Posts Tagged ‘liver

14
Apr
10

Iowa Stubborn? Nothing Compared to Greenlaw Stubborn.

The song says: And we’re so by God stubborn/we could stand touchin’ noses/for a week at a time/and never see eye to eye

Me? I’m just stupid-stubborn.

I can’t decide if it is a case that I felt as if I needed something I could control – we’re pumping all these poisons into my body to kill something that is out of control, but by God, I’m not going to take any drugs I don’t have to; or if it’s more that I felt I shouldn’t be having so much pain, so I refused to acknowledge (whine, yes; acknowledge, no) that I was nearly crippled by the pain I’ve been having.

Damn it all! I can take care of it by just ignoring it, trying to move through it, blogging about it; but take a pill, NO!

So instead I ended up at the ER for 5 hours last night because the pain in my chest was so bad that I knew Dr. Medici would have a fit if I didn’t go in. His concern is that chest pain could be a sign of another pulmonary embolism. I was guessing that it was just a new and interesting chemo side effect, but was willing to consider that maybe I’d gotten pneumonia again; as it turned out, it was nothing that could be identified, so the (very kind and sweet) ER doctor had a serious discussion with me about pain management.

Initially I refused to have them put a morphine drip into my IV, but they convinced me to have at least a little bit. After that kicked in, my brain (oddly enough, on morphine) cleared, because all of a sudden, I was down from a 6 – 7 on the pain scale to about a 2 – 3. I began to see the insanity inherent in my “no drugs” position – I don’t have to suffer, and if there’s some perverse sense of satisfaction at betraying my body which has betrayed me, then I really do need some sort of mental health counseling. And if it’s just being Greenlaw Stubborn (my maiden name – whatever else we are, stubborn is possibly the number one trait that my immediate family has in common), then it’s stupid-stubborn. I have my moments, but I’m not stupid. Not for long, anyway.

So I asked, “Please Ma’am, may I have some more?”

Today I called Dr. Medici and asked him for prescriptions for day/night pain pills. One of my reasons for not taking pain pills is that I don’t want to have my brain fogged; but I can see now that the pain had my brain fogged at least as much, if not more, than any pain pills will; plus the lack of sleep due to pain has just been fogging it more. I haven’t felt up to driving due to the pain and foggy-brain, so it’s not like I’ll be missing out on anything by not driving because I’m on pain pills.

My biggest worry is addiction. My mother was an alcoholic, and I have sworn that I would never allow myself to become addicted to anything (gaming excluded – not gambling, RPGs). I think this is truly the root of my concern about taking pain medication. Anything that is going to truly help is an opoid, thus addictive. I also have been trying to avoid taking insomnia medication for the same reason, but have been doing so when the pain was so bad that I just couldn’t sleep at all.

The good news there is that the more pain medication I take, the less insomnia medication I will have to take. At least if I do end up having to break an addiction, it’ll only be to one thing!

Also, I think it is pretty likely that a lot of my emotional distress has been caused by the pain – thinking that I’m less than one month into the rest of my life going through some form of treatment or another, and that much of it might be defined by the kind of pain I’ve been suffering has been extremely depressing. Yet another type of fog that should lift with the cessation of the pain.

So I’m waiting to hear back from the pharmacy on when my prescriptions will be ready. I have overcome my stubborn streak, at least this once. Hopefully any brainfog from the pain pills will be less than that garnered by the pain itself, and I can start to feel human again.

And seriously, I understand that I have reason to be depressed even without the pain; but that’s just not like me to be *so* depressed. I’m a strong woman, and typically have an optimistic outlook – it was a road I traveled for many years to get me to that state, but once I achieved it, it hasn’t been hard to find the positive mindset even under significant pressure. I look forward to getting back there.

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13
Apr
10

Chemo #3 – Days of whine and noses

The whine is mostly about a long list of side effects from the chemo – going in-depth on each one would be a very long, boring, and sometimes disgusting post. So instead, I will focus on the ones that are giving me the worst fits.

Abraxane, being a variant of Taxol (or Taxotere) has pretty much the same side effects. I’d hoped that having the different base would mean that some of the side effects would either not happen, or be less intense. No such luck.

By far the worst side effect is the pain. Muscle, joint, and bone pain all are omnipresent, and they get worse with the Neupogen and Neulasta shots to boost WBC and neutrophil counts. Bless Margaret, a lady I have yet to speak to other than by e-mail, for turning me on to the wonders of Claritin. I took a Claritin Friday instead of my usual OTC generic Zyrtec allergy pill, and had a nearly pain-free day. Saturday morning I had a Neulasta shot (because there’s two weeks between chemo 3 & 4; Neupogen is for when you have chemo every week). I checked with the oncologist about using the Claritin instead of the Zyrtec, and he said he’d heard anecdotal evidence that it helped control the pain with Neupogen shots.

Apparently it doesn’t work so well with the Neulasta shots, as Sunday and Monday I have been back to the incredible relentless pain; with the Neulasta it tends to focus in my long bones (femur, humerus), although I do have some joint issues in shoulders, elbows, knees, and hips as well. I’ve been taking at least two hot baths a day, usually with Epsom salts – that will temporarily relieve the pain. Brian massaged my ankles/knees/thighs and lower back last night, and that helped while he was doing it, but as soon as he finished, it was totally back.

I’m trying to get in a little bit of exercise each day, on the theory that if I don’t use it I’ll lose it; and in hopes that it will help with the pain. Yesterday I walked down to the mailbox with the dog, and it wasn’t a sure thing that I was going to make it back to the house – it completely exhausted me. I would say that the movement did help briefly with the pain. I also try to move around the house and go up and down the stairs as much as I can; although I got to the bottom of the stairs yesterday afternoon, and couldn’t go up, but couldn’t make it back to my chair. I sort of collapsed with my knees on the second stair, my forearms on the fourth stair, and my forehead on the fifth stair. Brian found me like this, and retrieved whatever it was I’d wanted from upstairs. He offered to help me back to my chair, but I was being stubborn and said “No, I’ll get there eventually”. And I did. I think he checked on me a couple times, though.

The other real PITA thing is all the problems with my nose and sinuses. I get bloody noses (mostly just a tinge of color, but indicative of more and worse to come). I get extremely congested, and can’t clear my nose, especially if I’m laying down. I use a saline/baking soda flush a couple times a day to help get it cleared out, but woe is me if I don’t do it at all. It’s like having a bloody cold. Yuck.

I guess the good news is that the flushes have become easy to do since I have to do them so often, so my reasons for not doing them just for my allergies have all gone by the wayside.

Oh yeah, and the mouth sores – those I thought I could avoid by having ice chips before the abraxane – it certainly worked with the adriamycin and the taxol; they’ve gotten better, but still hurt and make it difficult to brush my teeth.

Did I mention the exhaustion? So tired I can’t keep my eyes open, but often not sleepy enough to sleep. I’m not sure if it’s this that’s ruining my concentration, or early onset chemobrain. I’ve tried knitting on a hat I’ve had in the works, and keep messing it up. What the chemobrain doesn’t impact, the peripheral neuropathy does (thanks to adding in the Avastin this past week).

So, there, I ended up whining about more than I’d intended. I’m hoping that the weather is going to warm up some this week so maybe I can go lay in the backyard in the sun for a bit. I’m bored, mostly because I don’t have the focus or stamina to read, knit, bead, play games, etc. I still hold that, if I were retired, and without having to endure treatment of any kind, that I wouldn’t be bored at all. And indeed, when I’m working on a piece of knitting, or reading, or stumbling down to the mailbox, I’m not bored. It’s all the time that I spend unable to do any of these things that I am bored. Sadly, even sleeping is only good for a couple hours at a time. And it’s really bad when I am awake at night. Then I can’t even pester Brian.

I have been watching some movies, recently. I finally watched “The Perfect Storm” and “The Shipping News”, and rewatched “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” by Woody Allen. Bless you, Netflix!

05
Apr
10

Everybody loves irony . . .

. . . except when it happens to them.

Last fall, everything was falling into place – Brian and I were having lots of fun and were more in love than ever (just so you know, this isn’t the irony part – we still are more in love than ever); work was going great and I was starting on some really fun projects; we took one of the best vacations we’ve ever had, and spent it with two of our most favorite people.

Sure, there were little blips, but isn’t life always like that? Even when nearly everything is perfect, there’s always something to remind you how grateful you are for your good life.

We had a wonderful Christmas, with my company extending our vacation policy to include all the days between Christmas and New Year, so I was rested and ready to come back to work. I put on the company Winter Party, and people seemed to have a good time (plus the caterer’s food was fabulous as usual ;-} ).

I started taking mandolin lessons in January, because I’d always wanted to, and it seemed like now was the right time. And it turns out that I’m somewhat of a natural, although probably partly because of my piano days, and existing familiarity with music.

Also in January, Brian moved the “Julie – Breast Cancer” medical file out of the active file cabinet into a box in the garage.

It is fairly reasonable to say that these were the happiest days of our lives so far.

On January 5, I finally ordered the book “The Happiest Days of Our Lives” by Wil Wheaton. I’d planned on ordering it before, except there’d been some long publishing delays; but word was that it was going to be shipping very soon. Yay! Order that puppy, because it is right in tune with where my life is, and I’m always up for more good stuff!

It arrived on March 26th, the day I had my first chemotherapy for my Stage IV breast cancer.

(In case anyone is unsure, that is the ironic part).

So my mission, and I *do* choose to accept it, is to convert this back from irony to truth. While one doesn’t have to be happy at having a terminal disease, one can live their life as if it doesn’t matter if they have a terminal disease. This doesn’t mean I’m going to do all the traveling I’ve always wanted to do, or write the Great American Novel, or win the Nobel Peace prize. It does mean that, with help from all the loving friends and family who are there for me, who call, write, e-mail, post comments, or even just pray or send positive thoughts and energy my way, these can still be the happiest days of my life; and hopefully Brian’s, also.

02
Apr
10

Chemo #2 – questions, questions, low on blood

Today was a “meet with the oncologist” chemo day. Lab first, meet with the doctor, then chemo.

As usual, we pretty much drowned Dr. Medici in questions. I think he was shocked and a little awed when he saw the list I was reading from. But most of them were quick, easy answers (talk to so-and-so, yes, no, go here, do this). There were a few that got a bit more in-depth, and so our meeting went to 45 minutes instead of the scheduled 30. He’s told me before that he only has one patient who asks more questions than I do, and he says that my questions are usually pushing the “boundaries of oncology”. I think he meant that in a good way.

The best answer was that the pain I’m feeling in my liver *might* be the tumor shrinking. Since the cells are attached to the liver cells, it can cause pulling when the tumor shrinks. We don’t know that this is the cause, but knowing that it could be makes me feel a lot better.

He also approved of going back on nearly all my supplements, and thought it was a good idea, even; especially the Vitamin D and calcium. The one that I have to avoid is the fish oil, because I’ll be starting Avastin next week, and the fish oil could increase the likelihood of bleeding problems. Avastin is the drug that inhibits the growth of blood vessels, and had to be delayed due to the liver biopsy on the 18th. Basically, the inhibition of blood vessels means that wounds don’t heal as fast. Apparently the port placement surgery doesn’t count as a wound, but the needle-pokes into the liver do.

When the nurse came to prep me for the infusion, he said that my wbc and neutrophil counts were very low, so I need to have Neupogen shots every other day for the next week, and a Neulasta shot next Saturday. These are drugs that help your bone marrow start regenerating white blood cells, and neutrophils in particular. In the meantime I’m immune-compromised, although a couple Neupogen shots should help pretty quickly. I’m hoping that by next weekend I’m back into the non-compromised range, because we have tickets to see Mark Knopfler next Saturday evening (dammit, I bought those tickets last September, and I’ve been really looking forward to this concert. Damn you, Cancer! I already had to cancel my New Zealand trip, and am unable to attend my girlfriend’s wedding. Just try and stop me, just try. I’ll get you my pretty, and your little Death of Rats, too!).

The doctor thinks that this’ll probably be an ongoing problem, and so we’re getting pre-auth from the insurance company for me to do my own Neupogen shots. It’s the same process as for giving myself the Lovanox shots that I needed to have after I had the pulmonary embolism. Then I won’t have to go in to his office to have the nurse inject me, which will be nice.

I had developed quite an attitude about giving myself shots in the belly, I think because I felt like I *should* have an attitude. It didn’t really hurt much if you poked the needle in quickly, and the worst part was the burning as the Lovanox was injected. When I realized that I was freaking out over something that wasn’t such a big deal, all of a sudden I stopped dreading it, and it became routine. I figure that’s what’ll happen this time, too.

Fortunately, I’ve got enough belly fat that I have plenty of different locations to give the shots, so I won’t be getting sore in just one spot. I’ll be getting sore in a whole bunch of different spots ;-}

My next big task is deciding what sort of haircut I want before my hair falls out. I’ve got another week or two before I start losing chunks, and I really don’t want to have hair everywhere. I picture myself as a progressively less hairy PigPen, wafting clouds of drifting hair behind me. Ewww. Just ewww.

After my first cancer diagnosis, I talked about getting a dragon tattooed on my head, because dragons have always been a protective symbol for me (and my friend Cathy hand-drew a henna tattoo of an awesome Chinese dragon on my bald skull, after waxing the skull first. Ouch.). The idea that I wouldn’t ever get cancer again because of the protection was tempting, but once my hair started growing back in, I just decided not to do it.

Then, of course, I got cancer again. That time, I was so emotionally and mentally acting like an ostrich that I couldn’t even have fun with the bald skull. I kept the stubble down, and that was about it.

This time, I’ve decided that at some point in a treatment break that I’m going to get a tattoo on my skull. But I’ve decided that now, instead of a dragon, it must be a phoenix.

30
Mar
10

I’ll Drink to That. . .

So if drinking kills off liver cells, can I kill off cancer cells in my liver by drinking? And since the liver will regenerate over time, once the cancer dies off, then I can stop drinking and be fine, right? But since cancer grows quickly, I’d better start drinking fast!

29
Mar
10

Chemo #1 – It took two nurses to hold me down. . .

Which sounds a lot worse than it was.

Due to having had two previous ports in the same spot on the right-hand side of my chest, the surgeon decided not to even try to put one on that side, which left her with the *left* side of my chest (just checking, really, that *I* can still get it right – I feel incipient chemo brain slithering through my grey matter, and yes, in this case, left *is* right!).

Because of the additional lumpectomies/chest excisions on the left side when I had my recurrence, there’s a lot of scar tissue on the left side also, so she had to place it up and back towards my armpit. Being in this highly inaccessible tube (anyone who gets that reference is my geek-god (or maybe freak-god) – I can only think of one for sure, and another two possibles. . .), it was very difficult for the nurse to access the port. Plus there was edema built up around it, so Ll & R. dragged the chair out into the middle of the infusion floor, had me lie back on the recliner, and R. held down the tissue around the port while Ll. accessed it. After the chemo was all over with, R. managed to get a lot of the excess fluid out of the area, so not only will it be easier to get to this Friday, but it has also made it easier to sleep on my left side.

Saturday was actually pretty manageable – we went out to celebrate our 13-year anniversary at The Melting Pot (what? melted cheese, melted chocolate, does it get any better?).

Saturday night, though, I went to bed at 10:00 p.m., climbed out of bed at 1:00 p.m. Sunday, slumped down to make some coffee and sit in my recliner, and after about 3 sips of coffee, fell back asleep for another 3 hours.

And my hair hurts.

29
Mar
10

New Cancer, New Look (for the blog, anyway)

The new title for my blog is from the card that came with some flowers that my friend (and awesomest boss ever) Shi-Yi sent me after I called her with the news:

“Pity the cancer that tries to take on Julie Martin!”

So of course I have to start a new cancer-fighting team – The J Team.




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