Monday, May 30, 2011

There and Back Again

Back in November, I called to make a Doctor’s appointment in order to figure out what was going on with this pesky swollen lymph node. Unfortunately I already had a Dentist appointment for the exact same time as they wanted to make the Doctor’s appointment. I had recently had a root canal and needed to go for the follow-up so they could cap the tooth. I cancelled the dental appointment with every intention to go back to the dentist to finish up the root canal.

Well if you are reading this blog, you know what become of the swollen lymph node. And once you start chemotherapy and radiation it is not a good idea to go to the dentist. Because your immunity is decreased, they don’t want a bunch of mouth bacteria stirred up. ANY type of infection can be serious during treatment. In hindsight, I should’ve tried to have the dentist squeeze me in before chemotherapy started, but seriously, dental work was the last thing on my mind. So part deux of the root canal never happened.

And today, just two days after I finally got my ability to eat back, the dead tooth cracks and falls apart in my mouth while trying to each a fried clam. It figures. And the irony of it is that I was going to call the dentist sometime during the next week or so to make an appointment. One of my co-workers had recently told me that the radiation would make all my teeth fall out. I guess I should’ve listened! In all seriousness, I did not have radiation to my mouth, and though some saliva issues may have caused a few minor dental problems I don’t believe that is why my tooth broke apart. I just had a long overdue need to see the dentist.

Even with the tooth issue, it has been a really good weekend. Robbie and I spent the last four days in a cabin in the mountains. Robbie asked me what I liked the most about our getaway, and I said the quiet. And I don’t mean just the quiet of the wilderness, but the quiet that comes with no responsibility. It was the first time since all of this craziness began that I really had time to digest what had happened and to deal with it on an emotional level.

There is definitely a shift that occurs when you go from cancer fighter to cancer survivor. In my opinion to fight cancer, you need to be in battle mode. There isn’t much time to reflect. It’s all about doing everything you can to win the fight.

But now that the fight is over, I do have the time to make a decision about who I want to be. And to be honest, I don’t feel having a big celebration. I feel grateful and exhausted. I feel like I need to find ways to give back to others going through this type of experience through blogging and participation in discussion groups. I need to participate in organizations that raise money to find better treatment and cures.

But I do not want to gloat or showboat. Cancer was a bad-ass opponent. And just because I won this time, it doesn’t mean that I’d win the next round. I do not want to tempt fate. I’m going to lay low and hope that she just passes me on by and lets me tell my tale of how I went there and back again and lived to tell the harrowing tale.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Sleep is not coming easy for me lately. I think it is a combination of factors.

First, the pain. Yes, I am going to talk about the throat pain again. I have lived a pretty painless existence up until now. I wish I could have continued with my blissful ignorance. It has been a full two weeks of pain now. It is grating on my last nerve.

Secondly, I gave up my anti-anxiety medication. It was a fabulous sleep-aid. It quieted all the crazy thoughts that would fill my head each night. But now that cancer treatment is over, I need to get back to some sort of normal. And that means getting rid of the drugs.

Stopping the anti-anxiety pills have unfortunately opened me up to really feeling the day-to-day stress. From medical bills that require calls to the insurance company (most get resolved - mainly mix ups) to fire drills at work (of which there have been an abnormally high amount of lately) I am actually feeling the stress instead of being able to let it roll.

I sort of wish I had really taken time off while undergoing treatment. I feel like I put more stress on myself than I really should have. Last week I rushed from radiation to work, only to work all day in pain. There was one day last week that I was so worn out that I sat outside on the patio and napped for a few minutes.

Part of the problem is that my treatment has gone on for so long. I mean seriously, how much patience can I expect people to have with me? And this little bout of radiation was supposed to be a breeze. And that has hardly been the case. I hope every single day that I will not have to go through this again ever. Because just that thought alone can keep me awake at night.

At least we are getting away for some rest and relaxation later this week. I need quality sleep. And a fresh perspective.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, May 21, 2011


There was a rumor that today would be the end of the world as we know it. To some extent the prediction was true. At least for me. My days of Doctor prescribed torture are complete. I don't see another Doctor until late June. My next scan isn't until July. I won't know what to do! I suppose I can just devote my attention to growing hair.

So now begins the healing. The radiation kicked my ass a bit. The nurse said it could be weeks until my throat feels better. Eating completely sucks. It tastes all wrong and it hurts. For the first time in my life I eat only for necessity. It has been a good life lesson, and I hope I can carry my respect for food forward as I am able to eat again. I am still a bit tired as well. Only time will help.

I need to heal mentally as well. I still get overwhelmed when I think about this last six months. My life took a crazy turn and I am on a different road now. I am finally in a place where I can take a moment to navigate and make sure I'm headed in the right direction.

Robbie and I are headed to a cabin in the Smokey Mountains later this week. I am looking forward to getting away with my best friend. As hard as this whole experience has been for me, it has been equally as difficult for him. Lots of fresh air, sleep, and solitude will serve us both well.

So for me, a world filled with poison and daily doses of radiation has ended and I feel fine!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Friday I'm in Love

Friday is my last day of radiation.

They let me double-up on radiation sessions yesterday so that I wouldn't need to come back next week for just one day. This will allow me six uninterrupted days of healing before we leave to go away for our weekend in the Smokey Mountains. This is much better than the three days I would've had.

It would be so nice to be able to eat a little solid food and partake in a glass of wine. I am going to keep my fingers crossed for super-fast healing.

Radiation has completely sucked since the middle of last week. I am so tired of yogurt, milk, soup, and all things liquid and mushy. I long for sandwiches, crusty bread, steak, and salad. At least the liquid hydrocodone has been helping with the pain. I can only take it in the evening though. It isn't conducive to driving or working.

I am not sure how people are able to handle chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. I feel like such a wuss for complaining when I hear what others go through.

I just need to put on my brave face for two lousy days. I can do this.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, May 15, 2011

No Pain, No Loss

I am experiencing the worst throat pain I have ever had.

I can only eat soft foods. Anything bigger than a very small bite and it feels like I am swallowing a piece of jagged gravel. The easiest things to eat are yogurt and applesauce. Things that are absolutely off the menu include chewy bread, chicken, steak, salad, and hard fruits.

I would’ve thought that I would just “drink” my calories – milkshakes, smoothies, etc. But that doesn’t work so well either. First, I can only drink small sips. A single small swallow at a time is about all I can do. Secondly, I’m finding that very cold beverages are actually harder to drink. Straws are helpful, although every time I go to the store I forget to pick them up for home.

I have weight to lose, so one would think I might be happy about this new “diet plan”. Unfortunately, there are a few kinks to this concept. The nurse specifically said to try not to lose weight during radiation. She said to make sure I get plenty of protein and that I stay hydrated. On Mondays I see the oncologist and they always check my weight. I’m hoping I’ve consumed enough to not have lost more weight than they find acceptable. When I weighed in last week I was already down a couple of pounds.

On Wednesday of last week I finally broke down and asked for something for the pain. I feel pain every single time I swallow. They prescribed a liquid version of hydrocodone. It doesn’t take the pain away completely, but it does take the edge off. I’ve been taking it very sparingly and in low doses.

I have six more days of radiation. The past week has been pretty rough. In some ways it seems worse than chemotherapy. I have to remember that this lasts a mere three weeks, whereas chemo was over four months. The pain associated with chemotherapy was tolerable – mainly aches and pains that could be mitigated with Tylenol. It was a generally dull pain that was intermittent. On the 1-10 pain scale, I would’ve put it at a 3.5 or 4. The pain of a swallow is about a 6 or 7. The hydrocodone takes it down to about a 3 or 4.

I am looking forward to May 26th. Robbie and I have a little post-cancer treatment vacation scheduled. We are heading to a cabin in the Smokey Mountains for a relaxing getaway. This has been a long process and it will be nice to get away from it all. I have an insanely busy week at work this week so hopefully it will make the time go quickly.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Magic Mouthwash my Ass

My throat hurts. A lot.

It started hurting last Friday. By Monday it was sore enough to ask the radiation oncologist for a remedy and he prescribed the very expensive “Magic Mouthwash”. But it made me hurl when I tried to use it, so I hesitate to try it again. Yesterday my throat was sore enough that I chewed all of my food to a state of mush to avoid any type of scraping in my throat.

Today I’m pondering whether food is even worth it. This pain is getting worse each day and I’m going to have to attempt to mitigate it. Tonight I am either going to try the mouthwash again, or the home remedy Robbie found on the Internet that consists of water, salt, and baking soda. I am hoping that maybe if I take an anti-nausea pill prior to gargling the world’s nastiest mouthwash that maybe I can control the gag reflex.

Eight more days of radiation. Eight very long days. Many apologies to those who cross my path during this time. I am having difficulty keeping my shiny attitude.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I Hate Vitamins

I’m halfway through radiation treatment. My mouth continues to be dry, but that isn’t too bad. I am trying to diligently drink fluids to keep my mouth moist. My taste buds are also out of whack, but I went through a lot of that while on chemotherapy so I’ve adjusted to that feeling.

Late last week I started to develop soreness when I swallow. This morning, my radiation oncologist prescribed “Magic Mouthwash”. This is actually a sucralfate compound mouthwash that has to be prepared by a compound pharmacy. Apparently it’s mixed to order. It can be swallowed and is supposed to help with the soreness. I just took the first dose, but I think I used it wrong. It says to swish in my mouth. So I swished. But it’s my throat that is sore, so I probably should have gargled. Next time I’ll gargle.

The oncologist said that I should expect continued discomfort. He said I may also have some hoarseness. The nurse said to try to eat softer, blander foods. They also said I may have problems with acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus and dense foods like steak. For now, I'm still eating normally while I can. Because eating soft bland foods will get old really quickly.

Apparently this whole throat thing caused me a bit of havoc this morning when trying to take my vitamin. I have been trying to be diligent about my vitamins because it’s supposed to help hair growth. Once in a while, when I take a multi-vitamin it makes me a little quesy if I take it on an empty stomach. I had eaten breakfast and had a dried fruit snack a few minutes before taking it so I didn’t think taking the vitamin would be an issue.

I took the vitamin, and it did feel a little funky going down my throat, but I thought I was fine. A few minutes later, I could still sort of taste the vitamin in the back of my mouth/throat. And then I had a passing thought that maybe it was a little nauseating, and it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I had to immediately try not to think about it, because the second I would think about it I would gag and nearly heave. And unfortunately, I had just walked out to my car and didn’t have anything to drink to try to get rid of the taste. I cranked the cool air up to full blast and took deep breaths for about two or three minutes. The feeling finally subsided.

I ate lunch a few minutes later and managed to get rid of the taste and settle the nauseous feeling. I did find that my throat is a little worse today than over the weekend, and that I have to really chew into small easy-to-swallow bites.

In other news, my skin is also starting to get a little red. Radiation is starting to be a little annoying. Even if it is near the Starbucks.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Me and the Machine

Let me start by saying that so far, radiation is going well. I’ve had 4 out of 18 treatments and I can’t really complain. The only side effect has been a bit of dry mouth and a funky taste.

There is something about radiation that has made this whole experience a bit more authentic. While receiving chemotherapy, pretty much everything was done at the oncology center. I got to keep my clothes on, play games, and watch TV. I could wear hats and wigs, and bring snacks. And even though I was in a bed and had an IV, it wasn’t a hospital.

Radiation is every day (except weekends) at an actual hospital. Nothing makes an experience more real than doing it every single day. When I show up each morning I have to put on a hospital gown. Granted, I get to keep my pants and shoes on, but having that gown on still makes it seem a bit more daunting. Once I change, I sit in a small waiting room with my gown and my bald head. I usually don’t go out in public bald, so I feel very vulnerable sitting in my gown and with my ostrich-like head exposed.

Once I’m called back to the radiation area, I walk through a door that is about six inches thick. When the technicians get me settled they leave the room and then it’s just me and the machine. The machine re-positions during my treatment and it has a fluidness to it that makes it seem almost like a creature rather than a mere machine.

Those three minutes that I am alone with the machine are peaceful, yet agonizing. It’s early in the morning and I’m still waking up. It’s quiet and I’m usually somewhat covered with a blanket. The sounds of the machine are rhythmic and almost soothing. But then my mind starts to fill with thoughts as the machine rotates around me. I start to think about the fact that I can’t move and that it is very uncomfortable. And I start to think about the radiation that is being administered. I can’t see or feel it, but its presence surrounds me and I almost feel smothered. But by the time the panic starts to set in, the experience ends. The technicians show up and they set me free.

I quickly change into my clothes and then I walk out to my reserved parking space. And I usually walk with a bit of spring in my step because the vulnerable feeling has passed. It is not even 8 AM and I’ve already kicked a little ass.