Tag Archives: breast cancer and baldness

Cancer Free for Seven Years

Last week I went in for my annual mammogram and much to my delight it came back free and clear. After going through breast cancer treatment, I get in for my annual test and I do monthly breast checks as well without fail. After plowing through cancer treatment I never want to do it again. EVER! So what, you may ask, is going on now? It has been a number of years since I posted a cancer update for you all so it’s about time I caught up with you and tell you what I’m experiencing now. Some unexpected things happened during cancer treatment, and a few things are still going on that I personally would have thought would be long past.

Hair loss. Unless you are a recluse, most people know that hair loss is a normal side effect of cancer treatment. There are different degrees of hair loss, but a majority of people do go completely bald. As in no hair anywhere. Think of all those places – head, arms, arm pits, legs, ears, sinuses, and feet. Oh, and let’s not forget all those places between the navel and the knees. What I didn’t realize is that sometimes all that hair doesn’t come back.

Seven years later I still don’t have to shave my legs, although I have been forced to shave my armpits about once every two months. I save a lot on shaving supplies (ha-ha). The only part of all this, that I am actually bummed about, is that not all the hair on my head came back and I lost half an eyebrow. Mind you, the hair on my head is fewer strands rather than patchy bald spots. The patchiness does happen to some people and my heart goes out to anyone who has patches.

Chemo-brain. My doctor said this would go away pretty quickly post-treatment, but mine took quite awhile. I am happy to say that I’m back to my normal crazy self, so there’s that. It did take about five years though.

Breast pain. This one is still chasing me and may never be completely gone. What does it feel like? At times it is a discomfort as if the tissue in my breast has been over stretched. Other times I will get a shooting pain from the lumpectomy site across my breast and up my nipple. All in all these pains are not horrible, but just enough to be uncomfortable. I am told that these strange pains will probably be with me forever. Personally, I hope they will be gone once I pass on to the next phase after death. If not, I’ll be back to haunt my doctor.

The anxiety that cancer will return is always there. Most of the time it sits quietly in the furthest places of my mind, but every time I do a self exam, or have an upcoming appointment, I get little panic attacks. These are not the full blown, debilitating attacks that some people face, but more of a moment of fear. It is just enough to make my heart bump a little harder, and my emotions to regress back to when I was diagnosed.

All in all my health is good. Even though I never had any life changing epiphanies (I think that’s more myth anyway), I am thankful to wake up every day. I am grateful to be able to hike and enjoy nature. Most of all I am thankful to all of the doctors and nurses who were there for me (and still are) especially to those who held my hand whenever I needed strength to get through treatments.

Going through treatment for any kind of cancer just plain sucks, and for anyone who is in the midst of it, all I can say is, HANG IN THERE!! You can do it. Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. When you reach the other side you’ll be thankful that the pain and agony are behind you. Lean on your loved ones. They want to help and support you. If you don’t have anyone to help support you, then join a cancer recovery group. You can find information about these types of groups online (Google is good for this). The American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute are both good resources.

Make a difference by donating to your charity of choice. Support the fight against Breast Cancer!


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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!

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Make a difference by donating to your charity of choice. Support the fight against Breast Cancer!


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