…but the effects will be with me for quite a while.
My first chemo infusion took place on January 29th, 2015. The regimen I was on was AC+T. Altogether, I had:
- four rounds of adriamycin (doxorubicin) and cytoxan, every two weeks
- twelve rounds of taxol, every week (low dose)
Each infusion was preceded by lab work (to check white and red blood cell levels) and a visit with the oncologist. Many of the infusions were followed by one or three days of injections, Neulasta or Neupogen. These are granulocyte colony stimulating factors – they “help the body make more neutrophils, a type of white blood cell.” I got those shots when the lab work showed that my white cell counts were low – a possible-to-likely side effect with any and all of the chemo drugs I was getting. Not much I could do for the red cell counts except take multivitamins and eat red meat. Some people are given transfusions, but that was not a great option for me.
I had plenty of other side effects, including fatigue, neuropathy, hot flashes, muscle pain, losing eyebrows and lashes and possibly fingernails, etc. – I moaned about some of them in my tweets. The Neulasta and Neupogen also had a fun side effect: bone pain. (As recommended by my doctor, I took clarityn every day – no one knows why, but it seems to alleviate that bone pain, as well as being useful for my seasonal allergies.)
I had the last taxol infusion yesterday. The staff of Valley Medical Oncology Center came out to give me a round of applause and a certificate of completion. Aww. They were all fantastic. Chemo isn’t fun, but having great people to do it certainly helps.
I can expect the side effects I’ve been having to continue and possibly even get worse for another two weeks, and the taxol will still be circulating in my body for up to a month. Some of the side effects will take 3 to 6 months to abate; I was especially disappointed to learn that I may not get all my tastebuds back for that long. Altogether, it can take the body up to a year to fully recover from chemotherapy. So I don’t know when I’ll start to feel “normal” again.
What happens next?
I can enjoy the next two weeks of seeing no doctors and, especially, not getting poked with any needles (my old favorite vein for blood draws is now scarred and painful, the decent one on the other arm has collapsed and won’t give up anything now).
On June 25th, I will see Dr Patel, the radiation oncologist, to start preparation for radiation. I’ll need a CT scan, and a form will be made to hold my breast in the exact same position for each radiation treatment. Radiation should start about a month after chemo ends, and I’ll have it every weekday for six weeks. Each treatment doesn’t take long, but…
I’m told that radiation can cause fatigue, especially after chemo, but Dr Labban told me that no one is exactly sure why this is; could be that the radiation stimulates residual chemicals in the body, and/or the sheer hassle of having to be there every damn day is tiring. On the other hand, I’ve already had some weeks where, between infusions, visits, and shots, I have had to be in that building every day. As long as I have the energy to drive myself (hasn’t always been the case, lately), I’ll probably get through that without too much trouble. Depending on how tired I still am from chemo by then.
I’ll have a chemo follow-up visit and blood work mid-July, to see whether my blood cells have recovered, which is supposed to happen 4 to 6 weeks after chemo ends.
The port stays in until after my next mammogram (October), just in case something turns up that means it’s needed again (not a happy thought). It has to be flushed monthly with heparin to prevent blood clots forming in it. At least I can look forward to seeing my wonderful oncology nurses, Diana and Mike, for that.
Radiation should end in late August, then I’ll have another month off (presumably to recover) before I see Dr Labban again to start taking tamoxifen; that’s in pill form, I haven’t even looked at the side effects yet. I’ll take that for five years. I’ll be having mammograms and possibly other tests every 6 to 12 months, but I’d have been doing that for the rest of my life anyway.
So… I’ve completed step 2 of a long process (step 1 was surgery). I’m relieved to have got through it (not everyone does), and I guess it was worthwhile to improve my long-term odds. But, as you can see, there’s still a long road ahead of me.
my breast cancer story (thus far)