My breast cancer journey begins

Discussion in 'Medical Topics' started by kath, Nov 10, 2020.

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  1. Half Fast

    Half Fast Final Approach

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    That makes sense. I have to take an immunosuppressant for autoimmune liver disease, and one of the side effects of the med is that I've become more prone to skin cancers. My dermatologist sees me every 6 months and so far that's letting us catch problems while they're still in the pre-cancer stage. We tried stretching it to 9 months some years back, but found that long of an interval let a squamous cell pop up so we went back to 6.
     
  2. kath

    kath Administrator Management Council Member

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    An update:

    I'm now 2.5 weeks into Chemo. The first week: about a day and a half of sleep and couch-time before I was feeling OK. "This isn't so bad!" I thought. The second week was harder, intestinal and skin side effects kicking in, and more like five days on the couch, work not getting done and emails from students piling up. "Because the effects are cumulative," they say. Great. Only 25 weeks to go.

    Week Three is a week off to recover, and I'm feeling more or less like myself again. Never has a normal bowel movement felt more like a triumph! My energy and appetite are back too. On Thursday, the "two weeks on, one week off" cycle will begin anew.

    Yesterday morning, I found I was pulling out hair in the shower. Time for the preemptive strike that we knew was coming! Paul set his trimmer to 1/2-inch and went to town. So I'm now sporting a Ripley/G.I.Jane-esque "ready to battle post-apocalypse zombies/robots/aliens" haircut. I'm actually rather enjoying it. An intermediate phase on the way to Full Billiard Ball, I imagine.

    We missed Thanksgiving entirely, but Christmas will fall during a Week Off, so I think we'll just turn it into ChrisThanksMasHannuGivingKah. And then I plan to go on partial medical leave for the spring semester, which hopefully means less stress overall. I can see how all of this can turn into a "rhythm" that you can get used to, once you know what to expect from each week.
     
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  3. jsstevens

    jsstevens Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    Press on and listen to your body. When it says stay on the couch, stay on the couch-no guilt and no regrets.

    There are ups and downs ahead for sure, but ride with it.

    John
     
  4. Cap'n Jack

    Cap'n Jack Final Approach

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    Take it a day and week at a time.
     
  5. JoeSelch

    JoeSelch Pattern Altitude PoA Supporter

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    Thanks for the update, Kath! Been wondering about you ...
     
  6. Tom-D

    Tom-D Taxi to Parking

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    If it makes you feel better, my hair fell out about 20 years ago.

    We believe you will see this thru just fine.
     
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  7. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    Been bald since I was 17. Keep up the faith Kath. You can do Physics at home, right? Aren't you one of those Physicists who just needs a blackboard and some chalk? Make the TA's deal with the undergrads, that's what they (the TA's) are there for.
     
  8. gkainz

    gkainz Final Approach

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    My wife's a hairdresser and has done the pre-emptive haircut for a number of chemo patients. She says it feels as hard for her as she believes it is for them. Most of mine (hair) abandoned ship years ago due to genetics.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  9. write-stuff

    write-stuff En-Route

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    Wishing you strength and peace. If things seem overbearing, grit your teeth and laugh like a pirate!
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  10. Half Fast

    Half Fast Final Approach

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    Kath, I know this will be a long and difficult road, but at least there is a road and you’re making progress on it! I know you will beat this. Praying for you.
     
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  11. Stephen Poole

    Stephen Poole Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Kath, I just saw this. You're in my prayers.
     
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  12. WDD

    WDD Pattern Altitude

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    Kath - wishing you the best in this new year.
     
  13. bbchien

    bbchien Touchdown! Greaser!

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    AMEN.
     
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  14. Half Fast

    Half Fast Final Approach

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    @kath , any updates? How are you doing?
     
  15. RonP

    RonP Pre-takeoff checklist

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    When my wife was going thru chemo and started losing her hair in the shower she had her head shaved as you did. A good friend bought her a special wig I called the “Larry Fine wig” as in Larry of the 3 Stooges. I called it that because it was a normal wig except for a 4 inch diameter hole in the top. The purpose of the hole is so you can wear a ball cap to help keep the wig on and your head does not overheat. She looked great with the wig and ball cap in the summer. Not sure where my friend bought it but may be something to consider. You will get thru this!
     
  16. kath

    kath Administrator Management Council Member

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    Thanks @Half Fast, for checking in!

    I'm just over halfway through the chemo regimen... 14 weeks down and 13 to go. Still alive and plodding through.

    Every Thursday (except for weeks off), I go to an infusion center at the hospital. It's a big room with panoramic windows with a quite astounding view of the city and the mountains. There are about 10 recliner chairs sparsely spaced around the edges of the room next to the windows. Because of COVID, loved ones aren't allowed in to hang out with you (or to even come into the building). I do sometimes see other patients who are "regulars", but in general the patients don't talk to each other, I think because we all try to maintain an illusion of privacy for each other in this big room without any.

    It's taken me many weeks, but I finally know the multisyllabic names of all four of the big drugs that I'm on. Week One of each cycle, I get all four of them -- I call this "the Full Chumbawumba" (a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink, and a cider drink). I'll be in there for about six hours. In Week Two, I get just one of the big drugs -- the nastiest one, which is called "Taxol" for short. That visit is only two or three hours. Since this stuff can cause neuropathy in the extremities, I bring a cooler of ice with me to each infusion session so that I can have my fingers and toes chilled during the Taxol Hour; supposedly this shrinks the capillaries and helps prevent neuropathy. Taxol Hour is preceded by several anti-nausea pre-drugs, as well as Benadryl, whose woozy effects I'll be feeling for the rest of the day. Everything is delivered via my "Mediport" (I call it the "keg tap") which is a little device installed near my shoulderblade that feeds easily into a vein.

    Some of the side effects of chemo have words (like "queasiness" or "diarrhea" or "fatigue") but some are things that there aren't medical terms for, such as "the feeling that the skin you're wearing is the wrong size" or "sensitive to touch, as if you have a bruise, only everywhere". Most of the time, the main side effect is what I call "half speed". Just everything slow. Body and mind. All in all, it is bearable. Week Three is a week off to recover, and during those weeks I feel more or less like myself again.

    One of the worst side effects is hot flashes. They appear because my tumor feeds on estrogen, so I'm also on an estrogen-blocker, effectively inducing menopause early. Now, let me say, if you have a Woman Of A Certain Age in your life who is going through this, be kind to her. Hot flashes are mis. er. a. ble. It's not like just sweating on a hot day -- it's (again) the feeling that your body's basic internal functioning has gone bonkers.

    When I asked the doc's about the hot flashes, I was told that I could consider taking one of a couple of anti-anxiety medications (Effexor or Gabapentin), which some studies show helps a little. I immediately thought of my future medical, and having to explain that to the FAA. Politely declined. I guess I'll just endure the hot flashes.

    The hair thing... being the most outwardly-obvious side effect of chemo, it's the one people find easiest to have conversations about. (Certainly it makes better conversation than gastrointestinal distress!) However, I assure you all that losing my hair is the side-effect that has had the least impact on my life. No wigs or nuthin. Just wear it. This being Alaska, I wouldn't go outside without a warm hat anyway. The hair hasn't 100% gone, but it is just very very thin, so I just keep the head shaved. Paul acts as my own local baldness and scalp care advisor, and seems to enjoy having a partner in pate. I do miss my eyebrows a little; their absence is eerie.

    I'm on partial medical leave at the university, so still teaching and doing research, but not carrying a full load. A good balance, I think.

    A couple weeks ago, we both got Pfizer shot number one, due to a timely "end of the day, and we don't want to waste any doses" take-all-comers type of situation. It was super-uplifting in a way that I wasn't expecting. Gave us both a positive outlook on the future. Number two next week.

    No flying since October.
     
  17. weilke

    weilke Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Glad to hear you are plodding along without any major hickups.

    Isn't that the craziest thing. You are in the middle of treatment that can make you severely immunodeficient yet you had to rely on getting the vaccine through a fortuitous planning error. At the same time, plenty of people 1/2 your age with zero risk factors received the vaccine under 'continuity of government' or 'healthcare' group 1a even if government could easily do without them or they work in a healthcare admin position without patient contact.
     
  18. tspear

    tspear En-Route

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    Glad to see you are continuing to push through.

    Thinking of hot flashes, a couple decades ago I had a young Asian programmer who was barely 5ft tall and soaking wet might be 100lbs, (She is an awesome programmer, and we are still friends today) we visited a senior accounting group for the Navy in CA, most of these women were in their mid fifties. My poor programmer friend was shivering and holding her hands over the heat coming off projector while the accountants all bickered if the room was still too hot.

    Tim
     
  19. JoeSelch

    JoeSelch Pattern Altitude PoA Supporter

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    Good to hear from you Kath!
    Clearly, I did not consume enough beer with you to fully appreciate the outlook you've adopted.
    Yes, lack of eyebrows is kinda creepy.

    Glad to know you're hangin' in there!
     
  20. Tarheelpilot

    Tarheelpilot En-Route

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    Glad to hear you are doing ok all things considered.
     
  21. wsuffa

    wsuffa Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Hang in there! I sense a great attitude that will help you through the process!
     
  22. Brad Z

    Brad Z Final Approach

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    Points for the 1996 Chumbawumba reference. Nice.

    Thanks for the update...we're pullin' for ya!
     
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  23. kath

    kath Administrator Management Council Member

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    It occurs to me I should probably footnote the reference, for the non-Gen-Xers....
    Save ya the trouble of googling...
     
  24. Cap'n Jack

    Cap'n Jack Final Approach

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    We're all pulling for you, thanks for the update.
    Taxol takes me back a few years. We found it in the yew bushes many people plant around their houses, but we got "scooped" on that discovery. It is a "natural product" from the Pacific Yew tree. The compound is called "paclitaxel". It interferes with cell division by binding to the microtubules that pull the chromosomes apart when the cells divide- it prevents them from falling apart. It's made from cell culture now. http://www.pharmacognosy.us/wp-content/uploads/The-Story-of-Taxol.pdf
     
  25. Half Fast

    Half Fast Final Approach

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    Wow. So sorry you have to deal with all this, but at the same time I’m very grateful that a treatment exists for you. Sounds like you’re maintaining a good attitude, and that’s much of the battle right there.

    Prayers continuing. Hang in there. You will make it past this!
     
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  26. jsstevens

    jsstevens Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    My mom was on Taxol about 2 years ago. For her it worked very effectively and she only had a few days of things tasting “off”. I hope you have no more side effects than she did. Her cancer was advanced and the Dr was clear from the beginning that this was not going to cure her but it did get her a year of good quality life.
     
  27. AggieMike88

    AggieMike88 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    The original "I don't know it all" of aviation.
    Good to hear you’re doing well...

    Now that I’m a CFI, I am laughing at the fact that I enjoy teaching the “middle-agers” because they get my jokes and pop culture references. And the younger ones just sit there politely with a confused look.... especially when I said the secret to good landings was to be Michael Jackson and not Steve Martin (Smooth Operator versus a Jerk) or a use a quote from Airplane!
     
  28. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    Science time. Taxol inhibits the shortening of little widgets called microtubules. Cancer cells need the widgets to divide, if they can't get shorter they don't work. Problem is lots of other cells rely on them too, hence side effects. Naturally sourced anticancer drug, came for the Pacific Yew tree. Makes a pretty good argument for maintaining biodiversity.

    Stem cells also divide and get the whammy from Taxol. Your skin has them, you intestinal lining has them as well as your hair follicles. Lots of other places too, lots of side effects. Bad time, I know. Still beats dying of cancer. Glad you don't have to shoulder a full load.