Infusion No. 5 – What to say?

Like the low-grade nausea and fatigue that keep up their drumbeat as I write this, infusion number 5 is wearyingly familiar.

We make some progress during the “is she healthy enough for poison?” checkup. The shoulder pain that I had thought solved has come back. Bridget, one of the ace nurse practitioners, says that if a couple of days of muscle relaxants hasn’t worked, then it’s not going to work. Bridget suggests doubling the dose of the medicine I was first prescribed for “neuropathy,” the term of art to describe nerves going haywire for reasons that can’t exactly be pinpointed. So far, this seem to be doing the trick. So maybe my sore right arm isn’t due to an old injury after all.

Bridget says she’s glad that the mouth sore routine is working. She says to keep that up as needed. She suggests taking Nexium morning and night to shield my stomach from both chemo upset and the large doses of ibuprofen I’m taking. I point out that I’m taking 24 different prescription medications.

“But you won’t be on them forever,” Bridget says.

That’s some comfort, I guess.

“Do you have an appointment with Dr. Hwang?” Bridget asks.

This question catches me off guard. I knew I was going to have to have another surgery so that my surgeon, Dr. Hwang, could get “clean margins,” healthy tissue, on one remaining side of my cancer zone. Approximately half of women who have lumpectomies for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) need a second surgery. DCIS is particularly difficult to excise since it can’t be seen with the naked eye. (I think of DCIS surgery as a bit like a surgical pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, though I’m sure my surgeon wouldn’t like that characterization.)

But for some reason, I’d thought the order of business would be chemo-radiation-surgery, not chemo-surgery-radiation. I was bracing for the OR sometime in April or May, not March. Bridget points out that it’s a really bad idea to operate on irradiated skin.

“I could tell you horror stories,” she says.

I know there’s really no saying, “no,” so I nod. I don’t want to have a left breast that’s not only pleated but also a horror story. Still, I was hoping for skiing, not surgery, in March. Now, the whole ski season is in question. This sounds petty when we’re talking about life-threatening illness, I guess. But Tahoe in the winter with skis is heaven on earth to me. All I can do now is hope that the 300+ inches of snow up there last until May.

After the check-up, there’s blood work downstairs. For the first time, my red blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit (volume of red blood cells) are low, but not so low that I can’t do chemo.

So then it’s upstairs for the usual routine: weight (still haven’t lost any, no fair!), blood pressure, blood oxygenation, wet my hair for the freezy cap, wait for the chemo drugs to be mixed, put on the freezy cap, then carboplatin for an hour, taxotere for an hour, herceptin for half an hour. Chat with my husband and Mikiko, a dear friend who’s keeping us company for this round. Go home. Enjoy a day of steroid-infused wellness, then wait for the nausea, GI upset, fatigue and mouth sores to hit. I’m in the thick of that now. Not sure how long it will last. Hopefully it will clear before February 10. But even the malaise doesn’t lift, I cling to this: The next chemo is the last chemo. Can’t come too soon.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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3 Responses to Infusion No. 5 – What to say?

  1. 1 left Heather, we’re all cheering for you! What amazing and wise posts! What an amazing and wise writer you are. 1 more poison party to go, but I hope you keep blogging!

  2. Catherine says:

    Hang in there, Heather, I know you’re feeling like crap right now. Only one to go, thank God. Not that it’s easy, but the surgery and radiation will feel mild compared to the last 3 months of your chemo life. And the Herceptin, sans chemo, is a breeze. Big hugs. xo

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