Short version: Had my last chemo treatment on Thursday. Hooray!!! Taking May off. Expect to start radiation sometime in June.
Long version: I had my fourth and last treatment of Taxol on Thursday, completing the entire program of 8 chemo treatments started in January. It sounds a little quirky that I was really looking forward to it, but only as a symbol of the end of this phase of treatment. The day followed a normal pattern (sit, vitals, sit, doctor visit, sit, hook up port and draw blood, sit while blood is checked and potion mixed, take a seat in the infusion center and receive 15 minutes of pre-meds and 3 hours of Taxol).
We had a good chat with my medical oncologist (not to be confused with the radiation oncologist). He seemed delighted when I said I was feeling so good that I wondered if the stuff was working! I asked how long it would take for the chemicals to finish their business. As it turns out, there is more than one answer to that question. So I asked when I would start growing hair, and he said about a month. And I asked when I could start adding back the things to my diet (vitamin E and C supplements and grapefruit, to name two) that had been removed, and he said a couple of weeks. The next phase of treatment will be managed by the radiation oncologist (not to be confused with the medical oncologist) from the Radiation Therapy Clinic. I will reengage with the medical oncologist after radiation is finished to initiate hormone therapy (not hormone replacement therapy).
I met with the radiation oncologist once in October. His going in position was 7 weeks of radiation, 5 days a week, Monday through Friday – their standard. But at that time, there was recently published research indicating that shorter programs of radiation can be just as effective, which we discussed. He indicated that he would be open to a shorter program. However, I don’t know how much shorter. I expect to leave the meeting on the 11th of May with a plan – when will we start (certainly after the Memorial Day holiday), how many treatments will we do, etc. There are, of course, side effects to this treatment, which include increasing tissue density, breast shrinkage (oh, great!), burning (generally like a sunburn and short term), and the potential to trigger lymphedema. The last will be my biggest concern (I think) and will be a topic for discussion.
I am still doing physical therapy on the left shoulder, but range of motion is almost “there.” I have 3 more appointments scheduled between now and the holiday, and I’m hoping that may be it … for the moment. I’m told that radiation could again decrease range of motion, but will cross the bridge if/when it appears. I had a special experience about 3 weeks ago. Jerry had gone with me to an early physical therapy appointment. I was in warmups and had worn a bandana (pink) in lieu of hair. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant here in Poway that has a great “country” breakfast. As we were about to be seated, a group of folks was leaving. A woman I didn’t know stopped and asked me I am a survivor. I, of course, said yes. She told me she is a survivor, too, and she hugged me and offered good wishes. What an uplifting moment.
Everyone emphasizes over and over again that every patient’s response is individual. For me, the first 4 Adriamycin + Cytoxan treatments hit me a little harder in terms of post-treatment effects and time to shake them off. The 4 Taxol treatments were very different in effects, but they didn’t seem to hit as soon, they didn’t impact daily life as much, and I seemed to shake them faster. Friday I was much more motivated than I have been in a while. I straightened messes, filed or threw away “stuff,” dusted, vacuumed, did laundry, etc. I think there was some symbolism there – sort of sweeping away the mental and physical cob webs that had gathered while my life was wrapped around a schedule of doctors’ appointments, treatments and recovery, and successive diagnostic tests. The bone and muscle aches started on Saturday and are starting to wane as I type. Bye, bye, chemo! Should be almost back to normal (what was that?) tomorrow.
During May, we’ll be taking a few days to attend a reunion of folks Jerry worked with in Germany decades ago. The group tries to get together every other year and they’re meeting in Williamsburg this year. I’m looking forward to the get-away, some golf, visiting with Jerry’s sister and her family, and hopefully a couple of side trips to visit friends (and cheerleaders!).
I’m doing GREAT. Will keep you posted on the next phase as I learn more. Hope you’re enjoying spring. I am!!!