Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Blog

From breastfeeding to being diagnosed with breast cancer and then back to breastfeeding. This is an account of my experiences.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Life Goes On

The weekly chemo treatments seem almost normal now.  The day before I make sure to drink extra water to keep my veins hydrated.  Before I go, I take a warm shower and keep my arm warm.  Getting an IV every week seems normal.  

After my first surgery, I was offered more surgery to have a port.  I was thrilled to make it through the first surgery without general anesthesia and I hoped to be done with surgeries.  The nurses who administered the chemotherapy certainly seemed to prefer ports.  I decided I would consider a port if we no longer could start an IV in my arm.  I had a lot of IVs ahead of me and needing to do all of them on one arm was certainly a concern. 

Many times with chemotherapy, the patterns of side effects seem to become predictable.  Certain days are "down days."  I found that I would get a strange achiness in my upper arms and chest for a couple days and the fatigue was always there.  It's a strange fatigue, one that doesn't get better after a nap.  For most chemo drugs, hair starts to fall out starting on day 14.  I was on hair watch and my hair didn't start then.  It wasn't until day 22 that showering became more messy and if I touched my hair ten or more hairs came out.  But I never had large bald patches, just thinning mainly in the crown area.  So I didn't shave my head.

Each chemo appointment was about the same, first a blood test is done at least an hour in advance. Usually I would go in the morning when I have afternoon infusions. It's just more convenient for me and my daughter can come along.  The blood test is to mainly see how my white blood counts are. If they are too low, I can’t have the Taxol.

Then to the IV…depending on the nurse (so far I’ve only had women), she’ll either warm up the arm or just get started. My favorite nurse always just gets started. One time I actually had to wait 45 min for someone to get started. There were mini-emergencies going on and nurses were all occupied. 

I get started with the IV and then get my pre-meds. I get Pepsid in one bag of IV fluid, then it is switched with a nurse. Sometimes there is wait time between switches too. Then comes an IV bag of Benedryl and Decadron. I have worked with my oncologist to lower the doses of Benedryl and Decadron.  I seem to do fine with the Taxol and I really don't like the side effects of these two drugs.  

Then I get a big bag with Herceptin. That takes between 30 min and 90 min. The first one is 90 min and then we’ve decreased each time. Lately it has been 30 min and that is good. Although I need to have my blood pressure taken multiple times on the same arm as the IV. It doesn't feel too good while I was getting Herceptin. It burns during Taxol, so we pause the IV during Taxol. After Herceptin comes a big bag with Taxol. That takes 1 hour. After the Taxol and sometimes at other times I may get switched over to a plain saline IV bag. After my “rinse” my IV is removed and I’m free to go! So far these treatments have lasted 3-4 hours, but could take closer to 2 hours theoretically.

During all this time, there are lovely people coming and offering drinks, lunch, fruit cup, cookies, ice cream. There is a nice tech who comes to take my blood pressure and chats. I think it’s done four times at least. Temperature is taken each time too. I sit in a comfy recliner, often somewhat reclined and there are recliners in front of me, diagonally, and to each side. Each one has curtains nearby, but almost never drawn. Some people visit and many sleep. There are personal tvs for each people with earphones. I bring my new MP3 player and listen to music for part of the time. I have a nice blanket and warmed blankets are also offered. It’s a bit entertaining to go to the bathroom, if I’m listening to my music, I have those wires, IV tubes, the IV pole which has to be unplugged from the wall.  My husband is often doing work on his laptop and sits in a folding chair next to me. I get some computer time too and can use the phone, look out the window, and rest.

Every 3-4 weeks I see the medical oncologist who just checks in to make sure everything is going well. I can also call or email her. There are also triage nurses who are available during the week for calls about just about anything.