Monday, March 17, 2014

Guts and lungs and blood, oh my!

I've had several loved ones remark that this hard chemotherapy event seems to have been harder on me than the previous rounds.  It is so hard to evaluate whether or not this is actually true because I don't have the best memory of the hard chemos.  My survival strategy was and is to sleep through the crappiness.  That said, dear readers, we don't have to rely on my feeble mind because we have this blog in all of its searchable splendor.  I present to you evidence that this round of hard chemotherapy was not necessarily harder than it was before.

Two days after my first hard chemo ever:  Turtle
Six days after:  Side-effect roulette
Eight days after:  Lurking fatigue
And finally, a summary in which it is implied that I spent 10 days being sick per hard chemotherapy:  The 60th day

I think that my loved ones have blocked out memories of the chemo crappiness just as much as I have.  No one likes it when the h-bomb is out of commission for such an extended period.  No one.  Also, as my friend F pointed out, I tend to put on a happy face (happy fingers?) for the sake of a blog post, then retreat to the couch for a few more days until the worst has passed.  When it gets bad I don't feel like doing anything, least of all blogging.    

That said, I am on a mission to find ways to make the next round of chemotherapy better, such as by not having a fever on the day of hard chemo (!) and by improving the gut-control strategy.  My guts have been out of control, both with nausea and with things that a lady simply does not blog about.  [I'll let explain the latter issue with the following side-effect of one of my drugs, taxotere:  This drug can cause diarrhea, which in some cases may be severe. If left unchecked, this could lead to dehydration and chemical imbalances in the body. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to help prevent or control this side effect.]  Check the dehydration box on that one.  I needed IV fluids this past Friday, so hopefully I can prevent myself from getting to that state again next time.  

Speaking of Friday, I have thrilling news.  I will not be receiving chemotherapy every Friday!  I will still be receiving all of the drugs (TCH+P) every third Friday, just no additional dose of H+P on the intervening Fridays.  This is a delightful turn of events because even though the H+P have virtually no side effects compared to the T and C, it is still mentally and physically exhausting to receive this therapy.  I know this to be true because it's what I did the first time I went through chemotherapy.  Also, do not fear that I am getting short-changed on cancer-fighting drugs with this new schedule.  My understanding is that I'm getting a higher dose of H+P every three weeks instead of lower doses every week.  In summary, I still have an appointment every Friday so that Dr. Oncologist can check on my health and on the cancer's death, but treatments will only be every third Friday.  


Another update is that my dad drove me across the state today to meet with a new medical professional on my team, Dr. Pulmonary Oncologist.  He and the medical resident approached the problem cognitively (good word, dad!) and asked thoughtful questions about my problem.  Two good things came out of this meeting.  First, he took a few samples of my blood to test for possible lung infections.  One of these, histoplasmosis (hey K, that's what you studied in grad school!) is caused by a fungus that is endemic to this region.  The other, coccidioidomycosis, is caused by a fungus that is endemic to the southwestern United States, which I have visited within the past two years.  He doesn't think that these causes are as likely as metastatic breast cancer, but he decided that it's good to rule them out because chemotherapy could make them worse.  

Secondly, he said that he (with a surgeon) has the technology to perform a biopsy of a few of the innumerable pulmonary nodules.  It requires much bravery to say that this is excellent news.  The reason this is good is because we'll never know what the nodules are without sampling them, and if they don't go away with chemotherapy we'll need to know what they are in order to treat them with something else.  We are all still hoping/praying/willing them to be gone at the next PET scan in a few weeks, but if they're still there, I now have a guy who can help.  Dr. Pulmonary Oncologist.  The reason this requires bravery is because...well...lung biopsy.  Right.  Sign me up?

I'll leave you with one final piece of data that first requires me to express my gratitude.  Thank you all for pulling strings with the universe regarding my circulating tumor cell test.  This was the blood sampled last Monday and sent off to the Mayo clinic.  My result falls into a category called, "favorable".  They detected tumor cells in my blood, but they only detected 3 tumor cells per 7.5 milliliters of my blood.  Clearly zero tumor cells in my blood would have been ideal, but given all of the other pieces of data (cancer in the lymph nodes, cancer in the lungs) I am truly grateful for this "favorable" result.  Thank you all for your positive energy and light.  Let's celebrate this small victory. 

I am also so, so grateful for all of the visitors, letters, food, and parcels.  I was not satisfied with my blog-based mechanism of expressing appreciation during my first cancer fight, so I plan to employ a different system for this round.  In the meantime, know that we received your love, it was appreciated, and I have a simple plan to dispatch personal "thanks" very soon.       


  1. I am accepting my "nod of appreciation / thanks" in advance. Your smile is all I need. Done. You are welcome. If you choose to go beyond that, then all future endeavors will be done anonymously.

  2. Rooting for you!

  3. So glad you are having better days now. Salute to the small victories which are key in winning a battle.

  4. "Favorable" results are fantastic news! Way to go everyone for rocking that blood test.

    Heather, this is another helpful blog post about what to expect and how to manage the awful crud that is hard chemo.

    1. Forgot about this post! Thank you, Marthy. :)

  5. Baby Calvin and I are very thankful for the favorable results! That was very hard last week with both of us not being able to communicate and check on each other. I hated it! I will be available for your next hard chemos. Promise! Xoxo

  6. Heather you are batting a thousand! Keep resting and regaining strength. Glad you have the experts on your side. Thankful for the favorable results too. I love you and miss you and the family so so much.

    1. Love you and miss you, too, Mallary! xoxo