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10 unexpected side effects of chemo

So happy to report that I am at the halfway point in my chemotherapy treatment. I have finished eight treatments and have eight more to go, I am nervous to continue just for the fact that my body is changing so rapidly and I don’t know what it’ll look like at the end of treatment. I am grateful though, to have a chance to heal and most of all grateful for the chance to live. I put together a list of the unexpected side effects of chemo. Some side effects may surprise you!

10. Dry Skin

I look like a lizard. or an alligator. or leather. I have to put lotion on several times a day. I think the chemo must dry your body from the inside out.

9. Sun Spots

I have sun spots in random places. Mostly my arms, but on top of my hands, under my arms and the under part of my fore arms. Its dark and patchy. Most people think it is a bruise. I have been told they will disappear after I end treatment.

8. Thrush

This side effect surprised me. I remember Hannah getting thrush when she was a baby, but it is very real for chemo patients too. My tongue swelled and was very irritated. It was difficult to eat. The only real relief was drinking cold drinks. It went way after a few days. Wayne bought me special toothpaste and mouthwash and that helped.

7.  Loss of Taste Buds

After a few treatments, food tasted different. Some food didn’t even have a taste. A couple of searches on “Dr. Google” and I found I wasn’t alone. Many people complain of loss of taste buds for a very long time. I do find myself salting and flavoring my food more. I don’t have the desire to eat some foods that I used to enjoy.

6. Forgetfulness

Some call it “chemo brain”. I will be in the middle of a conversation and the words just don’t come to me. I can’t even think of what I was going to say. It doesn’t happen often, but it is very frustrating and demeaning.

5. Collapsing Veins

Each week it is getting harder and harder for my blood to be drawn without digging around. It is very painful. I am lucky to have a port inserted for my chemo treatments. I absolutely hate to have blood  drawn from the top of my hand. I can only have  blood drawn from my left arm due to my lymph nodes being removed. Which brings me to number 4….

4. Loss of blood pressure and blood drawn from one arm

After my partial mastectomy surgery, six lymph nodes were removed. When lymph nodes are removed, there is nowhere for lymphatic fluids to drain through. Therefore, any increased pressure results in swelling of lymphatic fluids. For the rest of my life I cannot have blood withdrawn from my right arm or have blood pressure taken in my right arm.

3. Dry Mouth

My  mouth seems constantly dry. It may have something to do with decreased moisture from the inside of my body to the outside similar to having the dry skin. I keep water with me constantly even at night beside my bed. At least I am getting my water intake each day.

2. Diarrhea

A subject not everyone wants to hear about, but very much a reality.  Because of the increased risk of infection, i have to limit my exposure to germs which in turn means I limit my time at grocery stores, public places, restaurants, etc. Every meal usually results in diarrhea. Another great reason to drink a lot of water. (See number 3)

1. People Reaction

The number one unexpected side effect of not just chemotherapy, but of cancer in general, is of people reactions. I have found people fall into two categories, those that completely embrace you & step up to encourage you and those who put a wall up when the word “cancer” is brought up. I have had some very close friends who do not talk about the cancer, do not call or visit or become very nervous around me. I don’t blame them. I think sometimes when people are faced with mortality, they are scared. I try to give them  the space they need to absorb. I often find I am comforting them and I am okay with that. Who better to reassure them that God is in control than me? It takes me “outside” of myself to comfort others who may be uncomfortable.

My second half of treatment starts tomorrow and I am ready for the challenge. Wayne and I are going to take a little overnight trip to the beach this week. I think it is just what the doctor ordered!

Step in Faith,

  

My Breast Cancer Journey {Having a Biopsy}

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma on November 1, 2016. On December 27, 2016 my cancer was upgraded to Stage 3 due to the size of the tumor removed was 8.5 cm and one lymph node was malignant. One in 8 women will find out they have Breast Cancer each year. More than 80% of Breast Cancer diagnoses are Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. According to breastcancer.org :

“Invasive means that the cancer has “invaded” or spread to the surrounding breast tissues. Ductal means that the cancer began in the milk ducts, which are the “pipes” that carry milk from the milk-producing lobules to the nipple. Carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues that cover internal organs — such as breast tissue. All together, “Invasive Ductal Carcinoma” refers to cancer that has broken through the wall of the milk duct and begun to invade the tissues of the breast. Over time, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma can spread to the lymph nodes and possibly to other areas of the body.”

This is my story….

So after I FOUND A LUMP,  I made an appointment with my primary doctor. I had just finished my post operative care for my hysterectomy so my doctor’s office was surprised I was making an appointment so soon. Once i told them why, they quickly made an appointment. Unfortunately, my primary physician left the practice so I had to see a nurse practitioner whom I had never met.  Once in the office, she asked me a few questions and examined my breasts. She told me she didn’t think it was anything to worry about and that she really couldn’t feel a lump. I insisted that I could feel the lump in my upper right breast. She told me that since I was insisting that I felt something, she would refer me to get an ultrasound to ease my mind. Insisting to get a second opinion would be the best decision I would ever make.

I was able to get an appointment rather quickly, which was the next week. Wayne went with me to my appointment at a Women’s Center. The Women’s Center completely specializes in women’s diseases. It was decorated very feminine and warm. I felt very comfortable there.

I was escorted to the back dressing rooms and changed into a gown. Since I had an ultrasound many times before I wasn’t too concerned. I was placed into a dimly lit room on a padded table. Two ultrasound technicians conducted the ultrasound. It lasted about 20 minutes. One of the technicians took her findings to a doctor who examined the pictures. The doctor then came into the room and introduced himself . He told me he wanted to take a better look at my right breast. I started to get a very uneasy feeling. My instincts told me I had breast cancer. After the doctor looked at the screen and asked me a few questions, he told me he wanted me to do a biopsy to get a closer look at the lump and know for sure whether or not it was cancer.

My biopsy was scheduled for November 1, 2016 at the Women’s Center with the same doctor. My Mom went with me to the appointment. I never had a biopsy and didn’t know how the procedure would go. The experience turned out to be one of the best I have had with a doctor. The nurse brought me and my Mom back to the dressing rooms. I changed into a gown and they took us into the doctor’s office where he thoroughly explained what to expect. He expressed his concerns about the size of the lump and the timeline to hear about the results of the biopsy.

The doctor took us into the exam room. A nurse was in the room waiting. They were both so sweet and caring. The doctor turned on some light music and brought out some aromatherapy oils (I kid you not!). He told me they were meant to relax me so it wasn’t such a scary experience. The nurse gave me a pillow and some tissues. The doctor rubbed some oils on my pillow. The nurse draped a sheet over my neck so I wouldn’t see what was happening during the biopsy. They allowed my Mom to stay in the room to make me more comfortable.

I laid on my side and was given a local anesthesia. I didn’t feel a thing! The doctor took five samples. I overheard the doctor and nurse talking about “floaters” and “Sinkers”. I asked what they were referring to. The doctor was very upfront with me and told me “floaters were benign and sinkers are most likely malignant”. I had one sinker.  I asked him if he thought t was cancer and he said “yes”. I didn’t cry. I think I knew in my gut that I had cancer, He told me to call my primary doctor and make an appointment no later than three days from my appointment so I could get the results immediately after she received them. I was able to get an appointment the following week within five days from my biopsy. The biopsy lasted about an hour.

My primary doctor (nurse practitioner) confirmed that I had cancer. Wayne went with me to the appointment. She gave me a hug and told me a story about her sister whom had cancer and made a complete recovery. I was encouraged by her story, but had so many questions that she could not answer. She told me most of my questions would be answered by my surgeon and oncologist. I was happy to know the wheels were in motion to curing my cancer and I was anxious to get moving.

Next time, a visit to the surgeon and how things started moving very, very fast! Until next time…

Now you see it…a setback and a comeback

My third surgery was on November 19, 2015. I have been living with eye disease for 8 months now. (In case you missed my previous posts, you can catch up HERE)

At my follow-up appointment in December I had a bit of a setback. Fluid had built up behind me eye and my eye was very inflamed. My doctor could not determine if I had developed a hole in my eye due to the inflammation. He prescribed  an anti-inflammatory and continued with the steroid drops. This meant four rounds of each drop daily. It is inconvenient and the drops sting somewhat, but in the big scheme of life, it is very worth it. I considered this a bit of a setback because I thought once I had my surgery in my left “good” eye, I would be able to jump behind the wheel of my car and resume my life! Not so much…

A small bit of good news was that my doctor (whom I trust completely) told me I was able to wear my contact lenses as long as they didn’t physically bother my eyes. Finally! A gleam of hope for resuming a somewhat normal life! After putting in my lenses I was finally able to view my computer screen and phone and TV better. No driving, but progress is happening!

In January, I received even better news! Although the inflammation had not completely subsided, I am able to tested for a new prescription for contact lenses and eyeglasses. If all goes well, there is a possibility I can start to drive. This is so uplifting to me. I was also cleared to start walking, bicycling and lifting weights. My only restriction is no jarring movement to my head. I am unable to run or bend to pick up heavy weight or sit ups, but I can live with it!

My next appointment is in three weeks. I hope to have made enough progress that I can stop putting in the drops each day.

Thanks for sticking with me everyone! I feel more positive each day!

faith

Now you see it….Progress and Surgery Update

Thursday is the day! My third surgery. This time on my left eye AKA my good eye. I am a little more frightened about this surgery. Very anxious in fact. You see my left eye is my “good” eye. Now my doctor will try to repair my “good” eye and insert a gas bubble behind my eye to support the healing process. I know the chances of gaining better eyesight in my left eye are much greater given there is not a macular hole. But still…knowing my left eye will be blocked by a large round black circle prohibiting clear vision for 2 months is daunting. Add in the fact that I will have to be face down for 10 days which covers the week of Thanksgiving and it becomes downright depressing.

Gratitude-Unlocks-The-Fullness-Of-Life-Quote

However, I am grateful for several things:

  • My Dad is driving down the day before my surgery to help my hubby take care of me for five days. The bonus is he and hubby are going to fix our Thanksgiving Feast to enjoy on Sunday.
  • This should be my last major eye surgery. Fingers crossed they can repair the damage to my left eye and I will have somewhat restored vision in my left eye and it will be strong enough to “help” my right eye to see better.
  • My Mom is coming to stay for the whole month of December!  After a very rough year, it will be nice to take a break in December and enjoy the holidays knowing the worst is behind us.
  • My doctor is so kind and caring. I am confident in his care and knowledge. I feel safe and right now that is so important to me.

I can’t wait to start the new year with a fresh outlook (no pun intended!) I am excited to push this blog even farther. I am excited to run and exercise and drive again! I will post updates when I am able. Prayers are always appreciated!

Now you see it….eye disease update

Hi All! Just wanted to give you an update on my eye disease…

I went to see Dr. R last week for my monthly check up to see how my eye is progressing. More importantly, how my gas bubble is dissipating.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t great news. Although my gas bubble has decreased in size, Dr. R was able to see that the macular hole in my eye did not close. There really isn’t anything more he can do for me. He told me that a third surgery on my right eye is pointless and may cause more harm. I wasn’t too upset as I had assumed the hole was still there because the vision over the top of the bubble is starting to show wavy again. Dr. R says  the waviness should calm over time. I am hopeful to see a bit of progress so I can have a little more independence with driving and exercising. As if the hole being there wasn’t bad enough, I am developing a cataract in my right eye though. We had expected this. Dr. R says after the first of the year we will address the cataract surgery.

Regarding my left eye, no hole! Dr. R is scheduling surgery on my left eye on one to two weeks. His goal is to form the eye and remove the scar tissue before my eye tears or a hole appears. Dr. R gave me the option of scheduling surgery after the holidays, but I don’t want to take any chances of developing a hole in my left eye. If we catch it quick enough, I can have good (non-wavy) vision in my left eye. I expect a cataract will develop in my left eye as well. We will take care of those surgeries after the new year. (Seems cataract surgery will be a breeze in comparison!)

I was so happy to hear from a writer I just met on a book launch team who happened to have the same eye situation. Its nice to know I am not alone! If you have a story or experiences to share, I’d love to hear them!

You can read more about my story with eye disease here and here and here.

 

Now you see it……The Recovery

So when I last posted, I was on the road to recovery. Little did I know that recovery would be three months long and come with another unplanned surgery.

My first surgery was June 18. I received very good care from the doctors and nurses. I also was given very strict instructions on how to best take care of myself.  With a hole on the back of my retina, the doctor can choose to insert a gas bubble or an air bubble into the area of the hole to “block” the hole and promote healing. Because of  severity of the hole, my doctor chose to insert a long-lasting gas bubble. If you remember from science class, gas expands and contracts depending on the elevation level. I live in the High Desert of California and to get to the high desert, we must travel up a mountain to a higher elevation. I had to lie down in the backseat of the car with my head down for the trip and stop halfway between the surgery center and my home to rest my eye for about 90 minutes. This allowed the gas bubble to slow expansion and not injure my eye any further.

A gas bubble in my eye means I had to lay face down on my stomach for 2 weeks. I was very fortunate to have done some research ahead of time and found a massage type of chair that allows you to lay face down. This chair came with a mirror that allowed me to watch TV. It also had a stand to lay a book on for reading. Although I had little pain in my eye, a face down position is painful to my chest and back and neck. My family put hot compresses on my back and rubbed pain cream on my back and neck to relieve some of the pressure.

The gas bubble in my eye lasted for 2 months. I could not drive for the whole 2 months. I had a couple of follow-up appointments within the 2 months (stopping for 90 minutes each time…uuuggghhh). At my last appointment, my doctor informed me that the hole did not close. I still saw wavy lines and my vision, although better, was not corrected. He scheduled my next surgery for September 3rd. The procedure was the same, but seemed much more painful this time around. My eye did not appear as red and swollen as the first time. The doctor told me he removed a fibrous membrane from my eye and “pinched” my eye to promote healing. It seems to be healing better this time. I still have three more surgeries to go. I will have the same surgery, but hopefully without the gas bubble on my left eye in October. I will then have cataract surgery on both eyes after the first of the year.

Let me say how grateful I am for technology and the wonderful God-given talents of my doctor.  He has been very encouraging and compassionate about my care. That being said…..a few things I struggle with:

  • I cannot drive:

Sometimes being driven around has its perks. For the most part though, I miss my independence.

  • Gaining weight:

Being sedentary  and restricted on exercise packs on the pounds. I am not allowed to do rigorous exercise or lift anything above 10 pounds. Not being able to see out of my right eye restricts walking outside also. In the big scheme of things its a small price to pay.

  • Not being able to see!: 

I am so grateful to my husband and daughter, my parents, and my friends for encouraging and taking care of me while I go through this. I could not have done so well mentally and emotionally had it not been for their love.

If you have nay questions or going through this yourself, please drop me a comment, I’d love to hear your experience!