Friday, April 15, 2011

Chemo #1

Preparing for my first chemotherapy infusion started yesterday when I had to remember to take Dexamethasone. Although I was not looking forward to taking this steroid because it can cause weight gain and bloating, not exactly performance enhancing, I knew it was necessary to help reduce possible side effects of today's TC infusion. I was also happy that I was able to talk my oncologist into reducing the typical dosage to only 4mg twice daily because I am a lightweight. I have to take two more doses tomorrow as well.

I have spoken with enough people that nothing about today's infusion really surprised me. It was, as expected a long day. I arrived to Huntsman via bike just before my 10:50 blood draw appointment and realized that I only packed a t-shirt. Not exactly what you want to be wearing while having cold liquid pumped into your body for 2 1/2 hours. Fortunately Shannon drove from work and was nice enough to go home and get me a sweater. When I hear of people commuting 3 hours to see their oncologist, I feel very fortunate that we live only 6 miles away from Huntsman Cancer Institute.

I then met with my oncologist and she looked at my incision one last time before clearing me to start chemo today. So far my mastectomy seems to be healing very nicely and I feel very fortunate for this as well. I am also happy to say that through a lot of hard work the past 1.5 weeks, I have full range of motion back. I have been diligently performing the recommended range of motion exercises twice daily and every day I notice improvement. I have not yet started strengthening exercises, but I am hoping the plastic surgeon will allow me to start this after I meet with him next Tuesday. I can already tell that a lot of strength is coming back just using my arm functionally. I am completely confident that I will regain full pectoralis strength and I plan on writing a paper on my progress. I have baseline pre-surgery strength measurements and my goal is to regain full strength my January.

Back to chemo. Like I said it was pretty uneventful. After given my final clearance we were off to the infusion waiting area. It takes at least 30 minutes to prepare the chemo drugs after MD orders. During this time I was approached by a research assistant who asked if I wanted to participate in a study. The study requires that I call a hotline daily and answer questions regarding any side effects I may be experiencing. The study group gets a return telephone call that same day from a Nurse Practitioner to help manage the side effects. The control group does not. Fortunately for the Huntsman staff, I was assigned to the study group, so I may be bugging them a little less. I pretty much agreed to participate immediately to help support research and later found out I would be compensated $300! I see lots of acupuncture in my future.

Speaking of acupuncture. I had my first visit on Tuesday. My goal for acupuncture is to help reduce any chemo side effects. There is some research that shows that acupuncture helps with chemotherapy induced nausea and acupuncture practitioners claim that it also helps with fatigue, muscle pain, stress, etc, etc. I decided to give it a try. The women I saw took a very thorough medical history and I was impressed by her breast cancer knowledge. She seemed to ask key questions that helped me to respect her as a therapist. Then she stuck needles in me. She stuck them in my feet, ankles, tummy, chest, (left) arm, and a surprisingly large number in my head. The focus on my head I found interesting:) I then took a nap and 30 minutes later she took them out.

Back to chemo, like I said it was very uneventful. Eventually, my cocktail was ready and I was called back to the infusion room. Huntman is the most beautiful hospital I have ever seen, however the infusion room was really nothing special. It was crowded and noisy, but the staff was wonderful and my recliner was really quite comfortable. My IV was placed easily and I was given some more steroids and anti-nausea medication. Then on to the infusion. All week I have been pretty relaxed about starting chemo although I admit when the poison started to go in I became quite nervous. It makes more sense to me to pump your body full of good things not bad, toxic, debilitating things, but I am making an exception just this once. The first drug was Taxotere. Apparently there can often be an allergic reaction in the first 20 minutes and I was watched very closely. I even gave my nurse a scare when I choked on my smoothie, but fortunately no reaction. A few hours later we were ready for Cytoxan. 45 minutes later, and 6 hours after we arrived, we were released to go home.

Overall, I feel really good, but it may hit me like a brick tomorrow. I'll just have to wait and see. Everyone responds differently to chemo so it will be a waiting game to see how my body responds. My immune system will be weakest at about day 10 and then I should start to get stronger as I get closer to my next infusion. The one thing that was emphasized over and over again is to exercise. I am planning on riding my bike tomorrow to the hospital again to get my Neulasta shot (to help white blood cells).

In the meantime, I need to stay on top of my medications. I have been told about a hundred times to not try to tough it out and to just take the meds. I suppose, just this once, I will comply with this as well. The amount of medications I am on is pretty daunting. I already made a cheat sheet and my nurse made another for me as well.

Next week I am on Spring Break so the timing is perfect to give me time away from work to see how my body responds from this first infusion. I am looking forward to lots of yoga, bike riding, acupuncture, yummy food and rest.

Getting ready to run my first infusion. I was nervously drinking a smoothie here. I was told that popsicles during infusion help reduce mouth sores. Unfortunately the popsicle I brought melted, so a smoothie had to suffice.


  1. Oh Jen, I am scared for you. I know you are as prepared as anyone possibly could be, but allowing toxic substances into your body is not something I can see you feeling relaxed about. I hope that you continue to feel strong, but even if you don't, I think you'll bounce back quickly.

  2. you are amazing. I hope that you continue to feel ok, but you are so strong you will bounce back fast. :)

  3. "I arrived to Huntsman via bike..." Can I just say: Wow. Way to go!

  4. I thought about you today as so many people in our race were wearing shirts designating their run to their friends/family with cancer. Sorry I didn't send well wishes sooner. Your strength and knowledge of all the procedures and medications is incredible.
    Glad you like the aesthetics of HCI. Kevin's sister was largely responsible for the interior design of the institute. She's almost as awesome as you :)
    Our prayers are always with you.

  5. I am in the same study! The daily phone calls get annoying, but it is really nice to have someone monitoring how you are doing that can answer the questions that you don't feel like bugging the oncologist about.

    Glad to hear you are getting your strength back and that chemo went as well as it could!

  6. Sounds ROUGH! GLAD you are in GOOD SPIRITS and RIDING ur BIKE! and just being myself...I think a lot of Coloradoin's would say a LARGE dose of Prescription medical Marijuana helps with Nausea! hehe

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