Sunday, April 03, 2016

It's Chemo Eve! Kinda Like Christmas Eve, But Without the Stockings.

Tomorrow, I have my first chemotherapy session. That is certainly not a phrase I expected to be typing at 43 years old, but in the immortal words of Ruanita Lynn Pierce, It is what it is. It has to be done. And because it has to be done, I have to find a way to deal with it.

I choose to focus on the silver linings.

The type of chemo I will be receiving is a two-phase chemotherapy known as AC+Taxol. Typically AC is given every three weeks, but I am going to have what's called a "dose dense" protocol--a more aggressive approach--meaning I will receive the AC every two weeks for 8 weeks. The A and the C stand for two medications whose names contain entirely too many vowels and are nearly impossible to pronounce, so I will not bore you with the details. After the AC treatment, I will receive a different drug, Taxol, once a week for 12 weeks. Five months of chemo in total.

In cancer circles, AC chemotherapy is often referred to as the "the red devil" or "the red death." Creepy, huh? Doesn't exactly bode well for me for the next few months. I've spent quite a bit of time in the last few days online reading up on the possible side effects of AC+Taxol chemo. People tell me to stay off the internet, but I want to know what I am up against. The side effects certainly don't paint a pretty picture, but I am determined to find the silver linings in all of this. It's all temporary anyway, right?

Here are a list of the possible side effects from AC+Taxol chemo, and the silver linings I am going to focus on:

Nausea and vomiting - There is nothing I hate more than being nauseous. Seriously. Nothing at all. However, I have been assured by my oncologist that he has amazing medications to help control my nausea. He explained that anyone who underwent chemotherapy even as recently as five years ago will have had a completely different experience than I will have based on the new anti-nausea medications in the oncologist's arsenal today. I am taking him at his word, so SILVER LINING!

Hair loss - Okay, I want to be bald? No. Do I think my head is going to be exquisitely shaped under all this hair? No. Do I think my ears that stick out ridiculously even with hair will somehow be less noticeable on my bald head? No. So no, I am not excited about being bald. But..never in my life have I been able to go an entire summer without shaving my legs. SILVER LINING! And what about waxing my 'stache? I wouldn't mind skipping that routine. SILVER LINING!

Increased risk of infection - The chemotherapy will severely impact my body's ability to fight off infection. My immune system will be impaired, meaning that I will be highly susceptible to the common germs and bugs the little petri dishes I call my children bring home from school on a weekly basis. Because of this susceptibility, I will need to avoid places that tend to be germified. Places like playgrounds, classrooms, amusement parks, comic book shops, arcades, toy stores, malls, zoos. In other words, all the places I have historically tried with all my might to avoid. SILVER LINING!

Metallic taste in my mouth - Many people who receive the type of chemo I will be receiving complain of an unpleasant metallic taste in their mouths. This can be quite strong. It tends to make food taste differently than it did before chemo. Some people find that they can no longer tolerate foods they used to love. If I can manage to get over my subversive love of (and addiction to) french fries, I will consider that a huge SILVER LINING!

Loss of appetite - Many people find that they really have no interest in eating while undergoing chemo. Considering that I could stand to lose about 75 pounds right now, I will take a little loss of appetite. SILVER LINING!

Weight gain - Wait...what?? What do you mean? If I have a metallic taste in my mouth and no interest in food, how can I possibly gain weight? seems that chemotherapy may cause the body to hold onto extra fluid causing puffiness and bloating and swelling (edema). Also, patients undergoing chemotherapy often reduce physical activity due to the unpleasant side effects. In addition, I will be given steroids to help control some of the effects of the chemo. Steroids may also cause me to gain weight. So, taking into account the bald head I will be sporting, I will probably end up looking like a flesh-colored beach ball. Unless fashion trends make a sudden and unexpected departure, it's hard to find a silver lining in the fleshy beach ball look. So I will just go with this - it's temporary. SILVER LINING!

Sores in mouth, on lips, and in throat - AC chemotherapy can cause painful sores in the mouth and throat. These seem to be a real pain in the ass mouth for many people. I've read quite a bit on how to combat this. Just yesterday, I bought a big bottle Biotene at Target--an alcohol-free mouthwash that seems to help some people. I've also found several references to gargling with a concoction made up of equal parts baby Benedryl and Maalox. They call this "Magic Mouthwash" in cancer circles. Sounds kind of Potter-esque, if you ask me. Any time I can turn chemotherapy into a Harry Potter reference, I will consider that a SILVER LINING!

Fatigue - I am pretty much guaranteed to experience fatigue with treatment. Though it doesn't sound fun to be too exhausted to manage my normal daily activities, the thought of lounging on the couch all day watching Netflix is not without it's own special appeal. SILVER LINING!

Infertility - Ha! Suck it, cancer! I don't want any more kids anyway. SILVER LINING!

Susceptibility to sunburn - I am 100% an indoor-lounge-in-the-air-conditioning type girl in the summer. I hate to be hot. I hate to sweat. Seriously. Normally, I have to struggle to come up with lame excuses as to why I don't want to take the kids to the park when it's 96 degrees outside. With chemo, I have two built-in, actual, REAL excuses. 1. Germs, 2. Sunburn. SILVER LINING!

Hot flashes - Wait...didn't I just say that I hate being hot? I am really not looking forward to this one. I can't imagine there being a silver lining to frequent hot flashes, so I will just go with temporary for this one, too. SILVER LINING!

Bladder irritation - I'm not sure what this means exactly. Peeing more often? Peeing less often? Really, honestly, I don't care. I'll be home most of the time, so peeing is the least of my concerns. So I will call this a SILVER LINING simply because I don't give a rip.

Reddish urine - The medication I will receive in the AC phase of chemo is an orange-reddish color--hence "the red devil" and "the red death." The color can show up in your urine, causing it to have a red tint. This might be cool if I was a Louisville fan. However, as a lifelong Kentucky fan, I will just focus on the temporary nature of my colorful pee. SILVER LINING.

Bruising or bleeding more easily - Another reason to avoid strenuous activity and spend more time on the couch Netflixing. SILVER LINING!

Tingling and numbness in hands and feet - Also known as neuropathy, this is a common side effect of the Taxol portion of my chemo. Tingling or numb hands and feet means that it might not be safe for me to wash dishes...or take out the trash...or walk the dog...or vacuum...or...SILVER LINING!

Chemo brain - This is a term applied to a sort of foggy forgetfulness and short-term memory loss associated with chemotherapy. I liken it to pregnancy brain, though I understand it might be much worse. This means that, while undergoing treatment, it might be best if I am not burdened with anything that requires any sort of reliable mental capacity. So...yeah...I'll be over here on the couch Netflixing and chillaxing. SILVER LINING!

Depression and anxiety - This is more of a byproduct of the other side effects of chemotherapy than an actual side effect caused by the medication. But that doesn't really matter, right? Depression and anxiety can be as crippling as nausea and vomiting. But I am surrounded by hilarious (somewhat inappropriate and deranged, but hilarious) people who I fully intend to lean on to keep my spirits high and my anxiety in check. In short, you guys are my SILVER LINING where depression and anxiety are concerned.

Joint pain - This becomes more of an issue in the Taxol phase of chemo. And by "joint pain," they mean ALL joints. Fingers, hips, knees, toes, elbows--if it bends in any way, there is a good possibility it is going to hurt like hell. Pain medications can help, and I am told to keep my oncologist abreast (breast...ha!) of the situation and he will do his best to manage the pain. I like my oncologist. He's easy to talk to and seems very down-to-earth. So where joint pain in concerned, I am going to consider Dr. Daniel Anderson my SILVER LINING!

Fingernail and toenail effects - So...get this! The type of chemo I am receiving can affect my fingernails and toenails. I may see lines develop in my nails, similar to the rings in a tree truck--a new line for each cycle of chemo. The nail bed can become dry and the cuticles may fray. Nails will become discolored. I shouldn't be surprised if a few of my nails turn black and peel off. Peel off?? What the fuck?! Okay, so this totally grosses me out. It's temporary. The nail will grow back. But still....peel off. PEEL. OFF. I was going to make some dumb silver lining comment about how I've always been a nail biter and chemo will just save me time. But that's stupid. I can't think of a silver lining in my fingernails turning black and peeling off, so I will just go with temporary. SILVER LINING...?

Premature (and probably permanent) menopause -Yeah...I'm kind of done with the whole period thing anyway. SILVER LINING!

Constipation - Since first being diagnosed with breast cancer three or so weeks ago, I have had pretty consistent nervous diarrhea. I could probably use a little constipation about now. SILVER LINING!

Flu-like symptoms - This might suck. As I said before, I really am not a fan of being sick. I alluded to above, I'm kind of a BIG fan of the whole Netflix and chill thing, so SILVER LINING?

Heart damage - So this is a rarer side effect of AC+Taxol chemotherapy. It can cause irreparable damage to your heart, but it is not a common side effect. Of course, I read stories of women having heart attacks in the midst of chemo that scared the shit out of me. But I have decided to ignore the anecdotal evidence regarding one-off side effects and concentrate on the scientific evidence for my own sanity's sake. I had to have an echocardiogram done before starting chemo and science/medicine/technology proved to me that my ticker is A-okay. I have a strong heart. So I am going to tell myself that the chances I will experience damage to my heart are extremely small. I am going to call science the SILVER LINING and ignore everything else.

So there you have it. This is what I will be dealing with in the next five months. I will try to keep you guys in the loop with how I am feeling and how you might be able to help out. I am not historically very good at accepting help, but I really just need to get over myself--for the sake of my wife and kids.

It's not going to be a walk in the park (and like I said, it might be a while before I go walking in a park), but it is 100% survivable. It won't kill me. It can only heal me. And it's all TEMPORARY anyway. So in the words of the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda...

Let's do it!


Virginia said...

Well yay for silver linings! Hey, I crochet some wicked hats, and I was wondering if you could send me a circumference measurement for your head (or just a small medium or large estimate) so that I can make you a few hats. I will try to make them spring/summer/fall friendly.

Virginia said...

Oh, and I'll need an address to go with that.

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