Tuesday started with an early appointment for an Echocardiogram.  I also needed an EKG, but you can’t make an appointment for those.  As it worked out, I didn’t even have to leave the room after the Echo, the nurse with the EKG came on a cart to me and that was over super fast! Turns out, my heart is good and it’s in the right place – Happy Valentines!

After the heart stuff we had an appointment in Oncology to go over chemo info with a lovely nurse.  She went over what to expect, especially in terms of side effects – nausea, bone pain, etc.  We talked about the protocol and the different drugs.  It was a lot of information, and I think we both left with a better feel for what could be ahead, not that this was any fun. 

We now have a magic card that is a free pass to a private area if we should need to visit the ER.  Because chemo knocks out your immune system they don’t leave you in the waiting room soaking up the same air as the guy with the brutal cough.  It won’t shorten the wait, but it would isolate me from contagious people.  What a perk!  

I think the thing that surprised me most was chemo sweat.  The body naturally detoxes chemo in a variety of ways, and it will come out the skin. It’s good not to touch anyone, no hugs, none of that touching kindness stuff because chemo drugs are coming out of your skin and it’s important not to get that on anyone because it is – you guessed it – TOXIC.  Clothing has to be washed after every wear. Bedding  needs to be washed weekly, and there is even a protocol for using the toilet if you share it with another non-chemo bottom.  I was sitting there thinking that our water bill was going to go up!  (I’ve picked up a second sheet set to make washing bedding a bit more convenient.  Funny how you have to undo the downsizing sometimes.  I used to have allll the sheets.)

I realized some of my clothes can’t be washed because they are wool.  So before chemo begins I will need to go through my capsule wardrobe and bring out only the things that are cotton and can handle repeated washes.  And then I will pack away the stuff that can’t be washed.  No wool blazers for me for the next 4 months, but that’s not a big deal.  I’m sure I have well more than enough clothing, and my only real question is if I will ever actually make it out of PJ’s? Maybe for the doctor visits?  Maybe not.

Chemo takes out your immune system and she talked about masking up and being extremely protective of personal space if you are out somewhere.  Nobody crosses the invisible line to get close, no hugs, no handshakes, always with a mask on… absolutely no mingling with sick people whatsoever.  Good thing we’ve got a lot of Covid practice in, otherwise that would be really difficult.  As it is, it’s all sounding pretty normal.  Did I just get grateful for a world wide pandemic there for a second?  Try not to hate me.  

Finally, we topped off the day with a visit to the Radiology Oncologist at Martha Jefferson.  We actually spent part of the time talking about the friend who made the appointment for us, both of us telling stories of his considerable charm.  She’s also funny and charming, and we enjoyed hanging out with her.  There were two scribes in the room taking notes as she spoke a mile a minute, and I have no idea how they kept pace with her.  

Radiation is every weekday for 4 weeks.  The drive over to Martha Jefferson to her office would be an hour +, the radiation takes about a half hour all told, and then back on the road home.  The side effects are disruption of life, heck of a commute, feeling tired, changes to breast weight and texture, and the feeling of sunburn. There’s no dietary prep, and no nausea.  

Interesting enough, the challenge with “far left sided breast cancer” is to make sure they stay clear of ribs and heart with the radiation.  She explained that I would take a deep breath, hold it, and the radiation would happen before I exhale.

She also mentioned that the way to get out of doing radiation was to opt for a full mastectomy of the left breast. That’s tempting. And so we have more decisions to make.

That was a lot of cancer for one day, the ride home was pretty quiet. I don’t think I’d want to make that drive every day for 4 weeks. She’d checking to see what techniques are used at a Radiation office closer to us, and so we may or may not continue in her care. I liked her a lot though, I totally get why our client insisted that we must see her!

Still, I’m “suffering” only with a diagnosis at this point – and the stress level is considerable. I feel knots in my back and I try to remember to take walks to unwind the kinks in my body, and I don’t always sleep that well. Actual treatment starts next week with the surgery to install the port and biopsy the lymph nodes. Some of the tests have been pretty invasive (especially the biopsy) but nothing too bad, no big pain levels so far. At this stage the mental game is everything.

I recently read about the suicide rate skyrocketing in those first few weeks after diagnosis. I can see how that could happen for people who are already living in not-ideal situations. I’m not suicidal, I’m healthy, I have people around me that genuinely care, and we already know how to live a simple life on very little. However, to the friend who is reading this… maybe you’re online in the middle of the night researching breast cancer stories. Please know that you’re not alone. Your life matters. No matter what is left by the time you finish treatment, your life can still have meaning and purpose.

Please take good care of yourself. You Matter!

4 responses to “A Good Heart”

  1. Claudete Obenschain Avatar
    Claudete Obenschain

    You might check with AH on radiation. I had encouraged Sarah to do radiation at UVA, but Dr. Brenin (without prompting) told us that AH has an excellent radiology department and that one of their staff now works there.


  2. Rachel Miller Avatar

    As a long time oncology-hospice nurse, I can assure you that you are buying another life time. In the 70-90’s, I swore I would never did chemo, but the protocols and drugs have changed and now, even at 73, I would go through what you are going through and not bat an eye. So many women with stage 3 and 4 are living decades. I am astounded and excited when I see how the outcomes have changed. You have to make your own decisions about surgery, but for me, I’d cut that offending boob off and go buy a size I always wanted. That’s even New Testament, if it offends, cut it off. Sorry, could not resist. seminary student that you are.

    It a tough and shitty journey but I’m always astounded how many women work through their chemo, teach school and work at other jobs, no masks etc. In fact, they fight so no one finds out. They are afraid they will lose their jobs and insurance. Most employers are extremely sympathetic and give the day after chemo off so they have the weekend to recuperate. It’s best not to work. We do tell people to not use the subway but some have to.

    I’m sending you love and hope! You will survive this journey. I am sure by now you have discovered how many women have had or have, breast cancer. Many live for years, getting chemo continually. I’m talking about the new Immunotherapy drugs. It astounds me.

    Have courage and hope. You deserve the time you will buy. We all want more time. You have so much to fight for. You, yourself, are worth the fight! You join a host of women fighting the fight!

    And, it’s good to have a wicked sense of humor. Many of my patients would crack me up. Tears and laughter are so closely connected.

    Rachel Miller

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carmen Shenk Avatar

      Cut off the offending thing and go buy the size I always wanted!! Hilarious and good advice. Thanks for this marvelous comment! 💜💙💚


  3. Cindy Avatar

    I read all of your thoughtful and informative posts and find them helpful to me. Thank you for taking your time to reach out to others. You are a gift!


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