Enduring the route of traditional medicine, for me, was the best choice for this type of cancer. Aggressive cancer had to be treated with aggressive medications. Chemotherapy followed by a surgery of some kind (lumpectomy or mastectomy – depending on the chemo results), then radiation treatments. The entire process would start late December and end sometime in August. Eight months. Eight very long months.
On December 23 my first treatment was administered. Two drugs, Paclitaxel and the study drug, were given via IV through a port that was surgically inserted under the skin of my chest wall. It was all very sci-fi. Sitting in a recliner with intense drugs dripping into my body. It made me think of the song “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons (this is a better version of the video IMHO). I felt like it was the end of days, breathing in all the chemicals, becoming radioactive (no, chemotherapy is NOT radioactive). Very surreal to say the least. “Radioactive” became my theme song for the next 7 months.
Every week I joined 20-30 other people in treatment. We were all there for different cancers, but to think that everyday of the week up to 40 people could be in the infusion room being treated for some kind of cancer. The treatment center consisted of a long hall with treatment bays jutting off on both sides. The hall, with forty bays, forty recliners, treating up to forty people, stretched out in front of me, yet compressing into me at the same time. My perspective on how rampant cancer is has changed forever.
Earlier I mentioned a study drug. I thought I should give page time to this study. When I learned of all the possible treatments I faced (there were actually not very many choices) my oncologist also told me about a study drug in the final phase of testing before FDA approval. The trial, called i-Spy 2, was an added drug that gave an extra “kick” to the standard taxol. I have always supported non-profits that helped in finding cures for all cancers (especially the American Cancer Society) and now I could put my best breast – or foot – forward because I was the research. It is amazing to see the strides that have been made to find the cure for so many cancers and I am impressed by how far treatments have come. It is through clinical trials, like i-Spy2, that have helped move research forward.
Treatment itself was fairly straight forward. The docs checked my blood, my weight, and my vitals to be sure I was in good shape. Then I headed down to the center, took a seat and waited for the nurse. I was given anti-nausea meds, antihistamines, then the taxel and the study drug. It all took 3-4 hours and then I went home. I felt fine for the first 3 days, then, every week, on day 3 I would start to feel the drugs’ effects. I got quite tired (sleeping for 12-15 hours was new for me) and felt some stomach upset, but never really got overly sick. I was lucky, and I did what my doctor told me; walk as much as you can, was the prescribed exerciser program. I was also to continue with Pilates for as long as I could. So, I walked. Some days I made three miles and some days I made it across the living room.No matter how far I got, I walked nearly EVERYDAY.
I firmly believe that walking was the key to keeping my side effects to a minimum. What I did get were rashes. At one point I had rashes on my rashes. The effects would last 3-4 days and just as I started to feel better the routine would start all over again. This went on for 12 weeks.
Then the big guns were pulled out; Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxin) commonly referred to as A/C, were the second set of drugs I was given. I don’t recall ever being so sick in my life (although when I had viral meningitis…that was a close second to this). The effects hit immediately following the infusion and lasted, to some degree or another, right up to the next infusion. By the forth, and last, treatment I thought I would never be able to move again, and I was completely bald (bald is defined here as: every hair on every square inch from my toes to the top of my head was gone…just think about all the places you have hair.) I also had chemo-brain so badly that I could barely string a sentence together. I had to quit driving. Everything hurt and if I still had hair I’m sure that would have hurt as well.
All of this sounds quite miserable (and it was…more like a living hell actually), BUT it saved my life. Back in November I thought I was going to die. If the cancer didn’t kill me, I was sure the treatment would. After 16+ weeks of medical treatments, another biopsy, and two more MRIs, the tumor had shrunk to half its original size, and the lymph node was back to normal size. Surgery and the biopsy results would be the final curtain call.
This is the end of Part 3 of a multi-post story. Part 4 will be coming soon!
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