Posted by: annnorris | November 1, 2012

Chemo and Its Ugliness – Part 1

(Again, for my special friend that doesn’t like medical yucky, Becky, you might not want to read this.)

I have been putting this blog to the wayside for a few weeks now. It is so hard to talk about. So hard to mention. So hard for me to even think about. It stirs a rumble in my body that just wants to regurgitate the entire word – CHEMOTHERAPY. I literally get nauseated at just the thought of it, its that bad!

Some of you around my age might remember the Julia Robert’s movie, “Dying Young.” That was always my image of what chemotherapy would be like. You would be in the bathroom floor the entire time for nights on end, vomiting. I can’t say that I am happy to say this, but a bit relieved I suppose, it isn’t like that any more. There are fantastic nausea medicines on the market and they do the trick. I am thankful, so thankful, for that!

I am just going to lay this out as realistically as I can. After my breast cancer was removed, Dr. Fant also removed six lymph nodes. A few days after the surgery, I went to her office to talk about the results. She enthusiastically told me that I no longer had breast cancer. I’m thinking, YEAH!!!! I’m done!!!!  Then, she drops the bomb. I had two of my lymph nodes come back positive with cancer cells in them. I am still learning a lot about this, but here’s what I understand right now. Even though the surgery removes the tumor from your breast, some of those cancer cells may have escaped and began to travel into the rest of my body. For this reason, I was told I now needed to have a PET Scan to see if the cancer cells were taking up residence somewhere else and a MUGa test that evaluates if your vetricle system can handle the chemotherapy. Dr. Fant also told me that I would need to see on oncologist for chemotherapy and radiation. I DID NOT LIKE THIS!  At this point I want off this train ride RIGHT NOW!

I can’t remember if I revealed my breast cancer’s traits, so you get to hear it again. I had DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Su), node positive and triple negative, stage 2A. I thought triple negative sounded good. It took a few more days to realize this was not the case. What it did mean is that it wouldn’t respond to hormones for treatment. I also had been tested for BRAC1 and BRCA2, the breast cancer genes. I recently found out those results. It seems that I have a mutation on my BRCA2 that does not allow “little cancer repair dudes” to run around in my body repairing any damage that may be done by cancer dudes. Its also hereditary. My sister needs testing, as well as both my children. BRCA2 lends itself to a precursor to prostate cancer in men and remember that men can also get breast cancer. Hopefully, I will return back to this discussion at a later time.

I worried a great deal about finding out the results from the PET scan. My mom’s kidney cancer was discovered in this same way when she had breast cancer. All I could do was pray to God to take care of this for me. He did – no cancer was found settling into any other areas. Thank you GOD! Big relief! MUGa also came back with no abnormalities!

I’ve found that everything happens incredibly fast when cancer is mentioned. You could wait for weeks or months for any other appointment. Before I had time to adjust to everything, I was scheduled for another surgery with Dr. Fant to put in a port. I had no idea what this was. I was leary about this. Basically, its a catheter designed to permit repeated access to the venous system for the delivery of medications, fluids, and nutritional solutions and for the sampling of venous blood. It scared me to have this in my body. But the alternative was far worse for me. I have small veins and very few nurses are able to get a good “stick” the first time. I asked my sweet Mary about this since she is a knowledgeable medical professional. Mary just says, “Get it,” when I asked about the port. So I had this surgery on a Friday and the following Monday, I was to meet with the oncologist.

Dr. Diane Wilder is my oncologist. She comes in after her nurse has gone over a lot of the nonspecifics of the treatment. There’s really no discussion as to whether one treatment is more beneficial than another, no options given. She just explains that I will be getting 8 chemotherapy treatments every three weeks. After the treatments I will meet with CARTI to start radiation therapy. I just sit there and listen, hoping that Mark is taking all of this in.

I really was not prepared for the chemo day. The Sunday night beforehand, it was all I could think about. It starts to consume your whole being. Its all you think about. I couldn’t bring sleep into my world that night. The following Monday morning was so hard. I gathered up supplies I thought I might need at the doctor’s office. I tried to make sure the house was straightened up and ready for my return. I tried to make sure Mark was taken care of as well. I tried not to think about it. I tried to wish it away. I tried to run. I tried to cry. I tried to scream.

We get to the office. I am called in alone, without my Mark. I get weighed – YEAH! A freaking great start! Next, I am shown to the lab. The lab tech was great. She had no problem accessing my port. Its simple really, she just pushes a needle button through my skin and into my port. The port works perfectly and blood flows easily into the first tube. They throw that one away, and take about 4 more vials of my blood for various tests. I go back out to the waiting room for a few minutes with Mark, before we are called into the chemo room. Its a large room holding roughly 15 blue recliners. I choose a recliner in the corner. Mark sat with me as the nurse started going over everything she was doing. (Just writing this is making me nauseous, it affects me that greatly).

The first “bag” is hung. Its just salt water, the nurse tells me. She hooks my port needle to the bag. It begins. For some reason it never occurred to me that this was a long process. The nurse said it would take about 2 1/2 hours! I sent Mark home knowing this was more than he needed to deal with. Plus, I didn’t want him to feel any worse for me than what he already did.

After the first salt bag, I am told by the nurse that my next bag is Aloxi. Aloxi (palonosetron) blocks the actions of chemicals in the body that can trigger nausea and vomiting. It has side effects of headaches, constipation and tiredness.

After that runs through my body, Decadron is up next. Decadron (dexamethasone) works by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system. Decadron IV has numerous potential side effects and is prescribed only when the benefits outweigh the risks. It has a whole group of side effects as well, mood changes, increased hunger, increased blood sugar, increased blood pressure, insomnia and skin infections.

Its time for bag number three! This medicine is Emend. It works with other medications to prevent nausea and vomiting that may occur within 24 hours after receiving cancer chemotherapy treatment. It also has a host of side effects: weakness, tiredness, dizziness, diarrhea, constipation, gas, stomach pain,heartburn, nausea, hiccups, loss of appetite, headache, fever, itching, hair loss among others. Did you notice the side effect NAUSEA? Yes, the nausea prevention medication can cause nausea!

Now we move into the heavy hard hitting chemotherapy drugs. My first is Cytoxan. It takes an hour to move through the bag into my body. Cytoxan works on cancer cells by damaging their RNA or DNA when they are in their resting phase (not dividing). Because Cytoxan causes breaks in the DNA of cancer cells, they can’t keep dividing, and they die. This drug will also affect normal cells, but will have less affect on those cells, since they divide more slowly and are better able to fix DNA breaks than cancer cells. Some of your normal cells that will be affected include: blood, mouth tissue, digestive tract and hair follicles. Therefore, the side effects are bloody stools, mouth ulcers, diarrhea, and hair loss. I just wonder who comes up with these drugs. How were they tested?

Finally, I come to the drug called “The Red Devil”, adriamycin. This chemical is so scary that it can’t be given in a bag. The nurse has to sit there and administer it to you by hand through your port. It takes about 15 minutes. Apparently, if this drug leaks out around the port, or around an IV, it will burn the area severely. FUN! Adriamycin fights cancer by slowing or stopping the growth of cancer cells. This drug gets inside the DNA of cancer cells and prevents cell replication by inhibiting protein synthesis. Here’s the other bad part: Adriamycin can cause heart problems in patients. It also has a host of side effects:

  • Red-colored urine first two days after treatment
  • Neutropenia (low white blood cell count, greater risk of infection)
  • Chemotherapy-induced anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
  • Hair loss, or thin, brittle hair
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Mucositis (irritated mucous membrane in your mouth, stomach, and digestive tract)
  • Amenhorrea (monthly menstrual cycle stops)
  • Changes in nails (brittle or yellowed)

I also believe somewhere I read that long term effects could include leukemia. Really? Let me use this horrible drug to kill my cancer cells, but wait, its also going to kill your good cells and in the long run, if it doesn’t ruin your heart, you could still end up with leukemia!

I found all of this out after my first treatment. I think I might have asked more questions had I known beforehand. But that was my own fault, I wanted to stay in ignorance here.

So I finish up my cancer cocktail with a saline rinse. I am unhooked and the needle is pulled out of my port. Time to go home to deal with all the after effects.


  1. Wow! This is so much, too much. Your Mom, My Aunt and a neighbor have gone thru this but i havent heard details like you’ve given. I’m sitting here with tears running down my face and i want to scream for you ! I know you are tough and strong and can do anything you set your mind to. I also know this has floored you. I wish i could do or say anything… To make it go away. Since i can’t, know that i am here, 10minutes away, i will be by your side any time day, night. I will pray with you and for you. Yes i will continue to pray for straight blond hair. I Love You Very Much! And You Will Beat Cancer!

  2. Girl I know exactly all of those feelings and then some… It is incrediable to me when somone says I understand..Unless you have gone through this you really do not understand.. God loves you and I love you Keep fighting…

  3. Ann, My brother in law is on a chemo shot each week ( plus some other meds) for Hep C , and I saw how sick it made him after the first one (he’s now about 2/3 of the way through the second 48 week round), so I cannot even imagine the IV treatments. I agree with Barbara….you’re tough. I pray God will give you comfort and strength and for Mark, that God will minister to him as he takes care of you. HUGSSSSSSSSSSSS !!!!

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