Chemotherapy 101

Updated: Feb 19, 2018

My medical oncologist, Dr. Maryliza El-Mary is smart and kind. She went through my treatment plan and explained what would be done for my CHEMOTHERAPY. I would be taking four drugs INTRAVENOUSLY (IV) through a Port-a-cath or Mediport. This way I would not have to go through any issues of finding a vein and or damage any veins while receiving chemo. I have six rounds of chemo with a immune boost the following day. This port will be accessed at least a dozen times. The port would help to not only protect my veins but distribute the drugs easier throughout my body. A titanium port was surgically inserted into my left bi-cep just underneath the surface of my skin. Shaped like a triangle with bumps to mark the shape and to help make it easier for nurses to insert the needle between the markers. After two treatments, it was a great decision to have it done. The other option would have required to have a surgical doctor place a port in my chest. After all checks of my heart were cleared I was given the green light to start chemotherapy.

My first chemo round was Wednesday, April 13th. As mentioned I would be getting four drugs. The first day is the longest. They time the infusion of the drugs slower as to make sure you are not going to have a reaction to any of the drugs. One drug took an hour and a half while the other three took one hour each. The second round three of the drugs will take 30 minutes and one drug an hour of infusion time. I also have to take prep drugs of Tylenol, Steroids, Benadryl and Hydration prior to receiving the chemo drugs. The first drug was Perjecta (generic name Pertuzmab) this drug combined with Herception the second drug is to specifically treat my HER2 positive breast cancer. The second drug Herceptin (trade name Trastuzmab) is part of the Adjuvant treatment treatment of the lymph-node positive, HER2/ neu protein positive breast cancer. The 3rd drug Docetaxel (trade name Taxotere) takes care of breast cancer and can lower white and red blood cell counts. This also has side effects of nerve damage. This is the drug which has me wearing oven mitts on my hands with ice packs inside to constrict my veins so the drugs don’t go to my finger tips and toes. Note: have lunch prior to this drug. Longest drug to infuse. And last but not least the fourth drug was Carboplatin (trade name Paraplatin) which is also to treat specifically the breast cancer. This one gives you what is called the CHEMO BRAIN FOG. Completing sentences I would learn can be really fun with chemo brain fog.

The SIDE EFFECTS is a doozy of a list. To name a few, decrease in appetite, mouth irritation, mouth sours and heat, weakness, swelling, muscle aches, joint aches, headaches, fever, vomiting, itching, nausea, anemia, difficulty sleeping, and my favorite diarrhea and this list could keep on going and going. This was the first stage and I was ready to get started. Even with the list of side effects I took the mindset that the list is there and noted. I would be prepared with how to treat them if any or all I would experience. But I stuck with the attitude not to expect it and I was awarded a good first round of side effects. I got to see a lot of my bathroom for 5 days. At all hours of the day. Jumping out of bed at 3am and running to the bathroom in the dark half asleep can be quite a show of skill. That same week food felt like I was eating with a burnt tongue. I had no taste buds. Eating with plastic flatware was better than metal flatware. But I was going to be proactive. Before chemotherapy started I had changed my DIET, starting doing YOGA and MEDITATION again. I also started seeing an ACUPUNCTURIST once a week. This really helped with the side effects. The one thing that I need the most help with is EXERCISING. Walking is what I consider exercising. Which technically it is. But I have it ranked low on the priority list. I would rather meditate five times a day over 30 minutes of exercising. I would like to start RESISTANT TRAINING. My sister, Johna I will ask her to help me with that one. She has built a strong body to be proud of. And I need some lessons.

So after the second week which entailed living in my bathroom and no appetite, the third week brought the loss of my hair. It was Tuesday, April 26th. I was getting ready for my day and went to run my fingers through my hair and pulled away strands of hair in my hand. “And so it begins,” I thought. At my first chemo round I met the sweetest and most kind nurse practitioner. We talked about the chemotherapy and the side effects, how to treat and emergency situations that would need immediate attention. We covered hair loss and she would give me a prescription for a wig and suggested a wig maker in Beverly Hills. I made an appointment for two days later. I had my friend EvaLotta come with me. Great to bring a girlfriend. It was fun and relaxing. I found the perfect wig. It was real hair and it matched my hair color perfectly. Once she told me the price of $4500 and later when I learned my insurance would not a cover wig. The answer was decided. I decided to rock it like my fellow sister and brothers and go bald or with a head scarf. I would welcome the summer with no hair. I saw more benefits with that then spending or justifying paying for the wig. I understand why someone may want to pay that amount. They did amazing work. Anything to lift the spirits. I would not judge someone’s choice to pay such a high price. For three or four months of no hair, I would leave the beautiful wigs for people who suffer from loss for a longer period of time and really need it more than me.

As a quick mention I did look into the Cryo Cap (example of one of the companies out there) which is a treatment to prevent hair loss. This would have required that I wear this special hat and place ice packs that would keep my head temperature between 40-50 degrees. I would need a friend to help me because this is outside contracted treatments. Nurses generally to not help or are required to help patients to get this treatment. It would cost approximately $365.00 per treatment (I had six rounds). Plus a deposit for the hat, ice packs and cooler for another $375.00. For a total of approximately $2400. Which there would be no guarantee it would work. Plus no washing your hair until three days after treatment, no heat which meant no dryer, flat ironing and or curling iron. Why would I want to keep my jacked up hair for that much. Another reason to just shave it off.

Which brings me to telling my girls that mommy was going to “SHAVE IT OFF!” I wanted this to be something special and teach them the power of choices and taking action. I am not a victim. I was ok with my hair falling out for the first few days. It was nice. For someone like me who has really thick hair. I mean really thick hair. Lightening it up felt really good. I have always appreciated my hair and the thickness of it. But a choice between life or my hair, chemo and the hair going was top choice. Ava knew my hair would fall out. She actually asked me the day I told her I had cancer. “Will your hair fall out?” So the expectation for Ava was a little more settled. As for Gryffin who is five, trying to tell her that mommies hair was going was going to need a little finesse. It was Friday, April 29th a few days after realizing my hair was falling out, I asked Ava, “What do you think about shaving my hair off?” She replied, “Is it falling out in chunks?” I replied, “no, but it’s falling out.” Hair was kind of all over me and I was ready. But I needed my girls to feel ready too. Ava asked, “Can we do it Sunday or Monday?” Knowing that she had a soccer tournament Saturday and Sunday. I said, “ok, we’ll wait.”