Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Real Life: Chemo Side Effects and the Bald Reveal

I had my fourth chemo treatment yesterday and I thought now would be a good time to talk about the side effects I've experienced and also to let you guys see me bald! It's important for me to be real during this entire process, and that involves being open about side effects and the way that I look. It's all temporary, I won't look this sick forever, but it's still difficult to see myself at my worst and to post it online, so be warned that this video is not flattering...but it is real and it is who I am right now. Plus now if you stop by my house unexpected and I'm not wearing a scarf or my wig you won't fall over at the sight of me bald....or maybe you will....and that's ok too.

I would say the worst side effects are the fatigue and the GI symptoms. The nausea is really bad the first few days after chemo and then gradually gets better. I'm used to dealing with nausea because of my pregnancies so chemo nausea isn't that big of a deal for me. The anti-nausea medications don't really work for me (didn't during pregnancy either) but I am trying something new this round that I hope will give me some relief. The fatigue, diarrhea, and stomach cramps are constant. Even during the week that I feel "good", I get worn out really easy and have stomach issues. They are definitely better the third week but never fully go away.

Obviously I lost all my hair. Exactly 2 weeks after my first chemo treatment I started losing my hair and I was pretty much bald within a week. Mark had to shave my head because I would get huge tangles in my hair and it was just unmanageable and really annoying. Hair was falling out all the time everywhere. It happened VERY fast for me. Everyone keeps saying I'm on a very difficult chemo regimen so I assume that has something to do with it. BONUS, body hair also falls out, so I've only had to shave my legs about 3 times since I started chemo. I've shaved my armpits maybe once or twice. Just trying to look on the bright side....a summer without shaving my legs!

Some side effects I didn't mention in the video that aren't really debilitating but are worth mentioning: peripheral neuropathy (tingling sensation in my extremities), this one hasn't been huge for me, it mainly happens when I'm getting the chemo and then the day after and then pretty much goes away. Some patients really struggle with this side effect but the drugs I'm on don't seem to be causing much of an issue for me in this area. Another problem I have majorly is chemo brain, or as some call it, the chemo fog. I already have mommy brain and never fully recovered from pregnancy brain from my four pregnancies so add chemo brain on top of that I'm pretty much a disaster. I can't remember anything, it's very difficult to focus, and sometimes I switch words around and say the wrong thing. I constantly have to ask Mark what day it is and what's happening that day. Nothing major....its kind of funny actually. The few days after chemo are the worst. I can't read or focus....but then the "fog" kind of wears off and I'm back to just being forgetful mommy again.

Like I said in the video, my skin and nails have taken a eyes are puffy all the time, I'm pale, and my skin is really dry. My nails get really brittle and my skin on my fingers peels a little bit right after chemo but then it gets better. I'm putting argan oil on my face and on my nail cuticles and that seems to make a big difference. But some days I'm too tired to moisturize or care so I don't....I also have a really dry mouth all the time and I can't taste anything. Everything tastes bland and blah. But fortunately I haven't had any mouth sores yet so I'm thankful for that.

I've run a low grade fever right after chemo everytime and ran a high temp with the 3rd round. I've also had a few secondary infections but all that is just par for the course. I'm getting a Neulasta injection the day or two after chemo to help get my blood counts back up, and that shot gives me really bad body feels like I have the flu. That goes away after a few days but I do have some general body aches occasionally after that. I also get a rash that comes and goes randomly. Just weird and annoying but nothing that's a big deal.

I don't want this to seem like a big whiny post about how hard this is, I just want to be real, and to help other people going through chemo know what to expect. That being said, all the meals, the grocery shopping, and cleaning are a HUGE blessing to us right now. Some days I can't even get out of bed, much less grocery shop and meal plan and cook. Knowing that I don't have to worry about meals for my family is a huge weight off my shoulders so I can rest and get well. Even on the days that I DO feel good, I can use the energy to play with the girls instead of worrying about cooking and cleaning. So THANK YOU to everyone who has helped. It is not unnoticed and we are forever grateful.

Just because I have breast cancer and am going through chemotherapy doesn't mean life stops. As you can tell in the video, I'm still a mom and still have four girls to take care of and a husband to love and a life to live. I have to keep going....even when I don't feel like it. Thank you for encouraging me and helping me push through this difficult time. Thank you for making me see that my life is worth living and this cancer is worth fighting.

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Pardon my silence.

I think my momentum left with my hair.

My 3rd chemo treatment was a rough one. I was VERY sick for a whole week after...sicker than I have been so far. And even after I started to feel better, I still didn't feel great. Today is probably the best I've felt in a while and I'm still very tired and weak. I feel really sick, and I'm starting to look sick. And when I see myself in the mirror, I'm reminded of how weak I am right now.

I have been counting down the days and the treatments, calculating in my head when surgery will be and when I will be active again after surgery. I'm dreaming about the finish line before I have even made it up the hill. Chemo is just the first step in my treatment and I'm only halfway finished with that. I have a long road ahead and I have been feeling very discouraged lately. That I can't do this.....that I don't want to do this....that I shouldn't do this. But then I remember that I don't really have any other options.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way." James 1:2-4 The Message

I've been trying to get out prematurely. 

I say all this not to be a downer, but because I don't want to give the impression that I'm brave all the time. I'm certainly not. I'm not a hero, and I'm not a rockstar. I'm not strong. I'm just a person, backed into a corner, with a will to live strong enough to seek treatment for a terminal illness. I go to chemo every 3 weeks not because I have super powers, but because I want to watch my girls grow up and graduate and get married and have babies (and because I have a husband shoving me through the doors of the doctor's office).

If seeing your 6 year old daughter with a hot pink piece of paper on the back of her t shirt saying she is racing for her mommy at the Breast Cancer Walk isn't reason enough to get up everyday and fight this disease, then I don't know what is.

We have walked the Susan G Komen Race for a Cure in Atlanta for many, many years, beginning when my grandmother (Mimi) was diagnosed with breast cancer about 16 years ago. We used to all do the 5k together and over the years we kind of slowly dwindled off and haven't done it in a few years. This year we signed up for the 1 mile walk, mainly because I didn't know if a week after chemo I would be feeling up to the 5k or not. The breast cancer survivors all get pink t shirts that are a little different than the other race day shirts, and this year Mimi and I both got a Survivor shirt.

All those years Mimi walked through the Survivor line alone as we cheered her on and this year I walked through with her. It was emotional, amazing, infuriating, depressing, inspiring, fun, and motivating all at the same time. I'm thankful she traveled the road before me, but still pretty angry that it's our road.

Can you be grateful and pissed off at the same time?

If Race for the Cure didn't exist, I probably wouldn't have hope. Breast cancer research, awareness, and support is vital to increasing survival rates. My specific type of cancer is very aggressive and was not treatable not very long ago. But I learned from ultrasound a few weeks ago that my one, very large tumor, has shrunk down to a few very small spots. Yes, I'm sick.....but it's working.

This race came at just the right time in my treatment. I was feeling very down and discouraged, and putting on a hot pink t-shirt that says "Survivor" on it was just the motivation I needed to put my head down, focus, and keep trucking. Seeing all the other breast cancer survivors, feeling at home with my shaved head, and realizing that I'm not alone, really is comforting. If these other women can do it, then I can too.

My amazing friend Ashley had a purple sign made that says "suck it cancer". So proud to walk with all of these friends and family members today. I'm so blessed.

God is so good. Just about the time I start to cry out and say, ok, I can't do this, throw me a bone here.....He does. When I admit my weakness, He displays His strength.

Mark said to me today, not actually talking about me but talking about himself, but I feel I should quote him anyway because it was so true for me as well...."if we don't let the emotion happen, then there isn't anything for God to redeem". If I stay strong stay strong stay strong....then where does His strength come in? But if I mourn, weep, and cry out, then He is faithful to answer. But we must declare our dependence on Him. We must admit that we are not enough.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9

I'm angry that my 6 year old has to know what breast cancer is. I'm angry that my girls run up and kiss and pat my bald head 10 times a day. I'm angry that my husband is on bedtime duty alone most nights because I'm too tired and sick to help. I'm angry that Mimi and I have the pink shirts and not the white ones. I'm angry that I look and feel ten years older than I did 3 months ago.

But He is faithful. And He is good enough to redeem my anger. He will turn my mourning into dancing. He has done it before for me.

"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." Psalm 40:3

"The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them, He delivers them from all their troubles." Psalm 34:17