Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Done, Finished, Complete, Through, Over

My cancer treatments are done. It sure is a relief to have all that behind me.  It’ll take a while for my skin to heal from radiation, but it will now have a chance to heal completely. It has been a loooong nine months.

My oncologists have been great.  I credit my medical oncologist with seeing to it that I was able to avoid the nausea that’s so common with chemo. And she kept close watch to make sure that I had no neuropathy issues.  My radiation oncologist is very good about answering all my questions and giving me breaks when my skin needed some time away from the rads.

For the next twelve months I’ll see my medical oncologist every three months. She’ll do very specific blood work to look for any signs of remaining or recurring cancer. Then it will be every six months; and then yearly. For many, many years I hope.

My brain is back. My hair is coming back.  And I’m back to my normal energy levels. 

Thanks to everyone for your support and prayers.

Life is good.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Update and some thoughts

I’m just about finished molting.  Almost all of the peeling is done – just a couple more small spots that haven’t yet let go.  It is red, red, red.  I’m into the “boost” part of radiation now. Higher doses to a smaller area. Four more to go.

My hair growth is finally beginning to look more like hair than fuzz.

It’s been a long nine months since my diagnosis.  I’ve learned a lot about cancer, breast cancer in particular, and its treatment and its emotional effect on people who must deal with it.

I never joined a support group because I’ve had great support from family and friends.  I may be wrong, but it seems that support groups are most important and useful to those who are shocked and/or devastated by the diagnosis. Reading discussion boards such as surprised me at the number of women who are thrown into emotional chaos by this disease. Tears, abject sobbing, and a feeling of hopelessness seem to envelop some women like a dense fog.  They seem consumed by fear of recurrence and keep asking and looking for statistics that tell them it will all be ok.  I feel so sorry for these poor ladies.  Thankfully, there are many, many others who seem to have an attitude as pragmatic as mine.

Ironically, the most distraught women are not those with Stage IV or metastatic cancer. It seems that most of the late-stage women who post on these boards are reconciled to their circumstance.  They offer each other moral support and advice based on their individual experiences.  They become close friends even though they’ve never met. Only someone in that situation can understand what its like, so they are a great comfort to one another. 

Another surprise from these discussion boards is the number of women who hate the whole pink ribbon thing.  They hate “Pinktober” so vehemently that a few refer to it as “F***tober”.  They apparently resent the cheery carnival atmosphere of the pink events,   I wonder if they think that people would attend and participate in somber events that had slide shows of tumors and cancer patients.  I think that these are mostly the ladies who are emotionally undone by their disease.

My radiation treatment ends on Thursday.  I’ll post at least one more entry when I’m done.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A longer break from radiation

No radiation this week. 

My short break from radiation did a lot to ease the pain but, in the meantime, my skin has begun sloughing off.  Like a super-peeling from a sunburn. 

My Radiation Oncologist has suspended treatment for this week and given me Domeboro and Silvadene to help the healing. 

Domeboro is an astringent to dry the skin. And the Silvadene is a silver-based antibiotic to prevent infection in the open wounds from the peeling.

It’ll be nice to not get zapped again until at least Monday, but I’m hoping to then be able to move forward and get this behind me.




Sunday, May 4, 2014

Red Red Red


Actually, dark red with black undertones. And it’s very uncomfortable. 

Conventional wisdom is that radiation is much easier than chemo. I’m an exception to that.  My chemo side effects were irritating and annoying but not painful.  I guess I’m paying for that now.  Been taking Aleve as often as I can. 

I suspended treatment for Friday and Monday to give four days for my skin to heal a little.   Get back to it on Tuesday.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Long Overdue Update


I’m four weeks into radiation therapy.  Only 13 more treatments to go. 

The radiation target is the chest wall where my right breast once was.  I’m red from my clavicle to the middle of my right side. When the doctor saw it on Thursday, his first comment was: “medium rare”.  That area is approaching the deep red of a Red Delicious apple. The good news is that I’m not blistering – yet. The other good news is that the area of the surgery is completely numb so that the only pain is in the surrounding skin. It feels like a severe sunburn; and with my fair skin, I’ve had my share of those.  A couple of Aleve capsules take care of that. 

I’m using Aloe, Miaderm, and Aquaphor on the skin.  I slather one of them on every few hours.  And I really lay it on thick.  I don’t know if that makes a difference to my skin, but I’d rather use too much than too little.   

The doctor says that if I do start to blister, we’ll suspend treatment for a few days to let some healing take place. 

My hair continues to grow slowly and somewhat unevenly.  In some places it is about ½ inch long.  I can pretty much smooth it down now so that I don’t have as much fuzz sticking out from my scalp.  The fuzz just looks silly. 

My eyebrows are back and are dark as they were before.  I hated not having eyebrows. 

Chemo brain is diminishing but apparently not completely gone yet. 

So in general, things continue to go well.  I credit my oncologists for taking good care of me. 

So here’s my cynical description of breast cancer treatment:   

First they fill you with enough poisons to make your hair fall out, your taste buds disappear, your skin dry out, your finger and toenails to flake, and your bones hurt.  Neuropathy of the hands and feet is an added feature. Surgery can occur either before or after the poisoning. Then they cook you until well done. In my case that’s 2.75 hours total (33 5-minute treatments) YMMV.  Everyone involved hopes this is adequate.  Sometimes it isn’t.






Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Radiation Therapy has begun.


On Monday, March 31, I began radiation therapy. I’ll have a total of 33 treatments over 6 ½ weeks.  Monday through Friday. 

The entire process takes 15 minutes or less.  The actual radiation takes 5 minutes.   

I lie down on the mold that was made during the planning session, and the technicians adjust my position so that my three little tattoo dots line up with the lasers.  Then the machine does a CT scan which takes a couple of minutes.  They review the scan image to make sure I’m properly positioned. Then they zap me for 5 minutes.  That’s all there is to it.

After only 3 treatments, there’s no visible effect on my skin yet.  I expect some sunburn-like reddening over time; and hope it gets no worse than that. 

Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article with a photo of the machine that zaps me. It’s a high tech wonder.




Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Radiation Treatment Planning

The process for planning radiation treatment is more complex than I’d ever imagined.  I finally Googled it today.  I’d called to let my radiation oncologist’s office know that I’m ready to begin – my temperature is back to normal and I’m feeling much better.   The technician promptly scheduled me to begin treatment today.  But then I got a call from her this morning saying that she’d jumped the gun and that my treatment plan was still in the physics department and was not yet complete.  

So what goes into a radiation treatment plan?  Here’s a brief explanation. Wow!

 My treatment starts on Monday, March 31. 




Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Radiation Planning Appointment

Today was my radiation planning appointment.  Very interesting. 

The object is to get you positioned so that the radiation gets to the right place – and to make sure that you’ll be in precisely that same position for every treatment. 

To do this, they make a mold also called a cradle. Here’s a link to one brand of cradle.

Once I was in the basic position, it was a matter of fine tuning – lots of minor adjustments until the technician thought she had it correct.  Then she called in the physicist who took a look and gave his approval. Next was setting the mold – a little more pushing and shoving to make sure my position would remain stable. She made X marks where the lasers were hitting.  One on each side and one on my chest.

Then the radiation oncologist came in and put little stickers all over.  These will show up on the CT scan.  My head was positioned so that I couldn’t see any of this. 

Then came the CT scan.  Didn’t take more than a couple of minutes. 

Once the scan is done, the technician removes all the stickers and proceeds to the tattoos..  At the center of each X she put a drop of dye and then stuck it with a tiny needle.  These will be the targets for the lasers when I have each treatment. Not exactly body art, but probably the closest I’ll come. 

They had me scheduled to start treatment next week, but that’s been postponed because I’ve been feeling really crappy lately.  Running a slight temperature, not able to eat much, and just no energy at all.  Had some blood tests yesterday to see if anything shows up.  I wonder if I haven’t just got myself into a self-perpetuating downward spiral.   Not eating is not good and leads to lack of energy, and all the other problems, etc.  So I’m trying to get some good food and plenty of fluids inside me to see if that makes a difference.  Would be nice if it was a simple as that. 

In the meantime, my head fuzz continues to grow very slowly.  I can actually feel it moving when it is windy. 

Taste buds are still AWOL.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Chemo done- waiting for radiation

Nine days after my final chemo treatment, I see some small progress.  My brain isn’t as fuzzy as it was; and I have actual little bursts of energy.  I think that I’m a tiny bit less of a slug than I was a couple of weeks ago.  Bad news is that there’s NO progress with my taste buds.  
A timely query from a cousin gave me a jump start back in my genealogy projects.  I was very into that for a couple of days, but then ran out of energy.  But I’ve got a good start on resuming the things I was working on before all this cancer stuff started.

I had a good meeting with my radiation oncologist.  Side effects from that should be limited to fatigue and skin damage similar to severe sunburn.  I’m so fair that I’ve had more than my share of severe sunburns so I know what it’s like to have blisters & peeling.  Next meeting is a planning meeting on March 18 to set up preparation and schedule.  I’ll get zapped every day Monday through Friday for 6 ½ weeks.  At least it’s only a 10 minute drive from home.

Hair continues to regrow slowly. Very slowly. But at least it’s there. 

With any luck, my brain will continue to clear and I’ll find my energy level increasing.  Come on taste buds!!!!!!



Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Chemo Club

Nobody wants to join. We become members by circumstance –  like drawing the short straw. 

My chapter of the club gathers on Thursday mornings.  I’ve seen some of the same faces since I joined the club in October. Others have come in beginning their treatment; while others have left the group because they’ve finished treatment or their circumstances have changed. 

Like every club, we have a common bond. In this case its cancer. There’s a certain feeling in the room – a sense of compassion and camaraderie because of that bond.  It doesn’t matter that we probably are very different in every other way.  A few of them are clearly very ill, but others show no external signs of disease.  Some love to chat, some play computer games or read magazines or books. Occasionally someone will ask a person what kind of cancer is being treated; others may volunteer their condition, but I truly have no idea what cancer most of them have.  But it is clear from the smiles and the looks in everyone’s eyes that we are connected to one another. 

My final chemo treatment is coming up this week. I’m thrilled to be finally done. I’m really looking forward to having the chemo side effects going away.  But I’ll miss seeing the Thursday morning chemo club.  I’ll wonder how they’re doing and keep them in my prayers. 

I cannot end this post without adding praise for the staff at my treatment center. They’re all great.  Nurses, assistants, office staff.  I don’t have words to express my appreciation for their work, their compassion and their dedication.  Angels, all of them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Almost done with chemo


Taxol #10 yesterday.  Two more to go. White Blood Cell count was low so I go back this afternoon for a Neupogen shot. 

Benadryl sleepiness wore off by late afternoon to be replaced by the steroid high. Took an Ativan (Lorazipam) before bed to help get to sleep.  I’m sure glad that I don’t need to take that stuff regularly – it can be very nasty stuff. 

The steroid high will wear off late today or early tomorrow and then I’ll crash.  I take fewer steroids with Taxol than I did with the A/C so the crash is shorter but it still feels like getting hit by a train. Naps are the answer. 

Although the drug effects are cumulative, my side effects are still very minor. Some distressed nails but none have come off.  Occasional tingling in fingers. Occasional bone pain in knees ankle and toes but nothing serious. 

The fuzz on my head is becoming more noticeable but only if you look hard.  I’m still a baldy – but a fuzzy baldy.




Friday, February 7, 2014

Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel

Had Taxol #9 yesterday.  Still going well.  Minor side effects still include fatigue, no taste buds, fuzzy brain, some digestive issues, some fingernail issues, minor bone pain and some tingling in the hands. 

The only one of them of any concern is the tingling.  Hoping it doesn’t develop into neuropathy which may be the only side effect that won’t reverse itself. 

I’m ready to be finished with this.  I know it will take a while for the effects to diminish but I’m hopeful that by mid march I’ll be able to taste food again.  I really miss my taste buds. 

Of course the following radiation treatments will have another set of side effects.  Oh, well. 

I thought I’d get started on taxes, but that hasn’t happened yet.  Requires too much thinking.

Thinking is not my strong point these days.  On the site there’s a thread about vanity.  All participants talk about matters of appearance.  My vanity issue has to do with my mental abilities.  I hate being so fuzzy.  I find that I can’t read some of my favorite authors because their stories are too complex.  Very frustrating. 

Despite my whining about minor issues, things are going very well. 

I’m fascinated by the fuzz on my head.  I keep touching it so often that I’m afraid I’ll rub it off. Grow, hair, grow!

Only 3 more chemo treatments to go.!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

News Flash!!

My hair is growing!  Film at 11. 

Well, no film at 11 or any other time, but hair is returning to my head.  I use a magnifying mirror to put on my eyebrows; and this morning I noticed teeny tiny fuzz beginning to show on my scalp.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Taking my life baby steps...maybe


My current chemo drug, Taxol, is much easier than the previous drug cocktail.  Easier side effects.  And even though I’m still coughing, I’m pretty much over the awful cold I had starting the new year. So I was feeling pretty good and decided that it’s time to start getting back to normal. 

First step was attending the January meeting of the Indian River Genealogy Society.  We don’t meet over the summer because so many members are snow birds; and many of the permanent residents travel to escape the Florida summer. But I’d missed every meeting since they resumed in September. It felt good to be back seeing familiar faces and a bunch of new ones, too.  The speaker gave an excellent presentation and I was inspired to get back to digging up dead relatives. 

Then I had my weekly chemo a couple of days later and my new reality came back.  There’s a new normal that has replaced the old normal.  It will definitely be baby steps taking my life back. 

I hadn’t been on for a long time so I went back to check on al the hints that have accumulated over the past several months. (Those little leaves they show you in their TV ads)  That was on Friday – day after chemo.  I couldn’t do it.  My brain was just too fuzzy and I couldn’t concentrate at all. Very frustrating. I tried again on Saturday but made little progress.  Finally on Sunday, I was able to review many of the hints and add a few facts to some people on my trees. But I stuck to the simple ones and left the more complex ones for later. 

My new normal is that I’m pretty much ok on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday is chemo day so that’s a complete loss. Friday and Saturday are days for not trying to think too much, reading light stuff, and playing easy computer games. Sunday is not bad.   I’m not taking two naps a day anymore and some days don’t take a nap at all.  

This is progress. 

Only 7 more weeks of chemo.




Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year

2013 wasn’t the best year for me so I’m happy to be in 2014.  At least I will be finished with treatments sometime this Spring.   

The holidays sucked.  Neal came down with a terribly bad cold just before Christmas and of course I got it too.  It’s really a nasty one and knocked both of us on our tails. We mostly just sat around coughing and blowing our noses. On New Year’s Eve we had a bottle of champagne and were in bed by 9 p.m. 

Other than being sick, things are still going pretty well.   

One of the oncology nurses told me that my hair might begin coming back while on Taxol, but the opposite has happened.  I have even less stubble on my scalp and now my eyebrows and eyelashes are gone.  I miss my eyebrows.  Now that this cold is starting to clear up, maybe I’ll feel like practicing with an eyebrow pencil. My brows have always been so dark that I never needed one before. 

I’ve also started having some nail issues.  One of my fingernails is starting to come off.  It’s a common side effect of Taxol so it is not a surprise. I’ve had only 3 treatments so far with 9 yet to come so who knows what will happen to my nails.  “Chemo nails” are as common as “Chemo brain”. 

As always the net is a huge source of support and information. The best site so far is  The discussion groups there are populated by women from all over and with about every variation of the breast cancer experience there is.  There are women who don’t have cancer but are fearful of it; and at the other end of the spectrum are those with Stage 4 cancer and multiple metastases; and everything in between.  It’s a great place for learning, for getting advice, and the cancer humor (yes, humor) is priceless. They are my new BFFs.

I wish you all a happy and healthy new year.