Tag Archives: breast cancer treatment

the side effects side show

Peripheral neuropathy can be one of the side effects of chemotherapy. I learned recently that just because the chemo is behind you it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve dodged all the bullets.

For the past two or three weeks, I’ve had little or no sensation in the tips of my fingers and thumbs. So far the impacts of this have been limited to a reduced ability to turn book pages and the odd late and loud response to hot surfaces while cooking. I’ve put this gem on the list called “Let’s hope it goes away one day”.

Meanwhile the daily zap impacts have begun to accumulate with mild to medium sunburn like sensations and sensitivities. Once more in the round of treatment, this product has become my friend. After this afternoon’s zap, it’s 15 down and 5 to go.

Vit E cream - Alien Skin effect FX Photo Studio Pro

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four months on

While I was waiting to see the surgeon today, it became apparent from whispered conversations that the person in his rooms was at the beginning of her breast cancer experience.

When the woman emerged from her appointment, I kept on with my reading although I really wanted to look her in the eye and say it will be alright and the treatment time will go really quickly even though it might not feel like it now and on the worst days.

Four months ago I had just had my first surgery. Four months ago I was taking it one day at a time.  This time next week I’ll be lining up for my last radiation treatment after a second surgery and four cycles of chemotherapy. It feels like both a long time and a short time.

Blossom - B&W&Red - FX Photo Studio PRO

decisions, decisions

This morning I saw my surgeon for the first time since the end of March. He wins the prize for my favourite specialist thus far. He’s a listener, empathetic and easy to chat with.

All’s looking good on the wound front.  While I had him as a captive audience, I asked questions about the aromatase inhibitor regime I may start in August.  I’m particularly concerned about the bone density impacts of these drugs.  He accessed my last bone density scan and confirmed that given already established loss, in his view, I would need to consider bone strengthening drugs to counteract the effects of the AI drug.

Sigh. There are so many unanswered questions. We’re talking about drugs to address what other drugs damage. Drugs that also have their own negative impacts. Drugs that may/are likely to/will affect quality of life factors for years.

There is much to mull over.

hormonal therapies - Cancer Australia

excerpt from Cancer Australia’s Guide for Women with Early Breast Cancer

 

 

tolerating the treatment well

 

Lorikeet June 2014 - Pop Grunge 18

Just as the lorikeets are turning up every day in our garden, I’m plugging on with the radiation sessions. Yesterday at the half-way point, I had a consultation with the doctor.

“You are tolerating the treatment well”, she concluded. To clarify, she was talking about my skin not my attitude.  On most days it applies to that definition too.

tolerate - Google

The appointments so far this week have gone off routine a little.  On Monday, I saw a physiotherapist who checked my scars then asked me how I was going with my exercise plan. I looked her straight in the eye as I responded to her questions. I did.

As the physio appointment and the radiation session were an hour apart, I sat in the waiting room for longer than usual. There’s plenty to amuse those who sit and wait including magazines, puzzle books, jigsaw puzzles, a television and a kitchen where you can help yourself to juice, tea or coffee.

It was apparently gentlemen’s day and a few of the older fellows were finding common ground in their conversations. Two men with loud, resonant and good-humoured voices were comparing treatment and side-effect notes. I have to thank them for providing me and everyone else in the room with a comprehensive synthesis of prostate cancer and its impacts. I may never have known what I do now if not for their generous sharing of the minute details.

Yesterday I needed to assume the position for longer than usual as the marker pens were put to work again in preparation for the final four booster zaps which start at the end of next week.  Apparently the CT scan in the planning phase revealed the need for a slight adjustment to the target spot.

I am a canvas strewn with black and green lines.   Ommmmmmmm.

 

 

kitchen therapy

The last three days have felt almost normal. I felt so well on Tuesday that I drove myself to the radiation session.

Yesterday I woke up motivated to get cooking. The nocturnal sessions are a bit tricky to work around dinner time. My self-appointed mission was to pre-prepare some evening sustenance.

I spent several hours in the kitchen creating a beef lasagne and a rhubarb and apple crumble.

Three bags of bargain-priced mushrooms needed attention to save them from unnecessary composting. Mr Google showed me how to dry them in a slow oven. It took a few hours but the warmth generated in the kitchen helped heat the room on a cold day.

In a week or so, the effects of the daily zaps will be producing some level of discomfort. So when motivation and energy align, there’s nothing for it but to grab and savour those moments.

Ordinary is the new happy.

Kitchen Wednesday

goodbye chemo, hello radiation

Daily radiation started on Wednesday last week. It wasn’t that much fun to include this as one of my birthday activities. On the other hand, this treatment’s very availability is a gift in itself.

We have to travel further afield to another hospital for the radiation. There they are juggling 140 patients per day over four machines. As such, apart from informing staff a week ahead of times you may be unavailable each day, there’s not much flexibility. It can be up to a two hour return trip including the session and already it’s a tad tedious.

There are puzzle books, magazines and tea making facilities in the waiting room. Our daughter noticed someone working on a very large, nearly completed, jigsaw puzzle. “They’ve been here a long time”, she quipped.

Schedule

As you can see from the schedule, it’s been mostly nightly rather than ‘daily’ radiation thus far.  For the later appointments, we have to buzz to enter the building.

Painted in Waterlogue

I am apparently very good at getting into position for the zaps, even as a beginner. I had to confess to the radiographers that lying down features high on the list in my skill set.

Only 17 more zaps to go. That’s seventeen times to don the stylish blue paper gown. Seventeen times to be the canvas for a coloured marker. Seventeen times to watch green laser lights line me up. Seventeen times for the radiographers to disappear and leave me alone in the room as bell sounds signify the start. Seventeen more opportunities to rip the paper gown which is supposed to last me the duration. 

There is less than a month to go before regular visits to the hospital become past tense. I guess that means that future relax is what’s ahead, right?

 

looking ahead

grevillea - 18 June 2014 - Tokyo & inverted - FX Photo Studio PROI’ve finally come up for air after the last chemo dose, just in time for 20 zaps of radiation over four weeks starting next Wednesday.

What’s exercising my mind, however, is what comes after that.

You’re saying, “Wait, there’s more?”

Yes. Yes there is.

The majority of breast cancers are Endocrine Receptor positive meaning that oestrogen, once a useful friend, has become another F word.

This foe will require 5 years of daily tablet popping. In consultation with my oncologist, I will get to select one or other from a family of aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase is an enzyme responsible for converting androgens to oestrogen. Don’t you think androgens sound a bit like alien life forms?

This seems all very straightforward until you start researching the suite of potential side effects*. These may include but are not exclusive to:

  • loss of bone density;
  • back to the future menopausal symptoms;
  • fatigue (universal to all of the treatments thus far);
  • joint and muscle pain (more common than you’d hope);
  • mood changes (watch out!)
  • poor sleep; and
  • weight gain (really?)

As someone who has low bone density already, I was concerned enough about these impacts to have a chat with my GP yesterday. Thankfully, she didn’t minimise my concerns and took the time to outline a range of potential options.

There’s one word that keeps coming up in conversation and reading.

E X E R C I S E.   That doesn’t start with the letter F so it looks like I’m going to have to learn to love the E word.

*As an aside, nobody mentioned any of this at the start of the treatment planning. I don’t know whether people feel as if you can’t handle too much information up front, but I would have appreciated a heads up a bit earlier.