Monday, March 3, 2008

Chemo six of six: Phase One (of three) done

Message is long, bottom line:
Finished Chemo Six of Six -- phase one (of three) done.
Radiation is up next. I start the basics next week, radiation itself on March 17.
Things are going pretty well overall, and I am riding on all your support and am very grateful for it.

Monday, day before chemo:

Well, my final chemo for this segment is tomorrow and I wish I could say I was psyched, but mostly, I'm feeling like I can check one thing off my list. Whew. But I'm not counting my chickens, blood counts have to be good, and I wasn't as focused on building them this time around.

Since I last wrote, my life seems to be a series of "be careful what you wish for."

Wish #1: Tattoo on my lower back

I used to wish for this, but I'm over this one now. I guess I forgot to tell the Universe.

I met with the radiology oncologist last week, to go over the risks and "rewards" of radiation therapy, to help me decide whether or not to do it.

My radiation oncologist and his resident are truly a funky team. He is about my age, Asian, very kind, nice and smart. Seems to be reserved. His resident is this tall, beautiful black woman with braids all over that reach the middle of her back. She wears stylish clothing and heels. I was in awe and I LOVED her style!

He went over all the risks, both short term and long term, as well as the benefits they feel it has.

The main benefit: it reduces the risk of recurrence in the same area. This is good because, well, no one wants yet another cancer. Much less, the same cancer. I mean, been there, done that. And, for the area where my cancer was, if it recurs there, my quality of life would be impacted. No shit. okay, don't take that literally, just a little colon humor! It is just that cancer impacts your quality of life anyway, so it was a funny way for him to describe it. And, a recurrence in the rectal area is more difficult to catch and treat. (The chemo I've been having reduces the risk of distant recurrence, but not local recurrence.)

Risks: I won't go into the long list of risks here, except to say one of the risks is of a second cancer developing. Given that this is already my second cancer, this risk does not seem small to me. So we talked about the types of cancers that might result, etc. so that I can monitor that as well as I can. Ugh.

Oh, and it is likely to throw me into menopause. Menopause and chemo -- what a combo. Watch out world!

Because I have two small children and I'm basically still a product of Catholic school, I tend to defer to authority. Still, I thought alot about this, and my husband (a radiologist) researched it as well. I decided to take a deep breath and move forward with it.

Thank you to everyone who gave me cautions and questions and positive comments for the radiation therapy. It helped alot in preparing for that meeting, exploring the facts and my own feelings.

So, next Monday (March 10), I get a CT scan so that they can give me tattoos on my lower back to precisely mark where they should position the machine day after day. The tattoos will be dots the size of a freckle; I can always turn them into an interesting design later.

Wish #2: Maintain my current weight

After my surgery in October, I lost 15 lbs. Since starting chemo, I gained about a pound every two weeks. (You get weighed every time you step into that doctor's office, so I know. I never used to weigh myself. Now I feel like I am on Weight Watchers.)

Last week, I reached the point where I said, okay, I've gained enough weight for now. Mostly, I said it to myself (and now, you), because no one wants to hear a chemo patient complain about GAINING weight.

Then, over the weekend, I had some -- let's call them complications -- and the doctors wanted to explore further before continuing my chemotherapy or radiation. As in, make sure there were no new tumors (we have since learned that there are not).

Sometimes this feels like a game show -- cancer in the lymph nodes? BING -- you win chemo. Complications from your colon? BING -- you win a colonoscopy.

I was quite impressed with how quickly they could schedule the colonoscopy. While it is nice to get an appointment right away, you know it means that the doctors are concerned. In the prep, I lost a few pounds. Hmmm. Not exactly the WAY I wanted to maintain my weight, but I guess I got my wish....

I feel like I am rubbing Aladdin's magic lantern and just saying all the wrong things! After all this, I will be more thoughtful about my wishes.

Wish #3: Feel less like a "patient"

Last week, the Boston Globe had an article on Designer Hospital Gowns! So, I'm very excited about selecting one or two of these to wear for my treatments. They are a little pricey (by my cheapo standards) and I plan to burn them after this is all done, so I don't want to buy too many. But I'm thrilled to find them.

Chemo day:

Thankfully, I was able to get this last treatment -- little happy dance here.

My white and red counts were good, but I learned today that my liver numbers have been steadily increasing, so today they lowered the dose of some of my chemo. I guess the idea of getting chemo is to kill as many cells as possible without killing the person. So even though I am feeling pretty good overall, it is affecting my liver. It should rebound, though. It felt a little like a downer, like I didn't get to go the distance, but it is also important to learn where the boundary is.

Today was pretty low-key -- it was nice to have some visitors, and I got my favorite chair with a great view of Boston.

So, here we go, again with the anti-nausea, anti-constipation drugs, the fatigue and neuropathy. It is kind of a familiar routine at this point. And it's done for awhile.

I can't thank you enough for all your support, in so many ways. I know that some of you from far away feel like you can do nothing but send good vibes, but those are HUGE, as is everything that those of you nearby have done to support me and my family.

Love, Marie

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