Tomorrow is my last chemo. I’m so glad to be done with chemo as you can imagine. But, I had a couple people ask me more details about chemo recently. I never knew exactly how chemo worked before I had to go through it myself. Also, my youngest asked me tonight what chemo feels like, and if it feels gritty, haha. I guess I can share my experience.
First, I got a port placed. A port is pictured below
I didn’t look at these images before my port placement surgery and it’s a good thing. It grossed me out a bit and I’m sorry if it does for you, too. During my surgery, I was awake unfortunately. They gave me something, which they compared it to the same type of medication they use for scopes or colonoscopies, but it didn’t affect me the same way at all. (I’ve had both done in the past). For one thing, I remember everything, and for another, I didn’t forget it later. Fortunately, I did not feel pain and it wasn’t that big of a deal. I truthfully don’t remember much pain afterwards either. I do recall at this point my breast hurt badly constantly. I do remember that pain. But, that was stupid cancer.
I was given some lidocaine to place on my skin about 20 minutes before my port is accessed. This is the term they use to pretty much say they are going to stick an I.V. into it. I remember at first it was tender. It got better over time. Once they poke ya, they cover it with tape, take a few vials of blood and send you one your way to chemo. Chemo was in two different parts. I had a total of 6 months of chemo. The first three months were a few types of chemo combined. FEC, to be exact. The second three months were just one chemo drug, Taxol. So, the chemo treatment essentially is called FEC-T. During the FEC, I was able to get a private room. This chemo regimen is one of the hardest there is out there, and it also takes a while to receive it.
I get comfy and take off my shoes and lay in the bed or recliner, depending on which treatment area I was in. I grab my blanket my friend Kim crocheted for me, my iPad, or whatever and I just relax. The nurse comes asks me how I am that day and how I’ve been since my last treatment. They always wait until they get my lab results back before starting any medications. The labs are pretty much your basic yearly labs you’d get at your annual blood tests from your primary. Complete blood counts, making sure your liver enzymes are good, etc. Essentially, they are trying to make sure I’m healthy enough for chemo. In the meantime, I always get an I.v. Bag of fluids
Once I’m cleared they give me pre-meds. On each type of chemo, there are reactions that are associated with that medication that they are trying to avoid occurring to you. They are giving you crazy chemicals that your body will try to reject. For the FEC, I got anti nausea drugs and a strong steroid. There may have been more, but that is what i remember. They are either give by i.v. drip, or the nurse pushes it in slowly through a syringe she twists onto the end of the i.v.. The pre-meds I have for the Taxol are a steroid, Pepcid ac, and benedryl. The benedryl makes me feel exactly how you can imagine me feeling, I feel like I’m drugged. Truthfully, it makes the whole thing a big more tolerable. But, I could never expect to fully concentrate on anything either. Conversations are not my forte after they push the benedryl.
After the premeds, onto the chemo drugs themselves. The nurses wear special gowns when handling chemo drugs. I guess if they leak, some of them will corrode tissue. Nice, just what you want in your veins, right? The taxol is pretty uneventful. I do recall the first two sessions the nurse sits with you for 20 minutes to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction. It’s most likely the first two times in that first 20 minutes I was told. I did not. The FEC, only one of the chemo drugs was an I.v. Drip, the other two were pushed through syringes into the i.v. Those were awful drugs. All kinds of awful I remember feeling dizzy and wierd feeling when those were pushed. Especially the one nicknames ‘the red devil’. It’s just no fun. I could always tell when they pushed that. I’d lay back and think positive thoughts. Pretend I’m elsewhere. After all the medications are done, they remove the i.v. From my port, place an vandals and I’m done. Home I go. And I wish that was the end.
But, no! I have side effects to go through. Granted, everyone is different. I had a rough time with the FEC, and friend who is going through this with me she had a tougher time with the taxol than the FEC. That is unusual though. But, again everyone is different.
My FEC side effects. Sigh. Boy, that was a fun three months of my life, I must say.
First chemo treatment was the worst one. I kinda went nuts. Ok. No kinda about it. I went nuts. I crawled. I couldn’t stop pulling at my clothes, etc. I was twitchy and I don’t remember huge chunks of time. This was the same for my second chemo as well. We did finally realize the issue. I was sent home with an additional prescription medication to help with the nausea. Which was bad. Compazine. This medication is an anti-psychotic. It’s used for nausea because it’s good at making it go away. But, for me, it was a psychotic, not an anti-psychotic. I got to feel what it’s like to be off your rocker, thanks no thanks. That was awful. And, to boot, I still felt nauseous. Once I got rid of this drug, the psychosis went away. That was a huge thing improvement as you can imagine. The nausea, I found a natural herb helped instantly with this and helped me to sleep too. That was priceless. But, I did have a couple side effects that didn’t just go away. I had a headache that was always there for months. It got more and less intense, but it didn’t resolve until I was well into the next type of chemo. I had stomach pains. I have IBS, so I am used to abdominal pain, but this was something different altogether. Cramping pain that just felt like poison. I felt poisoned. I essentially was, and it was physically evident. I had a rash on my neck that appeared one day soon after my first chemo. It stayed there for about a couple months, slowly fading away. Fatigue. There was something special about chemo fatigue. It’s like if you have to sludge through a swamp wearing bowling balls with a house on your back. It is pretty awful exhaustion. Regular life is not possible. It starts to get possible closer to when you go back, then you have to get chemo again. During the FEC, I couldn’t do stairs for about a week and a half after chemo. It was hell doing anything. Just going out to dinner kicked my ass. I was useless and had a hard time with that in and of itself. When I switched to Taxol, I felt less poisoned and less exhausted at first. It builds up though and doing work is still exhausting and I have to do things in little morsels, but It’s not impossible.
No hair. I know this is the first side effect that most people think about with chemo, this issue didn’t bother me much. It bothered me at restaurants when i couldn’t just brush past people and the sympathetic stares like I could at stores. For a good while, I was sure to wear a wig when going out to eat. I eventually got to the point where I didn’t wear anything and I just let me and my scalp be us. That was freeing, it’s summer and I decided my comfort was important, and i shouldn’t be uncomfortable because I might make someone else uncomfortable around my bald head. That was silly and I felt proud of myself that I could do that. Then I hit another bump. I hated looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself, I see cancer. I don’t see myself and that’s pretty depressing. So, I decided to start putting on eyebrows and makeup and I needed professional help with that. (Thanks again, Kelly!) I also started wearing headscarves again. But, I did it for me this time, not for anyone else. I loved not shaving though. Even now, I have to shave so much less. I haven’t even shaved my legs in months and the hairs are so thin and light that I’m still not going to do it till I have to. I will stay modest and just say that every hair falls out. Body hair is all good with me being gone.
There are also nosebleeds. They started for my second part of chemo, with Taxol. Randomly occurring and every time I had to blow my nose. Congestion was common also for me with this chemo, so unfortunately, I had nosebleeds almost daily.
Menopause! Yes, this stinky side effect was a mixed bag. Sure, I haven’t had my monthly visitor since May. But, I also have a ton of hot flashes, followed quickly by awful cold. It is as described. Out of control and you just want to take off all your clothes and jump in ice. I can feel it coming up the back of my neck and it crawls up and across my head, it’s likely some blood vessels opening or having some reaction, then the sweat starts immediately. I feel like my head is on fire. It’s so awesome. This is the biggest reason I don’t often wear one of my wigs. Maybe if I went through chemo in the winter instead of the summer? Who knows. But, it is not welcome, and because I am hormone receptor positive (in English this means that both estrogen and progesterone both feed my cancer), I am going to get my ovaries removed, so menopause will have to be something I get used to. I do, from what I understand have it more often at least and possibly more intense than women going through it naturally. Fun times, everybody! Oh, and I can’t take hormone replacement therapy for obvious reasons.
Last but not least, I have neuropathy from Taxol. Neuropathy is numbness, sometimes pain, and some people even get tingling, in your extremities. I’m actually pretty lucky because most people I talked to got neuropathy soon after starting Taxol. I didn’t get it until my 9th infusion. 9th out of 12 infusions. That’s pretty good! And I only got it in my fingertips! Yay!
I’m so happy to be done with chemo. I will miss not shaving, and I will miss taking 5 minute showers, but that is about all I’ll miss from chemo. This will soon be a memory from my warrior days.