One Year Later

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It’s hard for me to believe this, but today marks one year since I last had chemo.

I know that’s kind of a weird anniversary to mark, but it signaled the end of the hardest part of my treatment, and a turning point in my treatment plan.

I was originally scheduled to receive four rounds of two drugs, Adriamycin (doxorubicin) and Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), followed by 12 rounds of Taxol. The AC regimen was tough. But I made it through.

Taxol was supposed to be a walk in the park compared to the cocktail of these two powerful drugs (Adriamycin is nicknamed “The Red Devil” both for its crimson hue and how it makes you feel). But I ended up being the special case that can’t tolerate the medication, and I became very ill. After two terrifying, uncomfortable weeks of fevers, headaches and MRIs, my still-depleted white blood cell count made it clear that the chemo was behind all my troubles.

At that point, my doctor decided to discontinue chemo and proceed with surgery because he feared continuing with the drug would damage my bone marrow. So, I missed the last 11 doses of Taxol. While I sometimes wonder if that will come back to haunt me in the future, I can’t say I was too upset about getting an early reprieve from chemo.

So, how am I today, one year after completing that part of treatment? Pretty good, all things considered.

Physically, I feel great. It’s funny because most of the actual feeling bad from having cancer came from the treatment, not the disease itself. Once I finished treatment, most of that unpleasantness (fever, headache, nausea, fatigue) went away. I’m still dealing with the side effects of menopause–which technically started with chemo and kicked into high gear after my oophorectomy–but that stuff is pretty manageable.

My hair is still a work in progress. A year ago I was completely bald, save about half a dozen little whispies that never fell out (my brave soldiers!). This was my hair about a week ago:

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As you can see, it’s still pretty curly. Although, I think the curl is starting to phase out a bit (the hair coming in at the roots seems straighter). I actually even had a real haircut last week, as the back was getting a bit long and unruly (I basically had a curly mullet).

I also lost a toenail due to chemo (a lovely side effect of Taxol), and that has almost completely grown back in.

Chemo can also cause lingering cognitive issues (chemo brain). While I certainly have my moments of fogginess, I’m not sure they can be chalked up to chemo.

Last week at my checkup, my blood work showed my white blood cell count slightly down. My oncologist said this was normal in someone who’s had chemo, though, so I guess the lingering effects of the drug can still mess with my immunity, too.

So, where am I with treatment now? I am essentially done, save the adjuvant therapy I’ll be on for the next decade. That’s a pill I take every day called Tamoxifen. Since my cancer is estrogen-receptive (estrogen basically feeds it), Tamoxifen works to block estrogen from feeding cells and causing them to become cancerous. Some people have a lot of difficulty with this drug, but thankfully I’ve handled it pretty well thus far.

At this point, I’m mostly just dealing with all the emotional aftermath and figuring out how to move forward in my life. That’s getting better every day, too, and I’ve learned some new coping mechanisms to help me along the way.

Cancer treatment is a long process. I don’t think I fully understood that even at this point a year ago. But standing here now, I’m thankful to have come as far as I have in this past year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming Out of the Fog

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Aside from the jaw-dropping fatigue I’ve experienced with chemo, the hardest thing for me is the phenomenon known adorably as “chemo brain.”

I’d heard about this affliction before, but until I was in the throes of it myself, I had no idea how hard it would be to deal with.

Since I never really got physically ill from my first treatment, I thought I was in the clear as far as side effects go. Obviously a little brain fog and sleepiness are far superior to puking, but it just never really occurred to me how hard those “lesser” side effects would be.

I’m an editor by trade, so my job is to read and rework copy, and also to write stories for a magazine. This is work that you need a clear head to complete. Grammar and punctuation, not to mention syntax and overall organization, are sort of hard to figure out when you’re not firing on all cylinders.

Yes, this was an opportunity to take it easy and take some time off. My very kind boss and coworkers urged me to do just that. But that’s not how I operate. I need to work. It makes me feel normal. It makes me feel useful. And it feeds my passion–I love writing and editing. It’s not just a job for me; this is something I truly enjoy doing.

So, not being able to craft a clever turn of phrase, or whip some lackluster copy into something that sings really is hard for me. Looking at a Word document and feeling utterly overwhelmed because I don’t even know how to begin to approach it makes me feel like I’m out of control. My brain function is something I can’t harness and use as I want, like I’m so used to, and that drives me absolutely batty.

Thankfully, the past two days (now 5-6 days out from treatment) have been better. I know that I probably need an extra day to veg out after my next treatment. I know to be easier on myself. But it won’t be easier to do that, because even though I know self-care is the right thing at this point, it’s the hard thing, and not being wired to operate that way is a challenge I had no idea I’d have to face.