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 :)


jdoughe3 said...

You are beautiful, you are beautiful, you are beautiful.

You are strong. You are strong. You are strong.

You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.

I can't say it enough.

You and baby G can grow hair together - just one more way that you can bond. AND You can look down your nose at all the traditional "hairy" moms.

Goughs Rule.

Melonie Stephenson said...

Kirsten- you inspire me to no end. You are in my prayers and my family's prayers. You are so strong and beautiful and you can do this.
Much love,
Melonie Stephenson

Ali Schneeman said...

you are superwoman. we're all thinking about you & praying for you. keep that laughter coming. you'll look like a rockstar in your new wig :)

Cora said...

Kirsten, I am sooo impressed with your strength in all of this! It sounds like you and Baby G are doing a good job of taking care of each other :) You are going to be a pro when it comes time to deliver! I will be thinking of you when I'm there too, you are an inspiration!

Sarah said...

Hi Kirsten.

We've never met, but I grew up with Annie Dougherty, and I remember when Charlie was born! I hope you don't mind that Annie shared your site with me.

I am utterly amazed at your courage and strength, and I am so inspired by your upbeat attitude and gracious perspective on life.

I will be praying for continued strength and blessings for you, Charlie and your baby!

All my best,
Sarah Gardner Imholte

Aunt Kathy Schneeman said...

We're praying for you, Charlie and sweet Baby G!You have such a beautiful outlook, which is evident in your writing. I'm so glad you're getting rest--I know how tired I was being an old pregnant lady with twins and working over full time; can't imagine the cancer aspect on top of it all! You are an amazing mom!

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