One Week since first treatment

It’s been a week since my first chemotherapy treatment.  I’d be a liar if I said it’s been easy.  Mind you, no one ever said it would be. 

The treatment itself went famously.  With Andy by my side, I spent about 3 hours at the cancer clinic last Thursday.  Given it was my first visit, there was a bit of extra dialogue and explanation of what was going to happen.  My chemo nurse Steph was THE best!  She was super caring, thorough and had a smile on her face the whole time.  In total I will have 6 rounds of chemotherapy.  My treatment is known as the FEC-D protocol.  The first three sessions (21 days apart) include the drugs Fluorouracil, Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide.   My final three sessions (also 21 days apart) will include the drug Docetaxel.  If the names alone don’t scare one into submission, then the side effects surely will.  (Epirubicin has the unnerving nickname of “Red Devil” – see pic)

Andy and I left the cancer clinic shortly after 1 pm.  I recall looking at the digital clock in our vehicle and it read 1:08.  I turned to Andy and said “1:08 and I feel great!”  We both enjoyed a brief smile, but knew that feeling likely wouldn’t last.  Fast forward a couple hours.  “3:22 and I feel like poo”.   Yes, the side effects of my first treatment came on that fast.  Wave after wave of the most intense nausea hit my like a freight train.  It’s like the worst morning sickness or flu bug that just won’t go away.  Fortunately I never did purge, but I wonder if that would’ve given me some relief.  Needless to say, my Thursday afternoon/evening and Friday were a nauseous blur.  I cried quite a bit.  I felt miserable, vulnerable and scared.  Is this what every treatment is going to be like? 

Saturday arrived and I felt a bit better.  Woo hoo!  I mean, not good enough to throw a party, but well enough to eat something other than crackers and cheese.  The nausea was still present, but not nearly as bad.  I was on my third & final day of the hi-test anti-nausea drugs I’d been prescribed, but took comfort in knowing I had another prescription standing by should I need it. 

I awakened Sunday morning to even less nausea.  In fact, it was almost all gone.  WOW!  Could the worst be behind me?  I was buoyed by the fact I could get out of bed and head to the kitchen to have a real breakfast with Andy and the boys.  Those family moments that I cherish so much had been nonexistent since Thursday’s treatment.  I was having a good day.  No, I was having a great day ....until about early afternoon.  That’s when a new and extremely unpleasant sensation came over me.  I was having trouble swallowing and felt this bizarre pressure in my upper chest and throat.  Ah, this must be the acid reflux that can come with chemo.  I assumed that’s what it was, even though I didn’t feel the burning that usually comes with reflux.   Slumber was elusive that night as I tried to sleep with my upper body propped up.  In the wee hours, I scoured Google to find out what foods I should and shouldn’t eat to combat reflux.  After a banana and bowl of oatmeal, I finally fell asleep. 

Monday morning arrived and the throat/chest discomfort was still present.  I was also now experiencing shortness of breath and my voice was hoarse.  Hmm, maybe this isn’t reflux after all.  After a bit of humming and hawing, I decided to call the nurses hotline at the cancer clinic.  The nurse was lovely and advised me to take a couple of Tums and head straight to the ER.  What?  I guess when I said it ‘felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest’; she was worried and knew she couldn’t diagnose me over the phone.  I thanked her for her time and promptly downed a couple Tums.  I was sure that would do the trick.  Nope.

I was a little freaked out, so I called my best friend.  She battled breast cancer herself this past year, but I didn’t recall her ever talking about these kinds of symptoms.  When she heard me struggling to get air, she agreed I should have it checked out right away.  Luckily I got into my family doctor within the hour.  After a check of my vitals, my doc decided to send me for an immediate CT scan.  She wasn’t sure, but suspected I may have a PE (pulmonary embolism) or blood clot in my lung.  Cue the waterworks on the drive over to KGH.  Unfortunately the more I cried, the harder it was to breath.  Andy kept me as calm as he could as we made our way to the hospital. 

Now, I’m going to cut right to the chase.  The CT scan was NEGATIVE for anything serious!!  No PE!!!  No clots!!!  Hallelujah!!!   In talking to one of the nurses after my scan, I learned that inflammation of the esophagus and/or lungs was the likely cause.  I guess you never really know how your body will react to chemo, until you go through it.  I’m thrilled to say the discomfort in my chest/throat is easing every day and will likely be gone soon...at least for this cycle. 

Chemo #2 is set for March 14th.  I have incredibly mixed emotions about that day....more so than my first treatment.  What’s that old saying?  “Ignorance is bliss”.  I had no clue what to expect during/after my first session, but I can’t say that now.  While I’m incredibly nervous to face similar side effects next time, I take a smidge of comfort in knowing what to expect.  Plus I have to keep reminding myself that chemotherapy is such an brutal bastard because he has to do battle with the ultimate enemy; cancer. 

©This blog courtesy of Tamara Lindsay’s personal journal. If you have health concerns/questions, please consult your family doctor.  Learn more about breast cancer awareness and prevention at www.cancer.ca Thank you for supporting #TeamTj