Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBT+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: chemo (page 1 of 2)

Following Final Chemo

This entry is part 27 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I’m glad I had only four cycles of chemo. I had it relatively easy and I know it. My friend JA Marlow‘s mother has a very invasive and aggressive form of brain tumor. Early last year, Mother Hen, as JAM’s mother is called, had surgery to remove the original tumor and radiation. She’s been receiving chemo in pill doses at home. Unfortunately, the tumor has regrown, and it’s in an area which is affecting her much more than the original tumor did.

By comparison? My experience with breast cancer is nothing.

It has been my hope that putting my experiences up online would inform and assist other people with breast cancer, if not other forms. With that in mind, I’ll expound a bit upon my last post-chemo experience.

The fatigue was as profound on Wednesday as on most other previous days. I spent most of the day in bed, but was able to get up, eat, and putter around a little bit, though I was never up long enough for a cup of tea with water properly boiled in a kettle. I drank orange juice most of Weds and Thurs, as that was quick, easy, and tasty—so tasty, in fact, I drank my first two gallons before my three-week cycle period ended. It’s probably what helped me avoid getting sick about a week or so later, as I felt the beginnings of symptoms of an illness my mother recovered from just prior to her visit the week after chemo week, to drop off homemade burrito makings and an apple pie.

On the Friday of chemo week, I went in to see my new official (and hopefully permanent) Oncologist, Dr. Colonna (not sure that’s the correct spelling, but will correct it in later posts if it’s wrong once I’ve seen her again), who is specializing in breast cancer up at the VA. She’s the one who sat and talked to me and Mom all those months ago, answering the many questions my mother and I had about various things to do with my cancer diagnosis. She was pleased with my progress and sent me on my way with encouraging words.

The next week wasn’t as bad, PottyTime wise as previous cycles. I think it may be because I entered a heightened mixed-state phase (my bipolar is mixed-state, meaning I have symptoms and presentations of both mania and depression at the same time) and spent two nights out of that week awake because I couldn’t sleep. I don’t suggest this as a method of shortening the duration of the diarrhea, though that’s what it seemed to do for me. By the end of the week, my PottyTime phase was pretty much over as well, but I was not in any kind of condition worthy of being called “human.” I wasn’t a raving lunatic, or abusive, or temperamental. I was Jell-O. And this despite my two sleepless nights not following one right after the other. There were one or two nights where I actually slept between them.

I finally got fed up and shaved my head of all the straggling hair leftover from chemo-balding. Now I have stubble and fuzz. I did this with my women’s fancy wire-wrapped razor in the shower (the wire wrapping is important. Would not have done this without it) since I don’t have an electric shaver I could have used dry as I generally don’t shave my legs, and that’s what I’d use it for if I had one.

Chemo mouth was more severe. The cycle previous, it had spread to throughout my mouth, and this last cycle, it did the same, only drier. For the first time, this part of post-chemo treatment annoyed me. Could not eat anything spicy, as I learned one night when I made French toast (I put pepper in scrambled eggs, and in my Ft egg mixture with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweetener, with a dash of salt and a few tablespoons of milk), because I think I exhaled flame after that meal. My mouth hurt for several minutes during and after eating that French toast. Hot temperatures were just as prominent, so drinking my tea while it was still very warm was out of the question; tepid was the hottest I could handle. Also, it felt as if my tongue had numerous cuts on the top, though I don’t think that was actually the case. I tell ya, between heat killing the top of my mouth and even the softest, blandest food torturing my tongue, I’m rather amazed I ate at all. LOL

Earlier this week, I went to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for my radiation setup appointment; I’ll write about it sometime next week.

Side Effects Update 3

This entry is part 26 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I had my third chemo treatment on the 31st of December. Yes, New Year’s Eve. Then I proceeded to sit up past midnight (not really celebrating, but just zoning, fiddling with different things, and generally being a nuisance to myself).

Oops, I forgot to take my prep-antinausea meds the evening before and the morning of my treatment before leaving home. Nurse who did my chemo was displeased. I felt baaaaaad for forgetting my meds. I’m usually very good about taking them. It’s a good thing they provided about 20mg of the antinausea medication as part of chemo at the hospital, or I may not have been able to eat lunch. There was no appreciable difference in my administration-condition regarding stomach upset, though I did feel just vaguely uncomfortable in a very distant way.

Otherwise, my chemo treatment went pretty well. Had a little fun once I realized I could adjust the foot of the bed as well as the head, and had myself quite comfortable once treatment started. I read about halfway through a paperback by a favorite author while I was getting treatment, which was nice.

The next day? I was out most of it. Though I was up between seven and nine that night; there’s an entry on one of my writing logsheets for me starting a new project on that day. I’m not going to say much on it in this post, however, though I will admit it’s my Casi/Vel story.

On Thursday, I had an appointment with my Oncologist, and I was fairly alert for that. Was still draggy due to chemo fatigue, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the second day after the first treatment, even if it wasn’t as good as it was after my second treatment. Apparently, the severity of side effects fluctuates.

Like the diarrhea. That started the Monday after treatment, and lasted most of the week. Was uncomfortable by the end of last week, but not as tortured as I was after the first treatment’s experience with that week of PottyTime.

Chemo mouth wasn’t as pronounced this time around, either. The most I had was a slight sensitivity to spices and temperature, not nearly as much as after previous treatments. Tongue felt only a little dry, and for a shorter period of time, and I didn’t get any spots on my gums which felt particularly dry. It was more an all-over condition on the roof of my mouth, and not as severe as the spots were.

I have one more chemo treatment, and that’s supposed to happen on the 21st. Following that, I’ll be going in for my radiation setup appointment and then begin radiation. I’ve decided to join the research study they’re performing, so I’m not sure how long I’ll be going in—could be anywhere from three to six and a half weeks. I’ll discuss it more once I know what’s going to happen.

Beginning of the Writing Year

On 1 January, I started a new story. This was unplanned, the result of an idea which wouldn’t leave me alone long enough to focus on other stories. Writing out the initial scene on this NewIdea worked; I was able to write on Unwritten Letters. The next day, I ended up writing more scenes in NewIdea, which, for lack of a better title at present I’ll refer to as Casi/Vel (the two MCs).

January second and third, I rather plowed through the opening of this story. Unfortunately, this focus on the NewIdea coincided with a rather severe case of chemo fatigue, as I had chemo on Tuesday. I was not expecting my third round of chemo to take me out like it did, but I lost my connection to my writing, though I wrote anyway. It was the oddest, most disturbing two days of writing I’d ever experienced, even taking into account Hell Year of Writing in 2012, which was my worst year of writing overall. In 2012, I spent most of the year in despair with my writing, hating every word, but so desperate to write I forced words out, which only exacerbated my depression and writing downswings. I spent at least half of 2012 in a writing downswing, where I didn’t write unless I had an outline and some sort of incentive (Julno, Nano). I barely got my 2012 FM Anthology story written and turned in on time, and it was the only writing I actually enjoyed the whole year.

The second and third days of this month were like that, only worse. I not only detested my writing and couldn’t stand to look at it immediately after writing it, but I also felt so disconnected from it I doubted it was any good. Normally, when I have doubts, they’re not unfounded, but I was in no condition to figure out the problem and deal with it until yesterday (the 4th).

When I came back to myself—started feeling connected to the story and characters again—in the evening of the third, I asked an online writer friend, Jennifer Amriss, to read through what I’d written already. This was important. I’d regained contact with my writing on an emotional level, but I knew something was wrong with it, and couldn’t identify the issue. Not knowing the issue blocked me after I wrote one scene where I felt connected to my writing and my characters, so in order to progress, I knew I had to identify the issue and deal with it so I could move on. The reason why moving on this project was so important? I was not receiving any inclination to work on either of my other projects; the only ideas I was coming up with went to Casi/Vel.

Jennifer kindly agreed to do a quick read-through of the 12+k words I’d managed to write on Casi/Vel. I emailed her the project and distracted myself until she contacted me. Her verdict: the first several scenes read like a textbook. She told me where she thought the story actually began to open up and where my writing started touching the characters in such a way to make them real.

I had two options. Either try to fix the faulty writing, or simply cut the first four or five scenes or so to the point where Jennifer told me my writing got real. I didn’t make a decision on the third, primarily because I wanted to make sure I was actually in touch with myself and my writing mind and I knew the best way to do that was to sleep on the issue.

Yesterday, I cut the scenes out. They had no pertinent information I could not provide a different, better way, and it would have taken too much time and effort to fix them up to a point where they didn’t read like a textbook. What little important information I needed to include, I was able to sprinkle into the first couple scenes as exposition attached to dialogue or in descriptions and whatnot. After the cut, I had just under 7k words, and I proceeded to rebuild my wordcount right after the cut, since dealing with the problem removed the block.

Another good thing about making the cut . . . I’m now able to deal with UL and TPOM3. I read the most recently written scenes of UL and its plot cards last night before bed and am ready to get two new plot cards on it before I write a scene. I also plan on getting at least two plot cards on TPOM3, out of order, later.

Side Effects Update

This entry is part 23 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I’ve had my second chemo treatment, and things have been happening a little differently this time. The side effects don’t seem as severe, and there have been some minor changes in them.

I’ve gotten what I’ll call “chemo mouth” both times. In the written materials I’ve received and according to what I was verbally told by my Oncologists, I was told to expect this to happen. Severe cases include sores in the mouth, and may also include either an inability to taste food or a change in how food tastes, including a metallic flavor. I think it largely depends on your chemo drugs. I did not get sores, but I did get dry spots, especially near my teeth. My chemo mouth includes a dry, cracked sensation on my tongue and dry patches in my mouth, I guess as the cells on my tongue and gums are those which are frequently replaced. This begins on about Friday or Saturday following the chemo treatment, and lasts for about five days to a week. I’m at the tail end of it right now. Food’s flavor does not fail or change for me, but my mouth does become more sensitive to hot temperatures and spices in foods. This I imagine is because of the way the cells are sloughing off, leaving my tongue and gums somewhat raw.

My fatigue was not as profound this time. Though I did spend much of Wednesday in bed, I did not sleep the entire time and was actually able get a bit of writing done. Thursday, I had to go to the VA Hosp, and though I wanted a nap, I was able to stay awake and alert the entire time I was there. I went to bed extremely early both nights—before eight o’clock.

This time, I didn’t get the incredible multiple-day headache I got last time. I got a little minor headache pain, which was taken care of by hydrating on Wednesday. No unusual headache pain the following days.

I had a little bit of constipation on Wednesday and Thursday, but did not have to go to the ER over it, and it was gone by Friday. While I have a bit of diarrhea now, it doesn’t seem as frequent as it was last time, and it’s started yesterday instead of on the weekend. There have also been no bouts of incredible abdominal pain which couldn’t be relieved as I experienced last time, which I’m very happy about.

There is a dry patch of flaky skin on the back of my right hand, above the index and middle finger knuckles. This appeared after my first chemo treatment, so I suspect it’s one of the minor side effects.

I have some small bit of hair left, but I expect it to fall out within the next week. My scalp is also very dry and flaky; I’m not actually sure this is a side effect of the chemotherapy, but I thought I should mention it in case it is. In addition to the dry flakiness, I also have some sharp pain in the skin. This isn’t very pronounced unless I’m touching or brushing my head for some reason, so I try not to do it too often despite the itching. I suspect this sharp pain is a side effect of the chemo, because I had none before treatment, and it seemed to begin at about the same time I started losing my hair.

My Chemo Medication Regimen

This entry is part 22 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I’ve been wanting to write up an accurate post about this since my first chemo treatment, just didn’t record anything about the process/procedure at the time. Today I did, with the help of a very accommodating nurse named Allen.

I’m required to take two dexamethasone (Decadron) tablets, with food, twice on the day prior to my chemo treatment to prevent nausea.

Day of treatment, I undergo, in the order written, the following medication administration procedure:

1. Dexamethasone x 5 and odansetron (Zofran) x 2. This latter medication is also to prevent nausea. If they come in liquid form, they are administered over half an hour; after swallowing them with orange juice today, I had to wait half an hour for them to be digested.

2. The nurse then flushed my porta-cath with saline solution to ensure there was proper flow for the administration of my chemo medications.

3. He then administered Taxotere (docetaxel), the first of my chemo drugs, running it through a regulator on an IV stand to ensure it didn’t flood my system. This takes about an hour or so.

4. When the regulator stopped beeping, Allen came back in and did another saline flush.

5. Then he proceeded to hook up the Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), the second medication of my chemo regimen, also running its IV tube through a regulator. Approximately another hour or so. I received my lunch near the end of this and was able to eat all of it without any adverse effects.

6. When the Cytoxan finished, Allen returned and disconnected its administration tube from the starter-IV tube, flushed my port with saline again to clean it out, then injected a dose of Heprin to ensure blood doesn’t clot in my port. He then removed the IV-starter tube from my port and patched me up with a bandage.

After this, I was free to pack up and go, which I did.

Tomorrow, I’m to take another two-pills-twice of dexamethasone. In addition, I’m free to decide if I’m willing to take the other two medications prescribed for nausea: odansetron and prochlorperazine maleate. Suggested dose of the Odansetron is one tablet by mouth every four hours if needed, and suggested dose for the prochlorperazine maleate is one tablet by mouth every six hours if needed, not to exceed 40 MG per day. If needed, I’m to take these two other pills on Thursday as well.

Then, that evening, I’m to inject myself with Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) to stimulate production of white blood cells. This must be administered at least 24 hours following chemo treatment, but not before then, and since I finished with chemo at around 1 pm today, tomorrow evening is an acceptable range of time for me to administer the injection.

This is the most accurate explanation of my medication regimen I have access to.

After today’s chemo appointment, I had to make an unexpected appointment with my head Oncologist, Dr. Weis (correct spelling of his name, I hope) for Thursday at 2:30 pm. My mom will be accompanying me since she has some questions to ask, and we intend to get what information we can regarding my PET scan’s results from him at this time.

After I got home today, I received a call from the VA to arrange another appointment with Dr. Weis, this one slated for the 9th of January at noon. I’m to go to the Lab for this so blood can be taken, and I half expect to be called to arrange another echocardiogram. This is prior to any further chemo appointments I may be making, and my mom clearly believes this indicates I won’t be getting any more. I am, needless to say, not quite so confident of this. I think this is simply an interim checkup and I’ll be doing at least one if not two more chemo treatments following this January 9 appointment with Dr. Weis.

Yesterday, I received a call from the genetic counselor, and she was able to tell me I don’t have any known breast cancer gene mutation. This does not rule out a genetic connection, but as they don’t know all the genes which affect this particular cancer, she was unable to tell me what I might expect in future. She told me she’d send me the information she had, but it hasn’t come in yet, so I’ll post more on it after it arrives.

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)

PET/CT Scan

This entry is part 18 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I swear I still have the flavor of the barium sulfate suspension at the top of my throat.

I had to drink 900ML (approx. 30.4 oz.) of it for my PET/CT scan today. My appointment was at ten, but I arrived about half an hour early (’cause I could, since Mom wasn’t with me to complain about arriving too early and having to, oh, dear, wait), and they got me in for the scan a good fifteen or twenty minutes early (because they could since I was there early and the room was available—this is why I choose to arrive early, especially to cancer treatment stuff—earlier in, earlier through whatever procedure it is, earlier on my way HOME End rant).

I told the nurses/techs/not-quite-sure-what-they-were I’d brought a pair of sweat pants because the paperwork I received yesterday stated specifically I should wear loose-fitting clothing without metal. I don’t wear sweats during the day (unless under jeans for warmth in winter), because it’s an important mood boost to dress in day clothes, and sweats make me feel depressed. The techs nodded, saying they understood completely, and led me to a locker room with a single chair in it with further instruction on how I should dress. So, after removing my bra and putting my tee shirt back on, I pulled on my sweats, totally ignoring the hospital pants draped on the chair—which I knew wouldn’t fit, so didn’t even bother trying them on.

When I stepped out, they showed me to a little room with one of our VA’s unattractive recliner chairs. This one happened to be teal, and it had little oblong tables attached to the arms, one of which was covered in what looked like a puppy piddle pad. They laughed when I called it that, and one of the girls said, “yeah, they do look like that.” I sat, the one who I guess must have been a nurse despite her everyday attire covered me up, and the other set out the various accoutrements of an IV line on the right hand (the covered) armrest table. I let Nurse get as far as wrapping the band around my arm before making a comment about it being the arm with the neuropathy, and the one who’d covered me up (who I’ll call Tech) said, “Yeah, that’s the arm she had the surgery on, maybe you want to do the IV in the other one.” So she did, thank goodness.

The IV was quickly placed while Tech went to fetch the radioactive tracer. Nurse injected the tracer, then went around the back of the chair to fetch the two tall bottles of barium sulfate suspension they wanted me to drink (so my digestive tract could be seen better in the scan later), then Tech asked if I was comfortable and told me they’d be back in about an hour and fifteen minutes to take me to the scan.

They left me alone in a dim room, facing a clock which the one recessed light left on illuminated perfectly. I spent the time swallowing the barium sulfate solution, which had a prominent citrusy scent but rather bland flavor either watching the minutes passed or simply sitting still with my eyes closed. At one point, I heard an tone sound, then a male voice declared, “Building One. First Floor. Zone C.” This was repeated over about ten minutes, with the tone then the three announcements. At one point, a guy poked his head in and said, “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about, just a fire alarm in another section. It’s probably a mistaken pull or something.” I asked where Zone C was, and he told me down the hall a ways and if it was necessary for me to leave, they’d be by to tell me so, then he left. Not long after that (about a quarter after eleven), Nurse and Tech fetched me to go to the PET/CT machine.

This machine (unlike an MRI machine), has two open ends, and Nurse and Tech had me climb onto the table extended from the “bottom” end, placing my head at the end closest to machine. While Nurse connected my IV to the contrast dye injector, Tech tucked me under more blankets, making sure to snug my feet well. Nurse hooked the tube to the injector around my thumb, then told me to raise my arms over my head. She stepped aside, and the table slid into the machine up to about the point of my neck. A male voice told me to breathe in and hold my breath, so I did, and it was followed by a scan, my body moving deeper into the PET/CT scanner tube. It stopped, moved me back out, and told me to take another deep breath and hold it.

After this second arms-above-my-head scan, The table moved all the way out and Nurse asked if I was wearing a necklace. I was. We got it off my neck, and the scan continued.

The remainder of the scan involved me laying very still, with my arms held to my sides by a large wrap which was connected to the table. It crossed from right to left and was held by Velcro on the left side; the IV tube from the dye injector was still hooked around my thumb, and exited out the “bottom” edge of the wrap, which covered me from abdomen to hips.

Before they injected the contrast dye, Nurse warned me I’d feel a hot flash and have a funny taste in my mouth. “Hot flash” was an understatement. It felt uncomfortably hot, as if I’d been out in the sun on the hottest day, dressed all in black, with a humidity of 100%, only I wasn’t sweaty after. It lasted perhaps five seconds. I didn’t get the funny taste, but the injection of the dye did cause a liquid-at-the-top-of-the-throat sensation and made it feel like as if I’d wet my pants, though I hadn’t. It was the only time I did not feel slightly chilled in that room, because they had fans going to keep the machine cool.

Then they did more scans. At one point, they stopped the table so my head was just at the other end of the tube, and I spent the five minutes my head was right there trying to read the stickers beside each of the three black rectangles—one on either side of my head, one right above me. Since I’m horribly nearsighted, and the print was small, it took me almost the entire time my head was there to puzzle out, “Laser Aperture. Do not stare into the beam,” at which point it made me very glad they hadn’t turned those lasers on. Then again, if those had been on like the ones at the other end, I wouldn’t have left my eyes open (LOL).

Not long after that, they completed the scan and the table ejected me from the “bottom” of the PET/CT scanner. Nurse removed my IV and bandaged me up, and they took me back to the locker room—they had to show me because I was very disoriented after my experience. Tech told me she got confused, too when she first started working. Back in my proper day clothing, I returned to the corridor and Tech showed me the way out, complimenting me on my cooperation.

After the PET/CT scan, I had a quick lunch and went to visit Nyna so she could write out my Chemo calendar; my first Chemo appointment is set for the 19th at nine in the morning after an eight o’clock visit to the lab to draw blood.

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).

Scars and Stuff

This entry is part 15 of 44 in the series Breast Cancer Posts

I would not have noticed the lump in my breast if it had not been right beneath the skin. In fact, I didn’t notice it for quite a while. The lump seemed kind of large to me, and the fact it had already attached to a lymph node gave me the impression I’d been feeling the lump and assuming it was my nipple being hard for a lot longer than I’d like to admit. I was not doing active breast exams, but I can tell you, finding this cancer has definitely galvanized me to do so.

The lump’s position on my breast was at about ten o’clock when facing the breast, right beside the areola. Now, since the surgery, I can feel the stitches put in to pull the remaining tissue together so I won’t have a void where the cancer was. My nipple is about half-submerged now, due to the pulling of the surgical scar; I don’t know if this will correct itself over time. It’s also a little off-center—my nipple now points in a slightly right-hand direction instead of down. It makes things like folding my arms very interesting now, because it’s right at the point where my arm bends when I do so.

I measured my scars today, too. Just to give y’all some idea what’s there:

I took the remaining steri-strips off my breast scar. It’s approximately four inches long, and is somewhat vertical, edging the areola. It directly bisects the ten o’clock position where the cancer was. A month following the surgery, it is now pink and looks well-healed.

The underarm scar is at least three inches below the point where my arm bends, and is approximately two and a half inches long. A month after surgery, it is slightly purple but well-healed. It feels swollen in that area and higher up under my arm, but it may actually be me feeling interior stitches which haven’t dissolved yet, or part of the neuropathy side effect from the surgery.

Approximately one and a half inches below my underarm scar is the JP Drain scar. This is perhaps half an inch wide and pinkish, well-healed. It no longer itches and when I get goose bumps, it doesn’t hurt as it did before (lots of shivering recently as it’s getting colder).

I have cancer-stuff appointments next week. Tuesday, I’m going to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for radiation prep and on Thursday I’m going to the VA for various tests and to see the Oncologists again. I’m not sure what the radiation prep appointment will include, but I imagine it may be an introduction to radiation therapy and a discussion with the doctor about my condition/status. I called the VA to ask what the Oncology appointment would be about and was told I’d get information on Chemo and how to deal with it and that they won’t start Chemo until after I’ve had two or three appointments with the Huntsman Institute about my radiation therapy so they could coordinate care prior to starting it. Apparently, this system is slightly less cumbersome if one is receiving all their cancer care up at Huntsman (LOL).

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