Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBT+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Chemotherapy

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.

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.

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).

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