Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unbelieveable News!

This is how it happened.  On Monday morning I called Dr. Abdelaal's [Ab-de-la] office (my oncologist).  I wanted to make an appointment to speak with him before the end of the week to ask him some pointed questions about my chemotherapy.  

At 3:40 I signed my name at the receptionist's window and was instantly taken back to Nurse Priscilla's office for weigh in and blood pressure check -- you know the routine, right?  She went over my chart, ticking off notes on my blood draws, asking questions, telling me things about what they check for when a patient takes chemo.  In my case, there is no tumor, she said, in which to measure to see if the chemo is workingThere is only the blood and blood markers.  If the blood shoots off a strange "marker" they will have to look and see what the marker is to know if it is possibly a cancer cell.  That's how they have to look at my lab work.  That's how they know if the chemo I am taking is doing it's job.  She then took me to a waiting room and told me that the doctor, who would be with me momentarily, would go over this information and lab work with me in more detail. 

He was very kind.  He said basically the same thing Nurse Priscilla did before adding that my blood work has come back consistently clear.  No markers.  No strange cells.  He then told me that the tumor that had been removed (along with my breasts) had been very small as were the four lymph nodes.  The one lymph node that contained cancer cells were so small that they could only be seen with a powerful microscope.  My cancer stage was low.  He said the chemo drugs that I had been given were the strongest you could give to a breast cancer patient.  I had endured four chemo sessions.  He did not feel that by my taking two more that I would receive any further benefit; I had received the maximum benefit for the minimum number of chemo sessions.  He felt comfortable stopping chemo at this time.  

I thought I would fall out of my chair.  Was he kidding?  Would I wake up in a few minutes and find that I was dreaming?  Pinch me.  Please somebody pinch me and tell me that I am NOT dreaming.  

He continued.  You will have to take an aromatase inhibitor, like we talked about at our first meeting.  This you can start after your white blood count starts to rise.  It does not have the dangerous side effects of chemo drugs, like heart problems or kidney or  liver failure.  However, it does have some side effects that people have complained of.  Most often it is arthritis-like bone pain and hot flashes.  You will need to take calcium pills and vitamin D.  Do you have any questions?  

YES!  Will the hot flashes be worse than the hot flashes that I have now?  (this is a question that I am asking of a man who has never been through menopause or experienced a hot flash in his life).  He shrugged.  Of course he shrugged.  He has no idea.  Dumb question.  Next?  How bad is the bone pain?  He shrugged.  Again.  Okay, let's try it another way.  What do I take for the bone pain?  Oh, you can take regular over the counter pain medication like Tylenol or Extra Strength Tylenol.  

Evidently Dr. Abdelaal has never had bone pain.  And to tell you the truth, I haven't really ever suffered long term bone pain either.  So I have no idea what this is going to feel like.  But what choice to I have?  I don't want my cancer to come back and I certainly don't ever want to take chemo again.  EVER!  So I'll suffer through the aromatase inhibitor, which is called Arimidex or Anastrozole.  There are a whole slew of side effects, according to the Pub Med Heath web site, but I guess the bone pain and hot flashes are probably the worst of the bunch.  Dr. Abdelaal recommends taking them before bedtime so that most of the effects will have worn off by morning. I have to continue to see Dr. A. once a month for a year, but I have to take the Arimidex for five years.  I have no idea what happens after the one year mark, as far as seeing a doctor is concerned.

Nausea.  Nausea is one of the side effects of this pill.  Let's just hope it doesn't wake me up in the middle of the night.  Nausea and I don't get along very well.  Maybe if I take Benedryl before bedtime as well...  

Here are the side effects.  I am listing them because some contradict each other like "loss of appetite" and then, "weight gain"  Take a look:

What side effects can this medication cause?

Anastrozole may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
  • weakness
  • headache
  • hot flashes
  • sweating
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • heartburn
  • weight gain
  • joint, bone, or muscle pain
  • breast pain
  • mood changes
  • depression
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • nervousness
  • dizziness
  • vaginal bleeding
  • vaginal dryness or irritation
  • pain, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • dry mouth
  • hair thinning

    I'm starting to look like a granny with all my little pills and vitamins all neatly arranged in a basket on the kitchen counter.  The good news is, I DON'T HAVE TO TAKE CHEMO ANY MORE!  I am over the moon, and have still not come down.  Stay tuned... 


Monday, March 21, 2011

You're Invited To Come To Chemo Party Number Four

It was a party of three most of the time.  And then others dropped in, left and came back intermittently.  My dear childhood friend, Anne (Todd) Miller drove from Heber Springs to Harrison, two plus hours to help cheer me on last Friday.  She was joined by my friend, Margie Keener, who has supported me throughout this entire ordeal.  Well, that's not completely fair.  Anne has supported me throughout this whole ordeal, too.  It's just that she does not live here.  Anne has always "been there" for me.  Always.  Since we were little girls.  You've heard me mention her in previous blogs.  Anne is very, very special to me.  God Bless you, Anne!  Not everyone is privy to see me completely bald.  But hey, she was with me when I was 16 years old and toppled head-first off the hood of a car.  She got to see the scar that would otherwise be covered with hair.  She helped save my life that day.

Margie and Anne got to meet each other for the first time on Friday.  They both settled into LazyBoys in the oncology clinic while I received the four IV bags of chemicals.  Dwain's sister, Carolyn dropped by every so often to share in the story telling as did Dwain.  Carolyn, also drove me to the clinic Friday morning.  Good thing, too, because I'd taken two Benedryl before I left the house.  I was trying to be pro-active this time because the last time I took chemo, the nausea almost overtook me.  

It was enlightening and entertaining to listen to Margie and Anne tell stories of mysterious events that had occurred in their lives.  You'd believe in angels too if you had heard the stories.  And these people don't lie or tell tall tales (hey, look how I used those those three words in a sentence).

Margie, as usual, brought a small ice chest filled with all sorts of goodies.  Seeing as how I got so nauseated the last time, decided not to eat anything stronger than a cracker. Margie brought Cheese-Its, my absolute favorite. She pointed out that they have soy in them.  Everything I love to eat has soy.  But I ate some anyway.  That chemo better be killing the soy, was all I said.  And I drank the ice cold bottled water she brought-- all the better to flush the toxins out as quickly as possible.  Anne ate some Cheese-its, grapes, cheese sticks and some water.  See?  It really was a party.  And nobody got sick this time. 

Four and a half hours later, after an exhausted and yawning Anne dropped me safely home again, I decided to access the damage.  Did I feel sick?  No.  Did I feel fatigued?  A little, but nothing to write home about.  What did I feel, then?  I felt strange, that's how I felt.  It's very hard to put my finger on a description that makes sense to anyone who has not ever experienced chemo. And as the hours wear on, this is sort of what happens:  It's almost like you feel pinched all over.  Like someone emptied your blood and refilled your vessels with ice water and chemicals; you can taste them.  Your legs feel a little boingy, like rubber bands.  The taste buds on your tongue get this chemical flavor that lasts for days -- well, it never goes completely away, really.  Your whole body shakes and churns involuntarily.  You feel like you've been spun and spun and spun -- dizzy.  The rims of your eyes actually turn vampire red (or mine do); the whites feel dry and gritty every time you blink.  Sometimes the lids even stick to the whites.  Thank goodness for eye wash.  Your legs, ankles and feet ache so bad.  Then comes the horrible fatigue.  Maybe it's a good thing to sleep.  At least you don't feel anything when you sleep.  And sleep I did.  For hours and hours and hours.  

Today I feel much better.  No more ice water in the veins feeling.  Nausea is under control.  No dizziness.  No more vampire eyes.   No rubber band legs. 

Here is the scary part.  Usually on day 10, after chemo, you hit your lowest on the immunity scale.  Your white blood count will be low, then it will come back up.  Imagine my surprise when I went to take chemo number four and they tell me that my white blood count is dangerously low.  What?!  But I feel so good.  How can that be?  Are you sure?  Nurse Priscella showed me my blood work from the day before.  She wasn't sure that the doctor would even give me chemo.  He did though.  He said he was going to give me a lesser dose this time.  He warned me to stay clear of crowds and the public in general until after day 10 (March 28th) to give my body and blood a chance to rebuild. 

Have I mentioned how much I hate chemotherapy?  Why can't I find a way to just be grateful?  But I am not, and that's the truth  (sticking out my tongue!)


Monday, March 7, 2011

Aisles of Spring -- Makeup, Hats, Food

The most wonderful thing happened.  Not even one week after my last chemo the vicious nausea that plagued me without mercy suddenly dropped a step behind late Monday afternoon.  By Tuesday afternoon I totally ditched that devil nausea -- it seemed to have lost the trail completely; couldn't quite sniff it's way back. HA HA!

Wednesday morning the substitute court reporter that had promised to take court for me on Thursday phoned that she had a family emergency and would not be able to take court for me, but not to worry, she would find someone to work for meAt that point I thought, hey, you know what? I actually think I will be able to do this.  Don't worry about it, I told her.  I really did believe I could manage just fine.  She lined up a just-in-case/yoo-hoo-type sub for me anyway.  I felt so cared-about :)  But I did it!  I went to work and did just fine. 

A court reporter's job is a little different in that a courtroom setting is completely random.  Most people with jobs can count on regular 15 minute breaks -- one in the morning, one in the afternoon; always a lunch break.  They are to be at work at a certain time and clock out at a certain time.  For a court reporter, one never knows what will happen or how long a session might last; when or if you will have a lunch break -- or a break at all.  Things get mighty intense sometimes between witnesses and attorneys.  I am charged with the duty of making a verbatim record of it all -- every single word exchanged between everyone; the judge, the attorneys, the witnesses, the outbursts.  Needless to say, my job is stressful.  Getting sick or upchucking in the middle of it all is completely unacceptable.   I have no idea how elementary school teachers who are on chemo manage their jobs either; the stress levels must be similarly random -- not to mention how they manage to stay away from the germs children unknowingly fling around.

Anyway, my strength has improved daily.  Dwain's got me on a diet high in lean protein, low on acidic food, which I think goes a long way toward improving my stamina.   I have almost no feeling of nausea, which is also a first.  AND no horrible fatigue.  I like this train I'm on, so I think I'll just stay on it .   Prayers are also deeply appreciated. 

In my last post I touched on the subject of make-up.  I haven't worn makeup in many years, just sunscreen and a touch of lipstick for color.  Suddenly I've delved into a world that is literally over my head.  Some have suggested having an Estee Lauder makeover.   Estee Lauder?  Hey, I'm a huge fan, as was my mother.  But that's a makeup investment I'm not really willing to  make for something so temporary.  Once this chemo thing is over with, I'll go right back to my old clean-skinned ways.  The collars of my shirts  get so smudged and dirty when I wear make up.  I just want the bare necessities.  Thanks!

The Jungle Book - Bare Necessities (Mowgli and Baloo)

Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities
Forget about your worry and your strife
I mean the bare necessities, that's why a bear can rest at ease... 

Sorry, I couldn't help it. Those words just popped out.  Feel free to get up and dance.  

Anyway, here are some pictures that Dwain took on Sunday of our efforts at makeup shopping.  This was the first time I've ever gone out in public without my wig -- just a little knit cap to cover my cold, bare head. And believe me, it was very, very cold on  Sunday. 

Target in Branson.  Aisles and Aisles of every makeup product I never knew existed.

After applying a good moisturizer, start with a good base foundation, my mother always said.  How does one select the correct color?

Blush and lipstick.  Color, color, color.  Which one would be right for me? BTW, how do you like cool the new straw hat?  Hint:  I love it!  Very cool on a hot day (I think).

This mascara promises to volumize my lashes -- all five or six of them that I have left, you think?
This hair color  for $4.50 was on the clearance aisle.  Hey, it's just my color, too.  I asked Dwain if he would help me get the color on the back of my lovely locks.
T.J. Maxx had many Easter products.  I was especially intrigued with this Yankee Candle.  Has anyone else on chemo notice their senses of (smell, taste, touch, hearing) being highly exaggerated? Or is it just me?  My sense of smell is especially strong, many times not in a good way. Happily, this candle was nice -- ultra sweet
Not quite sure what this is -- absolutely certain I did not want to try it.  Has anyone actually sampled this? If you have, PLEASE give me a review.  I promise to share it. 
Before we left Branson, we HAD to have a late afternoon snack -- starving were we! IHOP was just the ticket!  That's Dwain with his pot o'coffee (he never gets coffee at home, so this was a real treat!). 

Dwain likes coffee, I like tea; I want Dwain to share a snack with me. 
This is Rhonda.  Rhonda took good care of us, even asked if she could take a picture of us together.  I said, how about I take a picture of you at work and e-mail it to you.  Bet you don't get many pictures of yourself doing your actual job, do you?  She wrote her e-mail address on our ticket.  Rhonda is a good sport!  If you work in Branson, MO, being a good sport is sort of an unspoken  requirement.

Thank you, Rhonda!  

We tried not to leave her too big of a mess.   I almost forgot:  Dwain and I shared two spinach/chicken crepes, which were so filling that it ruined our appetite for dinner.  So when we got home, we ate dessert instead. 
Back to the courtroom I go tomorrow armed with my little cylinder of Clorox wipes.  This is day number 10, my lowest immune day, so I'm staying at home today,  away from everyone.  Here is a notable note:  A friend of ours told us that her sister had breast cancer and wasn't careful enough to heed the advise about low immunity.  She died not from the cancer itself but from pneumonia.  That is a sobering thought on which to end this blog.  So, I won't end it this way.


Dateline: Waco, TX, March 7,1974; Hillcrest Baptist Hospital -- painless childbirth was unheard of, the gender of your child was announced by the doctor; extra family was not allowed in the delivery room. I lay in a labor room wondering about the mystery of it all. Shaynan Lewis Johnston, my first child, was delivered by Dr. Scanio. She was perfect in every single way. Happy Birthday to my precious first child. I have loved you always. Mom

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Whatever Happened to Betty Davis as Baby Jane.... or can I relearn makeup 101?

I really like this picture because it focuses on a happier me rather than a nauseated me.  My daughter Jayme sent me these adorable footed PJs (to keep me warm -- I LOVE THEM!) and my sister-in-law, Carolyn and her husband Chuck gave me the beautiful hot pink roses (aren't they beautiful!) the day I took my third chemo -- oh how I hate to even say that horrible word.  Some wonderful day chemo will be obsolete and our children's children will say, can you remember when our great grandmothers had to take poison to kill cancer cells? How did they endure it?  Dwain reminds me that not even 100 years ago there was nothing.  Nothing at all.  People just died.  Cancer was simply a death sentence. 

I've got to say that the hours and days following chemo leave me wondering if I will actually live or if I even want to.  That may sound harsh, but it's just brutal what it does to your body and your mind.  My friend Cora (Cora's Hidden Riches) left me an encouraging e-mail message because she felt such sympathy for what I was going through.  Cora, I truly hope you don't mind that I share your message, it's so inspirational.  By the way, you should read her blog of blessings that she posts.  They will make your smile grow so big.  This is the e-mail I sent to her and then her reply follows:

I'll tell you what, Cora, sometimes I think the chemo is truly going to kill me.  I don't know how I'll feel about taking chemo again by the time I am to receive the next (4th) treatment.  Right now I'm just now climbing out of  the most vicious nausea I've faced since this whole thing started, and yes I have been taking anti-nausea pills.  The nurse at the clinic had to inject me with additional anti-nausea medication while I was there, and this was after I'd already had a full bag of it before the chemo drugs began.  I want to quit so badly.  I can't bear how the chemo drugs make me feel.  My husband just wears himself out trying to "fix" my nausea, and that frustrates me to no end.  He just can't figure out what to do, and neither can I.  Mostly, I just need to be left alone to sleep.  Chemo is utter madness!  As you can tell from my response here, I'm feeling pretty negative right now -- that's just not me.  Cross your fingers and hope for the best for me.  Thank you for your kind words of support, Cora.  I'm still enjoying your blessings that you share with us all.  -Megan-

I can truly relate!  I wanted sympathy and help, but I, too, wanted to be left alone to die! (Or so I thought!)  I remember one day trying to take a shower.
My legs were so weak that I couldn't stand long enough to rinse off, and I couldn't catch my breath.  My heart was pounding so hard (from the steroids, I guess) and I really thought that was it for me.
NOTHING was edible, but I was hungry feeling.  The indigestion was like fire in my gut.  My urine burned me raw.  My stool burned like fire.  The skin peeled off my heels and I couldn't walk on them.  I had the worst charlie horses because I wasn't drinking enough, and so the story went on and on!  I felt like a whining, miserable wretch.  I can't tell you how I dragged myself in there for #4 through #6.  I guess the question  that plagued me was, "What other option do I have?????"  Don't give up.  Ask for an extra week if you must, but dont' give up!  I will pray for you constantly, Megan!  But hang in there, won't you???
From someone who walked in your shoes, I just know you can do this!!!!!!

Without going into much more detail, that's pretty much how chemo number three felt.  The good news is, this is Wednesday -- 5 days after and I'm feeling better than I have after any other chemo treatment, 5 days post chemo.  In fact, I'm going to go ahead and work tomorrow.  That's another first for me.  I haven't been able to work the first week after chemo before now.  Your prayers are catching up with me, you guys.   If I could insert a smiley face here, I would. 

Dwain took the following pictures. Please enjoy. 
Dwain said I looked like Cleopatra with her lion.  That's pretty imaginative, I'd say, considering I wasn't feeling real swooft.  But thanks, Dwain.  I'll take that compliment. 

How to poach an egg.  That's me feeling good enough to make my own breakfast.
 I want to talk just a bit about some food I found comforting and easy to digest after chemo.  For some reason they are all white foods, but not totally starchy.  One good food is poached eggs. 

The egg cooks rather quickly -- not greasy at all.

Once the egg white sort of comes together with the yolk, you lift the whole thing out with a slotted spoon.
I like to put my poached egg on top of a bowl of grits (see? white food).  It's so easy on your tummy.
The one non-white food is the V8 Fusion that I drink any time I want.  It tastes so good.  Nothing chemical about it.  It's 100% fruit and vegetable juice that's just a perfect mix of sweet and tangy.  When you can't drink water, try this.  
Dwain liked this picture that he took because it captured my little area of recovery so perfectly.  We recently bought that little wooden TV tray that held everything (cell phone, I-Pad, magazines, food & water) so perfectly.  Thankfully  I didn't actually have to use the trash can for anything other than trash (no urping -- oh happy day!).  I never been so happy to finally put everything back in it's proper place once again.  No more recovery area... for the time being.  Yea!

Today I am going into town to have lunch with Dwain, run some errands and buy some makeup.  I haven't worn actual makeup in almost 20 years, but one look in the mirror yesterday told me it was time.  You've heard the phrase "green around the gills?" Yep.  That's me.  Or totally blanched out.  I'm either greenish-looking or have no color at all.  Either way, I'm one scary-looking lady.  Dwain thinks I may end up looking like Betty Davis when she played the part of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  EEE Gads!

"Sister, sister, oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?"

- Film Tagline