… and the ugly

I really don’t like writing blogs of this nature. However, I did make a promise that I would document: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. So here it is.

As you all read, my oncologist warned that severe nausea was one of the main side effects with the new drug regime I’ve switched to. As much as I like to think that I will be the exception, I was reminded again that positive thinking can only gets you so far. I am not invincible. So, I am taking off my rose-coloured glasses and sharing the facts.

Two hours after arriving home from my first round of FEC, Thursday, the overwhelming nauseous feeling started taking over my body. I knew I had been giving anti-nausea medication as part of my pre-medication before treatment. But was I allowed to take more now? I wasn’t sure. Too bad, it was my only option to take control. I peeled myself off the white leather lounge and climbed the five stairs to my bedroom. Riffling through my bag of tricks (medicine), I found my saving grace: Maxolon. Pop and drop. I then fumbled through my bedside draws and located one of the many hospital grade sick bags that have sneakily made their way home with us – just in case. I lay down and was out for the count (4:30pm). I hadn’t planned on staying in bed, my phone was downstairs, and I had not way of trying to get John’s attention, to let him know I wasn’t planning on moving anytime soon. John was preparing dinner, yet the thought of food was so far banished from my mind. I was quite disappointed about this – John was preparing a tasty treat, requested by myself. How disappointing! Eating is my all-time-favourite pastime!

The next morning I woke feeling ‘slightly’ better. I managed a trip down to the kitchen for some dry toast (with butter) along with a fresh juice of apple, carrot and beetroot. All prepared by John. He’s off work on Carer’s Leave while mother is away – and doing a fab job! John mentioned that he was going to cook some eggs for breakfast – that was my queue to return upstairs. The thought of what smell may over-take the kitchen was enough to make my gag reflex’s go into overdrive. Off I shuffled, back up the stairs and back into bed. I stayed in bed until 10am! I’m still learning this is OK.

Later that day we had to stop by the hospital for my WBC booster injection. I do have the option of self-administering these at home. You would think that after all my IVF injections I would jump at the chance to avoid a trip to the hospital. No thanks. My days of self-adminstering needles into my belly are over, for now. Also, getting out of the house for 30 minutes is a bonus. Upon arrival, the nurses could tell that I wasn’t enjoying the new drugs.

“How are you feeling?” they asked.

“Urgh,” was all I could muster up.

In sympathetic tones they reminded me that there are other options; stronger anti-emetics are available. I’ve booked an appointment first thing Monday morning with my GP, just in case. Round one is always trial and error. I know this.

FEC chemotherapy was the kingpin of regimes over three years ago. Going back in time with an older drug regime definitely reiterates my feelings on the continuous advancements in medicine. TC is the new kid on the block. It is recommended these days as treatment is shorter and the side effects are more manageable. I didn’t suffer an ounce of nausea during my first round (the only round of TC I can make a comparison to). Unfortunately, my body was too sensitive to these drugs. I think I prefer a few days of feeling nauseous over another Taxol reaction. Any day!

I mentioned to John, in jest, that maybe I needed a bell, for the odd occasions that I may get stuck in the same situation as last night (deserted upstairs, in my bedroom, woe-is-me, woo-woo-woo). It couldn’t hurt, could it? On the way to the hospital we made a pitstop to Officeworks where I had seen one previously for sale. After a few jokes, and a few test dings in the store, it was purchased. Ding, Ding. I’m quite disappointed I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. I woke up even sprightlier today!

I know reading that I have not felt my best is hard for some, or most. Please no sympathy. It’s all part of the process and I am accepting of this. I can now add “severe nausea” and “loss of appetite” to my list of side effects I’ve endured.

“Have you lost your appetite?” asked a few friends after my first round of chemo.

“I wish,” I replied (thinking of my expanding waistline due to consuming too much cake).

One should never joke!

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Breaking Bad and Chemotherapy

Lately, as you are all aware, I have lots of time on my hands. Usually I would be happy filling my days with lady-of-leisure activities, and I have been. However, I have imposed a new rule upon myself: one “outing” per day. For someone who can have back-to-back coffee dates and catch ups, this is a big change in my life. So how do I fill the extra hours spent at home?… Eating, writing, attacking 1000 piece-puzzles, cooking…and now indoor cycling, thanks to my indoor bike trainer that was kindly donated (you’re the best, Richard Leong).

Some people can happily watch DVD’s all day – I wish I was one of them. I seem to have an inability to watch a whole movie without falling asleep, or being distracted with my iPhone or laptop. Watching a movie during the day results in a 90% chance I will make it through to the closing credits, unfortunately movie nights for me are definitely a thing of the past. Especially during chemo where bedtime is sometimes 6:30pm. The majority of my friends will know that I am technically-inept. I know the basics around a computer, but when someone starts talking to me about ‘streaming’ or ‘downloads’, I am transported back to a 50s housewife with my cooking apron on (and a martini in hand), saying ‘Pardon, dear?’

Luckily with the technology advances today, there are companies that provide a service for the likes of myself. Meet my new friend: Quickflix. I now have a variety of shows and movies available at my touch of my fingertips. Unfortunately, I cannot speak highly of this company, their range is limited – did you notice I only said ‘friend’, not ‘best friend’. I do however have one thing to thank them for: Breaking Bad. I have heard friends talking about this show, my Facebook Newsfeed was inundated with messages about Hank when the show ended. Who was Hank? What is everyone on about? (yes it’s been around for 5 years! I tend to live under a rock when things are new and get involved just as the show finishes)

For those who have never seen Breaking Bad, or heard of it, here is a quick synopsis…

“Breaking Bad is an American crime drama television series set and produced in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Breaking Bad is the two-year-long story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a struggling high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer at the beginning of the series. He turns to a life of crime, producing and selling methamphetamine, in order to secure his family’s financial future before he dies…”

Earlier this week my next instalment from Quckflix’s arrived: Breaking Bad, Season 2. (they only post DVD’s rather than stream the early episodes…punishment for living under a rock).  The oncology ward has DVD players available. Winning. There is something very comforting about watching someone else battle cancer, simultaneous to yourself (although there has been more references to “chemistry” than cancer in the past few episodes). I think it’s much like watching Air Crash Investigations while working as Airline Crew. Knowledge is power: the more you see and know, the more comfortable and in-control you feel about the situation…even if it is fiction. Even more so, watching shows that depict people receiving chemotherapy, I now know why people have such a bad image etched in their mind about this process. Hollywood does not paint a pretty picture. I know it’s true that chemotherapy CAN be as bad as depicted, but not always (always the glass-half-full for me). I still feel that physically, I am sailing through treatment – talk to me in 12 weeks and we can re-assess my view on this.

So why am I talking about a TV show on chemotherapy day?…Well, I have switched to a new drug that NOBODY has ever had a reaction to (well I’m not 100% sure about this, I haven’t done my usual research). Meaning: no pre-meds. Second meaning: No ‘battle of the eyelids’. Third meaning: DVD and relaxation was on the cards.

So, the Million Dollar Question…

No reaction. No drama (well, it took two attempts to get a cannula in, but that’s forgivable). *golf claps*

The new combination consists of three drugs: (F)fluorouracil, (E)epirubicin, and (C)cyclophosphamide. I’m hoping by week 12 I will be able to pronounce all the names, correctly! (F) and (E) are given manually by the nurse pushing them through the IV line. She wheeled up close next to me (lucky I don’t have personal space issues) and worked her way through five large syringes full of drugs. She kept asking “Are you OK? You look worried.” I had my serious face on, apparently. After all the hard labour by the nurse, she attached the final bag of drugs (C) to my IV. This would take an hour to run through. PERFECT! That’s one whole episode of Breaking Bad. DVD in. Earphones on. Relax.

After all the drugs had successfully made it through my bloodstream, I felt like a movie star having won an Oscar. The whole oncology department were thrilled for me. Congratulations were thrown around the room and I asked if I would get a gold star on my chart…or an upgrade to the corner suite.

Four hours later, I am back home. Job done.

*** Side note: Breaking Bad was filmed in 2008. I personally think the medical world has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past 5 years. Kudos to the anti-nausea drugs. I have been warned that the new drugs I will be receiving: FEC, may cause strong nauseating effects. ‘May’ is the key word here. It also, may not.

Back to the “Office”

As you are aware, I have been on a self-appointed chemo holiday. It has been challenging at times to explain to people: YES, I have started chemotherapy. NO, I am not suffering any side effects. I am not in denial…my body does not feel an ounce difference from my former healthy pre-cancer state.

The only time I was administered a full dose of both drugs was during my first round, way back on October 17. During the second round, only the “softer” of the two made it into my bloodstream, and the third attempt, well let’s be generous and say 5 drops of Taxol made it into my system. Extreme tiredness was the only side effect I experienced from round two (going to bed at 6:30pm would classify as extreme tiredness, right?).

So I’ve had 2 weeks up my sleeve before starting the new regime: FEC. I had two choices: be frustrated that chemo is delayed and I’m waiting around AGAIN for it to start (properly), or make use of feeling normal and healthy. Lock in option B, Eddy.

My “chemo holiday” has been like any other holiday I would like to have: carefree. I’ve enjoyed many lunches with friends visiting from interstate (perfect timing), I was able to dress up and attend a party that would have fallen during my low WBC days, and would have been too risky to attend, I ran two parkrun events, and spoilt myself with a few of my favourite things I had previously given up at the start of chemo (whiskey, wine, beer and black coffee). Shhhh…don’t tell mother.

I have a feeling Thursday may present a major case of Deja Vu…except I’ve actually experienced the event – it’s not my imagination. Thursday I start “Round One.”

Technically, this is my FOURTH round of chemo but I have decided to start from scratch. It’s a completely new drug – another four rounds, every three weeks. I feel fresh, so let’s start fresh.

As with most things in this journey, I try to find correlations between my treatment and things that may have occurred in my former healthy life. By doing this, it “normalises” even the unfortunate events.

So, I am choosing to think of the previous three rounds as training for the main event. If I had a triathlon in the near future, I would have trained for all three disciplines. My past three rounds were just that, training for FEC. Although, I think that if I was experiencing the same unsuccessful results from training for a race, that I’ve encountered during my rounds of chemo…I would probably cancel my event.

I’m more excited than nervous for Thursday.

Let’s crack on!

Reelin’ in the Years

I have spoken previously of the challenges a young BC patient faces compared to those of an “older” woman. Of course the journey is difficult at any age – there are both pros and cons to enduring this journey at a younger age, or older.

I want to shed some light on another taboo subject.  A subject so far from my mind at the tender age of 32 (is it a bit presumptuous to think that 32 is still a “tender” age?).

Today I want to talk about: Menopause. Menopause? Yes, menopause! It’s another unexpected experience thrown in front of you, when you are a young woman diagnosed with BC. The journey has taken me from: one minute pumping my body full of hormones to produce a good egg harvest to freeze, to secure my chances of having a family one day… to being jabbed with a needle to actively shut down my ovaries, and propel myself into menopause. My poor body doesn’t know its left, from its right at the moment.

Chemotherapy toxins can cause the onset of premature, or early menopause (for women under the age of 40 it’s called premature, for ages 40-45 it’s called early… over 45? you didn’t get a mention, sorry). The medical world suggests (I think research is still being conducted): if your ovaries are not “active” during chemotherapy, the chances of them being damaged during treatment, is reduced. So it can’t hurt to shut them down, right? Long Service Leave for the ovaries. Happy Holidays.

Meet, Zoladex.

What exactly does Zoladex do? The medical description, courtesy of webdoctor (it seems fairly accurate), is: “Zoladex is given to desensitise the pituitary gland and stop the natural production of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and LH (Luteinizing Hormone).” Too technical? To put it simply, it tells the brain to stop producing the hormone, that tells the ovaries to do their job.

Zoladex is an implant that is injected under the skin of your abdomen. It’s administered using a BIG-ASS-NEEDLE. Another needle in the stomach. Been there, done that, got the T-Shirt. “Would you like some numbing cream?” asked the nurse. “No, I’ll be fine. It’s just another day at the office.” I replied.

I’ve now had two Zoladex implants. The first was given on the same day as my first round of chemo…because having chemo for the first time wasn’t enough! I was too focused on what changes my body was experiencing from the chemotherapy, I didn’t stop to think if I was experiencing any side effects from the Zoladex. Last week I was given my second injection (they are administered every four weeks). A few days later, I was sitting on the couch, wondering why I was feeling so hot and bothered, in sporadic bursts. “Well, I don’t want to state the obvious, but you’re going through menopause,” mother reminded me. “Oh yeahhhhhhh.” Hello, Hot Flushes! (also referred to as Hot Flashes)

Hot flushes are a hard thing to explain. One minute you’re going about your business, the next, your core temperature rises and your body feels as though it’s being engulfed in flames. It’s not the most practical thing to manage during chemotherapy treatment, I have to monitor my temperature ensuring it doesn’t exceed 38 deg. At the moment, every five minutes, I am reaching for the thermometer to check it’s not time for another trip to the Emergency Ward.

This whole journey has become a giant learning curb. Experiencing hot flushes is just another slap across the face from reality (a very gentle slap). It’s a reminder that I am not invisible to the side effects of these drugs. I always do my research of the possible side effects, but I never actually consider that I will encounter them…strange, I know. I had the same realisation after my second round of chemo. “I don’t know why I’m so tired,” I grumbled to mother, my mouth fighting another yawn…after having slept 14 hours. I guess it’s the glass-half-full in me.

I like to think that I am fortunate. I get a preview of what is to come in life later down the track. I’m ahead of the game with girlfriends my age. I’ll be the calm, wise woman, giving advice on how to manage the hot flushes and night sweats.

But for now, all I know: it’s going to be a looooooong Queensland summer.

***Side note: For all the Qantas crew reading this…I think it’s fair to say: I am thermally challenged *takes jacket off*.

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“Selfless Selfie”

Last night I had a special party to go to. It was the perfect opportunity to take my Valentino out for a roll.

Also, a special thanks to my sister, Anja for working some magic with the eyeshadow brush (it’s pays to have a sister who has qualifications in all things beauty related).

A night out during my “chemo holiday” – win.

Get Your Run On

That is exactly what I have done this morning. I’ve been for a run. The next two weeks I’m on a self-appointed “chemo holiday” and since I have limited cytotoxic drugs circulating my bloodstream, I feel great. The past two failed attempts at chemo will not go down in vain. I decided I would spoil myself with a run. Not just any run…a PARKRUN run.

This morning was the first parkrun event I have attended since moving back to Australia. I managed to convince my friend, Richard, who in turn convinced another friend, Mitch. That alone made my day – two more people have been introduced to the parkrun community.

Last night I frantically searched through my London belongings and found my trusty scrunched up barcode. I set my alarm and went to bed early.

My alarm was set for 6:00am, and lucky I did because if it wasn’t for the strange musical sound and vibrations coming from my bedside table, I may have missed it (iPhone really needs to update their options for alarm tones). My body was well-rested. Perfect.

In a mad dash I threw on my running kit, threw down a protein smoothie, said goodbye to mother who is flying to China today for a two-week work trip, was out the door, and in the car.

Augustine Heights is the closest parkrun to Ipswich. I set the address into our trusty NAVMAN and was safely directed to where I needed to be. I could see the runners mingling at the starting point and I started to get excited. I love the uplifting, community feel that parkrun naturally produces.

We gather for the race briefing and before I knew it, we were off. The path was narrow and all the runners were packed tight, keeping the pace slow. It was exactly the start I needed. I wasn’t out to be leader of the pack today, nor was I trying to achieve a PB, the purpose of today was to take part in something I love, and finish.

Within the first few hundred meters we faced our first incline – a big wake up call for your legs and heart. Easy does it. Richard, Mitch and I didn’t stay together for long, we all found our own rhythm and dispersed amongst the other runners. The course is 2 x 2.5km loops with two inclines on each loop, nothing too challenging.

I didn’t allow my head to dictate my run this morning. I promised myself I would stay at a comfortable pace and not push too hard. At one stage a small girl who looked all of nine-years-old was keeping me at pace, good on her! Today was not about training for a triathlon, or Ironman (yet). I let my body move with comfort and ease. By the second lap I found I was encouraging others to keep moving – a male runner was walking ahead of me, ‘keep running’ I said as I ran past, a smile crept across my face as I heard his footsteps pick up behind me.

Normally in the last 1km of a race, I would pick up the pace and try and take over runners, one-by-one. This morning wasn’t a race, so I kept at my own pace. When I heard the thump of runners closing in, I peacefully let them pass. I could see the finish line and I glided through. I had done it. I had run my first 5km since the start of treatment…and I FELT GREAT.

It was so great to be able to share this morning with Richard and Mitch. We have already committed to going back next Saturday while I’m still on my “chemo holiday.”

So what was my time? 28:01! My fastest recorded parkrun time was 24.12. No complaints from me. Like I said, today was not about recording a PB.

Oh, another thing that made my day, a male runner came up to me at the end, shook my hand and THANKED ME for pushing him.

You can be assured I will have a massive smile on my face all day. Life is good.

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