Cancer Sucks: Chemo

Yeah, so it turns out I had a few cancer cells hiding out in a lymph node. Sneaky bastards!

When I had my hysterectomy a year ago, I thought that was all I would ever need to do. But on a 6-month follow up, my new doctor (love him!) ordered a CT scan and it showed an enlarged lymph node in my abdomen, near where my uterus used to be. It was an inch in diameter, too big to address with radiation, so he did surgery. Future Mr. Pants was in the waiting room and the doctor came out to tell him the mass was BENIGN. He’d sent two frozen sections down to the lab, just to be sure. Party time!!!!! I brought cookies to him at my one-week surgery follow up visit. Then, he told me about the final pathology report: cancerous cells in the lymph node. I said I wanted my cookies back!

I’ve known several people who had chemotherapy and I always had a terrible fear of it. I hoped I would never have to decide whether or not to do it. But when it came right down to the actual moment, I felt very positive about it. I trusted my doctor’s judgment, and I had a strong affirmation inside when he said it was just preventative, to kill any circulating cells that might want to stick and cause problems later.

They wanted to wait a couple of months to start, which worked out great with me. I’d just accepted a new job and my health insurance would kick in a month after starting (thank you, thank you, thank you!) I made all my appointments and set about getting used to the new job.

It finally came, the day I had been dreading. My anxiety level was through the roof. I was so happy that Future Mr. Pants went with me. And it turned out to be the Y2K of chemotherapy sessions:  a total non-event! It was mostly a boring day sitting in a comfortable reclining chair. Here’s what they did:

  1. Put in an IV line
  2. Shot Pepcid into it
  3. Infused Benadryl, an anti-nausea compound, and a steroid (30 minutes)
  4. Infused the first drug, carboplatin (3 hours)
  5. Infused the second drug, Taxol (1 hour)
  6. Waited 30 minutes to be sure I didn’t have a reaction
  7. Sent me home

This is what the next 2 weeks felt like:

line graph

Yes, I really mean I felt BETTER the first two days–I had more energy and felt better than I had in months! I’m sure now it was the combination of the steroid and the release of anxiety. The steroid had another side effect, though, that showed up the next week. I’ve had problems with high blood pressure in the past, but it’s well-controlled with meds. Until the steroid, that is. It spiked really high and triggered a migraine. I spent half a day in bed, upped one of my meds and I was okay.

They told me my levels of red and white blood cells and platelets would be at their lowest about a week after treatment, and I had a rough second weekend with a chesty cough and a low-grade fever. Maybe because I’d overdone it the day before. But it felt so good to feel good, I didn’t want to stop!

And now, The Hair.

My sister, who went through chemo a couple of years ago, suggested that when my hair started to come out, I should be proactive and just shave it off. Well, right on schedule at two weeks, it started to come out big time. I was sitting on the couch one evening and gently pulling on my hair. I got enough to knit a sweater. The next day was Friday, and I very carefully fixed it that morning, trying to keep as much in as possible. I told my bosses and some of my co-workers that I was going to shave it that weekend, so I didn’t have to surprise everybody.

I had planned to make a big deal of it and have a head shaving ceremony at my daughter’s house on the weekend, but it was creeping me out too much to wait. I had visions of turning over in the bed and seeing a mass of hair on my pillow. So Future Mr. Pants did it that Friday night. I felt very emotional before he did it, scared and vulnerable. But when it was done, I felt great about it. It was cool to see my head; it looks kind of pointy to me without hair. The next day, I went to my daughter’s house and she had crocheted a hat for me in my favorite colors, with a big flower on the side. Later in the week, she gave me three more she had made.

It was scary going to work that first day, knowing that most people would be surprised to see me with no hair. But I told a few people what was going on, and the rumor mill took care of the rest. Several people stopped by to hug me or tell a story of a loved one who went through it. Only a couple of people averted their eyes and looked uncomfortable. The pretty hats definitely help! I get to show them off and brag on my daughter.

I had my second round a week ago, and the pattern is approximately the same this time, except I managed my blood pressure better and didn’t have the spike. I’ve worked every day, even working remotely during the treatment last time.

My regimen is a treatment every 3 weeks for six treatments, so I’m 1/3 of the way through. I haven’t had a minute of nausea. I have had joint pain and horrific heartburn on days 2-4, but nothing I can’t manage. My fingertips are tingly/numb, and they may reduce the dosage of one of the drugs to help with that. I get tired sometimes and I take a nap. It still looks weird to me when I see my bald head in the mirror, but Future Mr. Pants thinks it looks cool and it certainly makes getting ready in the morning easier.  As they say on TV, my results may not be typical, but so far my chemo experience has not lived up to my fears.

10 replies on “Cancer Sucks: Chemo”

I’m hopping onboard and wishing you success with your treatments.  I also have a word of advice regarding a known side-effect of cisplatin.

My father was diagnosed with bladder cancer a year and a half ago; he had chemo (gemzar/cisplatin combo) followed by surgery to remove his bladder and thought he was cancer-free until this past January, when bladder cancer cells were detected in a lymph node (and they believe other lymph nodes are also involved).  He started chemo again last month (gemzar/carboplatin, though taxol/carboplatin was also considered).

The first time around, we were told that he could expect some reversible hearing loss with respect to high-pitched noises as a result of the cisplatin; unfortunately, the hearing loss went deeper than that and did not correct itself, and he had to get hearing aids.  He is seeing a different oncologist now and the new oncologist was surprised to learn that hearing tests were not conducted before my father got chemo (to get a baseline) or after each round (to see what damage the cisplatin was doing).  Hearing loss is also associated with carboplatin, so my father was instructed to have a hearing test after each round.

I hope that I haven’t frightened you, but I sincerely wish that someone had told my family that the hearing loss might not be reversible so that we could have taken the steps to have the treatment modified, if possible.  Getting a hearing test is a good place to start.  Good luck to you.

Thank you for writing this. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I never really had any idea of what the actual process of chemo entailed. I’ll be keeping all of my fingers and toes crossed that the rest of your treatment goes as smoothly as possible.

I’m so glad to hear about your positive experience with chemo! I actually just had chemo this afternoon and it’s basically the same non-event that you describe. I had the same fears before my first round last November and then had quite a bumpy road of chaos, pain and bizarre side effects for the first two months but by January my team and I had gotten me on a pretty normal routine and it’s been smooth sailing since! I also have the lovely tingly fingers (and toes) and just started acupuncture for that. Not sure how much it’ll help but always worth a try! I also shaved my head after a traumatic shower where I got giant gobs of hair but then my hair has never completely fallen out – only about 50-75% gone? So I’ve kept it shaved but it’s still there.

I actually JUST today got the fabulous news that all of my lymph nodes are nearly back to normal size and the pesky bit in my lung is GONE. I am so. fucking. stoked. I think I might actually be in shock. I still have to finish out six more weeks of chemo (treatment every other week) but then I’m DONE! I might start letting the hair I have left grow out now. I really want to nap but the steroids are like “RAWR NO SLEEP FOR YOU!!!”

If you have any questions while you’re going through the process let me know. I’m having a different chemo regimen but I’ve had just about every side effect both common and uncommon throughout treatment so feel free to send me a message. You can do it! You’re a third of the way! I’m three quarter as of today! WE CAN DO IT!

If water treadmill cat can do it so can we!

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