Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Plugged Ports and Watery Eyes and Ginseng, Oh My!

Yesterday was my 3rd chemo cycle. We had a bit of an issue with a plugged port this time around. My port would give up no blood at all, so I had to get blood drawn in the lab from my arm in order to get the bloodwork going so I could do chemo. Good times. I was then given an anti-clotting medication in my port. We had to sit and wait for 30 minutes for the drug to work. Luckily it worked. If it hadn't, I would have had to go back to outpatient surgery for a dye test to check for kinks in the port. Honestly, I was surprised the medication worked. Frankly, a kinky port sounds just like something that would happen to me. Luckily, it was just a blood clot at the end of my tube and the anti-clotting drug cleared it right up.

I also met with my oncologist yesterday prior to chemo to discuss my progress and treatment plan. He said I was doing beautifully. All my bloodwork looked great. I seem to be managing the chemo side effects better than many of his patients do. Of course, being the obnoxiously competitive overachiever I am, I heard that as, "You are the best cancer patient I have ever had in my entire career!" I blushed. Why, thank you, Dr. Anderson, you blond cutie you!

I did discuss the eye problems I've been having with my doctor. My eyes feel like they are full of sand all the time, and they constantly pour water. It has been so bad in the last few days that I have seriously considered gouging my own eyes out on more than one occasion. It wouldn't be pretty, but it would be effective. The watery eyes seem to be the worst when I try to read. My eyes fill with so much water that I can't even see the page. Unfortunately, this seems to be a not-so-common side effect of chemo that you don't hear much about. AC chemo generally dries out mucous membranes and can also dry out the eyes, as well. I am using over-the-counter moisturizing eye drops, but they don't seem to help. Unfortunately, there is not much else to be done. So far, this has been the most annoying side effect I have encountered. For someone like me who loves to read, this is borderline intolerable.

We also discussed future MRI's. My oncologist was initially going to do an MRI after the AC chemo, and before I started the Taxol chemo, but he is now leaning toward not doing that MRI. He said that nothing that could possibly be seen in the MRI would change anything related to my treatment because there is no oncologist in the world who would look at my situation and not recommend completing ALL of the chemo. So, he indicated he would probably only do the MRI in between if I really pushed to do it. I doubt I will because, if nothing else, I don't want the MRI to show no change and be smacked in the face with disappointment. At this point, I feel positive. And I really need to believe that the chemo is working. So I am leaning toward completing ALL of the chemo before doing the MRI.

Ignorance is bliss, right?

I also discussed the all-encompassing fatigue that hit me the last cycle. I spent a full 5 days completely incapacitated on my living room couch. Unfortunately, there is not really any medication that is used to treat fatigue. He recommended trying to be active--going for short walks--when I feel up to it. Activity helps, apparently. Ugh. But he also told me about a recent study that my clinic did with the Mayo Clinic regarding the use of ginseng to treat fatigue in cancer patients. Here is a link to the press release from Mayo:  Ginseng fights fatigue in cancer patients.

Normally, my doctor said, he is not a big proponent of herbal remedies, simply because the industry is not highly regulated and you never really know what you are getting when you buy an herbal remedy at the drug store. Also, there haven't been many sound scientific studies done of the effectiveness of many of these herbs. One quote in particular from the article struck me as rather scary: "Off-the-shelf ginseng is sometimes processed using ethanol, which can give it estrogen-like properties that may be harmful to breast cancer patients," said Mayo Clinic Cancer Center researcher Debra L. Barton, R.N., Ph.D.  How would I know if I picked up a bottle of ginseng at Target that it could be processed with ethanol? And how would I possibly know that ethanol gave ginseng estrogen-like properties? I am pretty sure this info is not prominently displayed on the bottle. 

My oncologist really liked the Mayo study because it was a nice large sample of patients at 40 different treatment centers. It was a placebo study and 60% of the study participants were diagnosed with breast cancer. The study showed a 20% decrease in fatigue symptoms after 8 weeks in the patients who received the 100% ginseng. That said, he warned me against just picking up a bottle of ginseng at Target. The Mayo press release includes a link to where you can purchase the exact 100% Wisconsin ginseng (no ethanol!) that was used in the study. I ordered an 8-week supply this morning from the Ginseng & Herb Cooperative in Marathon, Wisconsin and I am going to give it a go. I would happily take a 20% decrease in fatigue, so we'll see how it goes.

All that said, my 3rd chemo cycle was pretty uneventful. It's becoming business as usual. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's just a thing, I guess.

Onward and upward.  


Madge Woods said...

I was going to say get the gingseng at a health food store but better to get the good stuff used in the study. I would only buy any herbs from an herbalist who knows what they are doing. Also if you take western meds they can interact badly. Seems like your doctor is on it. https://www.gofundme.com/3nvubn52

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