Thursday, January 7, 2010

Summary of the chemo...

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:

6 treatments, one every 21 days:

  • 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.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
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. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

(with and without eyebrows):

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.

I survived.




  1. That was interesting, Beth, since it was similar to my year with ovarian. The drugs and treatments are different but we seem to deal with the same side-effects.

    Funny how some things slip your mind ... I had forgotten how my sense of taste was affected. I kept trying to drink tart and tangy drinks and they always tasted flat and flavorless. Thankfully the taste buds return to normal!

    God bless you this New Year 2010 with good health and great days.

  2. did survive it.I had to laugh when you put the "red devil" in red. Unfortunately I had 6 rounds of the red drug. Myself, the Radiation was the worse than the surgery and chemo because I was severely burnt but now I find this reconstruction is the worst of it all...Right now I am not allowed coffee or any caffeine products so it is lots of water and juices for me.
    You are now on your way to a healthy life and soon you will be back to work Beth.
    Oh, you also look so cute in all your hats:)

  3. Hi Beth! Thanks for sharing your journey, pictures, and thoughts. I could relate to so much of what you described here. Yes, the chemo was the worst part of it for me, too. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. You'll be out running before you know it. It just takes time and lots of baby steps. It'll happen; just hang in there. Praying for you, friend!

  4. Hi Beth! I haven't read your whole story, but just looking at your past blogs...and your hair growth since the chemo is amazing! I was also diagnosed with breast cancer in February 09 and finished chemo in September. I am finally feeling comfortable (if you can call it that) not wearing a wig every day, and am happy to say I had to have a bikini wax (woohoo!) and eyebrow wax. It is nice to have hair back, but I cannot wait until I need a barrette!!! All my best!

  5. I liked the last comment "I survived" yes you did and the world is a better place for that fact!

    I am back at running, as a beginner, its frustrating to think that I am not as strong as I was.

    The drug regime is hard, I had EpiReubison every 21 days for 4 cycles then I had CMF week 1 then week 2 for 4 cycles, no wonder my veins are collapsed.

    But..... we survived!

  6. It's an amazing journey ... you did great ... you survived!

  7. Hi Beth
    I saw the picture of the Red Devil and I cringed. That and Taxotere my 2 worst nightmares. Yes you did survive you kept me going when I was so ready to quit it all.
    Thanks my friend.Good luck...
    Alli xx

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. It has helped me a great deal as I am starting FEC-D this Friday for 6 rounds. Not knowing what to expect is so scary for me.

    All the best to you!

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