Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Chemo Sucks

December 26, 2006

Hi Everyone,

You know why people are afraid of chemo? Because they should be. I had my first chemo on the 19th and honest to God if I never had to go back again I wouldn’t. As a matter of fact, J.R. might just have to knock me out, throw me in the car and drag my unconscious body into the Dr.’s office for the second cycle. Breaking my neck was a cake walk compared to anything I have endured during this ordeal.

If you are queasy or do not want to know what chemo is like, you should probably stop reading this installment. Or if you’ve had chemo and do not want to relive it, stop reading. We have set up a blog, the address is http://jensbreastcancerfight.blogspot.com/. It’s a work in progress but we will add things every few days.

Lastly, for those who are reading on, I apologize for the lengthy e-mail and for those who are not, thank you for your support and love; it means the world to me.

Alright, here goes. I had chemo on the 19th of this month. We showed up at the office and everyone is just really nice there, so that was helpful. I was so very emotional and numb at the same time because I just wasn’t sure how I felt about this whole experience. I was scared, I was pissed, I was sad, I was in total disbelief that I still had the hardest part of my battle to deal with and that made me very angry.

Tracy was my nurse, she has been very helpful to us even before chemo started. She got J.R. squared away with my schedule, my meds and any questions we had before I started. Again, J.R. has been taking care of everything for me, pretty much I show up some where when he tells me to, everything else he has already done for me.

So I go back to the room and there must be 10 – 15 lounge chairs lined up. There are a couple of beds for the really, really sick and a desk for the nurses. The room is kind of a semi circle in shape. Each chair has a curtain that can be pulled around it for privacy and there is a little kitchen area for snacks. I sit in my chair and Tracy pretty much gets to work on me. As you know, I had a port placed in my chest so I can receive chemo without damaging my veins. It’s in my upper left chest and is under the skin. You can’t see it but you can see the bump. It’s basically a big rubber stopper of sorts that leads into a vein in my heart. My heart then pumps the chemo through my body. I had a heart test to gauge a base line so that during chemo they can assess how much, if any, damage will be to the artery. I will get 2 or 3 more heart tests throughout chemo.

Tracy starts getting my IV started through the port, as you know I hate needles and again, here we go with the needles and I’m not even there 5 minutes. She takes my first round of “Labs”, which is blood work and then flushes the IV with saline. I hate the saline, it’s gross. After that I met with my Dr. and we reviewed my pathology report from the mastectomy. I can’t tell you how it feels to look at a report with your name in bold at the top. I cried as soon as I saw it, even though the report was favorable. This can’t be happening, it’s so surreal.

My physician, Dr. Bowers, is a nice lady and gave me a hug when she came in the room. We like her for that. She said that the first day is always the hardest. I find that hard to believe, I think they will all be hard. We reviewed the report and she let me know that I will be having 8 cycles of chemo, 4 cycles of two drugs and 4 cycles of another. I’ll get to the drugs in a moment. That news made me sadder than I already was. After that, we moved back into the chair room. There was a part of me that wanted to run out of there and another that just wanted to get this shit over with.

Tracy reviewed the whole process, the drugs and the side effects with us and answered questions before we got started. So here goes. You will not believe the amount of drugs they pump into my body.

Through the IV, I get a mixed cocktail of anti nausea drugs which consist of Kytril, Corticosteroids (Prednisone, Decadron and Cortisone) and Cimetidine. What does this stuff do?

Kytril – prevents and treats nausea and vomiting.
Corticosteroids – reduce inflammation, swelling, treats allergic reactions, and controls nausea.
Cimetidine – treats duodenal and gastric ulcers, acid reflux disease, heart burn and is a histamine H2 blocker. Whatever the hell that means.

Listen to the fabulous side effects from these drugs. And this is the stuff before chemo even starts!

0. Headaches, weakness, constipation or diarrhea. Or? Can someone please give me an indication of which one of these I may experience? Dizziness, drowsiness and fever. But wait that’s just the side effects of Kytril.
0. Insomnia, increased energy, fluid retention, weight gain, increased appetite, stomach irritation, mood swings and irregular menstrual cycles, which is BS because that sucker showed up right on time. That’s the effects of Corticosteroids.
0. Itching or hives, swelling of the face and hands, (because looking like the lion lady is just what I was looking for this week), swelling or tingling in the mouth or throat, bloody or black tarry stool, vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds. Are they kidding me with the coffee grounds? Yellowing of the skin, fabulous, and unusual bruising. So if I look like I’ve had an ass kicking lately don’t worry, it’s the Cimetidine that’s the culprit.

This terrific cocktail is in an IV drip which I get throughout the whole chemo injection process. During the first 4 cycles of chemo I get 2 different drugs. Adriamycin and Cytoxan. Each takes about 30 minutes to administer. What do these drugs do?

Adriamycin – is an anti cancer drug that stops cell growth and division. A little vague I know.
Cytoxan – is an anti cancer drug that stops cell growth and division. ????? I don’t get it. Same description, I want this to say something different but it just won’t. I want one of these to sound meaner like it’s going to really kick cancers ass.

And here are the side effects of these drugs.

0. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss, red urine, mouth sores and lowered white blood cell count. Due to various medications, I have had some funky colors of urine, bright yellow, green, orange, and blue, but never red. Red is weird because it is really red. These are the effects of Adriamycin.
0. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss, lowered white blood cell count, metallic taste / odor and nasal congestion during treatment. This is the grossest part, the smell. It lasts for days and I don’t care what they tell you. I smell it even today and that’s because that smell will be burned into my memory forever. And the “nasal congestion during treatment”, that’s bullshit; it’s more like nasal burning during treatment. This I also get water retention, mouth sores, darkening of the skin or nails and a cough. These are the effects of Cytoxan.

Sounds pleasant so far huh? All this I find out before I’m even injected. I was about to walk out the door and take my chances that surgery did the job. So Tracy comes back with 3 huge syringes with red liquid in them, and actually says the sentence “See, they look just like red Kool Aid.” J.R. followed that up with, “Yeah, that’s what Jim Jones said.” If I wasn’t in such a foul mood I would have thought that pretty damn funny. In any case, apparently Adriamycin can not be given via IV bag, it has to be slowly injected into the IV by the nurse. I just couldn’t look, I wrote in my journal instead. After that I got the Cytoxan IV bag. At the end my nose was really burning and I just wanted to get out of there. I felt fine and wanted to leave. Tracy had reviewed with us what to do with the anti nausea drugs after the fact and we went and had lunch. I felt pretty good except for the metallic taste from the Cytoxan.

When we got home I went right back to work, I felt fine and was in a pretty good mood. We were told that I should not have any reaction to the chemo for about a day or so. That was not the case. About 6:30 pm I started to feel worse than I have ever felt in my whole life. Imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had, the “I drank crappy booze or had too many shots” kind of hangover, the kind that lasts all day hangover. Make gravity 10 times stronger, add the flu with a fever and that awful metallic taste and smell. This is where you start praying to die. Now, just so you can truly appreciate my misery, you feel like total crap, nothing has ever prepared you for this, you don’t want to move but you have to pee, a lot. I have never peed so many times in my whole life, but at least I didn’t feel like getting up. And, as if that’s not bad enough, my surgery and expanders prevents me from curling up in the fetal position, I have to lie on my back. This is pure hell, in every sense. I just re-read my description and I just can’t give you an accurate enough picture of what chemo feels like. I honestly hope none of you ever have to experience it. It really is worse than what I describe.

By morning I felt much better, so much so that I was up, had breakfast and was back at work by 8:30. But for about 12 hours I have never felt worse in my life.

The anti nausea drugs that I take are as follows: Kytril, Compazine and Ativan. Kytril is the main drug and I take that for 3 days straight. This stuff is expensive. Target messed up on our insurance and when we went to pick up 10 Kytril pills, they cost $700. For 10 pills. Does anyone else think that’s bullshit? In any case they got it squared away and we paid our co-pay instead. Our instructions for managing the nausea were as follows, and I quote, “Take Kytril twice a day 12 hours apart. If you feel nauseous, then take the Compazine every 3- 6 hours, if that isn’t managing the nausea, take 1-2 Ativan every 3 hours or as needed.” And when asked about the Percocet that I take once or twice a day for pain, they said no problem, take what you need. I swear I am going to need a 12 step program to dry out from all of the drugs.

And as if all of that is not enough for you, the day after chemo I had to go back to the place that made me feel so crappy and get another shot. This time it was for Neulasta. It’s a drug that helps the bone marrow make new white blood cells to prevent infections if my resistance to infection is low due to chemo. Oh, for those who do not know, don’t be offended if we ask you if you are sick before we visit, I can not be around any one who is or has been around other sick people until this is over. If I get sick my chemo can and will be postponed until I can fight off infection and I do not want to drag this out any longer than it needs to be. So bear with me.

Anyway, we pulled into the parking lot and I swear I bust into tears. I could barely make myself get out of the car and go get that damn shot. J.R. had to give me a pep talk just to open the car door. When we went into the chair room, Mary, another nurse, very nice by the way, asked me how I did. We told her how bad I felt the night before and she was sad for me because I shouldn’t have felt that bad. I asked her if I could get up and walk out and never come back and she said yes. I almost did.

So the Neulasta shot, get this, it is an injection and you will never guess where they give it to you. The port? Don’t I wish. They give it to you in the back of the upper arm. Are you kidding me? They can’t come up with a spot better than that? But wait, it gets even better if you can imagine that, first they grab and squeeze a spot in the back of your upper arm and then they inject you. And it burns. But at least the major side effect is pain in the bones, specifically if you have arthritis, previously broken bones or degenerative disks. Hey great! I have all of those! So now I get to add Ibuprofen to the drug mix. J.R. had to make up an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the drugs.

I am feeling better now; the nausea after the second day was very manageable but still unpleasant. As a matter of fact, nothing about this whole experience has been pleasant in any way shape or form. Please do not reply back for me to look on the bright side of things and tell me that I get to live. I get that. I get to live, for that I am very grateful to live in a world where modern medicine is so good and that we live in a country where it is so readily available, it’s just that everything getting me to the “I’m going to live” part really sucks. Sorry, was all that out loud?

On the bright side, we had a wonderful Christmas and as I am typing this I am enjoying a glass of red wine, God does it taste good too. So that’s my story. I have 7 more chemo sessions to go. My last scheduled cycle, pending any illness or really low white blood cell count is March 29th. Mark it down because that will be a day of celebration for me. Sorry again for the lengthy e-mail, there was just a lot of info this time. Thank you for listening and for your prayers and support.

Love to you all,



Troy & Tara Livesay said...

Hi Jen-
Just wanted to wish you well from Haiti ... and be the first commentor!

We pray that your chemo will be over in a flash and that you will soon look back on this as a challenge in your life that you conquered and BEAT.

God Bless you - prayers from our family.

darlene wms said...

Jen i just read your story. I'm getting ready to go thru chemo and i love the way you talk about your experience with this shit! I thought i was the only one to feel like you just discribe. Thank You! Hang in there!!!! Darlene Wms.

Corey22 said...

I'm so glad I came across your blog! I am currently going through these god awful treatments. Sometimes I think I'm all alone and no one really understands what I'm going through, but you know! I am also blogging about my journey through this cancer crap. Www.mypinkribbonjourney.wordpress.com
I am going to continue to read your story!
Take care!

maggie.danhakl@healthline.com said...


Healthline just designed a virtual guide of the effects of chemotherapy on the body. You can see the infographic here: http://www.healthline.com/health/cancer/effects-on-body

This is valuable med-reviewed information that can help a person understand the side effects they are experiencing from their chemo treatment. I thought this would be of interest to your audience, and I’m writing to see if you would include this as a resource on your page: http://jensbreastcancerfight.blogspot.com/2006/12/chemo-sucks_26.html

If you do not believe this would be a good fit for a resource on your site, even sharing this on your social communities would be a great alternative to help get the word out.

Thanks so much for taking the time to review. Please let me know your thoughts and if I can answer any questions for you.

All the best,
Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager
p: 415-281-3124 f: 415-281-3199

Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
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