Wednesday, May 22, 2013

CANCER JOURNEY #21: Lasix, Lymphedema & Low Blood Cells

Here are some updates:

(1)  The Oncologist put me on a low dose of Lasix to help release some excess fluids I've been hanging onto. It has been working well.

(2)  On Monday, I saw a Physical Therapist that specializes in Lymphedema. She said, we caught it early, so the only treatment I need at this time is to wear a compression arm-sleeve on my right arm. With consistent use, the Lymphedema could reverse itself over time.

(3)  Tuesday was chemo day. My husband was out of town at a conference. I missed having him along, but my friend DANEILLE agreed to go with me to treatment. It was good to have her along.

(4)  My new port in my left arm is still too swollen and sore to access. So, the nurses used a vein in my wrist again. This makes the third week in a row for vein use, and the 2nd week in a row that the new port could not be used. I'm beginning to wonder if it was worth it to even have a new port installed.

(5)  My Hemoglobin levels are beginning to go back up, but the White Blood Cells are going down again. This week, they are at 2.6 (3.9 and higher is the norm). But, the doctor said, out of the various WBC's, the ones that help keep infection/illness away are still within normal range. They are currently in the 1600's, and it doesn't become super dangerous until they get to 1000 or less. But, I still need to be careful.

(6) I only have 4 more treatments to go. I think I am finally beginning to see that finish line, and I am soooo ready to be done!

Thankyou for all the thoughts and prayers coming my way!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

CANCER JOURNEY #20: My 2nd Port Surgery and Other Issues

A lot has happened since I last posted. To quickly review, in CANCER JOURNEY #18, I explained how I needed to take 3 Neupogen shots to help increase my White Blood Cells. The normal range for WBC's is 3.9 and higher. Mine was down to 2.5. I was scheduled for port surgery on Tuesday, and needed my WBC's to be increased in order to reduce the risk of infection. But, in CANCER JOURNEY #19, I mentioned how the first shot caused a big hike in my heart rate, and the doctor said not to have any more. We were praying that one shot would be enough to increase my WBC's to a safe level.

On Monday morning, I went back to the cancer clinic to have my blood levels drawn. It turns out the WBC's increased from 2.5 to 3.0 - still a bit lower than normal, but safe enough for surgery. Getting the old port removed was more important, since there was a risk of the catheter breaking off inside the vein. It was already cracked and leaking, and it wouldn't take much for it to completely break off and cause more serious complications. So, on Tuesday morning, we went in for surgery. They put me completely asleep for the procedure, so I wouldn't be moving around. From what I was told, I have tiny veins which called for intricate work.

The old port removal went quickly. He was in and out in under 10 minutes with that one. But, placement of the new port took a bit longer - more like an hour. Instead of putting a new port in the same place, the surgeon felt it was a better/safer idea to place a mini port in my left arm. It is positioned above the crease of my elbow.

NOTE:  If anyone has trouble with nausea after surgery, due to the anesthetic, I highly recommend you ask for a SCOPOLAMINE PATCH. Out of 4 surgeries since last November, this was my first nausea-free surgery. The patch is wonderful. It is normally used for motion sickness, but works well for after surgery as well.

On Wednesday morning, I went to the cancer clinic for my next chemo treatment. The WBC's have increased even more and are now up to 3.5. That is great! However, my HEMOGLOBIN is still declining and causing anemia. The biggest side effect of the anemia is weakness in my arms and legs, but I have been able to function otherwise.

The clinic nurse tried to access my new port for my chemo treatement, but it was still very swollen and sore. It was hard for her to feel where the port is located without pushing really hard and causing me a great deal of pain. So, I ended up getting an IV in my wrist again for the treatment. I am praying the pain/swelling will be decreased enough by next Tuesday so the port can be accessed.

Three more new things that have recently come about:

(1)  The chemo treatments have caused me to have some mild NEUROPATHY in my thumbs and first two fingers on each hand. This means there is some mild numbness and tingling going on, due to my nerves being effected. The doctor is not too concerned about it at this time, but we will be keeping an eye on it.

(2)  I am holding water, due to the chemo and have gained 3 lbs. in the last week. If things don't improve, I will need to start taking a diuretic.

(3) My right arm (the side where I had the mastectomy and lymph nodes removed) has had some mild swelling, most likely due to LYMPHEDEMA. It is mild at this point, but can get much worse if not treated. So, I will begin seeing a Physical Therapist that specializes in Lymphedema. My first appointment is on Monday.

Through it all, I have had peaceful days, as well as some discouraging days. The days that don't go as well for me are days when I take my focus off of my Creator and the fact that HE is in control of my life and the plans He has for me. My good days are days when I am staying connected to the Lord and accepting his gift of peace - a gift that has been made available to us all if we only choose to accept it. May the peace of the Lord be with YOU today...

John 14:27  - "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cancer Journey #19: No More Neupogen Shots

Just a quick update...

Yesterday, I had a NEUPOGEN shot given to me to help increase my White Blood Cells. It was given at 1:00 in the afternoon, and I didn't have any major allergic reactions. However, when I went to bed last night, I could not fall asleep, due to a pounding heart rate of 120 beats per minute keeping me awake. It lasted most of the night, and I think I got maybe 2-3 hours of sleep at best. By morning, the heart rate was down to 100 bpm. I called my doctor's office to ask about it, and they said I should not get any more of the shots.

The concern now is whether or not one shot was enough to increase my WBC's in order to safely have my port surgery on Tuesday. My doctor wants me to have the old port removed as soon as possible, but I don't want to have surgery if my WBC's are too low, as that will increase the risks of infection. So, I will go to the clinic on Monday to have it rechecked, and we will go from there.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cancer Journey Part 18: Update on My Port

In CANCER JOURNEY PART 17, I mentioned a problem with my port and the need for it to be removed. I was given the choice of having it replaced, or just going without one for the remainder of my treatments. At the time, I decided I wanted to have the port removed and just go without one.

At yesterday's appointment (Tuesday, May 7th) I changed my mind and have decided to get a new port installed when they take the old one out. What was the reason for this?  (1) The doctor said my veins in my arm are tiny and it would be less dangerous to use a port. (2)  I ended up getting stuck twice in the arm yesterday (the first one blew a vein and caused bruising) and I don't really want to have to go through that 6 more times. (3) I will still be needing routine bloodwork after treatments are finished. So, having a port my be helpful during that time.

So, the date for surgery has been scheduled for next Tuesday (May 14th). And, my usual Tuesday chemo appointment was changed to Wednesday.

Another area of concern is that my blood tests revealed a consistent drop in White Blood Cells. The numbers are in the area where my doctor is rather uncomfortable. He did go ahead and allow me to have my chemo treatment, but said I would need to take 3 doses of NEUPOGEN, beginning on Thursday. It is an injection that will help increase my WBC count, and make things safer for me to have chemo treatments, and to have my surgery next week.

I know there are many of you who will continue to keep me in your prayers. God bless you!

The following came from one of the cards that was sent to me awhile ago (Thanks, Carie!):

What do we do when we face challenges that make us wonder what's ahead? The answers are not always easy, and the direction is not always clear. In these circumstances, our hope is in God alone. Our lives and our times are in His hands, and He assures us that He is the rock we can stand upon through the storm.  ~ Roy Lessin

Sunday, May 5, 2013

What I Remember About Grandma

Three weeks ago today, my 93-year-old grandmother was getting ready for church and fell. She broke her hip and ended up in the hospital awaiting surgery. One week later, she passed away. The Memorial Service was held last weekend and many family and friends gathered to remember this special lady.

Let me tell you a little bit about what I remember about her, and what made her so special to ME...

I REMEMBER her working as a Surgical Technician at the hospital for 20 years. She was trained on the job and worked the early shift.

I REMEMBER after she retired from the hospital, she couldn’t sit still and do nothing, so she worked as a Nanny for several years, worked as a hostess at McDonald’s, and worked at a steakhouse called Maverick’s. Every place she worked she was well-loved and appreciated.

I REMEMBER going bowling with her at different times when I came to visit. She was on a league for many years and enjoyed it very much.

I REMEMBER her love of feeding ducks at the pond.

I REMEMBER how she loved going to garage sales to find a bargain. She found and collected many different stuffed animals, ducks of any kind, salt & pepper shakers, oil lamps, and other little knick knacks.

I REMEMBER her hospitality, how she welcomed anyone into her home, and how she always had cans of soda pop in the pantry for guests that would show up.

I REMEMBER her sweet tooth, and how she always had M&M’s or other chocolate candies lying around and ready to share. She also liked Jelly Beans.

I REMEMBER her generosity - always willing to give to anyone, always wanting to pay for gas money or for lunch.

I REMEMBER how much she loved fried chicken (especially the wings), and also fresh garden tomatoes.

I REMEMBER sharing a bedroom with her when we came to visit, and how her snoring was about as loud as the trains behind her house.

I REMEMBER her alarm clock blaring at 4:00 a.m. with the music from WFMB - she was a Country girl at heart.

I REMEMBER how she always got up early on Sunday mornings to go make coffee at church.

I REMEMBER her animals. At different times, she had a couple different dogs, several cats, and a couple of parakeets. They kept her company and she loved them.

I REMEMBER her adventurous spirit, always willing to try something new, including jumping on a trampoline at the age of 73.

I REMEMBER her playfulness and how she was not afraid to fight for her spoon in a card game we played called "Spoons." 

I REMEMBER her sense of humor, her smile, and her laugh. She loved life, despite the hardships she endured.

I REMEMBER going for walks around her neighborhood, and walks to the local Dairy Queen. It was always okay to go get an ice cream cone since we were "walking it off" on the way home.

I REMEMBER wanting to be like her when I grew up. In some ways, I know I am like her. That makes me happy, because she was an inspiration to me in so many ways. I miss her, but I know I’ll see her again someday... and, when I do, instead of walking with her to DQ, I know we’ll be walking together on streets of gold.

My brother made this video in memory of Grandma. Her favorite song was "Because He Lives."

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My husband, David, officiated a funeral yesterday for a friend from church. For the graveside service, he wrote a poem that I think is a good prayer regarding the death of a loved one:

Father in Heaven,
You know our pain,
You know our sorrow,
And we place our hope
In You for tomorrow.
May You be our comfort,
Our guiding light,
As we lay our head down
Every night.

Go with us now,
As we leave this place,
Til in glory we behold
Your face.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Cancer Journey Part 17: A Problem with My Port

I have had 5 doses of Taxol so far, and have 7 more to go. Things have generally been going well with the Taxol, as far as side effects go. Thankfully, fatigue has not been a huge problem anymore, except for on the days of treatments. The biggest side effects I’m experiencing are:

  • Thick saliva
  • Lessened taste
  • Numb fingernail beds
  • Mild occasional heartburn/sour stomach
  • Hot flashes
  • More hair loss

However, a few weeks ago, I started having some issues with my port (a Bard Powerport). At first, the nurses were unable to push anything through without slamming it in. It seemed to be just a positional thing, as it worked fine if I laid back in a recliner. Then, two sessions ago, when the needle was removed after treatment, I bled a lot more than usual and ended up bruising and swelling quite a bit around the port site. This past Tuesday was the final straw. When it came time to push the pre-meds through the port, I began feeling some pain and the nurse noticed the area around the port had begun to bulge. The meds were pooling under the skin for some reason. They ended up putting an IV in the side of my wrist and gave me the treatment through that; then set up an appointment for me to get a Port Study done at the hospital the next day.

The nurses in Radiology were great and made me feel as comfortable as possible. X-rays were taken with and without a contrast dye. Then, the Radiologist came and talked with me and David about what he saw. Apparently, I have what is called PINCH-OFF SYNDROME. It is a somewhat rare condition that happens when the catheter is repeatedly pinched between the clavicle (collar bone) and the first rib. The repeated pinching wears out a portion of the catheter, causing it to crack. In some cases, it can even break off completely, causing more serious complications. I praise God that didn't happen with me! But, obviously, since the port is now cracked and leaking, it is not able to be used. So, I am waiting to get scheduled for removal of the port.

I had the option of either having a new port installed, or going without one for the next 7 treatments. I chose the latter. I am hoping it is the right decision. My thinking is that, as long as the Taxol is not going to burn the veins (which I've been told it shouldn't), then I would rather go through 7 more IV insertions than have the risk of another port malfunctioning or have the need to have an additional surgery to remove the new port once treatments are done. I know some people keep them in for years with no problems, but I am apparently one of the "lucky" ones who DID have a problem. My husband says, since I’m so "lucky," maybe I should go play the Lottery. Ha! But, anyway, now I’m just waiting for surgery to be scheduled. My guess is it will be sometime next week.

So, how do I feel about all of this? Honestly... I’m not angry with God; but, I AM frustrated with the whole situation. I’m ready for chemo treatments to be done, and I’m ready for my life to get back to normal. But, then again, I guess dealing with this cancer IS my new normal. I know my life will never be the same from now on. So..... through it all, I will continue to cling to God’s hand; and I will continue to press on....

Missional Women