Thursday, October 31, 2013

Matters of the Heart

October 29, 2013
Just spent two hours getting a detailed Echocardiogram done due to dizziness and shortness of breath. Plus the heart monitor I'm wearing has recorded 31 "events" so far. The tech isn't allowed to say if anything is wrong, but she did say I wasn't crazy when I'm feeling weird stuff happening. And then when it was over and I sat up, she asked me if I was okay about 62 times. The test results will be sent to the Oncologist and the Cardiologist today, and they'll call me if it's urgent. Otherwise, I'll see both doctors next week.

October 30, 2013
Today has been rough. I have been very weak and short of breath just standing, walking or showering. And I've been throwing up all day. I've uploaded a total of 42 "events" on the heart monitor, and the when I talked to the Cardiologist just now, they indicated my heart rate is in the 160's when I'm not doing anything but standing up. They said it's called Atrial Flutter. So, what that means is, if I continue to be weak or lightheaded over the course of the evening, I am supposed to head to the ER and be admitted to have my heart treated.

October 31, 2013
A big thanks to my friend, Brenda for taking me to the ER last night, even though she didn't appreciate my singing or Forrest Gump impressions.
The latest update:
My big accomplishment was taking a 10 minute shower yesterday, which took 30 minutes to recover from the activity. I could hardly move the rest of the day and couldn't keep any food down. I decided to go to the ER last evening after many attempts to stand up resulted in losing my vision and not being able to breathe. I almost passed out as soon as I walked in the ER, and they immediately wheeled me right back to the Chest Pain unit.
My blood pressure was really low, around 89/50, but every time I changed positions, my heart rate would jump from 80bpm to over 130bpm, sometimes in the 160's. I got really lightheaded and short of breath. They were fairly certain it was a pulmonary embolism (blockage of the artery to the lungs). But after an Xray and CT scan, they determined that wasn't the case. They didn't really address the heart monitor readings that the Cardiologist provided, so that still may be an issue. The Echocardiogram came back fine from Tuesday, but I've had 18 more events on the heart monitor since last evening (for a total of over 60 events since Friday). I'm still waiting for the Cardiologist to call back today to tell me what to do.
When the blood lab report came back, they told me that my white blood cell counts are around 4 (which is low), and my Hemoglobin is 10 (which is also low, but not terrible). They don't usually do a transfusion until the Hemoglobin level is below 9, so they just pumped me full of fluids to increase the fluid volume in my body. The labs didn't show I was dehydrated, and even with two bags of fluid, my blood pressure remained really low, so I don't know what that means. They just told me to move really slowly (sitting up for a minute before standing....standing up for a minute before walking).
Being that yesterday was day 6 after chemo, the blood levels will lower even more over the next 4 days, with day 10 usually being the worst. After talking with the nurse at the Oncologist today, they may or may not be able to do chemo next week. But the Oncologist will look at the reports from last night, and I'll meet with him on Tuesday to discuss my options.
It was a LONG night, and we finally got home around 3am. And so far, today is just more of the same, shortness of breath and weakness. Thanks for all the good thoughts and prayers!!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


ROUND 1:  The fear came from not knowing what to expect or how my body would react.  But I went in with a strong attitude and made some friends along the way.
9/26/13 (Just ten days after my diagnosis)

This is where I started to get nervous

This is called The Red Devil

The treatment center

Cytoxan, another chemo drug

Then I had to get a shot the next day to stimulate white blood cell growth in my bone marrow.  This causes bone pain.  The shot itself is excruciating.

Then came the effects of chemo......It's all a blur for me....

ROUND 2:   And I was terrified...

Eating ice chips because the chemo burns my mouth

Leaving with my brain feeling sloshy

The chemo cape gives me momentary strength

Eating popsicles to try and get the chemo taste out of my mouth

Then the shot....

Days of this....

ROUND 3:  Supposedly the worst (and I can attest that so far this has been the worst)

I was strong and ready to take this round

A friend sent miracle fruit to help with the chemo taste
Port has been accessed and I'm ready (I think)

The Red Devil is extremely dangerous

The nurse has to "suit" up in a gown and gloves.  She indicated that if
it touches your skin, it will eat through she pumps it into my heart

The effects hit me immediately and there is no way to describe how it feels

The best way to describe it is the flu times 100

It immediately makes my eyes bloodshot and puffy to the point of
barely being able to keep them open without pain

Another 30 minutes with Cytoxan 

This round is kicking my butt

Before my painful shot on Friday, I had to head to the Cardiologist.  I've had lots of dizziness and lighthheadedness when I stand.  And I have shortness of breath with any physical exertion (like walking).  My blood pressure remains in the low range, around 90/50, and I'm having heart palpitations that make me feel like I'm going to pass out.  I'm not dehydrated, and my labs look great.  So to be safe, the oncologist sent me to have my heart checked out.

Waiting for the Cardiologist

Meeting with the Cardiologist

 They did an EKG in the office, and I'm currently wearing a heart event monitor for the next ten days. I have another Echocardiogram scheduled this coming Monday.  The chemotherapy I'm on (Adriamycin) can cause serious heart damage, so everyone wants to make sure I'm safe.

For now, I go back to fighting the nausea, pain, and fatigue.  This round is rough.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Undefining Moments- Going Bald

With cancer comes chemotherapy, with chemotherapy comes hair loss.  It sucks.  But why is it such a big deal?  Everyone says, "It's just hair"...."Hair is overrated".  Am I so vain that I let my looks define me? Well, yes, I did.

It's hard to let go of the security blanket my hair provided.  Losing it is the equivalent to losing a part of me.  It's part of who I am.  It's practically a body part!

But I knew when I started chemotherapy that hair loss was a side effect.  I read that day 14 after the first treatment was the magic day.  No matter how much I kicked my feet and held my breath, it was going to happen.  So just like I always say and try to do, let's make the best of it.

After my first chemo treatment, my friend Brenda drove me straight to a haircutting place.  I wanted to do three things:  First, if I can no longer use my hair, let somebody else.  So I wanted to cut as much as possible to donate to Locks of Love.  Second, I wanted a short cut to transition into losing it all.  Plus, I figured that it would be less hair to clean up.  And lastly, this was a life-changing moment as I began my fight, so I wanted something I could visibly comprehend as major change in my life.  Regardless, it was and still remains surreal.

Then, after the shock and acceptance of my new "do", I started to get excited about it.  I felt like I was back in high school with my short hair.  Bring on the Pat Benatar look.  I was rocking it.

A couple days later, my friend Heidi and I made a trip to the Cancer Society to try on wigs.  It was overwhelming to see the love and compassion of all the people and businesses that donate to those with cancer.  And it was also a bit intimidating to sit in a little room with thousands of wigs, trying to decide who I will be now.

I almost cried when she put the first wig on.  Why does new fake hair make me so emotional?  It wasn't just the hair affecting me, it was a moment of realization that this WILL happen.  This IS happening to me.  It was hard to swallow that pill of reality.

Then, I let go of the fear.  I put a smile on my face. We made the best of it, and we laughed and had a good time.

Okay, I had my new hair in hand, along with hair nets to catch falling hair and turbans to wear at night so my head doesn't get cold.  I still had my real hair for now, so I was able to let that moment go and get back to day by day.  Then came day 14, right on schedule.

It was terrifying enough to go back in for another chemo treatment.  I was sick to my stomach and shaking at the thought.  But then to add insult to assault on my body, my hair started to come out faster than I could catch it.  It started in the shower.

I spent more of my shower washing the hair off of me than I did actually getting clean.  I hated that moment.  It was a sickening feeling on top of already feeling bad from chemo.

When I got out, I looked for that special bag from the cancer society that was filled with hair supplies.  I found one of the hair nets and put it on.  All the while thinking, when will this be over?  When can I go back to what I knew?  How do I get out of this?

More and more hair kept coming out even through the hair net.  It was on my clothes, my furniture, my pillow, everywhere.  I didn't care how ridiculous it was, I took the vacuum hose to my head to try and get all the loose hair so that I could have a moment's peace from the reminder.

And then I gave up, gave in, and accepted the inevitable.  My friend Deana brought a pair of clippers to me, and even offered to throw a party to send off my hair.  But this was a very personal moment for me.  This next task was something I wanted to experience alone.  The magnitude of what I was about to do was again, overwhelming.  To let go of my identity as I know it, to undefine who I am in the mirror, to change what the world sees, and to feel like I still have control over anything was a moment I had to acknowledge, appreciate, and document by myself....

I am still here, FIGHTING.  I am not a victim.  I have been undefined and redefined.  I will no longer be defined by how I look, but by who I am, Anncredible.