Wednesday, April 19, 2017

But I'm Not Lactose Intolerant

Well, Ms. Borrill, you is now!

Unfortunately, I had to find out the hard, very bad way, after a week of not really making the connection as to why I was feeling a little crummy after eating some things.

I read that chemotherapy messes with your digestive track.  In truth, it pretty much messes with everything, since it's the gardening equivalent of getting hooked up to an IV of Round-Up.  The idea is to "just kill everything" in the hope that cancer gets killed to.  And because I knew this, I knew to stay away from the obvious things like alcohol, fast food, anything overly spicy or fried.  Instead, I've been eating that "healthy, high fiber, balanced diet" that is the cure for everything.

Plus a lot of dairy.

Yesterday started out SOO good.  I went to the pool, had a great morning swim.  I got to work and, for the first time in a week, felt sharp and clear-headed.  Started cranking out some filings and other reports I needed to get off my desk.  I'd started the day with a great big banana peanut butter protein shake made with a cup of 1% milk.  I did notice some stomach problems, but didn't put 2 and 2 together as I went on to eat a lunch of cut fruit topped with greek yogurt and Grape Nuts (lots of dairy-topped fiber!).

By 3:00 I had the worst stomach cramps ever and couldn't get far enough away from the bathroom to even make the 15 minute drive home.  It was awful.  AWFUL!

When I was finally able to get home and in touch with the on-call doctor, I ran through my day and he informed me that chemo had given me lactose intolerance, and from here on out, dairy needs to be OFF my list.

Some might consider that a bummer.  (No melty cheese??)  But after yesterday, I'm just thrilled to have a quick diagnosis and a plan that will keep that from happening again.  I am still feeling the repercussions today, not quite as sharp, more tired, restless sleep.  But I am on the mend, and a day smarter.

On the upside, talking with a different doctor had an unintended bonus.  My own oncologist had led me to believe that each chemo infusion would get more difficult to deal with.  The symptoms get worse, the recovery takes longer.  When I mentioned that in passing to the oncologist on-call last night, he acted confused and said that wasn't the case.  In fact, it's usually the first infusion that's the hardest because nobody knows what side effects I will have (case in point: lactose intolerance), and by the time I have the next infusion, I've "figured it out" and don't end up with so many problems.  In his experience, most people have an easier time the farther they go.  He'd added that it's only fatigue that gets worse, but not all the other symptoms.

This was total news to me, and it caused me to rethink the conversation with my own doctor that led me to believe it would all be down hill from here.  Now that I think of it, she may have only been talking about fatigue getting worse.  I took it to mean everything.  I won't know for sure until I get there, but it's another example where even a bad spell can have a little silver lining.  I was really happy to hear this and definitely hope it's true! 

In the meantime, my son can go back to drinking milk straight from the carton, since we won't be sharing it anymore.  My weight is also trickling down, not because I'm dieting but because the chemo is forcing me to give up all the bad things that put on pounds.  So here is that!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Chopping off the Locks

Since my hair will start falling out any time now, I chose to take matters into my own hands and have the bulk of my hair cut off. Honestly, after the fatigue from this first round of chemo, I'm too tired to deal with my hair anyway.

What I did NOT know (because this is the shortest my hair has been since I was a toddler) is that the cowlick that makes my hair stick up in front goes all the way to the back. In fact, all my hair will stick straight up if you let it.

I was prepared for Rachel Maddow. I was NOT prepared for Don King!

But thanks to my wonderful long-time hair stylist Michelle (at Ferrari Salon in Cotati if you are looking for someone good), a little gel works miracles.  Thanks also to BFF Kathy Conant for going with me and holding my hand. Next step for my hair may be an all-out shave off, but at least this will get me going.

Day 5: Over The Hump With Round 1 (Hopefully)

Started the morning with a 2.5 mi walk, a little shaky and slow on my feet, but by the time I got back, I was much improved.  Not 100%, but definitely better.

Al will be mad that I went out by myself (I took my phone), but the heavens gave me a perfect morning for a quiet, restorative walk.  School is out so the streets are quiet.  It rained all day yesterday, so the air was clean and the grounds were moist and fresh.  A nice overcast morning keeps the sun from my eyes and raises the scents of all the blooming flowers and wet earth.

I'm tired, but it was worth the energy.  I'm hopeful today starts the steady improvement over these next 2.5 weeks between Round 1 & 2.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Day 4: The Truck That Hit Me

First thing I will say is this isn't bad.  It's not unbearable.  And from what I understand, it comes from the Taxotere, so if you're reading this because you're facing chemo also, this may not even be you.

But two days after my first infusion, I was smooth sailing for the most part.  Then somewhere around midnight last night, I'd fallen asleep on the couch and woke up with the worst stiff neck ever.  You know the kind:  You slept wrong, can't turn your head.  Add to that, general joint pain which I have also experienced before at times when I've overdone it in the yard.  Inflammation type pain.  Stiffness in the backs of my knees.  That flu-like feeling when you know you're coming down with something.

It had me tossing and turning in bd until I finally woke at 8:30 a.m. and got up.  The good news is, some XS Tylenol, a nice warm neck wrap, lots of water and a hot shower have done wonders.  I'm fatigued, but not uncomfortable.  And I will be thrilled if this is the low spot for this first round of chemo. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Importance of Blogs and Logs And Giving It Up

The Blogs

I'm finding Facebook and this blog extremely helpful in not only creating a therapeudic diary of this journey, but also in helping me keep friends and family updated.

While I'm immensely thankful that people care--that means a LOT to me--I'm also finding it difficult to repeat the same updates to all the wonderful friends and family who send me emails and IMs asking how I'm doing, while still keeping up a schedule of work/rest/exercise/cooking, etc..  It is an aid to me when people check here first, and in return, I'll try not to bore you with a bunch of extraneous information that puts you to sleep. :)

The Logs

All my coworkers in Finance will completely understand my ingrained need to chart and graph my statistics through these 84 days.  So, of course, I started with Excel and created a daily log.  It has the following columns and up to 13 individual hours can be logged on one day:
  • Time of Day
  • How I'm feeling
  • What I've eaten
  • What I've drank in the way of liquids
  • Drugs I've taken
  • Exercise I've done
 I've got spots to track my daily weight and the hours I slept, etc.

I'm the worst one for going to the doctor with complaints then never being able to articulate exactly when and how problems come on.  So I plan to be diligent in keeping this up, even though it does suck quite a bit of time out of my day.

If you are reading this post because you're going through something similar, I highly recommend and log or journal.  It will help you see trends in what's working, what's not, but also keep you in tune and conscious with your body.

Giving It Up


Here is a lesson that started long before I got my first chemo infusion:  To get through something like this, you've got to take your body OFF of life's schedule, and put your life ON your body's schedule.  That's easy for me because I don't have a lot of set meetings, no kids to get to school and sports.  I can work from home, make my hours, and I belong to a 24-hour gym.  I know everyone doesn't have that luxury, but in whatever way you can, you need to do this.

Early on, with anxiety of this diagnosis, the unknown, the waiting, fear, worry, I stopped sleeping regularly.  It was like being in the Amityville Horror movie, waking up at 3:15 every damn night.  The old me would have panicked fearing I'm going to crash in the afternoon if I don't sleep until at least 6:00 a.m.

But then out of frustration, I did something amazing:  Instead of lying awake for hours calculating how much sleep I could get if I fell asleep "RIGHT NOW", I got up and started my day.  I turned on my work computer and started handling business.  I got to be pool early, swam.  When the afternoon came around, I didn't crash.  Clearly, my body had gotten enough rest even though my brain insisted that was never going to happen.

If you run your life on a fairly set schedule, be prepared to let that schedule go.  This doesn't have to be a bad thing.  It relieves a lot of stress to realize that, when my body says it's done sleeping after 4 hours, I can go through the day pretty well.  All the horrible things I thought would happen didn't.

In short, you stop the process of feeling you always need to be in control.  And that is a good life lesson.

Day 1 of 84: The Chemo Saga Begins

Infusion 1 of 4

 Day One: Overriding theme for the day: "One down, three to go." 

 I started the day with a good swim at the pool, a walk with Al and then a protein breakfast at Peppers Cafe. Egg scramble, yummy. It was all the perfect prep to put me in high spirits, have me feeling good and ready to get this first treatment over with. 

All I kept thinking was, "No matter what, after today I will only have three more chemos." That count-down helps a LOT.

I took with me the big bear Tommy gave me after my lumpectomy, as well as the blanket a dear friend crocheted for me. LOTS of water, gummy bears (my preferred snack), magazines, Words With Friends, Facebook, and Animal Crossing. With Al by my side in and out, it all went by completely uneventfully, thank GOD. Time whizzed by fast. Chemo is painless, only the IV in my hand was annoying and cold, but they give you a pillow and a nice warm electric blanket to wrap it with. The chairs are comfy, the room is sunny. I could have stayed there a couple more hours. I felt like being a little kid again, in the back of our family's Rambler station wagon, surrounded by pillows and puzzles, and all the fun things my mom gave me to keep me busy on road trips to Crater Lake and Mt. Hood.

The only problem with the three chemo days (day before, day of, day after) is the steroids they have me on.  They prevent allergic reaction and help with nausea, etc.  But they give me splitting headaches and almost nothing takes them away.  I'm only able to get them tolerable with Lorazepam and THC, the combination of which zones me out and makes me sleepy.  Luckily, the headaches don't come on until later in the day and evening, so I'm pretty functional otherwise.

Saturday, that nuisance will be gone, but they tell me it will be the "big crash" and the effects of chemo will start setting in.  I need to keep up with my healthy diet, tons of water and exercise to stave those off as much as possible.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Good Oncologist - The Best Rx for Google Depression

Yesterday, I burst into (happy) tears when my oncologist told me I could still go to my gym and swim through chemotherapy.  In fact, she not only told me it would be fine, she looked at me quizzically, wondering where the heck I'd gotten the idea that I couldn't.

Well, Google, of course.

It was Thursday when she'd phoned with the dreaded word "chemo".  Our in-person appointment wasn't until Monday.  That gave me three days in between to sit on the internet and work myself into sleepless nights of anxiety, depression, and gloom.

I'm a researcher.  When I embark on anything, be it vegetable gardening, mosaics, romance writing, I dive into the internet, talk to people who have been there, read articles, join discussion forums, and in general, search for all the knowledge I can possibly gain on the subject.  That's been amazingly fun and effective when it comes to fun hobbies.  Not so much when it comes to cancer.

I'm not saying there's a lot of bad information out there.  Much of what I learned off sites like or through the American Cancer Society was accurate and valuable.  But it can also be terrifying if it's not tempered by the details of your own personal situation.  And it gets worse when you wander into the on-line support groups and forums and start reading accounts from people who have been there.  They can paint a pretty bleak picture, no matter how much you try to slant your Google searches to something that might give you hope.  In fact, by the time Al and I walked into the doctor's office Monday, the following thoughts had already set up shop in my psyche:
  • It's like I'm on death row waiting out my last days before chemo ends my life.
  • I will come out of this permanently impaired.
  • Things I love about my body--my hair, my skin, my nails--will be forever destroyed.
  • Next year at this time, I'll be in the 300 lb club, facing double-knee surgery, I'll be an alcoholic or drug addict from the permanent, chronic pain.  
  • I'll have to give up all the hobbies that bring me joy.
It was so bad by Sunday night that I had to download guided meditation tapes and listen to them through the night just to get a measly 4 hours of sleep.

Needless to say, I am done with the internet.

It's not that I regret giving myself self-inflicted pain.  Knowing me, there was NO WAY I would go through something like this without scouring for information to get as informed and prepared as possible.  Doing so helped me track down things that might be especially worrisome to me but not the next guy, and make sure I covered those things with my doctor while I had her time.

And while Sunday was one of the most anxious and depressed days of my life, by the time we walked out of the doctor's office Monday afternoon, I felt cleansed.  Like I'd looked all the worst case scenarios in the eyes and stared them down until they backed off and crawled away.

Al asked her if we came with more questions than the average chemo patient, and though I forget her actual response, it was definitely in the "yes" category.  But she said what's more troubling are the people who come in and don't ask anything at all.  People are different.  We all face challenges using the tools that have worked for us in the past.  I'm sure many simply turn themselves over to God, stay in the present and pray for strength in the future.  They don't need to know what might be coming, and will deal with it when it does.  I admire those people, but there really is no wrong answer to how to face a challenge.  For me, this was my way.

Sunday was bad, but today I am feeling relieved, confident and strong.  BIG shout-out to the group at St. Josephs Cancer Center.  They are an amazing group of people.  After my appointment, the scheduling nurse walked me around the facility and showed me the room where people were receiving their chemo treatment.  It looked like a nail salon, and the people there getting treatment were as calm, relaxed and unaffected as folks getting pedicures.  That one tour alone wiped out more fears than you can imagine.

Like I said, I am officially done Google searching.  I went there, had my fill, turned over every rock and now I'm done feeling clueless and afraid.

I've got a tentative date of 4/13/17 to have my first treatment.  It was a date I chose as I looked forward on the calendar and figured what would work best for me.  (Yes, I showed up at the doctor's office with a 2017 calendar and marked all the dates for everything.  I am nothing if not my mother's daughter.)  Between now and then I won't be stressing anymore.  And that's a good feeling.  I'm in a good place now, so my work will be focused on staying here.  But it was definitely a bumpy ride.