All cancers are not the same

That might seem like an obvious statement! One thing I’ve found, though, is that once people find out you have cancer, they always know someone who has/had:

  • the same cancer as yours, with possibly good (or bad) results
  • a different cancer to yours, but they are sure the story must be the same
  • the same cancer as yours, but different treatment
  • the same cancer as yours, the same treatment, too

Whatever the choice, take this to the bank:

Your cancer and treatment, and your reaction to it all is 100% unique to you!

You’ll see on the forums or Facebook groups that when someone gets a new diagnosis, the first thing they ask is

what is chemo/surgery/radiation like?

They will receive a variety of answers, mostly trying to be helpful. But none of them mean a thing, as someone else’s reaction will not be the same as yours! You can rely on none of these helpful people for a prediction as to how your treatment will go!

This came as a shock to me. After reading various forums and articles, there I was, ready to start some of the worst chemo around for breast cancer, and I was ready for a rough ride. In the end, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The next drug, which supposedly had fewer side effects, I found more annoying, as there were no known drugs around to counter the side effects (which plague me to this day).

So when a friend was diagnosed, what did I do? Did I keep schtum, with my new knowledge that any info I passed on was useless? No, I did not. Trying to be helpful, I gave her the benefit of my experiences. Note the use of the word “my”.

As I should  have known, her experiences have been totally different to mine, rendering my advice useless.

So sorry about that, maybe I’ll be smarter next time, but I don’t think we can count on that.


Penultimate Taxol

Tuesday was my 11th cycle of Taxol, which means I only have one more to go.

Am I excited? Well, I expected to be, but quite frankly, all I feel is relief.How_much_is_enough_logo

The "taxol 11 look". Thank god for sunglasses!

The “taxol 11 look”. Thank god for sunglasses!

A ‘cancer buddy’ and I were discussing this today. She only has one more cycle of Abraxane (another drug in the taxane drug family), and has had terrible, terrible side effects all the way through her chemo. And I mean all the way – she has been hospitalised, has developed a heart problem, has had dangerously low white blood cells throughout, and may have permanent eye damage. She is going through all this as a single mother, and is also in the middle of a divorce. It makes me humble.

We are both feeling the same about now – the closer we get to the end of chemo, the harder it is to make yourself finish.

What if I miss the last one, how bad can that be?

We just want to be done with it – right now! Well, of course we aren’t daft, we will finish the course. But still.

I haven’t had totally terrible side effects most of the time, and, in fact, I am continually told how lucky I’ve been throughout treatment. Yeah, I feel pretty lucky about now.

She also had something great to say about the ol’ pink ribbon thing.

What moron I, wonder, chose pink for breast cancer? It’s certainly not girlie and fluffy and sugar and spice. Pink ribbon? Rubbish – some sort of tough Lara Croft theme, I think, would have been better!

You go, girl!

Chemo – the gift that keeps on giving

A lot of us who are having treatment for cancer have chemo as one of those treatments. Quite frankly, it is poison, concocted in faraway labs years and years ago (in some cases) and visited upon us in order to (hopefully) enable us to become “NED”.

NED is short for “no evidence of disease”. Cancer folk no longer talk about remission or cures, we learn to settle for The Beast that is cancer to no longer be evident via the usual range of scans and tests.

(Oops, yet another rant about chemo and its barbaric nature – sorry!)

Anyhoo, we quickly learn to deal with the ups and downs of cancer treatment. Each drug type comes with its own set of delights for the body – nausea, hair and nail loss, dizziness, brain fog, tingling hands and feet, headaches, watery and twitchy eyes, fatigue, nose bleeds, and soooooo many more.

Oh yeah.

Oh yeah.

What they don’t tell you upfront is that some chemo effects can last…forever! Yes, that’s right folks, some of the side effects just never go away.

Doctors play down these long-term effects by calling them “the price of survival”. Ok, we are all glad to still be here, and we are even delighted to imbibe your poisons in order to still be here. But really? Is it good enough to condemn people to a lifetime of poorer health?

Can we not do better than this? I think we can. So, drug companies and biotechs, please pull your collective fingers out and find new treatments, one that can treat The Beast without making us half a human being. Yes, we all know you make gazillions from chemo treatment, but do us a favour and find something new and lovely.

Stage envy

Not stage fright, stage envy!

Whatever do I mean by this? Well, I don’t know how other cancer peeps feel, but once you have those pathology results, the envy creeps in.

It’s not nice. I know it’s not nice, but who said I’m always nice? Yeah, I know, cancer folks are supposed to be long-suffering/brave/warrior type people, right? Well, it ain’t that simple folks!

courtesy of wikipedia

courtesy of wikipedia

What makes me so jealous? Well, fellow cancer victim, it could be you, if your cancer is a more favourable stage than mine. It could be you, if you are years and years post-treament, still cancer-free (or “NED”, No Evidence of Disease, as it’s now called, lest you think you may ever be in the clear). It could be you if you don’t need chemo. It could be you if your side effects are ‘better’ than mine. It could be you if you don’t need radiation.

It definitely would be you, if you are walking around, no cancer in your body, free as a jaybird in spring. Is that even a saying? I’m jealous of you if you know the answer! 🙂

I’m not jealous of those worse off than I am, of course, and maybe they are jealous of me.

Chemo cycle 3 – done and dusted!

There are loads and loads of chemo drugs around, but one thing they have in common is their incredible toxicity. They truly one of those ‘kill or cure’ deals, which is why you are so carefully weighed each time before chemo. The drugs you are given to combat the side effects are equally toxic, so I try my best to take them for only 2 days post-infusion.

Annie chemo hat!

Annie chemo hat!

I know that I’m ‘lucky’, in that my type of cancer is common (early invasive), and so the treatment of it is fairly well known and well researched. Many people I encounter on a forum I follow have rare cancers, which usually means it is less well-funded, and often harder to treat. So how lucky do I feel?! 🙂

I’m currently on the AC part of my chemo treatment. AC is one of the five most common types of chemotherapy given to women with breast cancer. It includes two drugs: doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan). Paclitaxel (Taxol, the “T” part of my treatment) will follow my AC treatment.

This time, my side effects were a bit worse than last time. I guess that’s normal. I’ve had more queasiness, dizziness, depression, and general ‘yuk’. Add to that constipation, fatigue and headache, and it about sums up my last few days! 🙂

I’m looking forward to getting that 4th cycle out of the way – onward and upward!

Chemo session 1 – done and dusted

I have to admit that, despite being a big, strong grown-up lady, I was seriously intimidated by the thought of chemo. Yes, I know I made it through a cancer diagnosis and all that entails; surgery, ditto; scans galore; portacath insertion.

But chemo? My god, haven’t we all heard the horror stories. Plus, people very close to me have gone through chemo (not for breast cancer, so yes, I know it’s different), and I’ve shared their pain through that.

It was all explained to us by our oncologist. He recommended AC -> T combo for my situation. I had already researched chemo combinations, and this is one of the top 5 these days. Everything I read said that this would be a rough ride, so I was prepared for the worst.

The infusion itself went ok. The room is soothing (all things considered), and the nurse explained everything. The needle stab through my very fresh portacath hurt like a …. well, you can guess.

It was a stressful experience for us both – sitting there while (essentially) poisonous substances course into your body. Wondering what the effects were going to be, and how the next few days would go.

Well, I’m on day 2 past treatment, and it hasn’t been as bad as I expected. My heart races sometimes. I have a bad taste in my mouth. I’m queasy sometimes, but they give you some pretty powerful drugs to combat that. Plus, I am sipping homemade ginger ale, which helps quite a bit with the queasiness, too.

And oh, those drugs – I have a carrier bag full of them! They help, but man are they toxic. I feel dizzy sometimes. Hiccups dozens of times! I think almost the worst part has been the side effects of the drugs to treat the side effects!

I should be over the worst by now. I realise that side effects are often worse as chemo progresses, but I’m grateful for now that I’ve made it through session 1 in one piece and still mostly sane.