There are defining moments in our lives that fundamentally change our perspective. For me, that moment arrived when I was diagnosed with cancer - a small but powerful word that can break even the strongest warrior. Cancer made me reflect upon every moment in my life. When I just thought of something, wished it out loud to the universe, and then it ACTUALLY happened. This was the moment I decided I would look this beast straight in the eye; see myself healthy reflected back at me in those eyes, but mostly thriving not just surviving. I also visualized an army of supporters and the very best medical team, who would not only support me, BUT wholeheartedly believe in my recovery as steadfastly as I would.
Today I completed week 10 of my chemotherapy regime and not a day has passed since I embarked on this journey that the universe has underdelivered. The army of supporters is larger than even I could have envisioned, and my medical team are beyond impressive. In fact, they are medical marvels and modern day superheroes. Your hugs, words of encouragement, laughter and love literally lift me up and no words of gratitude will ever suffice. This week I decided to share with you my transition from Taxol to the infamous RED DEVIL!
Wednesday February 10, 2021 was round number nine and another milestone my last Taxol treatment. I have escaped the neuropathy, have all 10 finger and toenails, eyelashes, and eyebrows present. I certainly did more than survive it; I THRIVED it. My bloodwork remained level throughout all nine treatments. I cannot take all the credit for this achievement. Although I know the power of positive thought is most certainly attributed to this success; it was also my army of supporters cheering me on, doctors overseeing my health, and my nurses who literally lift my spirits and have me laughing out loud through some of the darkest moments in my life. These are the eyes I saw staring back at me.
I must mention that when this journey started, I knew Sonja would take charge of my diet. I also knew beyond a shadow of doubt that she would research so thoroughly that she would be a walking encyclopedia on nutrition for cancer - analyzing my weekly blood work and adjusting my diet accordingly. So steadfast is her conviction; she has not left the house for eight months, other than to attend my fundraisers, and has used this time to perfect hydroponic systems to grow my foods safely and without the need for soil, pesticides, and damaging chemicals. Our courtyard houses not only an upright tower with a myriad of healthy iron providing greens, but a greenhouse with a homemade hydroponic system bearing sunshine-colored veggies. My circle or cheerleaders and believers lift me up every moment of every day reminding me that many hands make light work even when it comes to cancer.
My success over the last nine weeks brings me to a new dawn, one that I know will require me to dig even deeper. The Red Devil is unforgiving, but as my nurse reminded me today, they are also part of my believer’s circle; they will be active participants in my ultimate achievement of knocking out cancer. I no longer require ice therapy; so, I have free hands which allow me to document week 10, allowing you to join me throughout my treatment. Thereafter, I want you to visualize my cancer gone and us collectively celebrating future cures for the generation of survivors that will follow.
My first appointment of the morning was for my chest port to be activated and my blood taken. Prior to leaving home I put a numbing cream on the port which I cover in plastic. Once the nurse checks my hospital bracelet, she removes my artistic creation, replacing it with a dressing to protect the port site and my clothes. Since this is a sterile process, she cleans my port site with Chlorhexidine. Once the site is dry, without the assistance of a fan or blowing on it, she inserts a special needle (non-coring Huber needle) shaped to not damage the port when inserted. The nurse ensures correct placement of the needle by checking for blood return. The port is then flushed with Saline. A sterile dressing is placed over the area and finally my blood is taken which goes to the lab for analysis and my oncologist to release my weekly treatment.
I headed to CTU truly apprehensive about receiving the dynamic duo of Adriamycin and Cytoxan (AC). I have been worried about this next treatment regime partly because it is the unknown but mainly because of the notorious reputation of the Red Devil. The fear was short lived because, as always, a team of superhero woman were waiting with words of encouragement and support. Nurses are a special breed of superheroes; the admiration they receive for tirelessly taking care of other people’s needs will never be sufficient gratitude and I am in awe of them.
Taxol was administered through my port but by intravenous, machine controlled. Cytoxan my second chemotherapy will also be administered in this manner, but Adriamycin is administered by hand known as pushing. As always, premeds are given prior to any chemotherapy. Adriamycin and Cytoxan are both known to cause extreme nausea and vomiting. I was given a cocktail of Aloxi and Emend to help reduce this side effect as well as my regular dose of steroids.
Once my premeds were completed, my lines were flushed with saline and we were ready to start the next round. My nurse whom I have so much admiration for sat beside me and administered syringe one, of three, while calmly and patiently explaining the process to me. Her level of care and compassion ensured that the process was an empowering moment filled with optimism and lashings of laughter and hope. The video explains it all perfectly.
As you will see she is wearing protective googles and a chemo gown neither are worn for COVID-19 protection but necessary because this drug is a vesicant which is a chemical that causes extensive tissue damage and blistering if it escapes from the vein. The expected side effects of these drugs are not neuropathy (as with Taxol), but necrosis which is the death of cells or tissue. This can damage the heart and various other organs. I may cry, sweat, and certainly pee red, suffer extreme fatigue, mouth sores, nausea and vomiting. I will experience full and complete hair loss including my beloved eyelashes and eyebrows. My nails and palms of my hands may turn dark or even black in color (all this in pursuit of good health). After this chemo treatment I was given the Cytoxan.
Finally, my port was deactivated, and my nurse inserted my Neulasta. This drug will dispense 27 hours after my chemotherapy and works deep in the bone marrow. Neulasta is a man-made form of a protein that stimulates the growth of white blood cells, used to decrease the incidence of infection, by treating neutropenia, a lack of certain white blood cells caused by receiving chemotherapy. It does however create bone pain in the large bones and sternum.
When I next write, I will update you on my AC progress. For now, I am thrilled to have week 10 behind me and I look forward (with renewed optimism), ready to fight this beast down - all while THRIVING alongside the army of supporters I love immensely. I encourage you all to live your best lives and make a positive difference in other peoples’ lives. Be kind and thrive, do not just survive.