Sunday, March 7, 2010

Second Chemo Day and Another New Hairdo

Wednesday brought my second chemo day - two down, and two (maybe more) to go.

The day started off with the pace of my hair loss picking up... I noticed that I lost considerably more hair during my shower than I had since the hair loss started on Sunday, but it was still not noticeable, luckily.  But in order to put off my impending baldness as long as possible, I decided not to try to dry or style it at all, since every time I touch my hair a bunch comes out.

So I made my way to the hospital with my brittle, falling-out hair standing every which way.  My parents met me at the hospital and after vitals we waited for the doctor's exam.

Once again, Dr. Sara was very pleased with how I am progressing.  He is still noticing changes to the tumor in my breast, even just since last week.  My Dad asked him how he thinks my progress is measuring up to what he could have expected before treatment started, and the doctor said, "It's the best I could have hoped for."  I could not ask for anything more than that!  It makes me think that all of the thougthts and prayers that my family, friends and even people I don't know have been saying for me are being heard!

While I'm overjoyed that the chemo is clearly affecting the tumor in my breast, I've been more concerned about that little spot on my liver, since that is not something we can see or feel.  So I said to the doctor that I hope the chemo is fighting the cancer in my liver just as much as it's obviously fighting the cancer in my breast.  He said not to worry about that, because it IS - it is the same cancer, so there is no reason why it wouldn't have the same effect on the liver as it's having on the breast.  And then Dr. Sara said that he bet if we did a CT scan of my liver that day, they wouldn't find anything.  Can you believe it?!  I was so relieved to hear this.  Of course, I will be even more relieved when it comes time for the CT results, but I 100% trust Dr. Sara and if he believes the cancer is probably gone from my liver, than I believe it too.

After this good news, I made myself comfortable in my recliner in the infusion suite to prepare for treatment.  I had told Dr. Sara about the effect that the Benedryl had on me the first time - the restless leg syndrome coupled with the drowsiness, which was a most annoying combination because the drowsiness made me want to sleep, but I couldn't relax because of the restless leg syndrome.  So, he precribed an alternate anti-histimine called Atarax as part of my pre-meds.  Luckily, I had no side effects to this new drug - whew!  But a little part of me was worried that it might not be as effective... what if it didn't ward off the possible allergic reaction I could have to the Taxotere, which I escaped the first time, but was still at risk for the second time?  I would have to wait to find out.

After my pre-meds, the nurse started the Herceptin drip - only 30 minutes.  She told me that even though it was only 30 minutes, I'd still be getting the same amount in total that I'd received over the previous three "Herceptin Wednesday" sessions, so it was going in much faster, and to call her if I felt any discomfort at the IV site (back in the side of my wrist this time).  But luckily, I didn't feel anything unusual.

Shortly after we arrived in the Infusion Suite, in walked Quincy and his owner for some puppy therapy.  He came over to visit and sat in my lap while I chatted with his owner.  Quincy couldn't stay long, though, since he had a vet appointment that day he had to get to.

But it wasn't long before I had another visitor.  Bernardo from the music therapy department soon came over to talk to me.  He asked how I was doing and then told me about a research study that was being conducted at the hospital to study the effects of music therapy on patients undergoing infusion therapy - particularly how it affects anxiety levels.  He asked me if I would consider participating in the study, which would entail answering a series of questions before the music therapy session, then participating in a session just like the one I had during my first chemo day, and then answering some more questions following the session.  This would take place each time during my next three chemo sessions.

I of course said that I'd be happy to participate, and so one of the women executing the study came over to go through the first set of questions.  She explained that I would be part of an initial study with a small sample size - just 75 people - and then depending on the results they would likely do a larger study next.  The sample size is divided into three parts - those who receive instrumental therapy (the section I am in), those who experience vocal therapy, and a control group who does not receive any type of music therapy.  She asked me several questions that ran the gamut, but seemed to try to determine how much anxiety and pain I've been experiencing.  Quite frankly, I became a little concerned that I wasn't the best candidate for this, since I have not had any pain so far, and I think my anxiety levels are relatively low comparatively speaking (which I attribute to all of the amazing support I've had from friends and family).

In any case, I answered all the questions and then Bernardo came back with several instruments for our session.  Cue the nervous smiles from both of my parents, who knew what was coming next - it was time for them to show off their musical talents once again!  Oh, isn't it amazing what parents will do for their children?

This time they switched it up and Dad took the ocean drum and Mom took the gatobox.  I have to say, I think it was a good move as both of them seemed a little more comfortable with their instruments this time around... or maybe they really have been practicing at home?

And this time, I got to be more than just a spectator, as Bernardo placed a guitar in my hands.  I have never played the guitar, but have always wanted to learn.  I wouldn't say I "learned" that day, but I did get to strum along while Bernardo played his violin and my parents played their respective instruments.  It was fun even though I was a little self conscious about my guitar playing - I didn't want to ruin the beautiful song!

After this, Bernardo played one more song for us... this one I just sat back and enjoyed without participating in.  He played "With A Little Help From My Friends," which was the perfect choice as it reminded me of all the wonderful support in the form of calls, emails, texts, blog comments, cards, visits, thoughts, prayers and more that I've had from my friends and family ever since my diagnosis.  I have always known that I have really high quality friends, and I never doubted it, so I won't say that the experience has shown me that, but I will say that it has just reinforced what I already knew about the people I'm lucky enough to have around me.

During my music therapy session, the nurse had hooked up the Taxotere, so the reaction-watch was on, but thankfully no tightness in the chest or throat, and no lower back spasms came.  Whew!  This means that I am now in the clear, since patients are only at risk for the reaction the first two times the drug is given.  So after the Taxotere and the hour-long Carboplatin drip, it was time to go.

So far, I've been feeling pretty good since my second chemo session, although I've had slightly more fatigue this time around.  I was exhausted after getting home from chemo but was afraid to fall asleep too early, for fear of waking up at 2am and laying awake for several hours.  I didn't need to worry though - I feel asleep at 8:30am and didn't wake up until my alarm went off the next morning, so I guess I needed my sleep.

One side effect that is not letting up is the hair loss, though.  Since the pace picked up on Wednesday, I was constantly pulling hair off my shirt, and we even had a paper bag with us at chemo to put my hair in to throw away later, since there wasn't a trash can near us.

It's funny, when I first got my hair cut short, I thought it was so short, since I hadn't had my hair that short since I was a child... but now it seemed way too long!  So it was time to cut it again.  My stylist Rita had offered to cut my hair or shave my head when I needed it, but she happened to be on vacation so instead I went home to my parent's house.  The gentleman who cuts my Dad's hair actually started a charity called Helping Hand Fund which provides wigs for under-insured cancer patients - a very worthy cause!  As a result, he is well versed in chemo hair loss and was kind enough to agree to cut my hair for me on short notice.

Here's my new 'do:

I am liking my new look and this is just another example of finding the "bright side" of this whole experience - previously, I never would have had the guts to cut my hair this short, and so I never would have tried this new look!

I know it's only temporary though... the hair loss is still continuing and it's really only a matter of time before one day I will step out of the shower with no hair at all.  But I'm going to enjoy my new 'do while I have it!


  1. I love it that short! And also on the plus side - now you know you won't hate your hair when it starts growing back in! You rock the short do! Work it girl!

  2. I am so grateful that you recognize that the prayers are working. No matter what kind of healing(physical, emotional, spiritual etc)sometimes we just don't see it, but if we plug in, it becomes so evident. We are blessed to see. Keep watching as they'll be more. Everyone keep on praying...that is our part to healing. So glad for all your good news..Heres to healing!!!!

  3. Your hair still looks so super thick and healthy! I can't believe that you've steadily lost and still have that much left. Most chemo patints don't look as good as you do!

  4. Love the new short 'do! So glad to hear things are going well so far.

  5. Cute new 'do! Some great news here! Glad your reaction to the drugs haven't been to bad and that your hair is coming out slowly. You have such great thick hair! As you described your parents a little nervous about playing the instruments again I was thinking maybe Bernardo should test their anxiety with the music therapy before and after : ) It's so cute they participate.

  6. Em, this really looks good on you! Very chic and sophisticated. Love the image of your family having a jam session at the hospital. Maybe you'll take up the guitar permanently? I could accompany you on the drums!

  7. Emily, You look great! I know we never met but you are always in my thoughts. Glad to hear that the chemo is doing its job.

  8. Emily.....only good news is GREAT news !!!!.I was smiling reading your are a word genius....and about as upbeat as a girl could so happy Petunia's godmommy is on the road..ROAD TO RECOVERY...continued strength to you and the fam.....

  9. Hi Emily! It looks like I might have finally figured out how to post a comment! Don't tell anyone that I'm an IT professional! I'm an old (make that long time) friend of your father's from PMSC. I've been following your blog and wanted to tell you how much I admire your strength and positive attitude. Your father used to tell me about you and your sister. He is so proud of both of you. As I read your blog, I can just imagine him nearly bursting with pride at your courage and grace! I cannot, though, imagine him participating in your music therapy!
    It is so encouraging to hear that your treatments are already starting to make a difference. You'll be in my thoughts and prayers.

  10. Em,
    I love the new do! Very chic and cute. Glad to hear you are doing well. Can't wait to see photos of you holding petunia!!! Stay strong!!