Cancer Wig or Chemo Caps – what is a Cancer Patient to Wear and Public Response

When I go in public, I wear my wig that looks pretty much like my pre-chemo hair in color and style. It is a decent wig in a modern cut.  It doesn’t stand out and flash “wig” in neon lights.   I blend in with everyone else.  No one pays any attention to me.   And, at first glance, I look relatively healthy. At my last Chemo Infusion, I had on my wig, makeup, and had clothing on in bright Spring colors.  Plus, I am chubby.  No gaunt cancer look for me!   One lady receiving Chemo stopped me as the Chemo Nurse was leading me to my Infusion Chair next to hers.  She asked me if I was a Cancer Patient.  When I told her I was in my fourth month of Chemotherapy, she said, “Wow, you look the picture of health. I would never have known.”  That did make me feel better, I must admit!

The next experiment was to wear bright and colorful chemo caps or caps with pizzazz!  Oh my gosh, I got the best responses like “Wow, I like your hat”   “You look so nice today” and “Where did you get your hat?”    I felt like a Hollywood starlet with all the positive attention I got!  It made me FEEL so good to get a positive response from strangers!

Last II donned a dull gray Cancer Turban, did not put on any makeup or draw in any eyebrows, and wore sort of pale, washed out clothing.  I had “Cancer Patient” written all over me.

My first stop was the local Rite Aid.  On my way in, I could see people catch me out of the corner of their eyes and then with a little humor and a little sadness, I watched them try to avoid me.  Inside the store, I got stares, looks of sympathy, and avoidance.  Mostly avoidance.  The check-out gal that normally waits on me, said nothing, absolutely nothing.  I don’t think she even asked if I had the pesky little Wellness Card!

Then it was on to a medical class regarding Lymphedema presented at a local hospital.  The seat next to me was the only one unoccupied in the entire group of 35 people, and I had arrived 20 minutes early!   One person even stood rather than sit down in the very visible seat next to me.   I did feel like a leper.  Maybe people really do believe that cancer is contagious?   The shocking part of this hospital visit was that most of the people in the room had been through Breast Cancer!  After the presentation, the only woman who spoke to me had on a cancer turban!

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I am now over a year post Chemo and have opened an online store for cancer patients and survivors at www.hellocourage.com     I am selling bright and pretty cancer caps because of this experiment.   Please check them out – click on cap below.    Free shipping and 20% off to Blog readers if you enter   BLOG    discount code at checkout.  I accept all major credit cards and PayPal.    You will feel good again too!   Click on this pic for my store!

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The next day, I took a bigger step.  I decide to arrange to see friends that haven’t been overly sympathetic during my Breast Cancer journey as they have always seen me in my “cancer wig” get up looking pretty healthy.  When they first saw me, I saw the look of shock and surprise on their faces.  It was the look of, “Oh I guess this really is far more serious than we thought.”   I could tell they felt very uncomfortable around me, and a little worried I might die in front of them!  It still makes me laugh to think about this!

Then, on my way through town, I ran into another acquaintance.  The very odd part of this encounter was, although she knew I was battling Breast Cancer, she never brought up anything about it, asked me how I was, or what was happening.  Plus, I had not seen her since I was diagnosed.    She started babbling nonsensical stuff about her life and family. I felt how uncomfortable she was, and I could not wait to get away from her!

Then it was on to the drive-thru window at my local Wendy’s.  I ordered a sweet potato and side salad.  When I went to pay at the window, the poor young girl had a look of shock on her face.  She delivered the news that they were out of sweet potatoes, would I like a white potato?  I said, “No, I would like a refund please.”   She then stated they had to give me a white potato.  Her manager came up, took one look at me, and promptly gave me a refund.

The person that was the most understanding, was a Clerk at my local Post Office.  She took one look at me, and said “what is going on?”   I told her I had been going through Chemo since December.  She was visibly shocked because I always wear my wig when visiting the Post Office.  Postal Clerk Kelly gets the award for being the most understanding person on my 3 day experiment.  Immediately, she asked me how I was feeling, if I felt comfortable where I was receiving treatment, and told me that Chemo wasn’t for the faint of heart.  I knew she had experience with cancer.  She proceeded to tell me about her father and his cancer journey.

I am thankful I took the time to do this experimentation.  Time and time again, I found when I wore a dull cancer turban, I didn’t feel as good.  If I wore bright and colorful cancer caps or my wig, I felt much better!

The American Cancer Society has a free class they offer to female cancer patients around the country called Look Good, Feel Better. (www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org)   They teach you how to put on makeup, draw on eyebrows, and compensate for “that cancer look.”  Also, they provide you with about $300.00 worth of makeup to help you do so.   I realize there is real merit to this philosophy.

From now on, I am going to take the time to look good even if I don’t feel like it.  .  Every Cancer Patient is different and every one’s reality is different.   Dressing like my healthy self, makes me feel better!

Side effects of Taxol Chemotherapy during Breast Cancer

Taxol or Paclitaxel    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paclitaxel  has been far kinder to me than Adriamycin and Cytoxan Chemotherapy. There are several ways Taxol can be administered – 12 weekly infusions, 6 every other week infusions, or 4 infusions every three weeks.  I have received Taxol on a weekly basis for 12 weeks.   But Taxol is still very challenging.  The difference for me has been during Adriamycin and Cytoxan, I felt like I wanted to die.  During Taxol, I feel like I am starting to come back to life and want to live.  That is a HUGE difference.

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Please check out my  online store  www.hellocourage.com    which I began to help women find quality items at affordable prices and help pay my medical bills.  All of my chemo caps, scarves hats are high quality.  I search high and low for unique items to bring healing and comfort to you.  Click on hats for store!

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But Taxol isn’t without its difficulties and many inconveniences.  The first thing that is a major concern, is that many people have allergic reactions to Taxol during infusion.  Most Chemo Nurses have told me that if this is going to happen, it normally happens within the first few minutes of infusion.  During infusion, they give you Taxol slowly to see if you have a reaction.  If so, the chemo drugs may have to be changed, or more anti-allergy drugs such as Benadryl are given.

These are my experiences of the side effects of Taxol.  Everyone is different.  If I had to compare my side effects to other women I discuss things with on the Breast Cancer Discussion Boards, I would say I am somewhere in the middle.

1. Extreme fatigue.  Since I am receiving weekly Taxol, I have two days that are really heavy fatigue that I have to just go to bed.  It just hits me suddenly and boom,  I have to lie down.  I cannot function.  Since Taxol is cumulative, in these later weeks, the fatigue is more pronounced.  In the later weeks, by 5 pm I just want to lie down.  I rarely nap, but just have to rest.   In the mornings, I have quite a bit of energy.  Learning to plan your life around it helps tremendously.

2.  Bone pain is another extreme side effect.  The first few weeks, I had very little bone pain, but kept reading on the Breast Cancer Discussion Boards about the severe pain alot of women were dealing with on Taxol.  One night it hit me.  WOW, suddenly I understood their complaints.   I found myself writhing in pain.  After 800 mg of Motrin, it calmed down slightly, but it lasted for several days.  Many people have good results on reduced bone pain by taking over-the-counter Claritin.  Make sure you ask your Oncologist about Claritin before you take it!

3.  Allergies – I have had this very annoying but rather rare side effect.  I have developed allergies to numerous things I was never allergic to before Chemotherapy.  This can be a result of the Taxol or my compromised immune system.  I developed a very severe cough, sinus problems and allergy symptoms.  I am now allergic to my cat, wheat and gluten, and many unknown other allergens.  Hopefully, this will go away eventually, and has dramatically subsided since I have cut out wheat and gluten in my diet.  It has been like having a severe cold for 12 weeks.  Once I got the coughing under control, I have more energy too.  But I repeat, this is very rare.  My Oncologist says he rarely sees it.  Update:  I am now several months post Chemo and my allergies are finally subsiding!

4.  Bloody Noses – Never having had a bloody nose in my life, this has been a little disconcerting.  But I’ve gotten used to it.  It happens daily from the dryness of your sinuses from Taxol, mostly in the mornings.  It is not a frightening kind of bleeding that you think you have to go to the Emergency Room, rather a consistent, annoying, sinus drainage that contains blood and clots.

5.  Racing Heart – My heart rate went up to 125 bpm on the first week of Taxol.  By Week 7 it was down to 103 bpm and hopefully will keep going down.  Last night it was in the low 90s.

6.  Neuropathy – The first week I had terrible neuropathy in my hands and feet, and had difficulties walking.   But as the weeks progressed, it has been less of a problem for me.  Some women have severe neuropathy that can be permanent.  Others have very mild neuropathy that goes away quickly after Taxol stops.

7.  Fingernails and Toenails can discolor and/or fall off.  Icing your hands and feet during the Taxol Infusion can prevent this.  I can attest to this.  I take two small dishpans to infusion.  When the Chemo Nurse begins the Taxol, I have her fill up the dishpans with ice, then I soak my hands and feet in them as long as I can tolerate it.   I keep pulling them in and out of the ice for short breaks.  It is annoying to have to do this, but it really works.  I have had absolutely no nail trouble.  Plus, I haven’t had long-term neuropathy.  My Chemo Nurse said fingers and toes have twice the circulation as other places in your body, so by icing them, it constricts the blood vessels and prevents the Chemo from infiltrating those areas. I would highly recommend you ask your Oncologist about this.  Some Chemo Centers provide Cold Gloves for this.  Here is my post about icing during Taxol:   https://denise4health.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/icing-hands-and-feet-during-paclitaxel-taxol-and-docetaxel-taxotere/

8.  Low blood counts – I have been keeping steady but low blood counts.  Fortunately, I have not needed a transfusion or Neulasta shot.  But as a result of low blood counts, I have avoided crowds and social events.   If I go to the grocery store, I wear a mask and shop early in the morning before the crowds.    It is very isolating, but necessary to do so.   I wash my hands constantly and use hand sanitizer as well.    I have gone to a restaurant just a few times, but I have gone off hours and asked to be put in a secluded area.  It is worth the sacrifice, as I have not gotten sick.

 

Those are the side effects that I have had which are far less than some people and for that I am so grateful.  The biggest lesson I have had to learn with Taxol is not to push myself too hard on the good days. My really good days are the first two days after infusion because I have the “steroid high.”   I do have to pace myself and make myself slow down, because on those days I could really go non-stop.  But then the crash does come.

If you are about to undergo Taxol Chemotherapy, it is far more tolerable for most people.   Nausea has not been an issue at all, which has been a welcome break!   The weekly infusions have really flown by and gone much more quickly than I anticipated.  If you have a choice over weekly, bi-weekly or every 3 weeks, I do recommend the weekly because many Chemo Nurses have told me the side effects are alot less.  It can be challenging to get there weekly, but like everything else with Breast Cancer, you adjust and it becomes your life.  Plus, the 12 weeks truly fly by as it seems like you are at infusion all the time!    All things into consideration, to me Taxol has been very tolerable but as I stated previously, inconvenient and annoying!  But since it is saving my life, I can handle those things! So can you!   Be encouraged – you can do it!

UPDATE:  I just finished Taxol Chemotherapy.  The only other side effect I had in addition to the above is altered taste during the last 3 weeks of Taxol.  Everything kind of tastes like slightly metallic cardboard – but if you add more spices and flavoring, it tastes better.  I did stay away from tomato sauces, however, because on a few occasions I had some heartburn which I never had before, so I am assuming it is from Taxol.  Taking a Tums took care of it.  It was not severe. 

UPDATE 2:  14 weeks post Taxol.  Have slight numbness and neuropathy in toes of right foot, have some muscle pain, but it is slowly subsiding.  Other than that, feel really good.  Hair is about 1 inch long and growing!  Hooray! 

UPDATE 3:   21 weeks from last Taxol.  Still have some very minor neuropathy in the end of 4 toes.  Some joint pain and muscle aches, but overall feel really good.  Hair is nearing 2 inches long!

UPDATE 4:  I am now almost 3 years since chemotherapy.  I am HAPPY to report I am still doing well.  It does get better.  You certainly don’t think so at the time.  The positives:  You never have a bad hair day again, the fatigue gets better but takes a long time – be patient, chemo is grueling but in most all cases it works!   If I had to endure everything I went through to get to this point, I would.  That is saying a lot, I believe!  BE ENCOURAGED!!!!    Denise

When do you become a Breast Cancer Survivor?

Today I read that someone had taken a poll asking breast cancer patients, “When Do You Become a Breast Cancer Survivor?”  The poll takers were offered options: at diagnosis, after surgery, at the end of treatment, after your 5-year checkup, or whenever you say you are a survivor. More than half of all responses favored the idea that You are a survivor when you say you are – not based on the opinion of others, not measured by medical milestones, not determined by your culture – but based solely on your own declaration.

On October 10, 2011 my family doctor of 32 years, who has been part friend, all doctor, called to tell me the results of my breast biopsy.  Her words were, “Denise, it isn’t good.”   She didn’t use those words lightly, even though her words might not have sounded very scholarly.  Through the years, she has called me countless times to give me test results.  Her voice was full of emotion this time, on the verge of tears.    I asked her if I was Stage IV.  She said, “I don’t know as yet” which meant it was a very real possibility.   From that moment on, I knew I was in for a rough ride and that I would be fighting for my life.

A few days later, and two days before I went to the University of Michigan for my official diagnosis, I went to our family cottage to close it up for the winter.  When I arrived, even more emotion gripped me as I remembered my father being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer also in October and by the time we reopened the cottage in the Spring, he was gone.  It was a horrible time for my family to reopen the cottage without my beloved dad present.

So through the years, I have taken my dad’s place and became the person to close the cottage.  Thinking of my own cancer diagnosis,  I wrote notes to my family members so they would know what to do in the Spring if I wasn’t there to do it — turn on the electrical breakers, test the air conditioner, turn on the dishwasher switch. Through every note, I sobbed.  Many times I would have to start the note over because it had gotten ruined from my tears.  By the time I was finished, I had notes all over the house.  And in one last note, I told my family how much I loved all of them and was sorry I had to leave them.

After diagnosis with Stage III Breast Cancer, going through surgery and now still going through Chemotherapy, I forgot about the notes left at the cottage.  A few weeks ago, on a beautiful, sunny Spring day, my sister asked if I wanted to take a drive to  the cottage.    When we arrived, I unlocked the front door, walked in, and saw the notes.  My sister followed behind me.  She took one look at the notes and started to cry.  We hugged full of gratitude that I was still here!

I now realize the day my sister and I visited the cottage on that Spring afternoon was the day I became a Breast Cancer Survivor because I say I am.  I didn’t think I would make it through the winter, but I did!  Rejoice with me!

What to Say to a Cancer Patient, What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient, What to Buy for a Cancer Patient

I’ve included what to say to a cancer patient, what to do for a cancer patient, what to write in a greeting card for a cancer patient, and  the things NOT to say to a cancer patient.   After my own experience with Stage 3 Breast Cancer and over a year of treatment, I learned what things help heal a cancer patient.   Let the gift or card do the talking for you.  Just do something for them!!

Top 5 things you can do for a cancer patient:

1)  Send a greeting card – or send more than one.  Greeting cards have been a source of great strength to me.  I have received multiple cards from many people.  This has surprised me.   At least 8 people have sent me over 10 cards each!  One friend sent me a card every week for ONE YEAR!

Food is difficult especially if the Cancer Patient is receiving Chemotherapy.  Before you bring food, ask what they can eat.

2)  Drop something off to their house or send it by mail. Inspirational gifts are the best.  I had told my Oncologist I wanted to quit chemotherapy, give up, and die I was so sick .  On that very day an old high school friend sent me an inspirational gift.  Knowing she cared and the words were what I needed to hear, I decided I had the courage to keep fighting.

3)  Ask them if you can take them to treatment, a medical appointment, or a pharmacy.  You may need to be insistent with this, but make sure they know you are available and willing to do so.  Do NOT make a casual offer like, “Oh call me if you need a ride.”  The cancer patient does not have the energy to call and make arrangements. 

4)  If they have small children, ask how you can help with the children – babysitting, food for kids, taking them for a day, something, anything.

5)  Ask if you can visit, but let them call the shots.  Be specific and ask them to set the rules as far as time and date, and always give them an out if they don’t feel up to it.  Make sure you are not sick or have been around sick people, as this is disastrous to a cancer patient.

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SEND THEM A GIFT THAT WILL ALWAYS BE APPRECIATED — MY CHEMO CAPS START UNDER $10.00 AT MY ONLINE STORE http://www.hellocourage.com   I will send a gift note card and gift packaging stating it is from you at no charge.

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amazonAnother fabulous gift for a cancer patient that has a chemo port, is The Chest Buddy – a pillow that easily attaches around the seatbelt to protect the chemo port area.  I sell them on Amazon.com – I receive nothing but rave reviews – have never had one complaint in two years of selling them:

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http://www.amazon.com/Shoulder-Pacemaker-Stents-Stomach-Surgery/dp/B00OGSPP7A/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1441854927&sr=8-4&keywords=Heart+pillow+chemo+port+pillow+mastectomy+pillow

5 things to ask a Cancer Patient:

1) How are you feeling today? It is NEVER WRONG to ask someone how they are feeling especially today.
2) Where are you in your treatment? Cancer patients need to talk about this.
3) What are your chemotherapy infusions like? The first time someone asked me this made me feel so loved as they cared enough to ask this question.
4) Would you tell me about your medical team? I had a couple of people ask me this. I loved the question because it gave me the opportunity to share the wonders of my medical team. This was important to me.
5) What has been the most difficult part of being a cancer patient? I don’t think anyone had ever asked me this. But it is thought provoking. It would have been a question I would have liked to have been asked.

5 things to write to a cancer patient in a greeting card:

1)  I am very sorry you have to go through this.

2)  I admire your courage and strength to fight this disease.

3)  You are on a very challenging road right now, and you are doing a great job.

4)  My prayers and encouragement are with you.

5)  You are an inspiration to me and many others.

The Top 5 things NOT to say or do to for a Cancer Patient:

1)  Tell them they have been whining or complaining.  Cancer treatment is a living hell.  Unless you have been through chemotherapy, please do not pretend you have any inkling of what they are going through.  It is not like the flu.

2)  Ignore them physically or emotionally – do not run the other way if you see a Cancer Patient at the grocery store or church.   If you feel like you don’t know what to say, simply ask them how they are feeling.  The Cancer Patient is still the same person!   They just want you to show you care in any way – a simple “how are you” means alot.

3)  Do NOT tell them about your mother, sister, father, old Aunt Milly and their experiences with the horrors of Chemotherapy, how much they vomited, their terrible death, how badly burned they were through Radiation or other awful stories that will simply depress a Cancer Patient.  If you are going to tell them about someone, tell them about the Cancer Survivor!

4)  Do NOT call them on the telephone, tell them all about you and never bother to ask how they are, how they feel, or how treatment is going.  Ignoring the obvious is watching the elephant in the room.

5)  And NEVER say, “call me if you need me or if I can do something for you” unless you are a really close friend of the cancer patient.   I know we all have good intentions when we make those statements.   The truth is most cancer patients do not have the time or energy to really call.  Please be understanding that the cancer patient does not have the energy to keep up their relationship with you right now in the ways that you may have been accustomed.

I hope these things help you with understanding the needs of a cancer patient.  One small act of love or kindness can make a cancer patient want to live or give up.  It is so important to them.  I know my friends and family kept me alive!  Your kindnesses make a difference!

What is it like during Chemotherapy Infusion?

Update:  It has been 24 months post chemo.  I am doing well – just had another 6 month checkup.  I opened an online store “Hello Courage” for breast cancer patients at www.hellocourage.com  to help others.   Please click on my cute chemo caps and check it out.    Thank you,   Denise

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Very few people have asked me what the process of Chemotherapy is like.  I found this surprising as I thought a few people might be curious.  But in retrospect, I never asked that question to any cancer patient previously.  When I went for my first Chemo treatment, which was the most frightening day of my life, I had absolutely no idea what to expect because I had never asked the question.

Recently, my Chemo Nurse explained that she has been an Oncology Nurse for 35 years!   She has seen many changes in that time period.  Nurse Deb was telling me how Chemotherapy used to require a 3 day hospital stay.  Admission the day before, Chemotherapy on Day 2, and rest and releasing on Day 3.  She felt that when Outpatient Chemotherapy Centers were established it was a very positive change because patients do better at home and away from hospital germs.

On my first day of Chemo, I was under the wrong impression that they would hook me up to an IV of one sack of drugs and sit me out in a hallway and in about an hour I would be done.   Truly I was amazed when I discovered that the University of Michigan had at least 6 infusion areas just for adults, all staffed with Nurses and Aides and the ability to handle over 60 people at any given time.

When I was taken back to a private area set up like a hospital Emergency Room I was shocked!  It had a large team of nurses in a semi-circle with a comfortable hospital version of a La-Z-Boy type chair, a television, a chair for your companion, and room for the Chemo Nurse to maneuver.  Also, there are separate rooms equipped with beds.  On three occasions, I have been lucky enough to have those, but they try to keep those areas for the very ill patients who are bedridden.

Every time a medical team member immediately offers you and your companion warm blankets, drinks, and bagels.  I immediately felt the love.  Warm blankets and bagels will do it every time!

Almost immediately, your specifically appointed Chemo Nurse comes to introduce themselves to you.  They are specially trained Registered Nurses.  These men and women are extremely impressive.  I am thankful for their compassion, their knowledge, and their willingness to answer questions and teach you about your particular drugs.   They really do put you at ease.  Immediately I feel like they know what they are doing, and I can relax and be the patient.  On my first visit, I was given almost undivided attention which really helped the anxiety.

Only when you arrive at the Chemotherapy area are the drugs ordered for you from Pharmacy.  That is because the drugs that are administered are so expensive (mine have been over $9,000 each visit) and each “chemo cocktail” is made individually for you based on your drug, your weight, and body mass.   Thus, there is always a wait once you arrive of approximately one-half hour.

The other thing that amazed me was how many other pre-Chemo drugs are given.  For example, in my case I am given Ativan for nausea and nerves, steroids, anti-allergic medications, Pepcid, other anti-nausea drugs, all to prepare you for your “Chemo Cocktail.”   These are all given intravenously through the port that was surgically implanted.

Speaking of ports, this is always an adventure.  Sometimes they work perfectly, and other times they don’t!  I have had to literally almost stand on my head forward and backward to get mine to work.  It is comical as one time my wig fell off as I was leaning forward toward my feet with my arms reaching downward!  Thankfully, nobody cares and everyone understands as we are all in the same situation.  My positions have been hands over head, cough, hold your breath, bend over your back, lean to your left, lean to your right, and lean forward and reach.   As it has been explained to me, the ports just clog up as after all they are implanted into your body.  If they don’t work after all of the acrobatics and aerobics, an injection is given to loosen any matter that has clogged the port.

Another surprise was how long the entire process takes.  From start to finish for my “Chemo Cocktail” and other drug I receive which is “Herceptin” it can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours for the other drugs and infusion.  Plus, before you begin your bloodwork which has been done an hour before Chemo, is checked to make sure Chemotherapy can proceed.  Always, I ask to be given a copy of my blood test results as I believe it is important to know where my blood counts are.

When your specially formulated bags of drugs arrive from the Pharmacy, another nurse accompanies the Chemo Nurse into your room.  You are instructed to read your arm band, state your name and date of birth.  This checking your armband happens over and over again as so many precautions are taken so the wrong drugs are not administered.  The additional nurse checks the statistics including your weight, height and then calculates that you have received the correct dosage.  This is also confirmed by your Chemo Nurse.  Then as an additional precaution, I always ask to see the name on the bag of the drug.  No one minds and in fact, my Chemo Nurses have always been glad that I take an interest in what I am receiving.

When I first had the drug Taxol administered to me, extra precautions were taken as it often can cause an allergic reaction.  My Chemo Nurse said that if I would begin to have a reaction, a team of medical professionals would descend on me in Code Blue fashion.  But she said, “don’t worry” and I laughed!  She went on to say that they had never lost a patient yet, but they are very careful about allergic reactions.  This was reassuring, but of course I was grateful when I had no reaction.

While the infusions occur, you can read, sleep, work on your computer, or just look around.  I prefer just look around.  There is so much going on in the Chemo areas that I find it fascinating.  Also, I really enjoy talking to other patients receiving Chemo.  They are so inspirational, and I have learned so much from them.  One thing I learned is that Taxol can cause you to lose your fingernails and toenails.  A Stage IV Breast Cancer patient told me to soak my hands and feet in ice as this would prevent that occurrence as the ice would prevent the Taxol from going to your finger tips and toe tips.  So everytime I go, I take my plastic containers with me that look like dishpans and the medical personnel fill them with ice. If I am having any tiredness from the drugs, the minute you put your hands and feet in the ice, you instantly wake up!  So far so good.  No adverse reactions and my nails are perfect!

Many times the drugs cannot be given simultaneously, which is true with the drugs I receive.   This, of course, takes more time.  But you just adjust.  I am always in shock and awe when I see some cancer patients receiving over 12 bags of drugs!   They are at the Infusion Center for hours on end!  The amazing part of the whole process is I have never seen one impatient Chemo patient.  They are always the role models for patience.

Once your infusions are getting close to being over, relief sets in.  But then a little fear sets in as well because you wonder how you will be feeling.  Once your Chemo Nurse releases you, the feeling of freedom sets in and gratitude that you have another Chemo session completed.  Thankfully, I have always felt good immediately after infusion because the steroids and other meds they give you perk you up!   The fatigue and side effects don’t usually set in for a couple of days.  You become familiar with the pattern of your particular drugs.

Hopefully, if you are awaiting Chemotherapy, this information will help inform you and remove some of the fear.  If you have a friend or family member going through Chemotherapy, please ask them questions about their Chemotherapy Infusion.  They would be very grateful to have you listen to their story.

Click on picture for cute chemo caps!

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Holy Week, Giving Thanks, and Breast Cancer

It is Holy Week.  As a Roman Catholic, I traditionally observed Holy Week by going to Mass, going to the Stations of the Cross, participating in Good Friday Services, having a Day of Reflection on Holy Saturday, and going to Mass to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

This year my observations and traditions are forced to change.  My blood levels are low from Chemotherapy, and I have medical orders to avoid crowds.  So as I was receiving my weekly infusion of Chemotherapy drugs today, I pondered what I could do this year.  Immediately I knew I must give thanks for Breast Cancer and all the gifts it has brought me, some wanted, many unwanted.

I was always big on giving thanks for many things every day.  That number has been considerably less these past few months during Chemo.  But I am ready to give it a go, as my British friends say.

I AM THANKFUL FOR

1)  The medical treatment I am receiving at the University of Michigan Breast Care Center.  Their thoroughness, devotion, care and commitment to cure me never cease to amaze me!  From my Oncologist, Dr. Daniel Hayes to Janitor Bob in the Chemo Infusion area, they never give up on a patient!

2)  The drugs I am receiving for Chemotherapy that have killed any remaining cancer cells.  I am believing this in faith!

3)  For insurance coverage and the fact I never cheaped out and got a less comprehensive policy because I am self-employed although I was tempted many times.

4)  That I have so many wonderful, fabulous and incredible friends and family to love me through this even when I have wanted to give up.  Words cannot express my gratitude for their love, support and care!

5)  For my mom and her nursing me through this.  When my mom and I moved into a two family home for privacy yet togetherness, I assumed I would be taking care of her since she is now approaching 80.  LIttle did I know, she would have to take care of me.  My mom has been an amazing support to me and her hats have been nurse, chef, chemo companion, gardener, garbage takeout girl, friend, and many, many other roles I’ve not been able to do!  It has not been easy for her to watch me go through the pain and suffering, but she has been steadfast!

5)  My body.  It is really tough and durable.  Tough and durable were never words I used before to describe my body, I would have preferred attractive and sexy, but I am so grateful to God for this body and its amazing ability to heal.

6)  My home to recuperate in and nourish me.

7)  The inspiring people I meet every single week at the Chemotherapy Infusion Center.  Their stories, courage and hope bring me strength and determination.

8)  The understanding I now have about what it is like to be a Cancer Patient.  Before Breast Cancer, I feel I used to live in black and white.  I am now living in color.  Even being a caretaker for my father during his sickness and death from Pancreatic Cancer did not even begin to give me the insight I now have.

9)  The stamina I have for the long haul.  It is not a quick fix.  I am grateful that I have eyes to see this will all be worth it.

10)  God’s faithfulness in every little need.  From financial to medical to the smallest details, it has been an incredible journey of trusting God and His provision.  When you are so needy, all you can do is trust.  I have discovered the tip of the iceberg of what trusting in God really means.

Well, I shall continue to work on this gratitude list as it turns suffering into joy.  May your Easter be joyous.

*Emotional Changes to be a Breast Cancer Survivor

Recently I attended my first American Cancer Society fundraiser for Breast Cancer. A group of approximately 100 people were gathered at a delightful restaurant at a local mall on a chilly Spring night.  There were scavenger hunts at various shops with local merchants giving discounts to the gathered shoppers.  It was lighthearted and fun.  About 25% of those in attendance were Breast Cancer survivors.  At the end of the evening we all gathered back at the restaurant for a final closing.  It then turned serious.  The emcee had the women who were survivors more than 20 years stand up and 2 women stood, then incrementally down through 15 years, 10 years, and 5 years and many more women were standing.  She then asked the women who had been survivors for less than 1 year to stand.   Myself and one other woman stood up.   As I got up to stand, the tears started to flow down my cheeks.   It was my first experience to publicly say I was a Breast Cancer Survivor.  And as I stood there, all of the pain and hardship of the last 6 months started flowing out of me.   Whether I wanted to be a part of this group or not, I had been voted in. My dear friends who I had known since grade school and high school had attended this event with me and didn’t miss my tears.  They embraced me and all the love they had shown me through the past 6 months I felt.  It took everything in me not to sob uncontrollably.

Looking at the two women who had now survived more than 20 years, I pondered what would be necessary for me to be standing there 20 years from now.  Instinctively I knew some things would have to do with medicines and medical healing, but the majority of what I needed to be a 20 year survivor would be from the emotional and spiritual realm.  Since Breast Cancer is so tied to a woman’s emotions, at that moment I knew that I would have to continue making changes in my emotional world.

This has always been difficult for me, and I knew I needed God’s guidance and help in the emotional arena. Be careful what you wish for because help and knowledge came quickly.  While I had been gone, an old friend had called me.  So upon returning home, I called him back.  The minute he started to talk, he asked me how I was feeling.  I started to tell him, but he cut me off and said, “Oh good, I am glad you are feeling better” and went on to the next subject.  Anger welled up within me like the tears had welled up just an hour before at the fundraiser.  I said, “You just dismissed me and my feelings.  All you wanted to hear is that I was better so you didn’t have to really listen to what I have been going through.  That makes me angry.  I need you to listen to me.”   He got quiet and said, “You are right.”  For the first time in 6 months, he really listened to what I had to say.

When I got off the telephone, I knew that this was part of my 20 year survivor lesson.  I need to learn to communicate better and no longer stuff my emotions.  There is freedom in that revelation.  Immediately I felt a new emotional river open up within me.  This river has currents, and whitewater, but also has gentle flowing streams all contained within it.  And in order to navigate this river, I will have to continue to hone my emotional skills so I can be that 20 year survivor.  I am up to the challenge.