A Begrudging Salute to Chemo

CHEMO WEEK 2, Treatment #3:

The first two chemo treatments were really rough. After years of running, and being a naturally outdoorsy type of person, it was so hard to lie around in bed and be sick. By Thursday of the second week, my third chemo treatment and the last one in the first three week cycle, my appetite had returned and I felt good. Just in time to get knocked back down again!

The week after the first two treatments I pretty much lived on white rice, homemade fruit smoothies, Ensure, and cheddar popcorn. I realized quickly that any calories I could tolerate were good calories, no matter how nutritious they were. Nothing sounded more disgusting than vegetables, raw or cooked. The chemo made me so sick I didn’t even want to drink water–which is bad because chemo can damage the kidneys if they are not flushed out enough.

After surgery and the first two chemo treatments, my weight was just south of 110. I was very thin, and I knew I had to eat. And drink.

The “electric” feeling I had after the first two treatments slowly dissipated from my body, and I was even able to meditate a little and do some very easy yoga. The meditation really helped me to calm down when I felt like I was going crazy. Meditation is usually one of the hardest things in the world for me to do, but it really helped.

I had also decided to cut my hair again, even shorter, because I knew its days were numbered.

chemo

I was starting to recognize certain people in the cancer center waiting room: the breast cancer woman who always came with the same friend, who rarely looked up from her iPad and looked like she might be a teacher (all teachers have “that look”); ย the tall, thin man wearing the track suit who moved to another seat away from us the first time I saw him–who this time said hello, talked about being bald, wished he’d cut his hair years ago, talked about how expensive it was for his wife to do her hair, discussed his wife’s friend who had a beauty shop in her house, and how we should go to beauty school and cut hair in our retirement; and another tall, thin man who smiled sadly at me and walked very, very slowly when they called him back to the infusion rooms.

I also met a possible distant relative. The receptionist told me one morning when I checked in that there were two patients with my last name in their computer. Turnage is a fairly uncommon name, and this was unexpected news. As we waited in the lobby, a nurse called out Turnage! from the wrong direction. I stood up, confused–and so did the man sitting next to me. We looked at each other, I asked “Are you a Turnage, too?” and he nodded. We agreed we had to be distantly related when he told me his family could trace their ancestry to two brothers named Turnage who emigrated from Ireland to North Carolina, which is similar to a story I’d heard years ago.

Sometimes you may discover you have more than cancer in common with the people in the cancer waiting room.

It was a very long day. I went into the chemo room at 8:15am and wasn’t done until 5:00pm. My oncologist’s nurse was waiting for me when I got to the chemo room and said that I looked great for someone who had such terrible numbers. Apparently my blood work showed that my potassium and magnesium levels were low and my heart rate and blood pressure were elevated. I knew the IP chemo had been tough, and the numbers agreed.

I was given a 6 hr potassium IV drip in addition to the Taxol IP. My sister stayed with me the entire time and we watched The First 48 Hours on A&E.

Chemo is boring. IV (intravenous) chemo is administered into the port in my chest. I sit in a recliner and let the cancer killing chemicals slowly drip into ย my veins. IP (intraperitoneal) chemo goes into the port directly into my abdominal cavity, on the same side where the tumor was located. For IP chemo I have to lie in a small bed and turn on my side every twenty minutes. I set the alarm on my phone in case I fall asleep (which is often). In addition to the chemo drugs, a massive amount of fluid is pumped into my abdomen. It’s not painful, but when IP chemo is finished I feel like a big juicy watermelon. And I have to go to the bathroom a lot.

Some of the drugs make me sleepy. I’m actually happy when I nod off because it makes the time go by faster. I rarely watch TV. Sometimes I turn it on just for the distraction, but mostly I just recline or lie in bed and somehow the hours tick away. I always have someone with me, usually my husband and either my daughter, Dominique, or my son’s girlfriend, Nicole, to stay with me and drive me home.

chemo drugs

After the third chemo treatment, I thought maybe I could eat some Asian food with rice. My stomach and the chemo drugs gurgling in my belly had other plans. I will spare you the details of dinner and the effects of the IP chemo on my stomach. Maybe Thai food wasn’t such a good idea. Lessons learned . . .

If you’ve stuck with me through these tough past three posts, bless you. I promise it does get better. I don’t generally like to dwell on the hard times, but those who know me know that I don’t like to sugarcoat things. Chemotherapy is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and in honor of all the people through the years who had no choice when they were dealt the cancer card, and were saved by chemo, I’m giving it the respect it deserves.

Chemo, I may hate you, but I salute you nevertheless!

Advertisements

86 comments

  1. seetinarun

    if that picture is from the day that your levels were horrible, then wow! Depleted mineral stores look well on you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thank you for sharing your experience. You are a fabulous writer. And very brave – if you consider this “dwelling” on negative things, you are entirely too hard on yourself. What an ordeal it is that you have suffered, and your fortitude and positive attitude resonate through each and every post.

  2. Gunta

    You are so brave. That you had little choice doesn’t take away from that and telling it like this elevates that bravery to a public service to those who face this.

    • Mind Margins

      I just want to make people aware of ovarian cancer and let others know that they’re not alone. Ovarian cancer is a sneaky, silent killer. Time to speak up!

      • Mind Margins

        I had minor symptoms a few months before, but it was excruciating pain that sent me to the ER where the tumor was discovered. It had twisted, causing the pain, which actually saved my life. If it hadn’t twisted the cancer would have spread within a matter of months into stage III or IV. 80% of women have no pain, don’t recognize the symptoms, and are not diagnosed until the later stages. It is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers and has only a 45% survival rate.

  3. Lyle Krahn

    You must be telling it well since I’m still here and I don’t naturally gravitate to suffering. On a lighter note, I enjoyed that teacher look comment.

    • Mind Margins

      I don’t either, Lyle! I tried to keep my sense of humor throughout the ordeal of chemo, but it wasn’t always easy. And I mean it about teachers having a certain look. They are usually color coordinated and very neat. At least I always was am.

  4. Chatter Master

    I second what the first commenter said. WOW! you look fabulous. Seriously. And a tip of my hat to you, and your chemicals. Fighting the good fight. Thank you for giving us insight. I am sorry for all you and the others have to go through. I hope that any support the world gives through all of the cancer support programs/groups/projects helps in some way emotionally.

  5. HC

    Beautiful post and it doesn’t come across as “dwelling” at all! Cancer and chemo have a lot of weight for such small words. I really appreciate hearing about the logistics of your treatments. Thank you for sharing this in such a clear way.

  6. May Your Soul Stirโ„ข

    While some relate, others come to understand the process and the trials that ensue. But it’s the small triumphs…that often become large ones. While I hate the cause, the treatment, and the pain, I’ve seen the beauty in your stories. Keep writing, keep informing, and keep fighting.

  7. runcolbyrun

    Your bravery never ceases to amaze me. I love that you are sharing your story and bringing much needed awareness to ovarian cancer. Speak it Sister!!! You never know who you are helping. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. fahimausa

    Angela, to read your story, as hard as it all was for you, is just totally joyous reading in the end because I am a retired nurse and I remember well not only the patients I saw succumb to cancer but also losing a cousin to Ovarian cancer when we were both only 45 years old. So, yes, I join in your salute to chemo. Regarding meditation, I use prayer beads and I find the repetition of whatever prayers or good thoughts come to mind to be excellent in clearing my mind of anything there. I always do this for going to sleep, often just remembering with love in my heart all the people I have known and loved during my life. I believe with all my heart that whether one is religious or not, love never dies.

    • Mind Margins

      I believe the same thing. When I was in the hospital preparing for surgery, not knowing if this really was cancer or not, not knowing if I was going to die soon, and feeling the seriousness of the situation I was in, the only thing that mattered was my family and those I loved. All the other petty concerns in life melted away. What was most important was that everyone knew how much I loved them.

      • fahimausa

        And in the end, Precious Heart that you are, loving completely and with commitment is what makes a person strong because it takes wisdom, courage, forgiveness and fortitude to love completely, and sometimes it takes being tough, all of which builds character, compassion, dignity, the ability to grieve and the deepening of hope.

  9. iRuniBreathe

    Angela, thanks for sharing this. Sadly, cancer is pretty ubiquitous in our society yet unless you have personal experience with it you don’t learn all of these details. It does sound horrid, but it also works and for that I am glad. You are one strong cookie. Salute to you as well.

  10. MikeW

    One of my favorite things about this post besides your solid narrative is “01/16/2014.”

  11. pwhent

    Don’t apologise for your last few posts being tough Angela. Life isn’t always a bed of roses. I much prefer to read blogs like yours that keep it real, than some others who portray life as if seen through a Disney lens! I have found reading your blogs during the last 9 months a humbling experience and found myslef wondering if I would cope with such courage and dignity.

  12. Rebecca Latson Photography

    I’m glad you don’t sugarcoat and I’m glad you don’t get sappy. You write it the way it is, and it’s always very well-written. I have a friend who had to undergo chemo for a blood cancer. I sat with her and her sister-in-law one day. It’s long and it is tiresome and it’s good to have someone else in the room to keep company. And you have to have a certain amount of humor to be able to withstand it all too, I think. Humor helps, no matter how crappy one feels.

    • Mind Margins

      Humor always helps, regardless of the situation! If I hadn’t been able to laugh about what I was going through I wouldn’t have been able to make it.

  13. monica

    this brought back memories of our little friend who went through cancer, chemo, recovery. she was so, so, so thin. she was a skinny girl to begin with and then the chemo just ripped what little meat on her bones right off. :o( it was so hard to watch her be so sick to her stomach. she was hospitalized a few times due to dehydration caused by not wanting to drink or eat after chemo. it must just be so hard. I cannot imagine and once again I am in awe. I’m so happy you are well enough now to post and knit!!! I see your etsy shop over there in the sidebar and I may have to click on over.

    • fahimausa

      WHOA! Thanks for mentioning that the ad refers to Angela’s own shop!! I never look at ads, but will now look at this one. Angela, I have a beautiful Samoyed dog. I save his fur for someone who spins yarn with it and then knits. If you know anyone who can spin yarn, I’d love to send you a great big bag of snow white Samoyed fur. Just let me know!! Things knitted with it are so very expensive that I don’t even have anything myself, but I still take the lady the yarn because it’s a wonderful way to remember my dog, just as I did with Sugar Bear No. 1. Let me know.

      • Mind Margins

        I don’t know anyone who spins, but thanks for the offer. I didn’t knit much during chemo–my hands were too shaky and I was just too sick–but I’m making up for lost time now! Thanks for checking it out!

    • Mind Margins

      I was never hospitalized like your friend, but I did have to go in once for extra fluids and potassium, and they always had to give me extra before chemo. It saps all appetite and makes you so nauseous you can’t even tolerate water.

      My little Etsy shop was in the making when I was diagnosed in May. I finally got it all together in December.

  14. Geraldine Pruett

    Angela, I am Angela Fudge’s mom and have been following your posts . We have been thru two rounds of cancer with my husband and have learned that chemo is our friend! When this is all said and done, please consider yourself a victor rather than a survivor. God bless!
    Geraldine Pruett

    • Mind Margins

      Thank you so much for contacting me. I can’t imagine going through two bouts of cancer and chemo, but we do what we have to do, don’t we? I’ll never stop fighting. Thank you for reading my posts. Your husband must be a strong man to have beaten cancer twice. I love hearing the success stories.

  15. Beverly

    Chemo is so very hard on the system that I can still feel it’s effects a year later. It’s more than hair loss. It’s more than nausea and getting sick. I think it’s made me feel like I aged 10 years in a few months. I still have numbness in my feet. All of my nails…well, they don’t look so good. Once upon a time, my veins were a nurse’s dream. Now, forgetaboutit. Not to mention ‘chemo brain.’ On the other hand, it’s a lifeline. A hope that any remaining cancer cell floating around my body was destroyed by the caustic cocktail of chemotherapy. I hated it. But you know, being on chemo made me feel like I was doing something proactive to fight this silent killer. Oddly, when I finished all my rounds I actually asked my doctor “did you give me enough?” Not that I wanted more but was it enough. Is there any teeny bit of guarantee that they got it all? AAARRGH!!

    • Mind Margins

      It certainly does do a number on the body. My nails are pretty rough looking, and chemo brain is still an issue, but I have noticed that my eyelashes are nice and thick. My brown hair with very little gray has, however, grown back in salt and pepper! And it’s still just as straight as before. I joke with my breast cancer friends that at least they got a new pair of boobs out of their ordeal. All I got was a 9 inch scar and gray hair!

      • Beverly

        LOL…I got a new set of boobs (from a AA to a C definitely was a perk) and I’m also sporting the lovely 9 inch scar. All my girl parts tried to kill me!! I had dyed my hair blond for so many years I was convinced I was pretty gray under all that color. My hair came back dark which apparently is my real color and I have a little gray. I didn’t get the ‘chemo curl’ hair either. My hair was straight before and still is. Eyelashes took forever to come back and they aren’t thick. Not liking that at all.

      • Mind Margins

        I told my husband I’m going to dye my hair bright red and go for that punk look I always wanted in the 80’s. So did you have both breast and ovarian?

        >

  16. The Twisted Yarn

    Gosh, what a powerful post, from the strange camaraderie of the oncology waiting room, to the grim realities of chemotherapy. Wishing you only good news and every-growing health.

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks. The first few visits were surreal, but now it feels like I own the place when I go back for blood work. It’s nice to be there as a survivor rather than a patient.

  17. Beverly

    Yes…I had the ovarian cancer first and then had breast cancer 5 months to the day after. I had the oc surgery in Februay and the double mastectomy in July. It was a tough year that included a whole lot of chemo. I did have the genetic testing done but was negative. My sister also had breast cancer about 4 years before I did and she was also negative. But, I do find it hard to believe that genetics didn’t play a role in our cancers. Both of my cancers were primary cancers and not related to each other.

    • Mind Margins

      Unreal. I worry about getting breast cancer next. I even dreamt about it this morning. It seems almost every month I hear of someone new getting BC. I tested negative for BRCA as well, but have no known risk factors for getting OC. Stupid cancer! You are amazing to have come out of two cancers in one year. Way to kick some serious butt, Bev!

      • Beverly

        Mammograms are really state of the art now. My bc tumor was 6mm and the mammogram found it.

        After I had the surgery for the oc and finished up the chemo, I had this nagging feeling that things still weren’t right. Before they discovered my ovarian tumor, my main symptom was severe fatigue. I just coudn’t get enough sleep. Now I’ve learned that fatigue is one of the symptoms probably for most cancers. So, when I had that nagging feeling it was the fatigue again that made me wonder that something was wrong. I had put my yearly mammogram off because I was dealing with all the ovarian cancer sh*t. First chance I had to get the mammo and they found breast cancer. It was a setback for sure. Like you say, we do all we can to do to get through it. Ovarian cancer is extremely frightening and the odds for reoccurance is troubling. Treating it is like navigating a mine field. The treatments can vary so much from one patient to another. Because breast cancer is more common (1 in 8 women will have breast cancer in her lifetime) they know how to deal with it better. The thing about breast cancer, though, is that the whole treatment plan can take a good year or more. And that really, really sucked.

      • Mind Margins

        And apparently you have to take medication for breast cancer for years afterwards? I don’t take anything for OC. Did you have to do more chemo for the BC?

      • Mind Margins

        And I had no fatigue at all. My symptoms were acne and hair falling out in the shower. Then I noticed I got full so quickly when eating, and I had to go to the bathroom much more frequently. It was extreme. I knew something was wrong, but just thought it was middle age–as most women do. Thank god for the pain that sent me to the ER before it had spread.

    • fahimausa

      All of us lose hope and fall into moments of despair after something very traumatic. I didn’t have cancer, but lost my physical well-being, ability to practice nursing, and almost all my hearing to a drunk driver. I’d have nursed to age 83, the way my great aunt did. But in dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and the resultant depression (almost always for adult severe hearing loss), I learned to let my brain rest. I learned to let my body rest. I learned that sometimes it’s o.k. to lie in bed and just let memories and thoughts float through or to let tears flow, or to fall asleep at 1 p.m. again when I needed to. i’ve come to believe that dreaming of things like getting breast cancer after having ovarian cancer is my brain’s way of dispensing with the fear and the thoughts and the imagery, and I’ve learned to let those dreams come as they will. I’ve never totally lost hope, and managed to learn to walk again, to hear well enough to attend seminary for my Master’s in Interfaith work, and to deal with not having the financial well-being I may have had if I’d been able to continue my original beloved career. The best help in keeping or re-finding hope when you are down is to have a best friend or two with whom you can share your deepest feelings. Fortunately, I have two. I happen to like to use prayer beads and rosaries, and they have helped immensely in calming my anxieties, especially about the resultant brain tumour from my head injuries. And it hasn’t grown or needed to come out. I hope my sharing all of this helps. Lovingly, Martha (also known as fahima).

      • Mind Margins

        Fahima, so sorry for your horrible accident. Thank you for sharing your story. It does help to know others have gone through something traumatic and come out the other side, stronger and wiser than before.

  18. Beverly

    I had some of the other symptoms you mentioned for the ovarian cancer. But, no acne and I wasn’t losing my hair. I would say going to the bathroom frequently was probably the second biggest symptom and then bloating. I attributed the symptoms to my age, as well, except for the fatigue. I was 52. Sad to say but yes, you were extremely lucky to have the pain. For the breast cancer, I had to do a whole year of chemo/iv infusions. In the beginning it was every week then after 3 months every 3 weeks. I finished all treatments in October of last year. Now, I have to take a pill every day for 5 years. The pill is a hormone blocker and it wreaks havoc on my bones. Since I have no ovaries, I questioned taking the hormone blocker. I guess the pituitery gland picks up where the ovaries leave off (or something like that). I don’t take anything for the ovarian cancer. The only thing I was told regarding the oc was to avoid any form of radiation and absolutely no hormone replacement drugs…not even vitamins. I’ve had a couple of scans but they were MRIs and not CAT scans.

    • fahimausa

      Bev, I don’t know which “hormone blocker” you are on, but if it’s Tamoxifen, my aunts, all four of whom have had breast cancer have taken it without any reoccurrence, some of them for years. My Aunt Ruth is 92 now, had cancer in her early seventies, one breast. She falls quite often now, because she has the same dim vision problem I have, but complicated with age. Her entire house is hard tile. Nothing has ever even cracked, let alone broken. None of my other aunts ever experienced fractures, either, and the one who already had arthritis in her spine had tremendous relief of it with the Tamoxifen. I hope your path will be that easy as you go along. Besides, having successfully beat two types of cancer that severe in short time? You’re likely to be basically truly physically healthy, I’d bet. Best of everything to you in the future. God knows you deserve it! Punk hair in RED? Go for it, girlfriend!! Life is short: eat cake! celebrate!

      • Beverly

        I take Aromasin because I went through menopause (well, surgically induced anyway). Tamoxifen is for pre-menopausal breast cancer. I was also in the beginning stages of osteoporosis prior to my cancers. The Aromasin is accelerating the likelihood of the osterporosis advancing and I’ve had a lot of bone pain. It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve lead a healthy life up until the ovarian cancer. Very active and ate healthy. It’s been a struggle to get back to that way of life. Between surgeries and chemo treatments, I’m finding that it’s one step forward ten steps back. My bc was triple positive (receptors) so that meant I had to have Herceptin IV infusions for a year. I had a mutated gene that was not inherited that basically opens the door and invites cells to continue to multiply instead of ‘turning off.’ The Herceptin targets that cell in particular. So, even though it’s considered chemo, the side effects aren’t as nasty as regular chemo (which targets all cells good and bad).

      • Mind Margins

        It will probably always be a struggle, but it is still better than the alternative. I was moaning about my new salt and pepper hair last night, and how chemo has changed me, when I had to acknowledge that at least I’m alive. I can handle the changes–and I know you can, too. We will do it for those who didn’t make it.

  19. Beverly

    I am grateful for every single day. I hold close to my heart, the ladies that suffered so much and still did not make it. For them, I can and will face the struggles whatever they may be for me. I am here and I am okay.

      • fahimausa

        So wise. My dad died of CHF when I was 12. He knew for four years he would not see me grow up, and taught me that my celebrating life and living it to the fullest was the greatest way to respect his memory. One of his last sentences was, “Baby, I want you to dance on my grave.” How much comfort that memory has been during my life, even at 70, is, well, beyond my words.

      • fahimausa

        Didn’t know how you may react to that, but now I know to tell you that the day before I married my beloved second husband, we went there, and I did dance all around the edge. In New Orleans, we bury above ground, and it’s a granite grave about 2 feet above the ground. Then we sat there and I told story after story about my dad. Thirty wonderful years ago this coming April.

    • Mind Margins

      I am feeling great! Running again, albeit much slower and with much less stamina, but at least I’m moving again and being outdoors. Thanks for asking.

    • Mind Margins

      Hey there! I’m doing great. Enjoying warmer weather and getting the vegetable garden ready. Also knitting, but not writing much lately. Taking a little technology break, I guess!

      • Chatter Master

        Good for you! On all counts! I wish I had the patience for a garden. But I love the writing and drawing. And looking at OTHERS gardens. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It sounds like things are going well so I am VERY glad to hear this. Glad to hear from you. I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Pingback: Cancer Lesson #52: Most People Donโ€™t Care Whether You Have Hair | Keeping A-Breast: Cancer Lessons

Please leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s