Enjoy your almost normal days during Chemotherapy…

Even though I look in the mirror and am almost bald, everything else feels near normal today!  It doesn’t matter that another dose of chemo looms tomorrow.  For today, I feel good and celebrate.   It brings me so much hope for the future that my body will be able to spring back from this horror! 

Today feels like normal living BEFORE the Breast Cancer diagnosis.  I  opened my eyes from sleep and immediately knew I felt good, and energetic, and hungry!   Three things I took for granted just about every day of my life.   Today there is none of the usual “it’s Monday” dread.  I feel like dancing, and you know, I did.  I danced down my hallway today to celebrate the energy I feel.   It is such a wonder and gift!  

And I danced to celebrate I FEEL like taking a shower, getting dressed, and getting in my car!   I danced to celebrate I can go to the post office and mail my property taxes.  Now that one was a stretch, but I celebrated anyway!   And I danced that I can think of eating chicken. 

I’ve also made the decision on the days I feel like dancing, forget cleaning and forget laundry even though it’s Monday.  Who cares???   I have a celebration to do.   I can clean when I feel like crap.  Today, I am going to keep dancing!  Remember that 1976 disco song by Leo Sayers, ” You Make Me Feel Like Dancing?”   I loved that song and still do!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhSjwU8gEsI&feature=related 

Then I told a dear friend today that I was dancing, and she sent me Martha & the Vandella, Dancing in the Street!  LOVE IT!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdvITn5cAVc

Dance with me to celebrate!

Working through your anger with Breast Cancer and Chemotherapy…

I finally admitted to myself that I feel angry.  What is it the mental health experts say?  Anger is hurt or fear turned inward.  Well, I have enough hurt and fear to fuel alot of anger.  If you are going down the Breast Cancer road, I know you have this fuel as well.

It’s normal, it’s natural, and it will help propel us toward healing.  We need our anger!  So let’s channel it and not deny it!  Will you help me?

A dear friend sent me the above photograph this week that was taken late last summer, one month before I found the lump. Every year, some close high school friends, their kids, and now grandkids and I spend several days at my family cottage.  We laugh, we swim, we reminisce, and we reconnect.   This photo was taken on our last night together on the beach at a local restaurant.   I look at the woman peering back at me.  She is a stranger to me now, and I start to cry.  The first thing I notice is this woman who supposedly is me, is beautiful.    “Why didn’t I know how beautiful I was?” came flying into my mind.    No longer do I see the extra pounds or my imperfections, I only see my radiant beauty flowing from this photo.  I also see my breast that is now missing looking so lovely under my summer shirt.    It doesn’t matter that I am 55 years old and in the middle of menopause.  My breast looked perfect to me in a droopy “it’s summer, you don’t need your best bra on today” sort of way.   Funny, when posting the picture the Blog cut off my breast.

I didn’t appreciate who I was.  I didn’t appreciate the friends that were with me that night.  I didn’t appreciate my hair.  I remember getting ready to go to dinner that night.  I washed my hair.  It’s the cottage, we don’t have alot of hair styling gel there.  That is the way it is supposed to be.  My hair looked kind of straight and straggly to me before I left for the restaurant.  Yet suddenly, in the photo, my hair looks like I just spent the day at the salon.    I feel angry that I no longer have this life and this hair.

And I realized that was the last photo taken of my breast before I lost it to Breast Cancer.  The last photo where I didn’t have to worry if my prothesis is straight, if my boob looks real, are people looking down to see what’s going on where my breast used to be, or didn’t have to worry if a little cleavage stuck out.  I always did appreciate my breasts.  As long as I can remember since being very proud to get a training bra at age 10, I thought they were my best physical feature because I  had big boobs.   I used to think that was important.   I feel angry I lost my breast.

If anger is from fear, then why are we afraid?   Well, we are afraid first and foremost because we wonder if we will live.   That is a priorty to all of us.  We want to live!   And we are afraid because we don’t know if we have the courage to complete this journey.   We are also afraid because we do not have any idea who we are at this particular moment on our Breast Cancer journey.

So let’s talk some more about not knowing who you are.   Your family may be the same, your job may be the same, your friends may be the same, but you are different.  Those words, “You have Breast Cancer” changed everything in your world.

Damn it, we are on this journey.  We cannot change it.  Truly we have no control over it. We have had to turn the control of our bodies over to our surgeons, oncologists, and radiologists.   No wonder we feel angry!

I am going to keep working on this anger.  I don’t have a choice because I know the anger will propel me forward.  And I must continue forward.  I want to live!  And I know you do too!

AC Adriamycin and Cytoxan Breast Cancer Chemo Tips for Home

I don’t know about you.  I HATE it when somebody tells me to “stay positive” about my Breast Cancer treatment.  I want to slap them.  I’ve not found anyone who has been through chemotherapy who has said those words to me.   The people who have been through chemo use words like “endure” “strength” “courage” and “you can do it”.  They don’t flip off a “stay positive” statement.

But being positive helps.  You just don’t want it to come from someone who has not been there.   It is too trite, too simple, and too painless.   But since I’m enduring it with all my strength and all my God-given courage, you can hear it from me.   But I will try and explain it in a different way.

I try not to listen to the negative.  That’s how I deal with being positive.   I would even caution you to be careful about what former chemo patients you listen to because often, although they mean very well, they put images of side effects in your head that you may never have.   So when someone has been “down the AC Breast Cancer Road”, I listen, but I have my little blockers up and don’t listen to everything they tell me.

My chemo is a “dense dose” of chemotherapy which means that I have it every 2 weeks.  Yours may be every 3 weeks or even 4 weeks.  I don’t have much recovery time before it comes around again.  So I have learned quickly what I need to do.

So with a start like that, how do I give you any chemo tips for home?  I’m not sure, but I’ll give it a go!

1)   Listen to YOUR BODY – no one else’s.  Especially when it comes to food.   I’ve never heard of one person where food isn’t an issue with chemo.  It is.  But your needs will be different than mine.  I know what I can eat.  Don’t put any pressure on yourself.   Eat what you can eat and try to get protein in it.   For example, I can eat mashed potatoes.  I mix cottage cheese in the mashed potatoes and whip it up.  You can’t taste it, but it boosts the protein by alot and gives me strength.

During the first 5 to 7 days after Chemo, my food is very limited.   But my body has clearly told me what I can eat.  When I follow my body’s rules, I have had no trouble.   Some days I eat the exact same thing for all 3 meals.  Want to know what it is?  Cereal with peanut butter on it!  My body says, “okay, you can eat it” and I do.

2)  Your friends and family mean well.  They want you to eat.  They want to talk about food and push your limits about what you can eat.    Nicely say to them, “I just can’t talk about food.”  They will listen and stop talking.   Do not be afraid to put your boundary in place.   And don’t watch food on TV.  Be easy on yourself.

3)  Your Oncologist will load you up on nausea medicine during Chemo and give you some prescriptions for home.  Take it.   My Oncologist said, “This is no time for heroism.  If this doesn’t work, it is the tip of the iceberg in medicine.  Call me for something else.  I have something that will work.”

4) Drink water, water, water, and if you can’t drink all water, I found that Frozen Fruit Bars work really, really well.  There is something about the cold that helps your stomach and you get liquid in.   They are usually only about 80 calories.  If you need to eat alot of them, do it.

5) I don’t know what side effects you may have.  Yours are different from mine.  But mine don’t last very long.  A day or two then it is on to the next thing.  Yours may be altogether different.  If it makes you afraid, call your Oncologist.  If it seems like “no big deal”, it probably isn’t.   Case in point.  My teeth hurt for a few days.  It’s a “no big deal” kind of feeling.   Yours may never hurt.   I use a soft bristle brush during those days and brush my teeth with Baking Soda.  Baking Soda prevents mouth sores, too.  I’ve not had any sores.  The Baking Soda helps my teeth and my mouth.

6)  The first time I got out of breath it scared me.  But I learned that the red blood cells carry the oxygen.  The chemo depletes the oxygen in the red blood cells, thus out of breath.   So what does that mean?  It means, do not push yourself.  Your body is speaking.  LISTEN to your body!   Rest.  Remember, you are already a heroine enduring this treatment.   Your body is speaking.   You will know when your red blood cells start coming back!  Oxygen will increase and you can feel it!

7) You will feel misunderstood.  No one, and I mean no one, can understand what it is like to be on this road, no matter how close they are to you, unless they have been here.  They can be the most understanding person in the world, but there is no way you can adequately describe what is going on.   Accept that this is a lonely road, and reach out to a few people that have been down the path – either on the internet, a friend who has been there, or a support group.   Do what YOU NEED to find the support you cherish!!

8) When people tell you that you look good, have a response!   As a woman, you always want to look good.  But let’s face it.  We don’t feel good.    I think God gives women a special glow when they are going through cancer treatment.  People have told me I have it.   But so often, people look at the surface of someone.   Sometimes when someone tells me “I look good” I feel REALLY angry!  But I don’t want them to tell me “wow, you look bad!”   Other women going through Breast Cancer treatment have told me the same thing about angry feelings.   So have a response ready. My response has been, “Thank you.  I appreciate the kind words.  Would you like to know how I feel?”

9)  Know the ebb and flow of your body.   For me, I have alot of energy in the morning and little or no nausea.   So I try to schedule things or clean in the morning while I have energy.  And I have always hated to take naps.  Guess what?  I’m taking a few more these days.  They aren’t so bad.  If my body says, “take a nap”, I do it.

10)  On the days you have energy, plan something FUN!  You need to do something that you can totally forget everything you are going through.   And plan some things ahead that are fun for you.   I’ve had to change my habits and now am going to a 24 hour mega store very early in the morning before all the germs arrive!   That is fun for me!    Since it is winter, I can’t garden.  But I LOVE flowers.   I have been buying and arranging flowers, growing seeds, and looking at flower pictures because I need to feel happy.  Make it a priority!!

AC Adriamycin and Cytoxan Breast Cancer Chemo Tips

 

Please check out my online store http://www.hellocourage.com and see items that will help you on your journey including these cute, stylish and affordable chemo caps.  I started my online store to help pay my medical bills and help you find things to make your life easier:

CH-h4flapperbluesquare1 CH-h4shirlavender1CH-h4calypsobirdofparadise1CH-h4flappergraysweatshirt1

 

 

 

 

Okay, I now consider myself an A/C (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) Chemo expert. Four rounds of the stuff makes an expert out of you in a fast hurry!  Some things I learned that I hope you find helpful.  Today I will concentrate on tips for Chemo Days.

Chemo Days

1)  Drink PLENTY of water before and after chemo.  I strive to drink a minimum of 10 – 8 oz glasses the day before chemo, the day of, and many days after.  A/C dehydrates the body.  You want to get the toxins out as quickly as you can.  This definitely decreased my side effects!

2) Make sure you eat a light meal before Chemo.  Oatmeal with fruit works for me.

2)  Wear very comfortable clothing to infusion days.  I wear jogging suits that are lower cut or have front zippers so my port can be easily accessed without danger to the area.  Plus, I see my Oncologist the same day so its always “strip to the waist” to check my surgery site. 

3)  My infusion of A/C takes 2.5 to 3 hours.  It goes by quickly!!  Don’t be alarmed if this seems terribly long.  It isn’t! 

4) Chew ice chips while chemo is being administered.  It cuts down on mouth sores. 

5)  Don’t be terrified when your chemo nurse comes all covered up to administer the chemo drugs – cap, gown, and gloves.  They need to protect themselves, but it is scary to see, especially the first time.

6)  Your first urines will turn red, like the drug.  Don’t get upset.  I was told to make sure to flush the toilet twice, putting the lid down, and sanitize the toilet as you don’t want to endanger anyone.  At home I don’t let anyone else use my toilet.  If that’s not possible for you, make sure you use sanitizing wipes on rim and lid of toilet and clean toilet as often as you can with a bleach-based toilet bowl cleaner.  Wash your hands with soap and water FREQUENTLY.  Sing two rounds of The Birthday Song while scrubbing. 

7)  Take reading material, laptop, or whatever you need to make yourself feel comfortable.   My hospital will loan me a laptop.  I really don’t do anything during chemo.  I can’t seem to concentrate on other things, but maybe you can!

8)  Usually the hospital will provide you with snacks.  My hospital has bagels,  popsicles and other items chemo patients can tolerate.  If not, take your own! 

9) After chemo starts winding down, try to relax.   The first trip is terrifying.  And the fear really builds up as you leave for home because you just don’t know what to expect.  It won’t be as bad as you think.  You will  not have every side effect they have to tell you about, and you will make it!! 

10) I have an hour drive after Chemo.  Make sure you have someone with you.  It is best if someone else drives for you  to make sure you are okay.  My chemo nurse said the anti-nausea drugs make you sleepy – not a good mix with driving.

 


When your hair starts falling out because of Chemo…how to keep laughing!

So today is the day the hair started to go.  I’ve expected it for 17 days now.  My hair hung on longer than most!  Stubborn just like me!  Let me tell you it is a weird feeling when you reach up, take a small tuft of hair between your fingers, give a gentle tug and it all comes out!   WOW, talk about a new and different experience!!    And your scalp starts hurting a few days before it falls.    I guess it doesn’t want to give the hair up either!

Please cut your hair really, really, really short before it starts to fall out.  I already posted about that experience.  That’s the day I cried.  That’s the day I lost my identity.  But, after you get over all of that trauma, this part then becomes relatively easy.  First of all, while I have my hair short, short, short, I can see gray roots.  Now that is DEFINITELY not my hair!  I’m not sure whose hair it is, but it isn’t mine!

Taking a shower after the hair starts falling is stressful.  I wasn’t sure what would happen.  Is the hair going to just wash off  my head?    Gingerly, I step under the water adjusting the shower head to the gentlest spray.   I put the smallest dab of shampoo on my fingers and hold it there afraid to put it on my hair.   I never even rubbed my hair.  Put a little shampoo on it and rinsed it right off.  It didn’t just fall out in big globs yet, but alot of it showed up on the drain.  Luckily, a friend who had been through chemo and hair loss told me to make sure to get a hair catcher in my shower or I would be calling a Plumber!

I’ve talked about my niece, the hair stylist.   Already, she wants me to shave my head.  I’m not ready yet.  I need a little more fallout!   So we joked about her toddler’s birthday party where the kids will play “Pin the Tale on the Donkey”.  I told her I could sit there and let the kids pull some hair out of my head to be the donkey’s tale.  Now, those kids would never forget that, and it would probably teach them a lesson not to pull Jessica’s or Jack’s hair!!

One thing I can honestly say, is from the day I got the cancer diagnosis I’ve worried and fretted over this day.  Trust me, it isn’t as bad as you think it will be because you’ve had time to prepare.  I’ve had my turbans, wigs, and scaves for a long time now.   Preparation for hair loss  really helps deal with the reality of it all.   So, if you are facing hair loss, cry when you have to, and then move on.  The hair will come back.  It is a renewable resource!  That gives me hope!

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In order to help women with hair loss during cancer and the lessons I’ve learned, I am now selling adorable chemo caps to bring beauty and hope at affordable prices.  I search high and low for lovely caps.  Please check them out – click on pictures!

Click for HelloCOURAGE

Click for HelloCOURAGE


One last thing, your scalp might really hurt while the hair is falling out.  My head would just ache.  I would have to rub my head.  Don’t be concerned.  I guess this is normal.  It goes away!

I just pray that unknown person’s gray hair doesn’t show up back on my head!   Update:  My hair started growing rather quickly after I ended all Chemo.  I had A/C and Taxol.  At 3.5 months after chemo, it is approximately 1 inch long and has thickened up considerably.  My hair came in first in the back, then the sides, and the top was last!  But it really all did fill in.  It is thicker than my previous hair, the texture is different, and my poker straight hair now has a wave.  ONE YEAR LATER:  My hair was back almost like before only my new hair is better than my old hair!  More body, thicker, and a little wavy!  Don’t despair!

How to be Supportive to a Cancer Patient

Okay, I’ve been there.  I just heard so and so has cancer.  Oh, how terrible is my first thought.  And my second thought is, I have to do something for them.  Oh no, what to I do, what do I say, how do I be supportive?

I never knew the answer to that question until now.  I have been absolutely amazed at the outpouring of love and support for me on this journey.  It has overwhelmed me that so many people know what to do, when I never did!

The answer to the question is do something.  Don’t ignore the person like I have been guilty of doing in the past.  And say something, even if you don’t know what to say.

My favorite things people say to me are words of encouragement.  In the darkest days, I’ve learned that encouragement is God’s greatest gift.  Some things people have said to me that have resonated with me “I am proud of how you are handling this”  “your determination is inspiring”   “your spirit shines through” “your courage in the face of adversity is amazing”.   These kind of words make me feel like I have a purpose.  That I am helping others and that this whole battle is worth it!   You feel supported as a person and not just a cancer patient.   And also “I am so sorry you have to go through all of this” is also a kind, sensitive, and meaningful phrase that is never out of style or inappropriate.

One thing I have noticed, during Chemotherapy no one really asks me what receiving Chemotherapy is like. One day when I told a friend about the hours it takes from start to finish for my kind of Chemo, they were shocked.  I had another friend say, “Well you just take a pill, don’t you?”   Ask the person what they are going through and what treatment itself is like.  Not many people ask that question, and it is something that I appreciate talking about because it all gets bottled up inside.

I’ve heard a few insensitive things.  A few of them have shocked me to be honest!   It has made me puzzled that people cold be that insensitive.   The worst thing is when people totally and completely ignore what you are going through.    It makes you feel like you are not important to them.  And maybe you are not.  That is the cold, hard truth.  But on the other hand, maybe you are very important to them, and they don’t know what to do.  But you don’t have the energy to figure out the difference.  And I’ve seen a few people run from me at the grocery store.  They don’t know what to say and just run in fear.

I had to tell a friend who made absolutely no contact with me in 6 months while going through surgery and chemo that I felt totally abandoned by her.  Her response was that she was giving me space.  Trust me, space is not what a cancer patient needs.  They need to know you care.  Take action!

One last thing, texting and Facebooking are so common.  However, it is okay to keep in touch or up-to-date with the patient, but please don’t make it your only contact.  To me it feels like I am an obligation that is being checked off a “to do list.”  It feels cold and uncaring quite frequently.

So, if you have a friend, acquaintance or associate going through cancer or cancer treatment, send them that card that can do the talking for you, send them that flower, write them that note, drop off that gift, or make that telephone call.  Do something, do anything, but make sure you do it.

When they chop off your boob , cut off your hair, and you still have confidence….

you know you have it going on, girl, and that God loves you!!   What a revelation!

This morning it struck me that I have alot in common with numerous Hollywood stars.   You know when you see those Enquirer magazine photos of stars caught unawares and they look absolutely terrible? You don’t even recognize them.  But then the makeup goes on, they put on their wigs, hairpieces, fake boobs, and tape up their cleavage and it is like wow?   Well, now I know how they feel.

I got the wow factor going on.  I am ready for the red carpet, well maybe pink carpet,  and so are you!