Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baby G = 20 weeks!

I really can't believe that we made it to the official pregnancy halfway point, partially because I was constantly afraid something would go wrong before now and partially because 20 weeks always felt soooo far away.  But we made it and Baby G couldn't be healthier.

Our appointment was at 3:00pm and we fnished up at chemo at about 2:50pm, so we had to get moving pretty quickly.  Luckily my OB's office is literally right around the corner from the cancer center, so we made it right on time, albeit soaking wet from the nutso storm that was raging outside.  Think rain and wind making umbrellas unusable and car doors tough to open.  It certainly made our day that much more memorable.

The appointment kicked off with an extra long ultrasound where the tech measured measured just about anything that could be measured on little Baby G, including arms, legs, head, neck, bladder, heartbeat, etc.  We got to see the little guy or girl squirming around and looking pretty content in there.  It was such an incredible experience to share with Charlie, one that I will never forget.

We then met with Dr. Mulchandani to talk about how everything is going.  She said that Baby's hearbeat is great, everything is where it is supposed to be, and Baby G is even measured at 75-90% on size!  This is extra good news because chemo can lead to smaller babies and low birthweights.  It's very reassuring to know that despite everything that we're both going through, our baby is healthy and growing well.  The final good news Dr. M had for us was that all of my doctors (and I've got a lot of them!) are in agreement that delivering at 37 weeks is the best plan for me and the baby.  Even though it's 3 weeks shy of the full 40 week gestation, it is when the lungs (which are the last major organ to fully mature) are typically fully developed.  I was told by the materal fetal medicine doctors that they would feel comfortable delivering any time after 26 weeks, so to hear that Baby G will very likely spend no time in the NICU was such a relief.  There is still plenty of time between now and then for things to change, but, God willing, Baby G should arrive sometime around Valentine's Day 2012!

The ultrasound tech told us that the next big ultrasound happens at 36 weeks, so it was music to my ears when Dr. M said she wanted to see me for an ultrasound at 24 and 28 weeks to make monitor Baby's growth.  I was sad when I thought I'd have to wait another 4 months before getting see our baby ... I can't wait to see our little baby again, and so soon! 

We've stuck to our guns and still don't know whether Baby G is a boy or a girl.  It seems most people have very strong opinions on this topic, but I haven't regretted for one moment that we've decided to wait until our baby makes his or her appearance to find out whether we've got a his or a her on our hands.  I love the suspense, I love daydreaming about both possibilities, I love the speculation, I love that we can share in the experience that both Charlie's and my parents and grandparents had when they were expecting their kids.  I love it all! 

Finally, I have to say, I felt so much better after the second round of chemo than the first, and I know it was all due to the fact that we had such a great baby appointment.  I wish I could do it this way every time!

Now for the best part: ultrasound pictures for your viewing pleasure!

Ok, not exactly an ultrasound, but how cool is this? 
From my super thoughtful law school powederpuff team.  Thanks, guys!

Little tootsies
Thumb sucking
Profile and little fist

Last but not least, Baby's face ... and chubby litte cheeks! 
Don't you just love him or her already?  I know we do.

Second round of chemo ... whew

Ok, so I know these posts are out of order, but first things first: chemo round two is over, which means I am halfway through!  This time was (obviously) a lot like the first, but it had a chaotic start -- I misread my appointment sheet and thought that we needed to be there by 11am, which is partly true.  Chemo started at 11am, but I needed to be there for labs and to meet with Dr. Gradishar by 9:30.  I discovered this little fact at approximately 9:20am.  Whoops!  We made it there about a half hour late, which definitely put things behind schedule. 

Dr. Gradishar said everything is going well and was happy to hear that everything is going well with Baby G.  The chemo itself went more quickly this time, probably because Lora didn't have to explain everything that was going on this time around.  Because we didn't get started until around noon my darling husband ran down to pick up some lunch for us.  Then we watched Perfect Couples, what used to be our favorite show until it was cancelled last spring (so sad!), until it was time to go. 

As much as I am really getting used to getting blood drawn and IVs put in, I am never going to enjoy it.  But then again I suppose no one really enjoys either one.  The routine was the same as the first one: IV hookup, anti-nausea meds, adriamycin (the scary red one), with cytoxin bringing up the rear.  I felt fine through all of it until the cytoxin; I can definitely feel that one right away.  I got that metallic/medicinal taste in my mouth right away and got that "zombie" feeling that I had after the first round, just not as bad.  We had to leave fairly quickly afterwards because we had our big 20-week ultrasound appointment right after, and there was no way we were going to miss that one!

Since chemo round 2 I've had lots of ups and downs.  I didn't feel as zombie-like as the first time, but I also went to bed just a couple of hours after we got home that evening.  My side effects, with the exception of the fatigue, have been much better this time around.  Almost no heartburn, no metallic taste, etc.  My sister came into town a few days later for the weekend, which was just what I needed (especially since Charlie was out of town for his brother Casey's bachelor party all weekend).  The big accomplishments of our weekend were going to my pre-natal yoga class followed by a quick cardio workout, going to the grocery store, and making dinner that night.  The rest of the weekend was full of lots of lounging and TLC on tv.

Looking back I have to wonder if I somehow overdid it over the weekend because I have been completely and totally exausted this week.  Like exhausted to the point where I had to lay down for a half hour after unloading the dishwasher.  I'm starting to feel like my energy levels are rebounding a bit, but I don't really see being a fully functioning human being this week.  Maybe next week ...

Despite how tired I've been feeling, I'm doing my best to be thankful that the rest of my symptoms are actually pretty great, and that overall I'm lucky to be doing so well.

More posts to come on Baby G's 20-week appointment, shaving my head, getting the wig, and, if I'm feeling up to it, the backstory on getting the wig. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First round of chemo

I realize this is coming nearly two weeks after the fact, but I decided it was finally time to share my first chemo experience.  Chemo round #1 was September 28, and started bright and early at 8am, which I chose thinking I'd rather get it over first thing in the morning rather than having time to dread it.  As soon as Charlie and I pulled onto Lake Shore Drive and sat in traffic we both decided that making it downtown during the height of rushhour is not ideal ... luckily the rest of my appointments are well after the worst of the traffic AND will allow me to sleep in, which at this point is practically a necessity.

I didn't know much of what to expect going in.  I wanted to know just enough so that I wasn't totally blindsided, but not so much that I was really afraid of it.  The morning started with a blood test to make sure that my blood counts could handle the chemo attack.  I've never been a fan of blood tests, but it surprised me that the only time that morning where I had to fight back tears was during the blood test.  I think it's because I didn't know it was coming and because Charlie couldn't go back with me.  Luckily no tears were actually shed.

Once they processed the test and it came back ok, they took us back to my room.  That's right -- we had a private room, with a lake view, no less!  I was expecting to be in big room with many patients receiving chemo, so this was definitely the pleasant surprise of the morning.  To some, it may seem like a small thing, but I can't say enough good things about that room.  Flat screen TV with DVD player, wood floors, nice furniture ... Chemo can be such a negative experience that I absolutely appreciated a room that made me feel comfortable and at ease.

I have officially been handed over from my oncological surgeon, Dr. Seema Khan, to my oncologist, Dr. William Gradishar.  I loved Dr. Khan and her nurse, Kay.  Because most of my time will be spent with Dr. Gradishar's nurse, I was apprehensive that nurse Lora wouldn't be as fantastic as Kay was (because she really was fantastic).  Thankfully Lora is awesome!  She came in and explained everything that was going to happen, from the IV for fluids, anti-nausea meds, having to push through the Adriamycin, and the drip of Cytoxin.  She is very sweet, very funny, and was great about explaining everything to both me and Charlie.

We brought Charlie's laptop to watch movies (because we didn't know about the TV and DVD player already there) but forgot the movies, so we ended up watching old episodes of a funny show that we both love.  Mary Margaret told me that laughing during chemo helps with the side effects and though I can't really say if it did, it certainly helped pass the time and most of the time made me forget that I was getting an anti-tumor drug and an alkylating agent pumped through my veins.

Like I said, the Adriamycin was pushed through, which means that Lora sat there and slowly administered it through a needle into my IV line.  It's done this way because the "A" is pretty harsh, and needs to be closely watched to make sure that it doesn't irritate the vein or go in too quickly.  She had to stop 2 or 3 times because it started to essentially clog in my vein and because it was slightly painful.  It was somewhat distressing seeing her inject this bright red fluid into my hand, but I knew this beforehand, so it wasn't too jarring.

The rest of the morning really went very smoothly.  I was very, very glad to go home and nap for the better part of the afternoon, and later that evening felt like a complete zombie.  The next day I got up for about 45 minutes to eat breakfast, then spent the rest of the morning sleeping on the couch.  I managed to get up and meet Julie to pick out a wig, and was completely done for the day after that.  The bulk of Friday was also spent either sleeping or vegged out on the couch.

The Adriamycin push

Not enjoying the A

Lora setting up my Cytoxin drip

All hooked up

Crazy that all I had to show for chemo was a teensy little bandaid

Having an amazing husband is one of the many things I am thankful for

The part I think most people are curious about is the side effects.  Here is a rundown of the typical AC side effects and what I've experienced:
  • Nausea: none.  We quickly picked up two anti-nausea prescriptions to use as needed.  I think I took one pill but then realized I wasn't really experiencing any nausea, which (especially after my rocky first trimester) I am very thankful for.
  • Bright red pee: yep.  TMI?  Believe me, this is one of the tamer ones (see below).  The bright red "A" is filtered through the kidneys, and the first few times I went to the bathroom ranged from red to orange.  Bizarre!
  • Metallic taste: just a little.  Charlie made me swedish pancakes on Thursday morning before he went to work and I asked him if they tasted metallic to him, which they didn't.  If this gets worse with subsequent rounds, they recommend using plastic utensils.
  • Decreased appetite: yes.  Though it's somewhat better now, I definitely don't get as hungry as I used to.  Unfortunately, Baby G likes it much better when I eat every couple of hours, so if I forget to eat regularly, without fail I hit a wall and feel exhausted and sick to my stomach.  So even though the hunger signals don't seem to be making it from my stomach to my head, Baby G is good at reminding me to eat frequently, whether I want to or not.
  • Heartburn: intermittent, but yes.  And it's not with the typical "trigger" foods like greasy or spicy foods.  Mine, strangely enough, is from fairly innocuous things, like water and apples.  Go figure!  I've consumed more Tums now than I did in my first trimester, but I'm grateful that it's not so bad that it keeps me up at night or that two Tums a couple of times a day can't fix.
  • Dry mouth/sore gums/bleeding gums/mouth sores: I would say this is mild to moderate.  I'm not allowed to use your regular alcohol-containing Lysterine, so Charlie picked up some Biotene for me.  It's somewhat thicker than water, which grossed me out at first, but I'm pretty used to it now.  I'm much more careful about flossing and using mouthwash than I used to be because any sort of dental problem or infection can quickly become a major problem.  I'm also not supposed to eat or drink anything really citrusy, which can irritate an already sore mouth.
  • Constipation: fake out, not going there! But this can be a side effect.
  • Chemo brain: though this isn't an official side effect, I have definitely recognized that I am much more forgetful than normal. I'm trying to be better about writing things down and making calendar appointments in my phone to keep track of everything.
  • Lowered blood counts: I suppose this isn't really a detectable side effect (for the most part), but I figured I'd include it because it is something I have to be very aware of.  I learned that my blood counts are lowest 7-10 days after chemo, which means I have to be very careful about what I do, such as avoiding crowds and sick people, and being very careful to get enough rest and wash my hands often.  I had a bit of a sore throat last week, but seem to have successfully avoided catching any bugs.
  • Fatigue: oh yeah. I saved this for second-to-last because this has been by far the most overwhelming side effect.  Anyone is tired from a full day of work, but if I spend an entire day at the office, I am utterly exhausted when I get home.  I feel best when I sleep 10-11 hours a night and get a 1-3 hour nap in the afternoon.  Unfortunately this sleep schedule is not exactly conducive to working like I used to...  Luckily everyone at work as been incredibly understanding about the whole "I'm doing chemo and can't work like I used to" thing.
  • Hair loss: not yet, but it's right around the corner.  This is probably the most recognized and dreaded of the side effects.  From the very beginning once I learned that I'd be receiving chemo, I've been preparing myself for losing my hair.  Unfortunately, as losing my hair is now just days away, I've realized that there is no good way to prepare one's self for hair loss, or at least any preparations I thought I had done for myself have not done me a lot of good.  The best thing I think I can do, which I have done since this whole jouney started, is make the best of it, which, for me, means laughing at it.  If I don't laugh at it, I'll become a sobbing, sorry mess.  Some women are lucky and don't lose their hair and I have to admit that a part of me has been hoping that I would be one of the lucky ones.  Unfortunately, Lora warned me that an achey or tingly scalp is an indication that hair loss will start in a day or two, and I started feeling both achey and tingly last night.  I'll say more about my wig and my experience trying on wigs in a separate post.
So that about sums up chemo round #1.  In a few ways it was better than expected, but overall it was a much more difficult experience than I thought it would be.  Just the fatigue alone is more overwhelming than I thought.  Apparently lots of pregnant women have an easier time with the side effects, and maybe I am one of those lucky ones since I seem to have skipped the nausea and the majority of the others have been very, very manageable, but since I'm constantly tired and my hair about to jump ship, I don't feel all that lucky.

I'm doing my best to remind myself that I AM, in fact, lucky and that I have a lot to be thankful about.  In the grand scheme of things, I know deep down that my cancer has ended up being one of the more "manageable" ones.  When I get out of my own head and take a look around, I am able to see that I really am blessed and that this truly is just a bump in the road.  There are many who have a much more difficult road.  I know that everyone knows someone affected by cancer, but please keep these very loved people in your prayers: Joe, Stacy, Jessica, and Angie's mom.

Happy Tuesday!

P.S. Chemo round #2 is the same day as Baby G's 20-week appointment!  Makes October 19 much more exciting :)
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