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Finding My Way Through The Chemo Fog

29 Mar

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I had my LAST chemo treatment four days ago and the chemo fog is lifting after this treatment.  Many of us laugh about chemo brain, but it is real and it can be very frustrating.  For many years, the phenomenon of chemo brain was blamed on stress, anxiety and fatigue.  While it is true that these things can impact brain function, neuro-psychological testing has confirmed that chemo does cause changes in the brain.  Doctors and researchers call chemo brain a “mild cognitive impairment”.

For me, chemo brain has impacted my memory, ability to concentrate, multi-task and I feel mentally “foggy” for the first week after chemo.  It feels as though I’ve had one too many drinks and my processing skills are slightly delayed.  In real life, I am a serious multi-tasker, but not the week after chemo.  I have to write notes to remember everything and often confuse dates and times.  I also exchange words (“Please put the milk back in the dishwasher.”).

My worst moment of chemo brain was a few weeks ago.  My boys’ parent teacher conferences were scheduled for a particular day in March.  My son brought home a reminder slip that needed to be signed and returned to the teacher by an earlier date.  Somehow, I decided that parent teacher conferences were on that earlier date.  I added the new date to my calendar, made arrangements with my mom to watch the boys and we were all set to go…on the wrong date.  Luckily, my husband caught my mistake, confirmed with my neighbor the correct date and fixed it all while I was sleeping during my worse day of chemo.  Not my proudest parenting moment, since I am usually on top of things.  Luckily, I could blame it on my chemo brain.

According to cancer.org, chemo brain can cause the following:

  • Forgetting things that they usually have no trouble recalling (memory lapses)
  • Trouble concentrating (they can’t focus on what they’re doing, have a short attention span, may “space out”)
  • Trouble remembering details like names, dates, and sometimes larger events
  • Trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, without losing track of one task (they are less able to do more than one thing at a time)
  • Taking longer to finish things (disorganized, slower thinking and processing)
  • Trouble remembering common words (unable to find the right words to finish a sentence)

To my fellow warriors who are going through chemo, please be kind to yourself if you are struggling with chemo brain.  Be open and honest with your loved ones and coworkers about your “temporary mild cognitive impairment”.  Having chemo brain for the duration of your chemo is certainly tolerable.   The good news is that chemo brain goes away after chemo.  My chemo brain tends to get better about five days after treatment (please don’t tell my husband as this is my excuse for forgetting things 24/7 ).

As for the rainbow that I always search for through my storm of breast cancer, I am going to use the excuse of chemo brain for the rest of my life.  When I am 75, this will be my excuse:   “Oh, I forgot your birthday?  So sorry…I have chemo brain…remember that I had chemo in my forties.”.  I encourage you to do the same!  I’d love to hear about your craziest moment of chemo brain…share in a comment or on my Facebook page!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly  McKee (The Breast Cancer Warrior)

© Copyright 2012-2013  Beverly McKee. All Rights Reserved.

For more information about The Breast Cancer Warrior, visit my website at www.breastcancerwarrior.org.

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Creating Normalcy During Treatment

22 Mar

Initially upon being diagnosed with breast cancer, your world is turned completely upside down.  Everything is focused on further testing, precise diagnosis, developing a treatment plan and learning to live with the idea that you have a potentially life threatening disease.  I will never forget those first few weeks of overwhelming emotions but the reality is that it gets easier with time.

The treatment for breast cancer is a marathon that often lasts about a year for many women.  The actual time frame varies, based on the type of surgery needed, the number of chemo treatments and spacing between them and if there is a need for radiation and/or reconstruction.  I originally anticipated that my journey would last six months until my pathology report set me on a different course.  My start to finish journey, including reconstruction, should last about a year.

One year…twelve months…365 days.  It seems like a long time but in the overall snapshot of my lifetime, it is a small bump in the road.  I decided fairly early into my journey that I wanted to ride the long storm out in a positive way by maintaining as much normalcy as possible.  I had my bilateral mastectomy two weeks before Thanksgiving.  I was still recovering, but we maintained our tradition of driving to my home town of Hermann, MO and spending the day with my family and close friends.  We decorated our house for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and held our annual cookie making day a few weeks later.  I remember the first time that I felt life returning to “normal” or a “new normal” about a month after my diagnosis.  It felt really good to get back to living life, even though I knew there were dark days to come.

This past weekend, my family went to Table Rock Lake for a long weekend.  We hadn’t left on an overnight trip since my surgery and I was shocked to feel some anxiety as I contemplated leaving the security of my home.  I love going to the lake and enjoy getting away from home, so the anxiety was unexpected.  I quickly surmised that it was okay to feel anxious, as life had changed since we’d last left home.   I was also dealing with the side effects of my chemo treatment from last Monday.  My feelings quickly changed to excitement as we checked into our hotel and enjoyed 70 degree weather.  We spent two days on the lake, soaking up the sun and bonding as a family.   It truly was a wonderful trip that recharged my spirit and body.

I share this story with all of you in the hope that it will offer encouragement to my fellow warriors who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer or those facing any new challenge in life.  The initial whirlwind will calm down and you will find a new normal.  I encourage you to live life as normal as possible and to embrace the things that bring you joy as you move through the storm of breast cancer treatment.  Look for the rainbows and if you can’t find them, create them.  Remember…even the biggest storm will eventually run out of rain.

Thanks for reading!

Beverly

“What Can I Do To Help?”

1 Mar

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We all know the feeling of helplessness when a friend or family member experiences a health crisis.  We want to reach out and help.  We all say the same thing:  “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help”.  We mean those words, but rarely know how to follow through on them.  We often feel guilty for not helping, then get distracted with our own life challenges.

So what can you do to really help a friend or family member going through breast cancer treatment or any other health crisis?  Here are some tips to get you started:

  •  Think about what your friend will NOT be able to do during treatment:  walk the dog, make dinner, take their kids to practice, decorate for Christmas, cut the lawn, pick up groceries, drive to doctor’s appointments, etc.  Enlist the help of others who are close to your friend and brainstorm ideas.
  • Choose a specific task that you can easily help organize and make them an offer they cannot refuse.  For example:  “I know it will be difficult for you to take your child to basketball practice on Tuesday’s.  Can I help by picking him up from school and bringing him home afterwards?”
  • Preparing meals is often a major task, especially after surgery.  Offer to set up a caring calendar.  Click here for the website.  A good friend of mine set up a caring calendar for my family after my bilateral mastectomy.   I will be eternally grateful to all of the friends and family who prepared or picked up meals and left them on a cooler on my front porch while I rested during the day.  You can also mail a gift card to a local restaurant that delivers.  We have enjoyed several of these over the last few months.
  • Offer to take your friend to doctor’s appointments.  Give them the option for you to wait in the waiting room for privacy or take notes during the visit if they are comfortable with you in the room.
  • Help with the house cleaning and laundry is another big one that is often over looked.  My mom helped me with both of these tasks and I am also going to get help from “Cleaning For A Reason”.  They offer four free house cleanings to breast cancer patients going through treatment.  Click here for their website.  It has helped me relax and recover, knowing that my house was clean.
  • Offer to visit with the patient.  Some people may enjoy a visit at home while others may prefer to go out for lunch.  Let her take the lead during conversation…if she wants to discuss her diagnosis/treatment/side effects/etc for an hour, just listen.  If she wants to talk about anything but her cancer, just listen.  Most importantly, don’t overstay your welcome.  I loved a visit from friends but would tire out easily after surgery.  I always appreciated when they recognized that I was tired and would hug me and leave, so that I could rest.
  • Send a card or a little gift.  I have received cards from all over the nation during my treatment.  My favorite aunt sends me one card a week…without fail.  I have also received cards from people that I do not know well.  They always bring a smile to my face.

Thanks to all of my friends and family who have supported me through surgery and my first six chemo treatments.  You have made all of the difference in the world!  My advice to all of you wanting to make a difference for a friend going through breast cancer treatment:  JUST DO IT!  Don’t wait…make them an offer they can’t refuse and make it happen.  You will help the patient feel loved and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have a made a difference for your friend during a challenging time.

Thanks for reading!

Beverly

For more information about The Breast Cancer Warrior, visit my website at www.breastcancerwarrior.org.

You can follow The Breast Cancer Warrior on Facebook by clicking here.

Feeling great, other than nerve pain

20 Feb

2/16/13

I have felt better, overall, with this new drug and Chemo #5.  I only slept half of the day on Wednesday and have not had any of the queasiness, disdain for normal food or burning in my mouth.  All great news!  The biggest issue that I’ve had is nerve pain, primarily in my abdomen.  I will feel fine, then it is like a firework explodes and the little falling beams of light hurt intensely, but only for about 30 seconds.  The pain kept me on the couch Thursday evening, but has improved since then.  It hits randomly and has also appeared throughout my chest and back.  I spoke to the nurse and she said that taking Vitamin B6 may help, so I started that today.  Very odd and not pleasant, but bearable.

I was able to celebrate Valentines Day with both kids during their classroom parties on Thursday.  I hadn’t been to school since starting chemo in December, but my doctor approved the visit and I had a great time!

I hope everyone has a great afternoon!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly

Chemo #5

20 Feb

2/11/13

I started my new chemo drug today. It’s called Taxol, the “T” part of my AC-T treatment. I will only have one drug per treatment, so it will automatically be easier to tolerate. This drug causes fatigue in only 10% of patients so there is a 90% chance that I will not have fatigue…great news!!!!!!!!!! The burning in my mouth should go away since it is not a side effect of this new chemo. I should also have less nausea…thank goodness! The most common side effect with Taxol is body and muscle aches…controllable with Advil and not all people have this problem.

I had to take Benadryl with my chemo, which normally makes me sleep, but I had steroids in my pre-chemo meds, so I tried to rest but was too edgy from the chemo. My best friend from college took me to chemo again today. She was a great chemo companion and kept me laughing and entertained the entire time. Taxol is a longer infusion (3 hours) in addition to blood work and pre-chemo meds. I spent almost 5 hours in the chemo chair…long day but only three to go!

I was nervous about how I would react to the new chemo but I’m doing great so far! Normally, I come home from chemo and relax. Tonight, I took the dog for a short walk, helped my husband prepare an easy dinner, ate a normal dinner with the family (usually my taste buds are off so I can only tolerate comfort foods) and am still going strong. I am hoping for a great week….I’ll keep you posted!

Thanks to my neighbor for thinking of me during his vacation to Hawaii! He went to a beach with black sand and brought back a beautiful black lava rock, made smooth by the pounding of the waves.  Knowing that I am not alone on this journey makes it so much easier.

Fingers crossed for few side effects with this new chemo!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly

Halfway done with chemo!

20 Feb

2/6/13

I have been feeling great this week, but Chemo #4 hit me a little harder than the first three.  My red blood count was down just a bit, which made me feel more fatigued than I generally do.  I felt fine the day after chemo, actually the best I’ve ever felt the day after chemo.  The following day (Wednesday), I slept most of the day.  The fatigue is all-consuming and too much fight.  I have vague recollections throughout the day but really just slept.  The nausea was a bit worse this time, but I feel better without the steroids on Day 2 and 3.  Acupuncture helped tremendously and I was feeling fine by Friday.

Yesterday, I attended a “Look Good, Feel Better” session provided by the American Cancer Society.  I was in a big class, with about 15 other women.  Many of them were older, but there were five of us in the same age range.  We all received a bag of makeup valued at $600 from a variety of companies, received a make up lesson and heard about tips to deal with hair loss.

I felt like an old pro at breast cancer among the younger women.  One of them had been diagnosed three weeks ago and had just started her first chemo treatment.  I shared my story of my tumor being 6.5 cm and not showing up on the mammogram the day that I had the biopsy, which prompted another woman to share a similar story.  I shared my plastic surgeon’s name, my wig store’s information and other tips for getting through the tough days.  I felt very conflicted about meeting these women.  I was glad to share my story and offer my support and yet I felt such sadness for their new diagnosis.  It’s time to find a cure and put an end to breast cancer once and for all!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly

Who dies from breast cancer?

20 Feb

2/1/13

“Who dies from breast cancer?”

Kind of a morbid question to ask my oncologist, but I wanted to know.  Please don’t be alarmed…I’m not worried that it’s going to be me.  It has never once entered my mind that I won’t beat this disease, ever.  But as I hear about women who don’t survive, it makes me wonder…who are those women?

I saw my oncologist alone two weeks ago, so that I could ask this exact question.  She is very straight forward and didn’t flinch when I asked her the question.  She looked me in the eye and said that sometimes, she knows that a person is going to die the moment they walk into her office.  They believe that breast cancer is a death sentence, so they believe they are going to die and eventually, they do.

There are many kinds of breast cancer, most of which have treatment options.  Some do not…yet.  The women with this type of breast cancer have tumors that do not respond to treatment and eventually, it spread to other parts of their bodies and they die.  New drugs are released every day, so please continue to pray that the cure is found for all types of breast cancer…not just mine.

So, that’s the answer to my very morbid but very honest question.  My oncologist told me that eventually, everyone asks the question in some fashion.  I’m glad I asked and my doctor was honest.  I feel incredibly grateful that my breast cancer is so treatable but I also feel a deep sadness for the women who aren’t so lucky.

I know some of you are so worried that I won’t make it through this journey.  Please, put your fears aside.  I am strong, persistent and never back down from a challenge.  Channel your fear into prayers for the women who do not have treatment options and be grateful that my cancer is so treatable.

I am halfway through my breast cancer treatment.  I made it through major surgery, all of my fills (my girls are a happy C+), and halfway through my chemo.  I still have a long stretch of road ahead with 4 more chemo treatments, lymph node surgery and six weeks of radiation…ending the second week of June.  Then, I will head to Sanibel Island and relax and enjoy my family and my beloved beach.  Fall will bring my final reconstruction surgery and a hysterectomy, but these are follow up surgeries…not treatment.

For now, I will keep marching forward and enjoy the great week ahead of me.  I am through the fog of treatment #4 and done with AC!

Have a wonderful weekend!  Hugs and love to all of you!

Thanks for reading!

Beverly