I laughed a lot. Take your friends and host a chemo party.

    Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

    Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

  7. Be a wuss. Look, for no reason at all you drew the short straw and got cancer. You don’t have to be a tough broad or a good soldier or a warrior woman. All you have to do is GET THROUGH IT and you’re a rock star. So don’t try to keep doing PTA shit when you want to curl in a ball and cry. Curl in a fucking ball, girl. You deserve a good cry! If your heart races and you get the cold sweats changing the sheets on the bed? STOP. Sit the fuck down and let someone else do that shit. You have cancer. Or sleep in dirty sheets, who cares! What’s the worst that can happen–you already have cancer! Honestly, here’s a secret. When you have cancer people are required to be nice to you. They’ll tell you you’re beautiful when you look like a damn gargoyle and they’ll tell you you’re brave when you’re a blubbering puddle of self-pity. People don’t judge the cancer-striken. They just thank fuck it’s not them.
  8. Say goodbye to food. If the nausea don’t get you, the chemo-taste will. Food will, for increasingly long periods of time as your chemo progresses, be the enemy. You won’t want to eat it, smell it, or have anything to do with it. And yet it will become your prime obsession. Because you know you need it to rebuild your good (non-cancery) cells, and you haven’t eaten anything except for a raisin in three days. So all day you will ponder this ponder: What could I eat? What could I choke down? Strolling through the aisles of the grocery store can help here. If something catches your eye, take it home. Take three or four or a dozen “maybes” home and try them. Something that was fine last week might be a no-go this week, so keep trying. Chicken broth and dill pickles were the only thing that kept me alive during the back half of chemo. dill pickles
  9. Find what works for you. Now is not the time to try and “power through” anything. If you hurt, take a pain pill. Your doctor will give you the good ones because people don’t fuck around with cancer patients. If your nausea meds don’t work, try another. Try ginger candy. Try pot. Try acupuncture. And if nothing works, just keep reminding yourself that this is not the rest of your life. Chemo comes to an end.
  10. Make friends with chaos. You’re the one that keeps the trains running, right? Who makes the appointments and keeps the social calendar and is the organizer and the arranger and the scheduler and the cleaner-upper. Well, the trains are going off the rails. People will try to “pitch in.” But your immediate family is suffering too. They aren’t running at full capacity either because they’re worried and trying to be strong and crying when they think you’re not looking. So. Do you want to spend 4 or 6 or 11 rounds of chemo feeling like a failure watching the laundry pile up and the homework get left behind and the mess accumulate everywhere you look? You do not. This is where that laminated Cancer Card comes in. You play it and you play it hard. Mostly, you’ll need to play it on yourself. Your bones ache from the bone-marrow booster shot you got to keep your white count from plummeting. Is this a good time to mop the kitchen floor or scrub toilets? It is not. Sit the fuck down, pull up a blanket or a pet and watch a Law & Order: SVU marathon. You can clean your house when your body isn’t involved in chemical warfare with a deadly disease. smile and nod
  11. Smile and nod. Don’t kill. People are going to suggest things to you that will make your blood boil. That refined sugar gave you cancer and that your penchant for peanut butter cups is tantamount to a deathwish. That supplements or prayer/positive thinking or Corn Nuts are more effective at killing cancer than medicine. That drinking smoothies and eating lean protein will help you feel energetic through chemo–never mind that you can’t drink water without gagging. Don’t argue, don’t punch them. Just smile and nod. They do mean well.
  12. Connect with cancer buddies. Find people who have been through it or are going through it. Because they are the only ones who understand what this feels like. And they aren’t the ones sending you emails about how you gave yourself cancer by drinking soda or living near power lines. They won’t change the subject when you talk about being afraid of dying. You can tell them how you REALLY feel, not just “oh, fine.” They won’t discount your aches and pains or try to “solve” you. They get it. Find these buddies and keep them close. And when you’re past this shit and you’re a “survivor” reach out to the newbs and be there for them.

Next time: Chemo Tips for Family and Friends.

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Cancer is full of SCIENCE…and Spiderman.

Now that chemo and surgery are in the “done” pile, it’s time to move on to Phase 3 and plan for Phase 4 of this breast cancer “journey.” That’s so obnoxious, isn’t it? A fucking “journey.” A trip no one wants to take. It’s actually more like being an exile or refugee or something. I’ve been exiled from the land of health and forced to haul my cancery carcass up the Cliffs of Chemo and cross the Strait of Surgery in a leaky rowboat…

Eh, who am I kidding; I have health insurance and live in the Pacific Northwest which is where cancer goes to die. I haven’t done any of this on my own. I’ve been Sherpa’d up the slopes like an entitled heiress, and floated across the water Cleopatra-style.elizabeth-taylor-as-cleopatra-in-cleopatra

Phase 3

What happens in Phase 3 is radiation. For that, I need a radiation oncologist. I met mine last week and although he looks like a young Stephen King I’m going to stick to my theme and call him Dr. Spiderman (No, I won’t be hyphenating that, so get over it now).

Spider Man

Because radiation. Obvi.

We’re going to zap my breast and my lymph nodes with 33 days of high-energy x-rays. So I’ll show up at the hospital every weekday for about six weeks. Each beam of zap will last about 20 seconds and the entire procedure will take about 20 minutes. Spidey says since I have olive skin I may just tan and not burn the way many fair-skinned patients do. Next Tuesday I will go in for a “Radiation Simulation” which apparently includes one hour of “education” and an hour of CT scanning and such (not sure what), so that we zap the right bits. What Spidey and his team are going to do is use the map of my insides to program the big radiation machine (or linear particle accelerator) to zap from angles that don’t hit my heart or any other important junk.

breast_pet_CT_left_sah_radiation

Then shortly after that will be my first date with this bad boy.

linear accelorator

Phase 4 (and the continuation of Phase 1)

Okay, now my phases are getting all confused. Let me try to untangle this. Chemotherapy is over. I started that shit on May 5 and finished my sixth and final round on August 20. But simultaneously with the chemo, I started “targeted therapy” which is the drugs that specifically target the HER2+ aspect of my flavor of cancer. Those drugs are Herceptin and Perjeta. While Perjeta has dropped off the menu, I still get an infusion of Herceptin every 3 weeks, and will continue to get them until May (giving me a full year). This is to make sure the cancer doesn’t recur. The good part of this is that it only takes 30 minutes and I get to see my homies. Seriously, Overlake Oncology has become my Cheers.

Norm

I walk in and the front desk crew says “Christa!” I think that makes me Norm. I don’t see Dr. Captain America every visit, but I did see him last week. He’s not giving me so much crap about my anemia and I even managed to weasel out of a blood test (in exchange for getting a flu shot). This was the first time I’d seen Cap since surgery and it was the day after the Super Friends conference to discuss my case. Cap told me that with pre-menopausal womean (I am considered pre-menopausal because I was still having periods before chemo stopped them) usually get Tomoxifen for five years as their hormone therapy. But…aromatase inhibitors are just a smidge more effective (like 3-4%) in preventing a cancer comeback. But it won’t work if your ovaries are still producing estrogen. (Remember, my cancer was VERY Estrogen-reactive). So, given my age (I’ll be 47 in December) and the stubborn (there was still cancer in my lymph node after all that chemo) and aggressive (the aforementioned HER2+) qualities of my cancer, they think it would be best to go the aromatase inhibitor route. So there are two ways to make that happen. 1. Wait 8 -10 months to see if chemopause ends and Aunt Flo returns or if she’s gone for good. 2. Suppress my ovaries with drugs.

So, that is the plan for Phase 4: Some time after radiation has finished I’ll start getting monthly injections of drugs to suppress my ovaries. And then I’ll take a daily pill that is the aromatase inhibitor. That will go on for five years. FIVE. Side effects can include osteoporosis and joint pain. So before beginning this course of treatment, Cap is ordering a bone density test I guess to make sure my bones are good to start with.

It’s kinda awesome to not be on any drugs at all right now. Well, I mean I guess the Herceptin is inside my body, doing its thing, but I only have to go every three weeks, and I don’t have any side-effects. I don’t have to go to the hospital at all this week, which is refreshing.

Loki helping with the dishes

Loki helping with the dishes

And I feel good! I volunteered to help at my first-grader’s Halloween Party on Friday, and my chemo kitten, Loki, (we found out he was born on the day of my last chemo!) is filling our house with naughty kitten antics and soft kitten snuggles. And MY HAIR IS GROWING!

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I know it doesn’t look like much, but the hair is fine and fuzzy and my head looks just a smidge darker. I’ve still got this creeping dread/anxiety inside, but I’m functioning much better. Still haven’t resumed work on my book, but I made some really good soup the other day.

Chemo – Round 2 Roundup

Okay, it may be a bit early to call this a “round-up,” but I couldn’t resist the alliteration. I really really need to get back to work on my book. Here’s the pattern that’s emerging with me and chemo:

Day 1: Get chemo. My spirits are good and I feel pretty normal.

Day 2: Go to hospital for Neulasta shot. Maybe do something while I’m out and about (This time I met my brother at the bookstore and we took a twins selfie.)

Twin baldies

Day 3: Get any shit done that needs doing in the morning because energy is going to be in short supply. This time I got my daughter off to school and then went grocery shopping. Then took a two hour nap. Then went to the marijuana store. Slept for another two hours. Cooked dinner. Passed out for the night.

Day 4. Nope. Just nope. Barely got my carcass out of bed. It was like this: Make Allison’s lunch. Lie down for five minutes. Help her pick out clothes and put toothpaste on her toothbrush. Lie down again. I barely got her little butt out the door before I was all done for the day. I got out of bed to use the bathroom and that’s it. For future reference, let’s just write off Day 4.

Day 5. Spent the first half of the day in bed, but emerged in the late afternoon for some social contact. I took a Percocet at bedtime and slept for a glorious 11 hours. It was so so so good. Did I mention glorious?

Day 6. Slept until 10am or so, but remained awake until bedtime!

Day 7. Actually got dressed and put on makeup. I’ve gotten out of the habit of giving a shit about makeup since I started working from home four years ago, but with my head all bald I feel like I have these huge alien eyes that are looking really sad and as if they are pleading with me in the mirror, maybe emitting some sort of plaintive alien sound like “bleep?” So I put stuff on the poor things. All the stuff: concealer, shadow, liner, mascara. I intended to drive up to the elementary school to take Allison her raincoat (weather app said 20% chance of precip and she’s only wearing her Darth Vader hoodie!), but by the time I was dressed I was feeling exhausted and short of breath. That may be the anemia talking, so I should probably take one of those goddamned iron pills Dr. Cap is so keen on.

WEEEEEEEEEEED

So, you’re probably wondering about that trip to the marijuana store, yeah? Here’s what: First of all, recreational pot is legal in Washington state, so I don’t need a prescription or anything. What I could have used is a little research though, because I got the totally wrong thing and the dude behind the counter was as derp as I am. What I purchased was a dropper bottle of marijuana “tincture” for putting under one’s tongue or adding to edibles. Since I’m massively barfy–much more so this time despite having two different meds for nausea (Zofran and Compazine)–I am not interested in edible anything. My thinking was: if these weed-drops make me feel like eating again I will scarf hella brownies no matter what’s in them.

full_spectrum_tinctureThe dosage for the drops was “approximately 10 drops.” The bottle contained four “servings” and cost 45 dollars. I put about 4 drops under my tongue and swallowed. I didn’t get a flavor because all the available varieties would give me heartburn. So it tasted like liquid weed. Then of course I read the instructions and it said to put the drops under your tongue and hold for 60 seconds before swallowing. So I did another 4 or 5 drops. Remember, we’re still in the recommended dose range of 9-10 drops, so don’t get all fluffy with me. Then I got tired and slept for a couple hours. When I woke up, I was stoned. I haven’t actually smoked pot since E3 2007, so I’m practically a newb again. Here’s me, stoned. Squinting and tired. Like my eyes would barely open. I cooked dinner with my eyes at half-mast and wolfed down two servings of pasta and a fudgsicle. And a piece of pie. Then I passed out. So, I’d say it cured my nausea, but it was not worth the squinty-stoner effect.

I’ve come to find out that the variety of weed I used was exactly the wrong thing. For nausea you want something high (hehe) in CBD not THC. But what am I–a weed chemist? I’m not sure I want to try again and will probably give the remainder of my drops to my mom so she can see if it helps her rheumatoid arthritis.

CANCER PERK: If you’re gonna get chemo, do it in the summer! My legs are as smooth as a baby’s ass with zero effort! Hooray for sundresses!

HAIR

The novelty of being bald has pretty much worn off, which is a pity because this is going to be the state of my head for quite a while. If my last chemo is in, say, August, I might start to see baby chick fluff in late September or October. I’m kind of used to being bald around the house, but I put on a hat when I go to the bus stop or when the pizza delivery guy comes to the door so I don’t shock anyone with my chrome dome. My mom came over yesterday to take Allison for a play date and while she’d seen photos of my head on Facebook, this was her first time seeing it in person and while she put on a brave face I could see her heart breaking just a little. I’d feel the same way if it was one of my kids. It’s one of the slides in a PowerPoint of horror that goes through every parent’s head: your kid sick, mangled, molested, missing, dead. That carousel of terrible eventualities that you can never erase.

The good news is that I wore that sassy purple wig on Day 2 and all the ladies at the hospital loved it. So did people at the bookstore. One woman crossed the store to tell me how much she loved the bright color.

STICKER SHOCK Each round of my chemotherapy medicine costs sixty-one thousand dollars!

CANTHER THUCTH

My youngest has been singing a series of songs with a common theme: she hates cancer and it sucks. Normally, I’d probably tell her not to say “sucks” but cancer can kiss my ass. She’s missing her two front teeth so her song is sung with an adorable lisp. Sample lyrics:

Toothless AllisonOh, canther you are the wortht thing in the world
and I hate you tho much.
You are a pieth of poop
and you thmell like thtink.

Now I’m tired again, so I’m going to stop. I’m confident that each day I will feel a little bit more energetic and a little less barfy and I’ll be able to enjoy (or at least make it through) the whirlwind of end-of-school-year events with my Kindergartner.

Chemotherapy 2 of 6 – Getting the Hang of It?

IMG_1934My oncology office is becoming like Cheers for me. I walk in and everyone’s happy to see me. My 19-year-old daughter Callahan accompanied me for my second round of chemo and I’m pleased to report that my master plan to encourage her interest in health care is totally working. She’s registering at Bellevue College in the fall and is interested in a few of their excellent programs. Right now the front runner is Nuclear Medicine Technology. I’m so proud of her and know she will rock that.

I saw Dr. Cap first and we talked about how I was feeling. I told him my weirdness about the nausea getting worse the second week so he decided to add a drug called Emend to my IV, which is supposed to be especially helpful with “delayed nausea.” Side effect =constipation. So maybe it will balance out the poop firehose situation (which actually abated a couple of days ago). He’s not happy with my continued anemia, but is understanding that iron pills don’t do my barfy tummy any favors. He asked me to try to take one every other day and I agreed to ponder that.

I told him I can’t feel the tumor at all and invited him to feel for himself. He said he’d be fine just listening to my heart and lungs. And there you have it folks: for the first time in my life a boy didn’t want to touch my boob. *sad trombone*

Callahan and I settled into the last remaining chemo chair in the infusion suite. It was hoppin’ in there! The downside of the busyness and the extra meds was that we were there for a little over 5 hours which was much longer than expected. Callahan made a Starbucks run and got herself a coffee and a chocolate croissant for me.

Luckily, we got my next chemo scheduled before the Benadryl this time. But just as I started to feel loopy and sleepy my Dad stopped by so I perked up and didn’t nap.

Baldy, Dad, Callahan

Baldy, Dad, Callahan

My next dose is due the same week as Allison’s last day of school picnic and her birthday and party and Father’s Day. So figuring that I’ll feel halfway human for 2-3 days after chemo, I asked Dr. Cap if it was okay to bump it out a couple days and he agreed that wouldn’t mess anything up. So, the next round will be June 18 and hopefully I will be alert and upright and not spewing from any orifice for the big astronaut party on the 20th. Fingers crossed!

So, here’s another thing. I’m totally bald! Once it started falling out and I had Allison cut it shorter, shit went downhill fast.

11107174_10152889424527616_4227576448692282945_nSo, I decided to make the head shaving a family event, piggybacking on our weekly Game of Thrones gathering on Sunday when all the kids are home.

First, the girls each took a side and cut my hair.

11267997_10152891928387616_3802612572269950073_oThen Gunny got the clippers and he, Allison, and Scott all took a turn. And then I looked like this. Grumpy, but kinda badass?

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Then Gunny got his safety razer and shaving cream and made me smooth as a baby’s bum. It’s chilly!

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But I have some Buffs I bought at REI (serendipitously during the Anniversary Sale!) and I now have three fun cheap costume wigs in wild colors.

Three Wigs

Side Effects – The Straight Poop

It’s been a full week since my first chemo treatment, so I’m going to dish the details on what it feels like. And it’s not going to be pretty. Rather than engage in image-crafting or build some kind of Trixiebrand, I’m just going to put it all out there. It might make you uncomfortable, and if you want to scroll on by, that’s cool. But maybe you’ve just been diagnosed or maybe your mom or a partner is about to have chemo and you just want someone to give it to you straight. If that’s the case, I’m your huckleberry.

Huckleberry

In The Beginning

Propped up by steroids (I was prescribed two tablets per day for three consecutive days starting the day before chemo and also received steroids intravenously) I felt pretty good the first couple of days. On Day Two I got up, went to the hospital for my Neulasta shot and then shopped at Target, wrote a lengthy blog post, and made dinner for my daughters. In retrospect, I was shockingly productive!

I wasn’t hungry and felt mildly nauseated, like morning sickness. My bones were a bit achy, but not unbearably so. I spent Day Three on the sofa getting caught up on Mad Men. I’m a bit concerned about Don Draper…

Draper window

A Downhill Slide

On Day Four, the diarrhea began. Here’s where you’ll want to stop reading if you’re squeamish. How to describe the chemo-shits? Hmmm. Let’s say my butt is a soda fountain like at a fast food restaurant. soda fountainThe button for Solid Poop is marked “out of service.” The button for Liquid, Yet Still Recognizably Fecal Matter is covered by a Post-It note that just says “Sorry.” There’s no ice, no Fanta; there are only two selections:

  1. Firehose of Antifreeze
  2. Tar Drip

If you saw this stuff on the sidewalk you wouldn’t go, “Someone shit on the sidewalk!” you’d look up and wonder what the hell alien sludge had fallen from space. After a couple dozen rounds of this, you may find yourself sitting on an ice-pack in hopes of soothing the ring of fire.

On Day Five my mouth turned on me. Everything tastes like burning. Water tastes bad. Between the nausea, knowing what will happen on the other end, and the fact that nothing tastes edible…there’s not a lot of incentive to consume food. tastes like burningExcept that I know I need to. I’ve got to rebuild the good cells that are collateral damage in this cancer-killer cocktail. People tell you lots of things you should be doing. Eating lean protein. Exercising (!), drinking smoothies.

Fuck that.

If the only thing I can choke down in a 24-hour period is a piece of toast, a shortbread cookie, and two bites of vanilla pudding? That’s what’s for dinner.

Worse Yet!

I thought I was doing pretty well, considering, until I actually attempted something more taxing than shuffling to the hammock on the back patio. Because this fatigue…damn.  Sitting up for an entire episode of Law & Order SVU was too much for me. I got winded halfway through folding a load of laundry and stopped.  I take hot baths to soak my achy bones (it’s worst in my hips/pelvis) and rest my head on Allison’s plastic whale that covers the faucet—a leftover from her baby days. When my hair is wet it feels too heavy for my head.

So, on Mother’s Day, I got my first taste of real life: Brunch at 13 Coins with my whole family and some friends. Table for 10. This was my arrangement, by the way. I set this up knowing it would be post-chemo and all that. So I don’t blame anyone else.

I did make an effort. I put on a dress! I put on mascara! I’d meant to straighten my hair (or at the very least, work through some tangle-curls) but ran out of time. I felt car-sick on the way to the restaurant and we almost had to pull over. Then the walk from the parking garage almost did me in. The service was super duper slow and I snapped at the waitress that I needed water NOW. I was just weak and miserable and my French toast (late, and cold btw) was unappealing. I gave away my bacon. The worst part was I felt like a terrible hostess. I just didn’t have the energy to keep the conversation going. I sat at the end of the table and wished I was home in bed. The looks on my family’s faces as they saw me struggling through the meal was sort of heartbreaking. I feel like I let everyone down.

Show me your war face!

Show me your war face!

IMG_1794

That’s when I knew: I am a huge wimp. I know some people spring up from chemo and go back to the office. They drive their kids to activities and they put dinner on the table. I am not that woman. I am a pale lump that spends 20 hours a day in bed contemplating my choices:

  • Will drinking a couple swallows of water trigger a Bathroom Event?
  • Is my headache due to caffeine withdrawal? Caffeine will bring on heartburn and I can’t have that.
  • My bones ache, but I took extra-strength Tylenol one day and spent the entire night with a heating pad on my gut for the stomach pain. Do I dare dip into my remaining Percocets?
  • I’d really REALLY love a good night’s sleep, but if I call my doctor and ask for something will he think I’m a drug-seeker and put me on the naughty list?
  • How did I become such a goddamn wuss?
Trending Upward

The good news is that I think the worst has passed! Sunday night I ate soup. I’ve learned what will trigger the killer heartburn (caffeine, orange juice, carbonated drinks) and avoid it. Monday I ate two meals of actual food (both lovingly prepared by my sweet and patient husband who has really gotten more than he bargained for with that “sickness and health” vow) and felt stronger. Last night I broke down and popped a Percocet and got a refreshing sleep. I actually woke up before the alarm, got out of bed and got Allison off to school. Right now, I’m sitting upright at my desk in my office writing this blog post. This is a definite improvement.

Chemotherapy 1 of 6 – The Toxic Bride

Yeah, I wish!

Yeah, I wish!

Well, I did it! Got through my very first chemo session! Honestly, it was a breeze. The first one was long (5 hours), since I had to do long doses of my targeted therapy (Perjeta and Herceptin) for the HER2+ flavor of my cancer. But the next five rounds will only be 3 hours each.

Basically, I sat in a recliner and slept, played games, snacked, and read a little. It was like flying business class to NYC except I ended up where I started.

Here’s how it went down:

First, I met with Dr. Cap and he was disappointed that we didn’t yet have the pathology report for the MRI-guided biopsy I had the day before. He called the lab and they weren’t ready. Then he got on the phone and conferred with my surgeon (Who needs a new nickname. He’s so much more than “Boobcutter”). They agree that it was okay to go ahead and start treatment now. What’s in my left boob didn’t set off the PET scan, so it could be a pre-cancerous duct or something that we’d just keep an eye on. There’s a tiny clip in there now, so they’ll know where to look in the future. (This brings my shrapnel count to three: one in Turdy the main tumor in my right boob, one in Son of Turdy the ginormous malignant lymph node in my right armpit, and now this left boob business.)

Anyway, Dr. Cap isn’t happy with my iron levels and he wants me to take iron supplements.

“Yeah, but then I might not poop,” I say.
“Well, the diarrhea from the chemo will probably balance that out.” He grins.

Gunny and I wore pins!

Gunny and I wore pins!

Cleared for take-off I choose the best chair in the infusion suite. Off in the corner, next to the windows, across from the blanket warmer. One of the chemo nurses “accessed my port” to start the IV. This was by far the most painful bit of the entire cancer carnival so far. I think I mentioned that I have an extra-thick collarbone and my surgeon had to go pretty deep to get the central line connected. Anyway, the needle she started with was too short, and she thought she could get it to connect better if she pushed down on my chest. It felt like being stomped on by a horse. I only had that surgery ten days ago, lady! Easy! So she gets a longer needle and it worked fine and I chilled out.

She waited patiently while I took my round 1 selfie.

IMG_1759

And then the party began. First bag was a cocktail of anti-nausea medication and steroids. Then came the Benadryl. Luckily my husband was still there at that point because a nurse came around to set up appointments for the Neulasta shot (which stimulates bone marrow to produce white blood cells), a blood draw, and Round 2. I was pretty loopy by then and Gunny handled the appointment-setting. Then he went off to watch the new Avengers movie for the second time so I could nap.

My chemo nurse swapped the Benadryl bag for an hour’s worth of Perjeta. This is the HER2+ killer that still has new-car smell. It’s sort of companion treatment to Herceptin and makes it work harder and more effectively.

I listened to the Great Gatsby soundtrack on my iPod and slept for about an hour.

When I woke up it was time for 90 minutes of Herceptin. This is the shit that is going to save my life. If you want an entertaining look at the discovery of this wonderdrug, watch Living Proof. It stars Harry Connick Jr as Dr. Dennis Slamon who is a hero much more impressive than Iron Man or even my beloved Thor. It has a semi-dippy “Let’s put on lipstick before our cancer drug trial” montage (It IS a Lifetime movie) but it’s otherwise great. Inspiring.

I spent most of this time on my phone keeping up with what I can only describe as the most monumentally awesome thing a person could have happen to them. One of my friends, Kari Toyama (who is just a stellar human being as well as being cool as hell) spearheaded a campaign to have friends post selfies and signs with the hashtag #lovetrixiefuckcancer. So all day I was inundated with more love and support and laughter than I could ever have imagined. Take a look:

kari ToyamaMichelle Obama Shannon I don't always desktop battle wonder jbb Steve Morgan desktop awesome drawing batle Kitty Match Made in Halo puppies! Groot Kristin JVB Max D JamMarcella Dirty Diva Nikki Lexi Kiki Nelly Cory Mom Katie Tara Tyler Philip Josephine Carolyn Kathleen Trisha Angel and Alex Doc Sam Hollywood sign The Boss Alison

I have some un-fun remnants of working in the video game industry, but THIS, my god. THESE PEOPLE are the gift of those years. Kari said to me “PSH it was nothing.” I’m sure you’ll agree that nothing could be further from the truth. It was EVERYTHING.

A glimpse at my Twitter feed yesterday.

A glimpse at my Twitter feed yesterday.

Go ahead and blow your nose and wipe those tears. I’ll wait.

After my targeted HER2 antibody drugs, it was time for the heavy duty shit. The actual chemotherapy. One hour each of Taxotere and Carboplatin. I ate half a peanut butter sandwich and drank water. Oh, and some Swedish Fish. My husband returned from the movies and I started reading a book my friend Kim recommended: A Kind Worth Killing.

This precious thing is Allie the Feel-Better Fairy. Thanks to my dear friend Nori. <3

This precious thing is Allie the Feel-Better Fairy. Thanks to my dear friend Nori. ❤

And then, it was over. I got home in time to meet my baby at the bus stop. I was kinda worn out, and lounged in bed and read. Not much appetite for dinner, but I did my best. I had an ice cream sandwich for dessert.

So here’s a couple things I learned about chemo that I didn’t know before:

1. You are allowed to pee! They can unplug your IV from the wall and you can run on battery power and shuffle your ass to the potty hauling your drugs on a pole. Comes in handy when they’re filling you full of liquids.

2. For a couple days post chemo, you are TOXIC. All of your bodily fluids contain chemo drugs and you don’t want anyone to get any on them. What does this mean? If I have night sweat, I gotta sleep alone. After using the toilet I have to shut the lid and flush twice. TWICE! I feel like I’m murdering the Earth! The most surprising though? NO SEX. Kinda wish they’d warned me about that one the night before so I could store up. But yeah, the chemo nurse said no sex at all for a few days and no unprotected sex for about 8 days. WHO KNEW? Talk about unfuckable!

So how is my toxic ass doing today? Not bad. I felt a little bit queasy when I woke up, so I got up, popped a Zofran and went back to bed. My chemo nurse (and also the amazing Ann who blogs at Breast Cancer? But Doctor I hate Pink and wrote this super helpful Top Four Tips for Getting Through Chemo post) both said to take meds at the first twinge of queaze, so I did. Thanks, ladies!

I went to the hospital this morning for my Neulasta shot. It can cause bone pain, so they have you take Claritin (yes,

I told her she was like our beloved Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson when he does his weekly visits to Children's Hospital.

I told her she was like our beloved Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson when he does his weekly visits to Children’s Hospital.

the OTC allergy drug!) beforehand. My daughter came with us to see the place Mommy goes to get her medicine and everyone smiled to see her. She says it’s not scary and she wants to go back. We’ll see.

Next up is a blood draw on May 15 to make sure my white counts are okay. It was really sad yesterday to see a woman come in for her chemo all sassy and joking around only to be sent home for low white counts.

Then, Round 2 happens May 26.

In the meantime, I’m hanging in there. I’m still riding the steriod high that kinda props you up the first couple of days, and have heard that days 4-7 are the worst. I will keep you updated, and I’m not going to be polite. For now, I await the coin flip: which will come first, puking or diarrhea, or BOTH?

Thank you for all the love and support!

Cancer gets real

It’s my second visit to the oncologist, Dr. Cappuccino. My husband and daughter are with me, and I’ve got my Binder of Doom tucked under my arm. It’s filled with all my shit: insurance approvals, notes, bills, etc.

BinderI say hello to the lady in reception. I call her Harley because she has a Harley Quinn lanyard around her neck. It’s our thing. Most of the people in this office have no idea who Harley Quinn is. Among the patients here, my middle-aged ass is a spring chicken. When you think cancer you think bald kids and lovely young women and handsome athletes. This is not the truth of cancer. The truth is that it’s primarily an old-person’s disease. As a population’s life expectancy increases, so do the rates of cancer. Oncology offices are chock full of the elderly. It’s like an early-bird buffet with chemo instead of roast beef.

I’m in good spirits because with this visit we are armed with more information about my particular flavor of breast cancer. It’s estrogen-positive, HER2 positive, and I don’t carry the breast cancer gene. Now we can get serious about a plan. And I need a plan of action to stay sane. The waiting and the unknown are making me nuts.

Dr. Cap lays out the plan for chemotherapy, which we will do prior to surgery. This is called neoadjuvent therapy and it’s rather new. I will still have surgery, but if all goes well with chemo, Turdy will be small to non-existent.

Take THAT, shithead.

Take THAT, shithead.

So here’s the plan: On or around April 27 I will begin 6 rounds of chemotherapy spread over 18 weeks. So every three weeks I’ll have an infusion of drugs and then 10 days later I’ll have a blood test to check my white counts. Here—as I understand it—is the cocktail I will have:
Carboplatin
Docetaxel
Herceptin
Perjeta
That’s if everything stays status quo. Because there were also a couple new possible complications discovered in the MRI.

If the lymph node in my right boob is cancer the treatment will be mostly the same (I think). If the area that lit up in the MRI in my left boob is cancer we’ve got a different set of problems. It could even be a different kind of cancer—hormone negative for instance. This is too much to think about right now. I decide the left boob is nothing and hope the biopsy will prove me right.

mediportDr. Cap then says we need to get my surgeon (Dr. Boobcutter) to install a mediport in my chest. And he’s ordering an echocardiogram to get a baseline because the antibody drugs (Herceptin and Perjeta) can cause—usually temporary—heart damage.

He asks if Nurse Buffy has scheduled the MRI-guided biopsy for my left boob and the ultrasound/possible biopsy for the lymph node in my right boob. I’m rubbing my forehead with my knuckles and my shoulders are up around my ears. Not yet, I say. Now I am looking at four new appointments, a possible second cancer and different plan of attack. Dr. Cap is talking about a clinical trial in which they administer the hormone therapy at the same time as the chemo instead of after. (Did I mention I’m going to have hormone therapy for five years?) The trial will require an additional biopsy of the original tumor and if the left boob is fucked up then I’m ineligible.

I break at this point. It’s too much and too real. I start to cry and Cap searches his cabinets for tissue. There is none. At some point a nurse I’ve never seen before has come in and her face is impassive while I cry. She doesn’t offer to go find tissues. It occurs to me she may be a bot. I feel terrible crying in front of my daughter. The first time she saw me cry was on 9-11 and the shock and horror on her four-year old face made me never ever want to see it again.

“Will I be a bad person if I don’t want to do the trial?”
“No, it’s voluntary,” Cap says.
“But will I be killing future people if I don’t?”
“No, not at all.”
Nurse Bot just stares.
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want any more meetings or changes in the plan. I just want this shit out of my body.”

Cap understands and he types up the orders for the echocardiogram and the mediport (which still fucking grosses me out). My husband asks him to please put it in as a referral because our insurance, Tricare, makes us pay a higher portion if they don’t pre-approve everything. So that blood test he told me to scoot next door to have done last time? Tricare didn’t pre-approve it, so we paid more. To be fair, Tricare hasn’t failed to approve anything my doctors have asked for, but waiting for them to green-light every fucking fart and belch is frustrating.

Finally, Cap is done and Nurse Bot wants to feel me up. She wants a little hands-on with Turdy and it’s not clear to me why. I ask my family to leave and she gets her feel. Her hand’s on my boob and she says, “Christa Charter, what a great name for a writer…”

Two minutes later Nurse Bot is giving us a tour of the treatment room (big recliners, IV poles, large sunny windows, dishes of candy) and she introduces me to the chemo nurses as “Charlaine.” Seriously. She says “She’s thinking about the clinical trial.”

I despise her now. And the unsmiling, unfriendly nurses. “No I’m not. I’m not doing the trial.” I hate them. I hate everything. I hate that my body has done this to me. I do not want this.

Gunny takes me home and fetches Jack in the Box for dinner. I shouldn’t be eating this crap, but I’m just…in a bad place. My head hurts and I feel nauseous. Stress has to manifest somehow and today it is giving me a migraine. Every time I think Okay, I accept this, I’m dealing with it, I learn that no I am still floating on this river of denial. Maybe writing about it hasn’t helped me deal at all and has instead made me believe on some level that this is fiction. This is just another Lexy Cooper adventure.

I was not brave and positive and funny that day. I was sad and angry and cried in front of people. On my horizon is waiting for Tricare to decide it’s okay to fucking treat this cancer and being poked and prodded and possibly learning more really shitty news. But I will shove that to the back of my aching head and I will watch Mad Men and build my new LEGO set and get my hair did for the last time before it comes out.

The Good, the Bad, and the Not-so-nice

The Good

Great news! I do not carry the breast cancer gene! Dr. Boobcutter called me himself to tell me. While it’s always good to not have a gene that’s trying to kill you, let me tell you why this is extra-awesome. It means my family can rest easy as well. My mother and aunts and daughters of course, but also my son and brother and any future grandchildren or nieces and nephews. The dudes, too? you ask. Yes. Men who carry BRCA1 or BRCA2 are more likely to get prostate cancer, and can pass the bad gene to their offspring. You can read more about the gene here.

Let’s pause a moment to celebrate this turn of events.

happy dog

The Bad

I had a whole day to share the good BRCA news with my family. And then the next day I notice that I have a new message in the online charting system for the hospital. It’s a message from my oncologist Dr. Cappucino and it says that my cancer is HER2 positive. The thing we did not want.

NOTE: I’ve noticed that in this odd side trip in my life that as much as I try to fake myself out and prepare for bad stuff, I’m not very good at it. I told myself (for what–three weeks now?) that the HER2 would probably come up positive. But I guess I didn’t really believe it, and it hit me pretty hard. This was my low point–worse than when Dr. Movie Star told me it was cancer.

Dr. Cappucino’s note went on to say stuff about chemotherapy and stuff. But first, a reminder on what the hell HER2 is.

HER 2 comparison

Does anyone else find it funny that the breast cancer cell totally looks like a boob? The tweet length dealio with this antibody is “HER2 makes cancer grow like a motherfucker. Kill it with chemo.” If you’re a science nerd like I am, read this article about how the National Cancer Institute identified the role the antibody plays and how to stop it. This treatment is cutting edge–one of the drugs was only approved in 2014. This is iPhone 7 shit.

Anyway, Cappucino is recommending Herceptin and Perjeta as part of my chemotherapy. (Don’t read the side effects, Christa, don’t you… ACK! My heart!) He also mentioned that there’s a clinical trial at my hospital that might be a good option for me. He said to give him a call if I have any questions.

I haven’t called him. I haven’t seen a doctor in two weeks. I’m still waiting to make the breast MRI appointment because I still haven’t gotten my period. Which is several days late. I know I’m not knocked up, so either I am more stressed than I have ever been before (a distinct possibility) or my body has declared “fuck you” and has thrown itself into sudden menopause. It’s REALLY starting to piss me off.

angy turdy tumorBeyond waiting, the thing that’s irritating me is the possibility of getting chemo/hormone therapy before surgery. It’s not uncommon, it seems to be very effective, and yet I feel like I don’t want to do it that way. For one thing, Turdy is fucking annoying me. He’s shape-shifting inside my tit, and as he is both HER2 positive AND according to his Ki-67 levels 50% of his shitty little self is in mitosis, he’s probably GROWING. You can almost see him from the outside now, in profile. He’s lumpier than before. He might be flipping me off. I want him OUT. I am starting to feel empathy for the crew of the Nostromo.

The Not-So-Nice

A friend asked me this weekend, how did I get this? Was it maybe the 30 years of drinking Diet Coke? Someone else sent me an email about how refined sugar causes cancer in rats. Did I eat too many sweets and give myself cancer? Well, I don’t know. No one knows. Do people need to make this my fault in order to feel safe themselves? Is chaos so frightening that blame must be placed on me? I also smoked cigarettes sporadically between kids. I know that’ll help give you lung cancer, but does it have a link to breast cancer? As far as what I did to summon breast cancer (according to the risk factors) I know I did some things right:

Had my first child before age 30
Breastfed my babies (2 of them for over a year)
Didn’t take oral contraceptives (they make me crazy)

Does all that outweigh the things I did wrong? Obviously not. But hey, is it necessary to know why I got cancer? Must we assign blame? Mightn’t it be like an unlucky roll of the dice or being struck by lightening? Do I need to be judged for this illness, or can we just move forward and fight this fucker?

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