This is a summary of the chemo treatment I survived. I have never experienced anything like this. Radiation, and even surgery, was a breeze in comparison:
- for each treatment, Brad and I were there 2.5 to 4 hours (always had the bloodwork and meeting with the doctor a day or 2 before treatment)
- #2 was delayed due to low white blood counts. I also had 1 or 2 day delays due to holidays or scheduling. Overall it took 4 months, May 7 to August 29th (not including recovery from the last one).
- it took 2-3 hours for each treatment (administered through an IV into my port-a-cath).
The first 3 treatments were a mixture of 3 drugs (Fluorouracil (5FU), Epirubicin (Red Devil), Cyclophosphamide) and the next 3 treatments were Docetaxol (taxotere). FEC-D. Seems to be the current standard chemo for breast cancer patients in Canada.
The first 3 treatments kicked in within a couple of hours - nauseau and fatigue. The second 3 treatments kicked in after 2-3 days - bone pain.
Because my white blood counts didn't come back up quickly enough, I was given neupogen. 5 self-administered shots after each chemo. Not fun.
My red blood counts dropped during the taxotere and I became anemic. That was monitored, but eventually came up on its own. No blood transfusion required.
The worst side effects for me included nausea (never actually threw up), self-administered neupogen shots due to low white counts, bone pain, sleeplessness (lots of laying awake at night), sense of smell - I could barely inhale, everything offended me (in hindsight I realize it must have been the chemo coming out of my pores). Also the change in tastes - I missed coffee, red wine, and some regular things like caesar salad that just didn't taste right. I didn't feel like myself, I always felt sick, and low energy. Chemo also made me more sensitive to pain - my port and my scar from surgery would ache more. Also, no surprise, I was getting a lot of anxiety the couple of days before chemo (ativan/lorazepam helped with that).There were times I really didn't think I could go through with the next treatment.
The side effects that weren't too bad included the watery eyes and the hair loss. Earrings are a must, to go with the scarves. As we got into winter, it was great to have a hat with a matching scarf - made me feel less conspicuous.
The side effects I dreaded but haven't had, included nerve pain in the feet, infections/hospitalization due to low blood counts, weight gain, worse nausea, extreme fatigue.
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The things that got me through it all - #1 is the support from my family and friends. My breast cancer support group (6 of us close in age and treatment phase - we can talk about anything, we understand each other), the blogging community, my doctors and nurses, the ability to sleep a lot, earrings, and my eyebrow pencil. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The port-a-cath was definitely better than having veins poked each time, but I think I might have been better off with the PICC (catheter in the upper arm). Hard to say, disadvantages to each I guess. PICC would have come out the last day of chemo, the port came out about 2 months after.
I miss running and having a regular exercise routine, but walking has been good, and I can look forward to running again soon enough.
Six weeks post-chemo I noticed some new side effects - numb toes. It's like they are asleep. no pain, just tingly like they are waking up (but they don't). Otherwise, my strength is coming back, I can walk at a pretty good pace, but those muscle aches are still faintly there (down arms and legs).
Two months post-chemo. My muscle aches (all down my legs and arms) are pretty much gone. I can put my hand on my thigh and not feel pain. The aches peaked at about 4-5 weeks after the last chemo. I just kept walking (but not too much) and drinking lots of fluids.
Four months post-chemo. Muscle aches are all gone. Just the tingly toes left (and the sore arm from surgery). Enough hair to not cover my head around friends. During radiation, I was out every day to get treatment, so I was walking and drinking my water. After that, I sort of faded. The weather got really cold, and I didn't have to go out, so my walking slowed down. My energy went down as well. Last week I focused on walking and drinking water (and green tea) and I am already feeling stronger.
My biggest wish is that something is found that PREVENTS cancer, and no one ever has to go through these treatments.