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Navigating the Labyrinth of Chemo Treatment

Me nearing the end of chemo session 2.

This morning, one of my online friends who goes by the moniker Shadows, sent out her daily prompt email you can subscribe here if you'd like to get a word, fiction and non-fiction prompts, and quotes every day). The creative non-fiction prompt was: "Write about a complex personal challenge, likening it to navigating a labyrinth." What an apt metaphor for navigating cancer treatment. I decided to use it as the basis for my update on Chemo Cycle 2 and getting ready for Chemo Cycle 3.

I had Chemo Session 2 on December 27, 2023.

I was in “yellow” pod for this specific chemo session - the doctors and refer to each group of rooms by a color. A bigger room but no windows. I also had them do the infusion in my right arm this time because for some reason the tables they give you are hooked to the left side of the chair. This seems odd to me in a world dominated by right handed people that most wouldn’t want the infusion in their left arm.

For the first time in my life, a nurse had difficulty finding a vein in my arm. I know that chemo can weaken and damage veins so I hope that is NOT what is happening in my case and it was just a nurse having a bad day. I'm on Day 14 of this cycle now and the bruise is just staring to fade.

Since I had an anaphylactic reaction to Chemo 1, I got a much bigger dose of pre-meds this time - particularly Benadryl. If you ever want a guaranteed nap, IV Benadryl did it for me. The nurses didn’t seem to check on me as much as I anticipated they would, although it’s possible I was asleep for most of it.

Overall, Cycle 2 was far easier than Cycle 1 was because a) Even though an allergic reaction started I didn't get to a full-blown allergic reaction this time AND they added ativan to my pre-medications after another mild reaction to the treatment.

Part of the challenge for me of having that terrible allergic reaction in Cycle 1 is that I'm anticipating that the reaction will happen again. As such, they've decided ativan will now be administered as a part of my pre-medications that will start 30 minutes before my actual chemo starts. The labyrinth from pre-medication to starting treatment will get a little straighter now and have less possible turn offs in it.

The ice socks and gloves are off. Big smile as the final med is going in which means we get to go home soon!

This also means that I rest better on chemo day. Between the massive dose of benadryl they shoot straight into my IV to prevent a reaction and the ativan, I pretty much dozed my way through treatment day 2 until they had me move into another room so the evening nurses could keep easier track of me. My first 2 chemo sessions have gone longer than planned due to the scurrying around about the reactions. I hope that now we have a solid plan going into cycle 3 and that we won't have to deal with another extended session. It makes for a very long day for me and for the person or persons with me and this upcoming session will be the first one Gayle hasn't done with me.

To continue the labyrinth metaphor, the six cycles of chemo each feel like mini labyrinths inside of a big labyrinth of my overall chemo and even broader cancer treatment. If you're reading this on the day that it is published, then I'm on Day 14 of my 21 day cycle through Cycle 2. That means I'm nearing the center of one of the mini-labyrinths and the way is pretty clear at this point. I feel good and my side effects are at their lowest point in the cycle. I can drive, although I'll talk more about that a little later. I can take Kona out for a walk - not that either of us really wants to spend long outside with the weather out right now. I can do anything around the house and work as I need to. All in all, I'm good.

Between chemo cycles, you manage the unknowns of side effects. These are the twists and turns of the labyrinth and the wrong turns that make you circle back to where you were.

So far, my main side effects are exhaustion and hair loss. My sweet niece Ashley shaved my head for me just before Christmas and the ongoing shedding of even those little tiny hairs has mostly stopped now. I'm having fun styling my hats most days and even have my wig on today as I have an in person client meeting on Thursday I'd like to wear the wig for and I need to get myself used to the feeling of it.

This was one of the smaller clumps of hair I was pulling out just before Ashley shaved my head.

Ashley used the clippers and hair catcher she uses for my great-nephew Clifton who also got a haircut right after mine. His was far more stylish!

Thank you sweet Ashley!

This next photo was a few days later as more and more of the remaining little hairs continued to come out every time I touched my head, but especially after a shower.

If I posted a picture of my bald head now you really don't see much dark hair anymore. That said, I have some little baby fuzzies already starting to grow back or that never left so I have every hope that my hair will grow back beautifully after chemo.

My new double pom hat Gayle got me for Christmas. Disregard the chaos of Christmas morning in our great room you see in the background.

Sleep continues to be a challenge and when compounded with the fatigue that chemo causes, I'm tired most of the time. One of the things that has meant is that I'm not willing to try to drive long distances and am changing up a client project to a remote project instead of a visit. I've also decided that getting on an airplane while my immune system is compromised due to chemo. This has me giving up part of another client project entirely that I was very, very much looking forward to for the relationship building and warm weather of the destination. More false starts and wrong turns in the labyrinth. I'm incredibly grateful though that I'm able to keep working and building my small business.

As to the overall labyrinth of chemo treatment, I'm starting to review options for phase 2 which is radiation. The current prescribed course of treatment is 25 external radiation sessions and 2 internal radiation sessions. Radiation is supposedly easier on the body than chemo is while you're going through it. This is overall good news as my experience with chemo has been as good as I could have hoped. However, radiation can have long term to lifetime side effects that are very unpleasant. Some can't be especially well managed with prescriptions or other treatments. The decision of whether or not to move forward with radiation feels like its own mini labyrinth that is all tightly curled up and full of nasty twists and turns that double back and take you in circles and just make you feel utterly lost. Right now, I'm trying to get a second opinion set up so I at least have another doc to look at my tests and scans and see if they agree with the course of treatment proposed.

So, for those of you holding me in prayer, please continue to pray for the doctors and the medical team as well as to ease my worries about whatever decision I make about radiation. Thank you for the love, support, and prayers. It truly means the world to me. I'll be back again soon with another update.

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