Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBT+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Cancer Treatments

After Chemo

This entry is part 21 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I should have gotten to this sooner, but I’ve actually been waiting for all the immediate side effects of chemo to wear away and I think they’re finally gone. Now I’ll explain what happened, but please keep in mind, this was only my experience, and others will likely experience slightly different side effects from chemo treatment.

Day of chemo, I was only a little weary, I’m fairly certain more due to the fact I hadn’t slept soundly the night before due to worries over getting to the VA on time to do lab work before the treatment. The next day and the one following (Weds and Thurs), I was much more weary, particularly on Wednesday. I think I spent most of the day in bed, making intermittent efforts to rise and do something at my computer. I’d get up, fiddle around a little bit, then be back in bed within two hours. I did this several times throughout the day on Wednesday, though Thursday was slightly the opposite. I may have spent about half of my usual waking hours in bed on Thursday, and finally began to feel more energetic and like writing by that evening. Friday, the draggy feeling was almost completely gone, certainly not strong enough to send me back to bed. I napped, but I do that about two or three days a week anyway, and the only difference was that I slept for three hours instead of about one.

I experienced very little nausea. On Wednesday, I took one of my 24-hour antinausea pills just to make sure I didn’t get sick, but I never got more than a vague feeling of queasiness. I was able to eat normally, have cups of very sweet hot chocolate, and did not vomit. Thursday, I didn’t take an antinausea pill at all, had the same vague feeling of queasiness, and ate normally without anything worse than the queasiness. Friday, I had a little queasiness, but it wasn’t as strong as previous days, and it did nothing to interfere with my appetite or what I ate.

What I did get was a constant headache. I woke up with it on Thursday, and I attributed it to being dehydrated, because I certainly hadn’t drunk enough the previous day to flush my system of the chemo drugs as I’d been advised to do. Sleeping all day definitely interfered with that goal. The headache didn’t go away even though I went through a pitcher and a half of my favorite caffeine free herbal tea and avoided all caffeinated products. It continued through the weekend and didn’t fade until the following Monday or Tuesday. It was not an excruciating headache, but it settled in the front of my head and even aspirin didn’t do anything to alleviate it. I think now it may have been one of the side effects of the chemo treatment, but haven’t read through my information packet again yet to see if such is listed. Will do that probably tomorrow and try to remember to update this post with what I find.

The information on Chemo I received in my hands and was given verbally at the hospital before treatment included conflicting information on how my bowels may be affected as well. There’s no middle ground with this. Options are diarrhea or constipation. Possibly both. I was afflicted with the first from the Friday following my first treatment through the week following, with one excruciatingly painful evening spent on Sunday of that first weekend when I experienced incredible pain in my hips, which proceeded to climb my spine and fill my thigh bones. I could not for hours figure out what the issue was—I didn’t feel a need for a bowel movement, and all other bodily functions including eating did nothing to alleviate the pain or to cause it to worsen. Not even aspirin got rid of this pain. It began at about three or four in the afternoon and lasted until approximately nine at night and did not begin to decrease until I finally felt a need for a bowel movement and ended up spending the next hour in the bathroom doing so. It was, thankfully, not repeated the remainder of the week.

And, I literally just combed a hand through my hair and ended up pulling out a great deal more than comes out naturally, so I think I’m already starting to lose my hair. According to all the information I received from the Oncologists, both verbally and in writing, hair loss is pretty much guaranteed, it’s just a matter of when. If I lose it now . . . oh, well. That’s the least of my concerns, though I’ll miss my grey hair.

Updated to add: I looked at the information I have for my chemo medications, and neither listed headache as a side effect. Next step is to read through the information I received with my pills. Will get to that by next week.

First Chemo Treatment

This entry is part 20 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

Had my first Chemo treatment yesterday. It went easier than I thought it would.

When they fetched me to my room, I requested one where I’d either have control of the TV or where there wasn’t a TV at all, as I’m not much of a TV watcher. The nurse kindly brought me to a room with two beds and helped me set myself up with my books and printed outlines and notecards for work on my stories. I’d worn a tank top with good access to the porta-cath and when everything was ready, the nurse inserted a special bent needle into my skin and the port. It hurt a bit, but was quickly gone as she stabilized it. This needle came with a bit of tubing, somewhat like the IV I had for the porta-cath placement, but not so much it got in the way.

Next, she set up the first of my medicines, which was a liquid version of a steroid pill I’d taken the night before to prevent too much bloating. This she channeled through a pump before attaching to my port IV. Once that was done, she fetched me a couple blankets to warm up under and left me for the next half hour while the steroid drained into my body. I laid there with my eyes closed and dozed, headphones on, cause I hadn’t slept well and was rather tired still.

When that was done, the pump beeped loudly, and the nurse came back to switch out my meds. She hooked up the first of my chemo meds, then checked to make sure I was doing well before leaving me to doze again. This took an hour to administer, and I noticed no adverse effects a the time. Nurse came back (can’t recall her name) when this beeped upon completion and hooked up my other chemo medication.

I spent about another half hour dozing with this before they apparently ran out of room elsewhere and brought a woman and her husband in to take the other bed. The woman wanted the news on, so I just turned up my music to obscure the chatter. Not long after that, they brought us lunch, and I ate a fair amount of it. A few minutes later, my last chemo was done, and the pump beeped again. My nurse came back to disconnect me from everything and sent me on my way.

Now it’s the day after, and I’m sitting here with my two antinausea meds in front of me. I haven’t taken them yet; I don’t feel the need just yet. I may after eating. I feel weary, as if I could lay down again, and I don’t think it’s entirely ’cause I want to bed late last night. Tonight, I’m to take an injectable medication whose purpose I’ve forgotten, and I’m not looking forward to that. (LOL)

Porta-Cath

This entry is part 19 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

Today was porta-cath day. This proved to be quicker and easier than I thought it would be.

I arrived on the Oncology floor at about ten ’til eight, shortly after my visit to the lab for blood work and a quick breakfast courtesy of the VA’s coffee shop. After checking in and having my vitals taken, a nurse showed me to a room with several wheeled recliners (all teal, all ugly, all with mini tables on their armrests) which is typically used for flu shots—I know this ’cause I’ve seen the “Flu Shots Here” signs on the door previously, and the receptionist had directed a woman down to our end of the hall for one. Nurse Mary passed me a hospital gown and robe, told me to take off my shirt and bra, and to put the gown on the proper way so it was open in the back—the first time since starting this trek through cancer care I’ve been specifically told to don the gown that way. So I did, not wishing to upset her. Once I’d changed, she returned and put an IV line in my left hand; this wasn’t a full IV with the stand and all, but a shorter line which would later be attached to various things on such a stand. After checking to make sure it would flush okay, she told me to hold my hand slightly bent in so I wouldn’t kink the line and sent me down to Angio.

The trip to Angio involved a walk to the elevator, going a floor down, and following a blue line all the way around back of the radiation section. There, in a cool room with a table which had an X-Ray panel above it, I was prepped for the insertion of the porta-cath.

First, they had me take off my necklace, then had me lay on the padded table below the X-Ray panel. This table had controls they could use to move it lengthwise up and down, or vertically up and down. I got up on the table with little difficulty (even at its lowest point, it was still fairly high) and laid down, scooting up the table until my head was on the pillow. They put my arms on plastic armrests they had to attach to the table, and I told the nurse on my left side about the requirements for enabling my IV line to work and he made sure I held my hand properly. They had me remove my right arm from my hospital gown, and attached a blood pressure cuff to my right arm and an oxygen reader to my right index finger.

They did not sedate me. The nurse on my left started a line of liquid antibiotic in my IV and the lady nurse ensured my right breast was at least partially covered then, upon realizing its size (DDD at least), suggested they tape it down. I still chuckle over this, because they did indeed tape it down, using three long strips of tape crossing my body from the right arm support to the left arm support. They had to do this so the doctors would be able to access the location they needed to place the catheter line under my skin.

Sometime around this point I suggested they take my glasses, and one of the nurses told me to turn my head to the left. The nurse who’d managed my IV line fetched my glasses from my face and I obeyed the command while someone scrubbed my skin and neck with antiseptic—I forget what it was. While she did this, one of the doctors came in with music and set it up to play. After washing my skin, two of the nurses covered my body in blue surgical slips, one of which completely covered my head; the nurse who was still on my IV lines hooked it up to the IV stand so I could “see” out. Without my glasses, I didn’t see a whole hell of a lot. (LOL)

Now the Doctor and a Fellow came to my side. My right side. I asked why it was so important they put the cath in my right side, and one of them explained it was because the vein is straighter on the right. Then he told me what they were going to do was inject a numbing agent in my neck and in a line down my chest to where the port was being inserted. This involved much use of an ultrasound machine and a couple flickers of the lights to use the X-Ray panel above me.

They explained what they were doing before and during the procedure, but what basically happened was they nicked my neck—and blood ran around the back of my neck, into my hair—did their line of numbness from there to the insertion point, which felt like a series of bee stings, and . . . pushed the porta-cath up that path they’d designated, over my clavicle, and inserted it into my vein. The catheter developed a kink, so throughout a series of lowering the lights to use the X-Ray panel, they got the kink out and the Doc left the Fellow to suture my wounds. He did two layers of sutures on my breast wound, where the port is, and one or two stitches in the wound on my neck.

Someone did their best to mop up the blood which had run around the back of my neck and detached the blood pressure cuff and oxygen monitor. Then one of the nurses peeled the tape off. That hurt worse than anything else. They righted my garments, disconnected my IV line from the bags on the stand, and helped me get to my feet, passing back my glasses and the necklace they’d had me remove prior to the procedure. Quite alert and able to take care of myself, I refused the offer of a wheelchair trip back to Oncology and walked out to pick up my mom on the way.

Back in Oncology, Nurse Mary removed the IV line and had me get dressed, which I did quickly, spending a couple minutes to rub as much of the blood off my neck as I could. The Angio Fellow and Doc had told me I’m not to shower for two days, at which time I can remove the dressings. I’m also not to soak in a tub of water, which I don’t do anyway.

I left the hospital around ten thirty in the morning, and now, at about three thirty, long after the numbness has worn off, I’m experiencing discomfort. There’s a bit of sharp pain which isn’t bothersome around the point of the port, which is right above my breast, just where the flesh begins to rise for it. My neck has some dull pain, and since it tenses the muscles there to swallow, eating and drinking causes some minor discomfort, but it’s not so great it’s prevented me eating or having anything to drink. The muscle on the back of my head where it connects to the back of the skull got slightly pulled with me keeping my head facing left during the procedure, so that causes some discomfort as well, but, again, it’s not enough to stop me doing anything. It hurts my neck slightly to turn my head either way, though it’s not excruciating—again, level of discomfort mostly; kind of like waking up with a kink in the neck and not being able to turn your head too far, though the “stopping point” in this is not nearly as painful as it can be with a kinked neck. The entire line from port to cath in my neck is tender—yet not so bothersome I’m screaming in pain. (LOL)

I expect to regain full, painless freedom of movement within a few days—a week at most as Nurse Mary and the team who inserted the porta-cath seemed to think the procedure wasn’t too difficult to manage or deal with. The Doc and Fellow told me to take Tylenol or ibuprofen to alleviate the pain which was a relief. I don’t know what I’d do with another scrip medication! (LOL)

Day at the VA Hosp

This entry is part 17 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I had another full day up at the local VA Hospital, at least half of it spent waiting, either for appointment times to arrive, or for doctors/nurses to meet me once I was there. If I’d come home during the day, I’d have had to turn right around to go back up, so it was easier for me to take books and stuff and my music and read while I was there.

My first appointment was for the echocardiogram. For this, I had to undress halfway, and a technician used a sonogram machine to take readings and recordings of my heart’s activity. He took readings from right above my heart, through the breastbone, did some work under my arm against my side next to my left breast, and then at the point right below the breastbone, which required him pushing up and in. Most of it was uncomfortable, though it hurt a bit when he was on my chest with the sensor because he had to press up into the soft tissue of my breast. The part which hurt the most, and it was primarily at a level of great discomfort, was when he took the reading with the sensor under the end of my breastbone. He also had to hook me up to, if I remember correctly, an EKG machine to monitor my heart in order to tell the sonogram machine when to record my heart’s functions. We had a nice chat about everything, including his path into sonography, while he did this, so I was quite distracted for much of the procedure. This took approximately an hour.

After this, I went to the lab for the blood draw. Very nice technician there answered all my nosy questions about the vials and where the blood was going (tests for the Oncologists and for the genetic testing). I always ask them to use a butterfly needle when they draw blood because sometimes them switching vials out on the standard needle with the vial holder jerks too much and causes minor pain. This woman’s touch was very gentle, she was very thorough, and when she removed the butterfly needle, I barely felt it. She also managed to get blood from the main vein in my arm—the one in the middle of the elbow pit—instead of the peripheral vein on the outside of the elbow pit when the arm is turned up for such a blood draw.

Then I had lunch. I should say there was some confusion over the phone when I was told about the echocardiogram; the nurse arranging it for me told me I needed to come in fasting, which, it turns out, is for a slightly more invasive procedure which involves them putting a tube with an ultrasound sensor down the throat, which is numbed prior to this. I was told also I needed to bring someone because I may be drowsy from this if they had to further sedate me, so Mom was with me up until I finished lunch.

Then Mom went home, and I went up to the AMU section where the Oncologists are and sat reading while awaiting my 3PM appointment with them. At about forty five minutes before my appointment, the receptionist at the counter asked me if I’d done my PET/CT scan follow-up yet.

What?! I hadn’t even been to that section of the hospital for an initial appointment yet.

Turns out, she meant if I’d made an appointment for it yet. That made more sense, and she told me to go make that appointment right then. This is, I think the result of my talk with Dr. Poppe from Tuesday. It’s good to know the VA is on the ball. Down in the Nuclear Medicine section of the hospital, I made my appointment for, guess what? Tomorrow! I’m to go in at ten for the PET/CT scan, which will take anywhere from two to four hours according to what I understand.

I made it back to the Oncology unit with time to spare before my appointment and checked in, had vitals taken, and went to the room instructed to wait. And wait. I read more of the book I’d brought, but also took the time to read the PET/CT paperwork the receptionist there had given me. A Resident finally came in, and we discussed things briefly, and she left. Then Nyna, the head Chemo nurse, came in and we talked much more. She had a little notebook with a lesson on breast cancer and a folder with paperwork for me to read. I saw Dr. Weiss briefly again, and he gave me a more thorough explanation of Chemo and the regimen they had planned for me.

I’m apparently to receive the “easier” Chemo regimen. This involves two drugs (down from three), and has been chosen because I had only one cancerous lymph node out of fourteen removed and they got all the cancerous tissue from my breast. They had me sign a release form, then I went back to the room with Nyna to further discuss my upcoming appointments.

They wanted to give me my first Chemo treatment on the 15th of this month . . . the afternoon of the same day I’m to get the Porta-Cath put in. I asked to change the date, and we moved the first Chemo treatment to the following Monday—the 18th. Next week is going to busy and pretty stressful, and I didn’t want to get Chemo right after undergoing a minor surgical procedure which would leave me groggy for at least part of the remainder of the day.

Then I was free to go, and boy did I hotfoot it out of there.

So, for tomorrow: 1. 10AM PET/CT scan; 2. Visit with Nyna about Chemo calendar and other sundry topics needing to be settled (for instance, what I do and when I do it for the Porta-Cath placement); and 3. Go to pharmacy to pick up anti-nausea meds so I have them on hand when the Chemo starts. I figure I should be up there all day (LOL).

Issues . . .

This entry is part 06 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

My first shower since surgery was Thursday, due to the fact my mom couldn’t get over to my place until then to help me remove the bandages and cover the incision area with plastic to keep the drainage tube insertion point dry. I’ve noticed, since that day, a distressing reaction to either having my underarm all taped up or the surgery itself. Part of my right arm is numb, from the underside around to the back. I think this numbness goes onto my back, and I know it extends to an inch or two above my elbow on the back of my arm. I have some minor numbness around the front where more tape was, but my breast has not had this reaction at all, and it was also pretty extensively taped with a bandage of its own. Also, I’ve noticed a propensity for this numb area to itch and tingle, two sensations I have to endure because scratching does nothing whatsoever due to the lack of sensation when I touch my arm.

I, however, do not consider this something to worry about right now. If it’s still bothering me when I have my surgical follow-up on the fifteenth, I’ll ask about it.

What I do find of greater (though not necessarily extremely great) concern is the fact my drainage tube seems to be blocked up. I won’t describe what seems to be in it (it might make you sick), but it definitely fills the tube all the way around. I’ve been trying to squeeze this blockage down on and off since yesterday, and it’s just not working. I’m not greatly concerned yet due to the fact I still seem to be draining . . . through the incision point where the tube enters my body. This is all clear (or relatively clear) liquid, so I’m not staining my clothes. Whatever I wear will just need to be cleaned before I put it on again.

I’m not sure if I should go to the emergency room with this complaint or wait and call on Monday to see someone. Since I’m definitely still draining, I don’t want to cause undue concern. My main issue with it is the fact I’m supposed to be recording the output for some reason, and having my lymph drain the way it is now is preventing that.

There’s also the fact that transit isn’t its best here on weekends, and if I end up hanging out at the emergency room with this late, I won’t be able to get home without taking a cab. I’d really rather not do this because my income is rather limited and I’m having to save up money for the first round of Chemo appointments later on, so I can cover my transportation costs before the VA pays me back for it all.

I’ll have to figure something out. Maybe a friend can drive me to/from the hospital.

Edited to add:

It seems to be draining into the bulb again. I feel no additional pain or discomfort from retention of any fluid, and I don’t see any bloating. Looks like all that tube-squeezing I did worked.

Edited again to add:

Everything seems to be back on track with the drainage system. I had a bit of drainage through the incision where the tube enters, squeezed a few more times, and the blockage is now in the bulb reservoir. I apparently was having some sort of collection of fluid up under my arm, because after the drainage and the blockage moved, I noticed a great relief of pain I’d been having, which I’d thought was due to me moving my arm up and around too much (similar to normal, despite discomfort). Now the pain is gone and movement of my arm over my head is accompanied by the same level of discomfort as it was before the blockage happened. So all is well, thank goodness.

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