Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Completing Chemo

I can't believe it's been a whole month since my last blog post! The reason for that is that not much was happening in Cancerland, which I guess is a good thing. After Chemo #5, I had the usual fatigue, which was a little worse than the previous treatments (to be expected since chemo is cumulative) but still not unbearable. I kept up my streak of not missing any workdays other than treatment days and after a few days I felt fine again.

I even went on a business trip to L.A. in late May - my first time on a plane since January (for me, that is a long time). It felt good to travel again and do something that was such a key part of my pre-cancer life. The truth is that largely, my day-to-day life has not really changed THAT much since my diagnosis, but there are some things like traveling, exercising, doing my hair, etc., that have been missing and as trivial as some of them are, I still miss them.

The trip was great and the only "cancer experience" I had was going through security at LAX. I wore my "chemo caps" on the plane because I thought I'd be more comfortable wearing a hat rather than a wig for such a long flight. But in LA, after I put my luggage on the conveyor belt and walked through the metal detector, the TSA agent asked me to remove my hat. I gave her kind of a blank look and said "Wha-at?" She repeated herself and then I said awkwardly that I didn't have any hair, and she quickly realized the situation and frantically said that was fine, I didn't have to take it off and she could just pat me down. So she patted my head (which was a little weird, and what she thought I could possibly hiding under there is beyond me) and then sent me on my way.

The weekend after my L.A. trip was Memorial Day weekend (also known as my birthday weekend), and my family and I spent it at the shore, as we do every year.  Since chemo is coming to an end, I have started thinking about when my hair will start coming back.  Dr. Sara said it would probably start coming back about a month after my last treatment, though my Chemotherapy and You book says it takes about 2-3 months for it to start coming back. 

In any case, I had still never completely lost all of my hair, though it was so thin that I felt like without a wig, hat or scarf to cover my head, I looked like a 70-year-old man with a bad combover.  In addition, the hair that did remain was not my normal, healthy hair; it was very thin and brittle.  My sister called it "troll hair" because I could make it stand upright on its own, just like those little troll dolls that used to be popular.  So when I started thinking about my hair coming back, I started imagining new, nice, healthy hair commingling with the old troll hair on my head and that did not conjure a pretty sight in my brain.  So, I decided to go ahead and shave my head.  My brother-in-law Kevin graciously volunteered to do it and so he borrowed his dad's beard trimmer and the day after my birthday, after a long day at the beach, he shaved my head.  Here's a picture of Kevin at work (yes that is my goofy sister Sara in the background):

I think he did a great job, don't you?  I know that the head shaving party can be an emotional event for a lot of cancer patients but it was not so for me because I had already lost so much hair and had already been living with wigs, etc., for so long.  And now that I have a shaved head I kind of wish I'd done it sooner.  I'm much less embarrassed of my G.I. Jane look than I was of the "troll hair."  Not that I'm going to start ditching the wigs and hats and "go commando" on my head, but if for example a hurricane-force wind suddenly came along and blew my wig off, well, it wouldn't be the end of the world.

After my fun birthday weekend at the shore, it was back to reality and time for MY LAST CHEMO, which was last Wednesday.  After the usual vitals routine, I saw Debra the nurse practitioner and Dr. Sara for my exam.  This time, the head chemo nurse Bernadette also attended my exam, since she was observing for the day.  That made three boob flashes.  Dr. Sara was very pleased with my exam and could barely feel anything at all, except for one very small area which he said might even be scar tissue.  I am scheduled for another round of tests - a PET/CT scan and MRI - on June 23rd, which will say for sure how much cancer - if any - remains.  I will find out the results during my next appointment with Dr. Sara on June 25th.

After my exam, I went into the waiting room to be called for my spot in the infusion suite.  It was very crowded because of the backlog after the holiday weekend, and so after awhile to speed things up I was called to have my blood drawn separately, so that hopefully by the time I was called for my spot my labs would be back and they could give me the drugs right away.  This was fine with me, but it meant that I ended up with two needle sticks for the day!

I did not get Herceptin during this treatment because it was time for me to have another MUGA scan to test the strength of my heart muscle and make sure it hadn't been weakened by the Herceptin.  I had been scheduled for a MUGA scan the day before, but it had been canceled due to some issue on the hospital's end.  So instead, I only recieved the Taxotere and Carboplatin last week, and then this Monday I had my MUGA scan - the results of which were good - and then I had a Herceptin-only treatment yesterday.

During my chemo session last week, I had a music therapy visit with Bernardo.  It had been awhile since my last music therapy session, but Bernardo remembered my affinity for the Editors, and asked me what I'd been listening to recently.  We had a nice chat about music I'd been listening to recently and he shared some music on his iPod he thought I might like (I did).  Mom and Dad were off the hook this time and didn't have to play any instruments!

Debra had warned me during this session that it was my 6th treatment and reminded me that chemo is cumulative so I might have more side effects that time.  She turned out to be right.  This last chemo hit me much harder than the others.  I finally had to take a day off from work last Friday because I just did not feel good at all.  I was very fatigued and my stomach was very off - it was like a perpetual queasiness.  Eating was difficult because it was hard to determine what was going to taste OK and what wasn't and it was very unpredictable.  For example, I started eating a granola bar and couldn't finish it, but then I ended up ordering Indian food for dinner because it was the only thing that sounded good.  Go figure.  I had a supreme lack of energy and just didn't feel like doing anything at all.

After Friday, I started feeling a little better each day, and it really wasn't until today, a full week later, that I finally feel back to "normal."  All I have to say is that I am REALLY glad that this was my last chemo and I don't have to go through that again!

Now, I am looking ahead to surgery. My first surgery - the mastectomy and reconstruction - has been scheduled for July 7th, exactly four weeks from today.  My second surgery has not been scheduled yet, but it's in the works and will probably be about two weeks after the first.

One down (chemo), two to go (surgery and radiation)!!


  1. When I called it "troll hair" I meant that in the most loving and supportive way! :-)

  2. So proud of you for getting through this "chemo" chapter. Keep up the strength! Cheering you on!!!

  3. So glad to hear things are still going well. I will be thinking of you on your surgery date. I also think your bro-in-law may have a calling as a hair stylist :)