A Shower of Hair

Sorry for the delay in getting out another update.  Last week got a bit busy, but I hope no one was worrying that something awful happened to me. If fact, it was good stuff — a nice visit with one of my sisters.

First off: The Popsicle Report

At last week’s infusion session, it was just one popsicle — but bigger.  Rocket-shaped on a stick and colorful.  A red tip, green center and orange bottom.  Dunno what it was called but the green part tasted like nothing I’ve encountered in the land of popsicles. (In other words, I wouldn’t recommend it.)

This week, they forgot to give me the popsicle when the infusion began, so my husband ferreted one out of the freezer they keep stocked with goodies for patients.  A blue one in a tube this time.  He couldn’t have one though, since the goods in the freezer and refrigerator are only for patients.  Well at least I have SOME advantage!

I’m feeling pretty good and am going about my life much as usual.  (I have kids. I have to.) I developed some small sores in my mouth, which could be just one of those normal things or a side-effect of the Adriamycin. I’ve been doing the daily mouth rinses to prevent them — a baking soda and salt solution that reminds me distinctly of the homemade version of toothpaste we used as kids.  As long as the sores don’t continue or get in the way of eating, I’m not going to worry too much about them. I’m also going to physical therapy twice a week to get my left arm back to normal from the surgery.  So far, they haven’t hurt me too much.

Part of my energy level may be due to the steroids (dexamethasone) they give me before the infusion. They’re intended to prevent allergic reactions and boost the effects of the antinausea medicine.  The added benefit is extra energy (prompting the nurse’s story about that patient and her 3-day housecleaning frenzy), which may be masking any fatigue I’m having. I’ve noticed that my spirits tend to sag toward the end of the week, and even though the infusions have gone well so far (fingers and all other appendages crossed), Sunday brings a sense of dread.

My hair has begun to come out.  Last week, I started noticing more hair than usual in the shower drain and in the comb.  This week, it’s even more.  I counted the hairs on my pillow a couple mornings ago: 104. No bald spots yet, but it’s definitely thinner.  I figure I’ll need a shave (but no haircut) maybe early next week.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the hair loss.  They guaranteed I would lose it, so I’ve known it’s supposed to happen, and it’s a good thing that it’s a process, not an overnight event.  The fact that it started later than those 19 days the doc predicted had me worried (Were the drugs working? Had something gone wrong?).  Turns out that, with the weekly doses, the process starts later since the individual drug doses aren’t as strong. I am alternately relieved, saddened, and annoyed by the hair loss.  OK, the “party” has started –’bout time! – but the gentle flick against my neck as another hair falls is sobering.  And then, growl, when I stand up straight from brushing my teeth, there’s MORE hair in the sink.  I’m starting to understand how guys feel when they lose their hair.   Many women will say they don’t mind if their male partners lose their hair, but when it comes to losing your own, well, that’s a different story.  At least I know that this is temporary.

As I’ve shopped around for ideas for headcoverings, I’ve discovered a few things.  First, I look ghastly in baseball caps, even with hair.  Sames goes for those quasi-safari hiking hats.  My daughter was helping me try on hats a couple weekends ago, and we found online a neutral one with a small brim that looks OK.  She adorned it with a raspberry colored ribbon to dress it up.  On the Internet, I found a website that stocks an amazing assortment of products for chemotherapy patients:  hats, wigs, scarves, and even false eyelashes and eyebrows. Discovering the site was heartening (“Wow, look at what someone has done to put this all together for cancer patients!”) and saddening (“Wow. Look at the reason I’m viewing this site.”)

But I figure there are advantages to hair loss:  I’ll never have to worry about good hair days (don’t think I had many of those anyway) or bad hair days.  All my days will be no hair days. (Hair today, gone tomorrow — lots of potential for jokes and wordplay there.) Lots of money saved on haircuts and hair-care products.  For some people, that alone could improve their economic situation.  Less time in the shower (no hair washing OR shaving — we’re talking *total* hair loss with the Adriamycin) and no more deafening hair-dryer noise.

I can experiment with scarves, hats and other headgear.  I could try out some wigs for new hairstyles or those times when I may want to be incognito.  Maybe a Michael Jackson look, in honor of his passing?  Kim Jong Il? My mother suggested I get a black wig so I could look Japanese.  But there ain’t no way with this Roman nose and these blue eyes that anyone would ever mistake me for Japanese.  A Barbra Streisand wig might be more,uh, fitting. A few people have told me that, when the hair comes back, it comes back “better.”  And I read that it often comes back a different color — sometimes gray (I could adjust to a nice head of *silver* hair), sometimes black.  So maybe I’ll get that Japanese look after all.

If you know of anyone who might be interested in these postings, please feel free to send them the link to this blog.  And if anything I’m writing prompts you to write, by all means do so. That contact reminds me that the good in life continues, even when the circumstances grow heavy.

Popsicles and Tae Kwondo

A cool beautiful evening here.  We just got back from dinner (Mexican) and the kids’ tae kwon do test, in which they earned the next color belt.  My son surprised himself by actually breaking his first board ever (with his foot).  To pass the test, all he had to do was try, and the look on his face when it actually broke was priceless.  My daughter went about her test with her usual aplomb.  The girl is formidable in sparring.  God help anyone who accosts *her* in a dark alley.  And then there’s that wicked grin she gets on her face after the battle is over.

The doc’s appt. was about 2 hours this morning.  First a blood draw.  My husband was actually glad to see the white and red blood cells slightly below normal.  He was thinking that, since I’m not sick (yet), the medicine wasn’t working.  The lowered blood counts reassured him. Odd, but true.

The oncologist asked how I felt.  He said the fatigue will be setting in slowly, and laughed when I told him about riding roller coasters. “Taking Cytoxan and riding roller coasters? Cool!” was what he said.  He also predicted that my hair would start to come out soon.  When I asked if he could estimate a time, he said “about 19 days” after chemo starts.  “About?”  Gee, could ya be any more specific?  Would that be 18 and 3/4?  19 and 1/2???  I started chemo two weeks ago.  Guess I better enjoy my hair this week.

I spent part of the afternoon searching websites for how to make a turban and how to put on a hajib — the scarf that Islamic women wear.  Turns out there’s a variety of turbans.  I don’t think I’m up to winding one on my head  like the Sikhs wear (17 yards of fabric!), but the one in Vermeer’s painting of the Girl with the Pearl Earring might work.  Look what it did for Scarlett Johanssen!  With either style, it’s the closest I’ll get to taking on a different religious practice.

Speaking of religious practice, I spoke yesterday with one of the monks, a colleague who teaches at the college I’ve been teaching at.  He has taken up praying for me, and tells me I’ll pull through this.  That prediction sounds good to me.

The weekly infusion has already taken on a predictable pattern. After checking in, I’m assigned to one of the vinyl Barcaloungers in one of the “pods” of chairs comprising the infusion center.  The nurse then asks me my birthdate — a question I have to answer often for these medical appointments — then brings me 5 pills: 2 antinausea drugs and three steroids. (I don’t care to think what my blood is comprised of currently.)  Today’s nurse was especially informative.  She told me the steroids can give some people a burst of energy (good to combat the fatigue later, I guess) that makes them do things like want to clean the house for 3 days.

I don’t think I’ll have THAT particular problem.

Then she hooked up the bag with saline and threaded it into the port on the right side of my chest.  After letting that drip in for awhile, she switched to the Adriamycin, and for the second time I watched that red liquid (the color of KoolAid) snake its way into my chest.  She brought me a popsicle to eat during the infusion (also red).  Apparently sucking on that helps reduce the chance of mouth sores, a hallmark of Adriamycin.  So I sat for about 10 minutes watching the red stuff going in my chest, and sucking on the red stuff I put in my mouth.  Nothing like color-coordinated medical treatment.  She also recommend doing a saltwater mouth rinse several times a day to prevent the mouth sores.

So my daily routine includes taking an anti-nausea drug first thing in the morning, taking my temperature, waiting half an hour then taking the Cytoxan, making sure I eat enough and drink about 2 liters of fluid during the day, doing the arm exercises, monitoring myself for anything unusual, recording input/output (to put it delicately), and now doing the mouth rinses. Another antinausea before bed, and ginger tea and peppermint tea periodically throughout the day since they’re both known to aid the tummy. Too bad I can’t get paid for taking care of myself.

On Wednesday, I’ll be meeting with the naturopathic doctor associated with the oncology clinic. Naturopaths are fairly common out here on the “left coast”.  They’re N.D., not M.D., but can function as a primary care doc and deal with alternative types of medicine — herbals, supplements, diet, etc.  This one specializes in oncology naturopathy and is spoken of highly.  I’m hoping he can help me sort through the confusion about what to take/not take during chemo and to fight cancer.  Should I eat soy products or not.  Should I take a daily vitamin or antioxidants, or not.  Is alcohol OK (now that my spouse has perfected his martini technique)? What about Coenzyme Q10? I’ve stopped researching a lot of this on the web because there’s confusing evidence on either side of the issues, and what applies to one breast cancer patient (say, a postmenopausal woman with hormone receptor-positive disease vs., oh, say, a perimenopausal 48-year-old with triple negative disease) may not be appropriate.  Too much to make sense of.

Then on Friday I’ll see a physical therapist for my left arm, to work on getting it back to pre-surgery range of motion.  I’ve regained a lot and the odd tweaks, pains and numbness have decreased considerably, so I’m happy about that.

Time to put my little warriors to bed…