Week 17 – End of chemo.
It’s over. This part anyhow. Chemo officially ended after 16 weeks. Four months of treatments every other week. Most of that time feeling pretty crappy with 3 or 4 “good” days at the end of each treatment cycle. In immediate retrospect, without the perspective of more time, I can tell you my ACT chemo, although I felt terrible at times, was doable. If you had to, I image you could and would do it to and would find joy, too. Time passes regardless of your circumstances, although sometime it seems to pass more slowly. In my case, four months felt like a year. However, I did arrive at that marker and now it’s done. Four months and much has changed for me, but that’s it’s own story for another post.
There was a brief moment of celebration right after my last treatment where both my mom and birth mom were at my house with champagne. A toast to the end of treatments before the side effects of the final treatment set in again. A toast to my wonderful nurses at Providence Portland who made me smile, my oncology doc, Dr. Alison Conlin, and friends and family who got me though it. There was also chocolate and flowers to make the day complete. But whereas I thought I might have four weeks of celebration and a reprieve between chemo and the surgery that is scheduled for Nov. 18, 2013, I’ve found this time to be quite stressful.
Physically, I am very fatigued. Not just tired, but extremely fatigued. Not the kind you can will yourself out of or fool with an extra cup of coffee. I have the best of intentions to try get back into my photography studio and earn some money to pay for all these expenses, but my body forces me to rest. I’m weak and I don’t want to be. I can handle far less than four months ago. I go in for a couple hours and do what I have to do then go home again. To be expected, but not what I expected of myself, I suppose. Most of the chemo side effects have passed with a few remaining and a few new ones that have started since my last treatment. I’m officially done, but I’m not recovered. Aside from the fatigue, I still have massive hot flashes every hour around the clock. The throw your wig to the floor and start taking off your clothes kind. These continue during the night where I wake up with the sheets and my body soaked. I keep a towel in bed with me to dry off as I can. There are too many to bother getting up and changing. These are from the chemo-induced menopause. We don’t know if this is a permanent change or not. Oh yes, I’m still bald, although I’m growing blond duck fuzz now. I’m afraid it will turn into feathers eventually. It started right before my last treatment although I had heard it would take a month. Determined hair! I had to email my cousin Linda, who’s been through this, too, and ask her if the fuzz was actually hair or some kind of side effect. It’s very weird stuff, but I’ll take it now. Since my final treatment I’ve lost more eyelashes and eyebrows, though a few still hang tight. I’ve developed neuropathy in my feet (my toes tingle without my being kissed) as well as a skin rash on my nose. Both should go away, but doctors can’t say when. Both of my big toenails also became infected and had to be cut away. Now that was a fun day! I wore Birkenstock with my toes wrapped in big bandages just like the Flintstones last week.
Emotionally, I’m not so much happy as simply relieved. I’m relieved that I don’t have to go back in and make myself sick again. I’m relieved that the bone pain has passed, that the nausea is mostly gone, that my mind is clearer, that my tumors are hopefully smaller. I’m relieved that I got through it.
Emotionally, I feel quite fragile and anxious. During chemo I had a purpose and had to push through. Now I just have to wait and wait on something I don’t really want to do, but need to do. More on this in the plastic surgery post.
I don’t know yet if chemo helped or not. There is no MRI test (to meditate with the octopus from the Octopus shoot) for me. There is no bone scan to see if it has spread, although the doctor assured me cancer doesn’t spread during chemo. I would have liked to have known this while I was doing chemo. I now just wait for the four weeks to pass between chemo and surgery where my breasts and lymph nodes will be removed. Three days later the pathology report will tell us if the cancer was still there, if it shrank or if it disappeared. It’s incredibly nerve wracking to wait, knowing there is still cancer in your body, wondering if could spread, while you heal enough to withstand the surgery.
Note: I again feel the same pain in my breast that I had back in June that told me something was wrong. I had this pain for two weeks before I found the lump and went to my doctor. It went away during chemo and two weeks after we stopped chemo it’s now back. I know they say chemo doesn’t hurt. Mine does and thank goodness. It is how I found my cancer when a mammogram could not.
11/16/13 Update After this blog post I contacted my oncologist and told her I was worried because the pain in my breast had returned as well as new pain in my armpit and arm. She ordered an ultrasound. Good news! After 4 months of chemo was very positive. It showed my tumor had shrunk by half. (The tumor is fast growing and would have doubled without it) The lymph node that tested positive during the original biopsy did not light up on this ultrasound. The surgeon said the pain might be from the dead cancer cells being flushed from my system. She also said we will still remove 3 lymph nodes, and I will need to wear an arm sleeve for one year to hopefully prevent lymphedema. The pathology after the surgery will tell us exactly how much, if any, of the cancer was still in my left breast and if there was anything in the right breast. Although, while it does not change my treatment plan it is a tremendous relief to know the chemo worked well.