Friday, January 23, 2009

Chemo sesh #1

I recently began drafting a blog that included information about the clinical trial side effects, and my trip to D.C. which I had promised...oh about 15 days ago? Now, as exciting as those topics are, I figured that my first round of chemo kinda trumps them, so said blog has been put on the back burner for the time being.

Tuesday, January 20th was the scheduled date for round one of six chemo treatments at the London Regional Cancer Program . As I am not allowed to drive myself, my mom and I headed out at about 8am for our 9:30 appointment.

In my whole life, I have no recollection of ever seeing a rainbow (or even part of one) in winter, until that day. Although I have no pictorial evidence, I can assure you that, albeit small, it was there. We took a little comfort in perceiving it as a bit of a good omen.
sunrise en route

Upon arriving and checking into clinic 3 at the cancer center, you are given these handy little guys.
E55 was my number for the hemo-lab. Lucky for me, the wait was only about 10 minutes until the special comfy blue chair was all mine. This comfy blue chair will be the first of three stops that I make every time I go for chemo. Prior to my treatment, I am to have my blood drawn and tested to ensure that my white blood cells, hemoglobin and platelets are all within healthy ranges. If not, then my chemo has to be postponed for a week (or until they are normal again).
The blue thing on the left is a pager for my doctors appointment. Whenever the doctor is ready to see you, it buzzes like a manic bumble bee.
Mom and I in the exam room

Although we weren't given the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Vandenberg, we were able to speak with Dr. Shim (his resident). She was the one that delivered the good news that my cancer has not spread to my bones or my liver... what a relief that was to hear.

Just prior to withdrawing from the exam room, Dr. Shim asked us to take a slip of paper to Clinic 4. There we received yet another big angry bee of a beeper, and were told that the chemo itself wouldn't be taking place for another 45 minutes. Ugh.

We managed to round up some (terrible) soup for lunch and shortly thereafter, the pager summoned us back up to the chemo clinic. A very sweet nurse whisked us down one wing of a huge L shaped room to an awaiting chair. The nurse gave me 2 warm blankets and tried to help me get nestled into what would be my resting place for the next 2 hours.

The room where the chemo is given is huge. I imagine it could easily fit at least 100 people. I never envisioned that there would be so many people having chemo at once. It was a rather eye-opening experience (and more than a little unsettling, to put it lightly).

Getting comfy

Getting needled

Getting IV'd

My Chemo meds

The first of the 3 meds that I was given was 5-Fluorouracil(flue-row-YOUR-a-sill). It is injected directly into the IV via a needle. The nurse regulates the injection, as seen below-

After the nurse finished with the 5-Fluorouracil, I was then administered Epirubicin (e-pee-ROO-bi-sin) in the same manner as the previous drug. This drug is bright red, and as you may have guessed, comes out looking much the same as it went in. ha.

Getting taped up for a trek to the washroom
My triumphant return

The last of the drugs was called Cyclophosphamide I.V. (sigh-clo-FOS-fa-mide). As you can probably tell from the name, it is an IV drip that takes about 45 minutes to finish.
I don't have any pictures of it being administered, cause it was kinda boring to be honest.
I.V. Finishee

Not feeling so hot at home

Overall, The chemo hasn't made me feel as bad as I figured it would. I have yet to throw up (keeping fingers crossed), and the only real problem I've been having is grogginess and loss of appetite. Every time I think about food, I want to throw up.
With a little luck, this will resolve itself shortly.
There are a few more pictures here, if you care to check them out.

Oh... and wigs are WAY expensive! After chemo, mom and I popped into one store in London (before I started feeling like crap) to take a gander. The only one that I was interested in, that kinda, sorta came the closest to resembling my hair now, cost $400. I can't begin to conceive of how I could justify spending that kind of cash on something that I need for only half a year or so. Dang...between that and prosthetic boobs, I'll be in the poor house for sure.

Friday, January 16, 2009

testing, testing, visiting, testing... repeat

My undying love and devotion goes to the genius who first contemplated the use of nitrous oxide in dentistry. What a freakin whiz.
I'm sure I will dedicate far too much of my time to researching the particulars later tonight. Until such point, however, I will try to give you a brief run down of what's going on in the last few days.

My gram is in the hospital, as you already know. She has recovered well from the heart attack, but now we fear that she is suffering from a bad case of gout in her one knee and both feet. It seems that the staff are unable to make up their minds as to whether it is in fact gout, and will be running more blood tests today. Hopefully, the situation will be resolved soon, so she can start moving around again.
She is still putting on her brave face, but it seems to be getting harder and harder for her to do as time goes on. I think she is starting to worry about never getting out of the dang hospital. We do what we can to console/comfort while re-assuring her that she will be out soon enough. Dispute our frequent visits, I cant begin to imagine how lonely it must be in there for her.

This is just for the morning.

My grandmother- the actress (notice the lack of needle point).

As for me, I've been to a plethora of appointments this past week.
The schedule was a little something like this-
Friday- Ultrasound (to see if the cancer has spread to my liver)
Monday- Dentist (check-up)
Tuesday- Echocardiogram (baseline & to ensure heart is healthy enough for Tx)
Wednesday- Bone scan (to see if cancer has spread to my bones)
Thursday- Dentist (to drill my face off and fill three cavities)

All the appointments went really well. The weather, of course, didn't always co-operate, but we got through the week with no major complications(Thanks to my father and uncle for driving me to London). I will find out the results of the test on Tuesday before my chemo begins.

I did bring my camera to both the Echo and the bone scan, however, I forgot it in the car the day of the echo. I would have gone to retrieve it, had it not been for the blizzard and frigid temperatures outside. So.. I have to make do with pictures only from the bone scan. The echo was like the abdominal ultrasound in many ways...same gross conductive gel gettin all over everything. The only real difference was the placement of the transducer(I think that is the correct name?).

The abominable snowdad.

gettin radioactive.

This was 1 inch from my nose... I may or may not have been nervous

Yesterday, I had three cavities filled so they won't be problematic during my chemo.
The dentist was quite nice (although that could have just been the gas talking) and it only took about an hour to complete. During the procedure, I was thinking how much of a better place the world would be if everyone had access to that stuff. I mean, apart from the potential long term damage that could be done, and the complete lack of productivity, I think it would be a pretty interesting.

This weekend I'm heading out to Kitchener to see Melanie and Kyle (fingers crossed).
I'm really looking forward to it, but a little apprehensive about leaving my grandmother for an extended period of time. Apart from that, I don't really have any future travel plans. My chemo starts on Tuesday, so I'm sure that I will be laying low for a little while. I'll be sure to remember my camera this time(!) and post an update as soon as I'm no longer hangin out on the bathroom floor ;) haha.
Man... I wonder how I could go about sneaking some nitrous oxide into the chemo clinic.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

More time spend waiting...

It's funny how all hospitals smell the same.
I mean, with all the sanitizers, sterilizers and soap, I suppose it makes sense.
I guess it would be more appropriate to say, it's funny how the memories of past experiences can be brought back by little more than the mere smell of a hospital.
I spent the better part of today in the emergency room with my grandmother, and found myself being transported back in time. Every time I shut my eyes, depending on where my mind chose to take me, I found myself either in Sacred Heart Hospital, Seoul or St. Michael's post-surgery.

With such a strong connection between olfaction and memory, it is understandable how people develop a dislike (or phobia) of hospitals. Let's face it, with the exception of maybe giving birth (depending on how long you were in labor), good things rarely happen in the hospital.

Today was one of those not so good events.
My grandmother called early this afternoon complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. We rushed her to the hospital and this time it was her turn to undergo a battery of tests. She kept her brave face on the whole time, which I admit, helped me stay calm.

After a few hours, the Dr. came back to inform us that my grandmother had suffered a heart attack. She has been put on blood thinners and is staying overnight for observations, and will be seen by a specialist tomorrow morning.
It was almost surreal to see someone who has been such an inspiration to me, look so small and frail. Having her hooked up to so many machines, not knowing what was going to happen next, was difficult... almost heartbreaking.
I am fully aware that these things happen as we age, but we never want to admit that it can happen to our family. We never want it to happen to our family.

Friday, January 9, 2009


For anyone who believes, please say a prayer for Patrick Swayze.
He's been hospitalized with pnemonia.
Click here to read the story.

This man is one of the toughest around.
His strength and courage is so inspirational to me.

In case you haven't seen it, here is an interview he did with Barbara Walters talking about his cancer.
May or may not have cried... just a bit.

We love you Patrick. Hang in there.

chemo consult. tak. frishka.

OK... I've got a lot of words to share with you, as I've been on a temporary hiatus over the holidays. Get yourself a nice cup of tea, and I'll get down to it.

The past few weeks have gone by so fast and have been jam packed, and I've been having a hard time deciding what to unload first.
In a burst of clarity and creativity, my mind set itself on listin this junk chronologically.
I guess the order will go something like this-
First installment -Adams visit & Chemo consult
Second installment - Visiting DC & Chemo appointment schedule

Adam arrived on Dec. 10th to hang out with the Ontario/Korea crew for a few days. It was kind of a whirlwind tour made even more intense by the wonderful winter weather we experienced. The beautiful blustery conditions forced us to drive up to Thorold on Thursday instead of Friday. Luckily, Asia's parents were sweet enough to put us up for three days.

The first day was spent watching movies and stupid Internet videos (thanks Adam) instead of the planned trip to Niagara Falls. The roads were so bad, that we barely even made it out to Amakara, Japan and Merchant Ale House for my 1 month celebration. Thanks to Kasia for literally digging her way out of her walkway to come and hang with us.

The next day involved a quick trip to Niagara Falls, an even quicker (delicious) dinner with Steph's family and then the Alexis show.
Here are some more pictures.

I went to London for my Chemo consult on December 23rd.
The Doctor (Dr. Vanderburg) is really nice. He and the nurse practitioner did everything they could to make us comfortable.
I was a little stressed out upon arrival, as we were running late due to traffic.
We then had to fill out about 20 pages of paperwork. I had my blood taken and then all of these questions were then re-asked by his nurse, and then again by the nurse practitioner. I guess I can't complain about them not being thorough enough.

While I did remember to bring my camera, I forgot my dang memory card in my computer, so I have no fun and exciting pictures to post from this visit.
Here are a few of the things we talked about.

I heart point form.

- Due to the aggressive nature of triple negative breast cancer, the rate of it recurring for those who seek no further treatment beyond surgery is pretty grim- 6 out of 10.

- My nurse practitioner, who runs a lymphedema clinic at the hospital, informed us that the first noticeable increase in the number of people that develop lymphedema occurs in those who had 17 nodes removed. Because I fall into that category, I was supposed to wear a compression sleeve on my trip to DC. I received one for Christmas(thanks mom!), but, in my usual fashion, forgot to bring it with me.

- The nurse practitioner showed me how to measure my arms and how to check for signs of lymphedema in my hands and knuckles.

- The study that I may be taking part in is called Beatrice. There are 2 conditions, the first being standard Chemo and the second being chemo and a drug called Bevacizumab. In order to qualify, part of my tumor has to be released from St. Michael's to take a nice long flight to Germany, where it would be re-tested to ensure that I do indeed have triple negative cancer. (I'll talk about the pro's and con's later)

- I am supposed to have all of my dental work done before I start my chemo. Otherwise I could find myself in the hospital with infections having teeth pulled, like a friend of the family. I was planning on having this done in Seoul, however, I was sidetracked by my diagnoses. eek.

- As they may interfere with my chemo, I am not permitted to take any vitamins or supplements other than vitamin D.

- (Sorry guys) My periods should return after my chemo is finished, and the doctor thinks it is "highly likely" that I will still be able to conceive when my treatments are complete.

- During treatment, I'm put at a greater risk of blood clots (which usually form in the legs), so the nurse gave me some indicators that I need to look out for (e.g. tenderness below the knee and difficulty taking a deep breath (if the clot moves to my lungs)).

- Around 3 weeks after my first chemo cycle, my head will get tingly. I bet you can all guess what comes next, right? right? A day or two after the tingly feeling, my hair will start to fall out.

- The first three rounds of my chemo will make me feel pretty crappy (read: nausea, vomiting and possible constipation (sorry for the extensive detail. HA)). The last three rounds of the chemo, I will have muscle aches and pain. Overall I think it will make for a lovely few months. I'm quite sure I will be very pleasant through it all, you should come visit me and keep me company (i.e. hold my hair).

- During my chemo, I will have a lower white blood cell count than usual, putting me at higher risk for infections (as they fight infections). So, infections that normally wouldn't be of much concern, could potentially...well, kill me. I've been informed a number of times, that if my temperature ever goes above 100°F, I need to proceed to the nearest hospital immediately. No passing Go, no collecting $200.

- To reduce the likelihood of any sort of infection, I will likely be giving myself shots for the first 10 days of each of my chemo cycles (6 cycles total). I mean, I'm no math whiz, but seems like a whole lot of shots.

- HOWEVER, Before my chemo begins, I have a barrage of test that have to be run. I have appointment comin out the wazoo right now. Liver ultrasounds, Bone scans, Echocardiograms, dentist, blood work. I'm starting to feel like a human pin-cushion, and I know it's only going to get worse for the next few months.

I'll tell ya, if I wasn't nervous about chemo before I went into that meeting, I sure was afterward. I knew that I could get pretty sick and I knew that my immune functioning would be impaired, but I didn't quite grasp to what extent until I spoke with them, and my mother cousin who has been through it about a year and a half ago.
Kinda scary stuff.

Apart from all of that, I'm feeling pretty good right now.
I still get tired fairly easy, but I'm getting more resilient.
As for my range of motion, I have regained it almost entirely. I'm still really stiff in the mornings and at night, but I'm happy with my recovery.
There was awhile there when I though that I would likely never be able to get into down dog again, but I tried to do a little yoga yesterday and I had no problem (Adam, don't be angry).

Thanks to everyone for all the support pictures you have posted. They make me smile (read: borderline teary eyed) every time I see them. :)
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