Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Oh, happy day!

I am done with chemo!!!!

We went in today for my last treatment. Let me say that again: LAST treatment.

Of course, it couldn't be a smooth day. Just as we were headed out the door, I noticed a bunch of shredded stuff in the backyard. This is not unusual--Kibble likes nothing more than to find tissues or something similar, and to tear them to shreds. So I went to take a look. And it wasn't a tissue. It was an ant trap.

The ant trap being a product that poisons a kind of animal.

We called the vet, and the manager told us we'd better bring him right in, along with the box. So we stared at each other, as the clock ticked quickly past when we
had to leave in order to be on time. Without much idea of how to handle things, we dispatched Noah to the vet with Kibble, and I picked up the phone to call the oncology nurse and explore ways to let me drive myself home after chemo. (Usually, the benadryl dopes me up so much that it's impossible.)

Fortunately, while I was dialing, a call came in on the home phone from the vet's office. The manager had jumped the gun. Ant baits are not generally dangerous in small quantities, except that dogs can ingest bits of plastic that might obstruct the intestines. We could call the company to confirm this, keep him home, and observe him. Because my very generous friend Maia was lined up to come sit with Kibble for a few hours that day anyway, we were saved. Kibble could stay home, Maia could keep him under observation, and Noah and I could both go to chemo.

That's what happened. We left a half-hour late, which stretched a bit longer with some needed stops at the post office and bank. Once we got to USC, it was actually good. For once, we were just ushered through every step of the day without more than a 10-minute wait in between.

The blood draw was smooth, even if the receptionist teased me about
still being too scared to look at the needle. It's true--the blood-draw sticks don't hurt that much now, but I do not want to see that needle puncture my skin. Just too yuck.

I had my last appointment (for 3 months) with Christy, my oncologist, and Michelle, the fabulous oncology nurse at the breast center. We talked through my symptoms for the past two weeks (bone pain, some abdominal pain, reflux, weak skin, numb soles of feet, almost all my eyelashes gone and eyebrows rapidly following--all quite normal, she said). They provided me a referral to a radiation oncologist down here in the South Bay, so I can do my 5 days a week closer to home. There was much commiserating about Kibble's ordeal, and showing of dog pictures--with Michelle, that is; not Christy, who heard our story and immediately wondered why the heck people bother to have pets.

Thanks to our terrifically fun trip to SF this past week with Sarah and Tom, my sister- and brother-in-law, I had really exhausted myself before this chemo and seem to be getting a slight chest cold. I was worried that this might keep me from getting my last treatment today, but both Christy and Michelle reassured me--if that's the right word--that Christy is "very aggressive" and doesn't delay chemo unless the person has a raging fever or is undergoing surgery. So just a few minutes after that appointment, Lilia came to escort us to the day hospital where I get my chemo.

I was one of only three patients, so I got to pick one of the best chairs. What makes a good chemo chair? Lots of space around it; being in a corner of the room with two contiguous solid walls (not dividers, which can get bumped); a set-up that makes it easy to reach my left arm (only myleft arm can get chemo, because they removed lymph nodes on the right) and allows Noah to sit on the right side or nearby in another chemo chair (chemo chairs are comfortable recliners, whereas the guest chairs are regular, uncomfortable chairs for sitting only); and good air circulation. I think today I got the 2nd best chair in the day hospital. Nice way to go out.

We had a little hiccup with the catheter insertion. Because my hand really hurt the last time she tried to use it, Lilia had switched to my forearm. But she couldn't get the catheter into the vein, even after some poking around for it. She felt really bad--she's so nice about it, and despite this issue, she's very good at inserting IVs. We switched back to my hand, and she got it right away, so no problem.

The Taxol drip got started at around 4pm; though Lilia was off at about that time, she stayed until close to 5, chatting with me about her wedding and making sure all was OK. When it was time for her to leave, we gave her a card with a couple of gift cards for her honeymoon in January. Nothing big! We tried to stay small so as to comply with any rules about gifts for hospital personnel, but wanted to do something toward her plans, after she has done so much for me.

The drip went on without incident until about 7pm, and then the late nurse came to remove the catheter from my hand. It bled more than usual, but I didn't care. I was DONE. Noah gave me a high five as the catheter came out, and then a big hug when I stood up. My face wedged itself into a huge, immovable smile. I felt a sense of joy and hopefulness that I've felt on few occasions, such as when I got my postdoc after taking a huge gamble and turning down another, sure-thing job, or when Noah, Kody, and I finally reached the bottom of a terrifying mountain scree-pile descent in Colorado which I was not at all sure we would survive.

And what's great is, I don't even have to go back tomorrow for the Neulasta shot that boosts my white cell counts. Because we are not trying to rush my blood counts back to normal in a short, two-week window, they can take the usual 3 weeks to recover fully; plus, my blood counts have been really good all along. So I am really done with chemo. No more procedures remain. Close that chapter.

My hair will start to grow back in about 3 weeks, I will start feeling better and keep getting better after a week or two, and all my crazy symptoms like numb, blistered feet will go away. Christy says I won't be fully normal for as much as a year, but I'll see steady improvement throughout that time. I will be meeting with a nutritional oncologist on Thursday, and now that I don't have chemo to ruin my associations with any new eating habits, I plan to start eating in a way that promotes my survival, and increasing my exercise. I can cut my 20% risk of recurrence to about 16% if I take diet and exercise seriously--and I feel I must.

So next...next I have radiation, which should be a piece of cake next to this. One woman in my support group had really terrible horrific burns, but I feel confident I'll escape that, mostly because she was on chemo at the same time (very rare). With my foot blisters, I see how body skin becomes weaker, and healing is much slower during chemo. Also, she had a full mastectomy, not a lumpectomy like me, and they had to aim the beam directly at her body. She got 'sunburned' on her
back from where the radiation went through. I am hoping that the angle of radiation for me can be directed away from my torso. Well, we shall soon see. In any case, I've been told that there is fatigue associated with radiation, but it is minor compared to that from chemo--in fact, it's a function of having to go 5 days a week for 6 weeks as much as of the effects of the beam itself. And some women do not get any sunburn at all. More on radiation as it approaches. I should have my first appointment very soon, and then start treatments in about 3 weeks. If we have the schedule right, I would start on August 28 and finish on October 6. Sounds quite bearable.

After all, chemo is DONE! Did I mention that?? :-)


Heidi and Sarah Face The Day said...

We are so glad chemo is over for you! So so glad! Thanks for letting us into your home, your life and your head during this difficult time. We had such a good time visiting with you and Noah. You were such good hosts. We are looking forwrd to October now for you! Love S&T!

Anonymous said...

Yea! Yea! Yea! Thanks for your blog. You have an amazing ability to share even when you might choose to close yourself off instead. It is rare to have such insight into how life's lessons are understood and integrated. I am once again in awe of the wisdom of your soul.

Upstater said...

I am so glad that the chemo is over and applaud your courage and fortitude. A big hug for Noah for being such a mensch and being there for you.

You really do inspire me



Anonymous said...

Huzzah! (I know it should be "Hooray!" but i just saw "The Four Feathers"--1930's version on TV and just thought "Huzzah" was more in keeping with the feeling of joyful victory in today's blog. You came, you saw, you conquered--you being the army of two. I don't think I've said before how much I respect and admire the two of you throughout this whole ordeal. I'm sure each of you suffered your own private pains and fears about Jenny's cancer and the awful potentials that might ocur...but each visit was another opportunity to see how much you love each other and work together in the real sense of "helpmate." What a joy to behold, and an inspiration for my own life! Congratulations on this victory and my hopes and prayers for an easy victory in this next battle. my love always and M. sends his congratulations and love as well.

Anonymous said...

You really are just the greatest kid ever! It's been very painful to watch you go through this--in fact, I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it--so I'm thrilled to hear such joy, relief, and promise in your (written) voice. I love you and I'm looking forward to traveling with you on your road to recovery. It's been tough for me too, but you are so worth it. ILYMTYLM and TYTB! TJ