Friday, September 25, 2009

YO Adrienne! First Day of Chemo -- Five More to Go


A river runs through me tonight, and it’s not just red and white blood cells.

Thursday, I spent the entire day (7 hours) having my first chemotherapy and Herceptin treatment. I prepared myself by having a great massage and energy work by Natalie K on Wednesday, and then started the morning of chemo at the gym working out some of my anxiety – thank you to my dear friend and personal trainer Hilda for understanding and being there for me.

Then, my neighbor, Julie, drove me to chemo, brightening my day with the gift of a lovely Brighton Breast Cancer bracelet. I am one of the luckiest people to have such great neighbors for fourteen years – they are such wonderful friends, including their dog Maggie, who has helped fill the huge gap in my life that Benj left last August.

I joined 4 other chemo patients in the infusion center at the oncologists office, and waited for my turn – the oncology nurse, Sylvia, was the best – patient, explaining every step, showing a much-needed sense of humor, and easing what was obviously one very anxious “me”. It’s amazing to me how cancer patients quietly band together – several of the people in that room saw my tremendous anxiety and shared comforting words with me that helped me make each step a little easier. My friend and fellow “A” Angel H. and friend Nadya V have been a great support in that respect, as well.

Being a dental hygienist does not equal being at ease with needles! Insertion of the IV was probably the most traumatic part for me – I’ve been poked, stabbed and injected so many times in the last 2 months that the idea of having an IV every week for the next six months, and then every three weeks after that (not to mention the two upcoming surgeries) is almost more than I can bear. My veins are not the greatest, and I expected “trouble” - - unnecessarily. Not sure that I won’t still need a “chest port” (ANOTHER surgery) in a few weeks, but I’m going to at least try to avoid that if I can.

One does not just get one big blast of chemo at one time. One first gets blood drawn, vitals taken, etc. etc.. Then all the pre-chemo chemicals – steroids (which leave you completely unable to sleep at night!!) and antihistamines for anti-allergy to chemo, anti-nausea drugs, saline, who knows what else for about 1 hour. Then, one by one, each chemical of the “cocktail” is infused – Herceptin 1 1/2 hours, Taxotere 2 hours (I reacted negatively to that drug so we had to slow down the drip to drop by drop – grrr!!), Carboplatin 1 hour, saline flushes from time to time.

Thankfully, my trusty I-pod and the anti-histamine knocked me out – I couldn’t believe that I slept for nearly 1 1/2 hours! I woke up around 1:45 to a much welcomed Starbuck’s iced decaf latte from my mom, who came to keep me company and take me home (HOURS later!). And Mom very thoughtfully brought me ONE PIECE of See’s Candy for a treat after I got home.

Drip, drip, drip – by the 5th hour, everyone else had pretty much finished their chemo, and I was the only one left in the infusion room. By 5:30, the drips were finally DONE, and I was free to go home. Mom and I stopped to visit cousin Dr. Roger, whose office is in the same building one floor down.

The anxiety over the treatment process was gone (and hopefully the blood pressure will come down), and I felt pretty darn good. I know that this is just the start of this phase – it is the weirdest feeling to have all of this poison running through my veins – and, the next challenge is the side-effects – steroid puffiness, low white blood count and eventually Neulasta (not fun), susceptibility to infection, hair and possibly nail loss, weight gain (NO!!), tingling fingers and toes, fatigue, on and on. But, particularly after talking to my fellow chemo patients today, I realized that I have to focus not on what might face me, but on what is – when the side-effect comes along, I’ll just deal with it.

So, tomorrow it’s stay home and rest – after a bout with my reclining bike, stomach work on the ball, and stretches. And drinking that water that I just CANNOT STAND – ugh --- I have to drink 8-10 cups, at least, a day!!

Then, Saturday, I plan to work out at the gym, ride that bike, and get acupuncture from my friend Lauren – the latter is probably one of the smartest things (next to massage and energy work from Natalie and Debbie) that I have done for myself. No more terrible sciatica and back pain – and, the acupuncture (with oncologist’s blessings) will help me get through side effects.

Sunday, Nazaretian/Hairabedian’s Meals on Wheels will visit with a care package after the Trex Picnic at the Ararat Home. Yummy Armenian Food! Monday, I report to work at 8:30! Wow!!

And, next Friday, my “former” co-workers at Jackson DeMarco in Westlake Village are having a lunch for me to celebrate my appointment to the ALJ position. I’m so grateful and honored to have had the chance to work with my wonderful colleagues in Westlake Village!

This treatment regime will go on until early January, and then I continue the Herceptin until this time next year. In February (moved up from fall) I will have a double mastectomy and the first part of reconstruction – probably facing four weeks off work. Then, in May, part 2 of the reconstruction, with possibly one more minor surgery following.

I’ve been told to avoid crowds while having chemo, and to try to keep my exposure to people limited to avoid infection – of course, try doing that will be challenging when I will be traveling around presiding at hearings and mediations with parents, school district and board of education reps – “You sit at the other end of the table” will probably be my subtle motto. I look forward to visiting with my friends and family in small groups at a time.

Thought for the day: In October, 2006, I had the pleasure of attending the Armenian Bar Association mid-year conference in Philly, and spent several days with my friends Garo, Tanya, and Shake. Garo drove me around Philly, stopping the Philadelphia Art Museum and the famous “Rocky Balboa” stairs – where the statue of Rocky Balboa (aka Sylvester S) lives. I think the picture at the beginning of this post says it all (don’t ask what’s in that bottle – it wasn’t Gatorade!). “Yo Adrienne” never had so much significance! And, notice the hair ... it will return.

Friends Garo and Shake

The Doc and the Judge!

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