Breast cancer treatment, in fast-forward

The short version: some time ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatment. After a round of chemotherapy and surgery, I have no detectable cancer. You never know with cancer, but this is as close to a happy ending as I’ll get any time soon!

Why I’m making this post: Breast cancer happens to so many people that it ought to be discussed as matter-of-factly as, say, a broken arm or leg, but it usually isn’t. And not talking about things can make them scarier, and people who are scared sometimes put off their mammograms. Don’t do that. They can save your life, and they can also save your breasts.

Preliminaries aside, here is a collection of social media posts that chart my journey over the course of about six months. They’re all pretty upbeat and optimistic, and yeah, that was my attitude overall, but do bear in mind that I made these posts when I was feeling well enough to post.

OK, so – deep breath – a couple weeks ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Routine mammogram, stage 1, and because I am “young” (for breast cancer at least) I will start an aggressive chemotherapy and hormone therapy. Obviously I have all kinds of feelings but it’s easier for me if I keep things matter-of-fact when I give news. Any and all good thoughts / healing prayers / whatever you’ve got are greatly appreciated. Also, if you’ve been delaying anything: GET SCREENED! Cancer=bad but early=good. In all likelihood I will not need a full masectomy. Because early.

Grateful! For all the support expressed regarding my breast cancer diagnosis. Various people have offered help and I haven’t responded yet but I will, and also appreciate greatly. My chemo/hormone infusions will start on the 9th. It’s good because the longer I wait the more anxious I get.

First day of chemo today. I have an awesome support system at the ready so my plan is to go there and then somebody else takes care of everything.

Yesterday’s chemo went well and I had lots of family to take care of everything! Mom took me to the infusion, made sure I had food & drink, got the attention of the nurses, figured out my “cooling gloves” and footies, plugged in my cell phone etc etc etc. No reaction to the drugs. Went home and went to bed and got waited on. Spouse made up a chart of which medicine to take when. We had a family activity of Kahoot! which we always find hilarious. I’m expected to have some energy through the weekend because of a steroid they gave and then crash on Monday. Today’s main job is drink 2 liters of water.

EDIT: 2 liters of water accomplished and it’s only 9:47 p.m. Dang, that was hard.

One week in to chemo, and with luck I’m past the worst of the side effects. Tired but doing well. The oncologist took blood (why does everyone want my blood???) and everything is going as expected.

Before I lose all my hair – a new haircut!

General update: Chemo yesterday, went as well as can be expected, I’m feeling reasonably well today. I had my very first Definite Hot Flash after chemo was done.

General update: About 10 days into my 2nd chemo cycle, I think I’m past most of the worst side effects. And they weren’t too terribly bad. But I’m more tired than last time around. Spouse gave me a 1/4 inch buzz cut yesterday! No pic to share yet – must figure out a pose. My hair had been hurting quite a bit and the buzz cut helps a lot.

Today’s update: Yesterday’s oncologist visit showed me on track with stuff. She was quite happy with the quality of my food intake. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” White blood count is up after Granix shots (they stimulate the bone to make more cells). Red blood count is gradually going down, accounting for my tiredness, and will continue to go down thru the whole thing. Next treatment is on the 20th, and over the weekend I plan to have some ideas put together for what kinds of help to ask folks for. Food is a tricky wicket in our household as everyone eats something different, but I’ve got some ideas.

Today’s update: chemo today. I actually enjoy the infusion because they pump me full of Benadryl and then I sit there in an easy chair with a pillow and blanket and my mom next to me, listening to an audiobook and dozing while people bring me drinks and stuff. I put cold packs on my hands and feet for part of the time and that is less fun.

Reckless human experimentation on myself: I’m going to drink 4 ounces of milk and see what happens. (Lactose intolerance is a chemo side effect. Because I might have it, I’ve been off milk for nearly a week, which is the longest since I was in elementary school and allergic.) Should be informative.

EDIT: I appear not to be lactose intolerant. That’s good. I like milk.

Update: my chemo infusion got postponed by a week because my white blood count was too low. On the plus side, I temporarily have extra energy. On the minus side, that extends treatment a week. I am eager to have it done with.

Update: It’s been about two weeks since my last chemo infusion and I’m feeling pretty well. The first 7 days I was much more exhausted than any time prior. The first 10 days I couldn’t really eat what I wanted. My digestive system is saying, “excuse me, WHAT did you just put into me? Effective immediately, all food subject to inspection and expulsion.” On the happy side of things, yesterday I discovered hot almond milk with carob powder. Yum. Midwinter break was a welcome interruption from life stress and I went for walks in the park with family. My next infusion is scheduled for the 9th and the LAST ONE (knock on wood) the 31st. That would put my immune system back on track in a few weeks. Lumpectomy probably a month and a half later. Then radiation. And a year of hormone therapy – more infusions every 3 weeks but nowhere near as bad as chemo.

Infusion today! 5th out of 6th, so the end is in sight. All well wishes are much appreciated and do help me keep my spirits up

This is the day in my chemo cycle where I’m emotionally at a low point. I’m feeling “left behind” with so many people lifting covid precautions — it’s like the rest of the world gets to go back to normal, but not my family. Seattle Public Schools made an abrupt change in plan to eliminate universal masking earlier than previously announced, and that just makes me feel worse. Tomorrow I’ll feel cheerier, but honestly, today I just want to wallow.

On the upswing. Mood, energy, and digestion all improving. I craved tater tots, which is a good sign. On the down side, they weren’t tater tots! They were “crowns.” Like if you took out the middle, which is the potato part. Don’t get me wrong–I still ate them. But the actual tater tots will have to be another day.

Ran a fever yesterday – my white blood counts got low. Rest, water, cranberry juice, and Granix (a shot that tells my bone marrow to make more blood cells) and now the fever is gone. But I am in my “nadir” – the point where my white blood count is lowest. The chemo drugs are still killing them for about another week, and I get these Granix shots, and with any luck everything balances out. I will rest more today.

Good energy today, and my white blood count is up. Looking forward to 8 more good days until the next (and LAST!) infusion. (Knocks on wood.)

Tomorrow’s chemo will disrupt my ability to read; nonetheless, today I went to Third Place Books and treated myself.

Today was my last chemo infusion – now I get 3 or 4 weeks of feeling crappy. But every day will be a little bit better. Also, I LOVE the book Ten Steps to Nanette. Everyone should read it. Humor, wisdom, perceptiveness, an unflinching look at reality, being unabashedly herself, exceptional comic timing, good buildup, empathy, forgiveness, I just don’t even know what-all.

When I am feeling better, I will have to pick up the parts of life that I have put down. I am frankly terrified at the concept.

Spent the morning polishing up a chart I made of my symptoms over the course of chemo. I recommend doing it because it helps things feel less unpredictable. Notable findings –

  • worst exhaustion was days 1-9
  • stomach acid worst days 3-8 but improved from cycle to cycle because I learned to eat smaller and simpler meals
  • if I ran a fever, it was day 8 or 9
  • thrush of the mouth happened days 4-8
  • if I had a nosebleed, it was day 7
  • diarrhea was days 4-10

I’m on day 11 of my last cycle! Not fully out of the woods . . . I expect some symptoms to continue a while because effects are cumulative. I’m also continuing with hormone therapy, so some will continue to recur but with me being much more prepared. I plan to make good friends with Imodium.

Also I’m getting a 2nd Covid booster on Monday, so next week might be a roller coaster!

Update: With chemo finished, I got an MRI and it showed an “excellent” response. What exactly that means I don’t know for sure, but it’s looking likely that the cancer is all gone. If that is the case, I still have a lumpectomy in my future, most likely in late May, and then nine months of hormone treatments, and then five to ten years of estrogen pills!!! If I am unlucky and it is discovered after the surgery that any cancer was left, I will have to do more chemo. Grateful for the state of modern medicine, that all this is possible.

The lumpectomy is Wednesday, along with the biopsy that will tell me whether or not any detectable cancer is left. Obviously, I’m shooting for NOT. Currently pondering what kind of foods I will want to eat as I recover. Tapioca pudding is as far as I got so far. Maybe pumpkin pie. Tuna fish? Pros and cons there.

Hooray!!! The post-surgery pathology report showed no detectable cancer! The chemo + targeted hormonal drugs got rid of it. Woohoo! There’s always the chance of some sneaky cells hiding out, so I still have to do four weeks of radiation and seven more months of drug infusions (just not chemo yay) and then ten years of pills. Yeah that’s a lot. But I’m very happy.

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