Well, I’ll Be Damned, She’s Back!

female warrior

I never thought I’d say that. The doctors seemed so certain, case closed, seen it a million times before. But that just goes to show, my body doesn’t fit  neatly into a mold created by modern medicine. She plays by her own rules, always has. And just when I get used to the idea of “what is supposed to happen now”, the agenda changes. But I should have known better. My body is a fighter.

One of the perils (or perks, depending on your point of view) of getting invasive breast cancer in your forties is the near certainty that menopause will follow chemotherapy. As my oncologist told me, “Don’t worry, your ovaries will be dead soon.” I fired him not long after that comment, oh, and the sepsis that he thought could wait until morning.

For a while, he was right. My last cycle was in June of 2013, before my lovely tango with Taxol began in July. My ovaries went into hiding like two frightened puppies under a blanket during a fierce thunderstorm. Except for a brief period earlier this year that I chalked up to experimenting with some hormones (bad girl!), I have been effectively menopausal for nearly a year. Hot flashes, mood swings, fatigue, weight gain, you name it, I’ve experienced it.

So, imagine my surprise when my monthly visitor came last Saturday. I had been in a horrible mood the week before, and I felt very crampy and bloated, but I just thought I was receiving yet more exciting menopause bonus gifts. Then I worried. One thing that breast cancer steals is your ability to just brush things off. Once active treatment ends, every pain, every headache, and every symptom that once would have been “normal” creates a small sense of panic.

Added to my fear was the fact that I’ve been using Estriol cream to offset the unpleasant sexual side effects of low estrogen (which works very well, by the way). This is not exactly sanctioned by my oncologist. Ok, not at all. I’ve done a lot of research, and Estriol doesn’t seem to cause growth of the uterine lining the way estradiol does, but there are always exceptions. So, as the spotting lingered on, my mind went to the possibility of uterine cancer. I called my gynecologist.

I had my appointment this morning with Dr. M, another wonderful doctor that I’ve been lucky enough to find. Just to let you know how unusual she is, she once called me from her cell phone on vacation to warn me against seeing the breast surgeon that I had originally chosen. It turned out that she had done her residency under him and saw him cut corners that put patients lives in jeopardy. No one would ever have known this because he is incredibly charming and prays with his patients, and they adore him. I can’t tell you what that meant to me.

Dr. M wasn’t particularly worried. She smiled at me and said, “I think you’re just menstruating.”

“But the oncologist told me I was done.”

“They say that all the time, but I see women get their periods back at your age. Now you really need to think about contraception.”

“Huh?” In the space of five minutes, I went from a menopausal crone to a woman with a cycle who needs to worry about getting pregnant. It must be the hair. When I went to Florida last month, I saw a fabulous hairstylist who erased my silver locks and made me a bithcin’ blonde. My body must have just taken notice of this turn of events and decided that we’re younger now.

Dr. M didn’t flinch when I told her about the Estriol. She said that she didn’t think that would cause bleeding using it only twice per week, but we’re waiting to see what happens. She told me that if the cycles didn’t have a pattern, or the spotting didn’t stop soon, to give her a call and she would order an ultrasound.

I guess I’ll have to take back all of the feminine products I moved to my daughter’s bathroom months ago. I know I should be freaking out that I have enough estrogen to restart a menstrual cycle, but in a strange way, I’m kind of tickled. My body is rebelling against the months of insults that have been hurled at it and trying to regain balance. In my opinion, that’s pretty awesome.

Playing Chicken With Cancer, Part 1

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

I’ve been reminded of this, my favorite poem, several times over the past few days as I wrestle with the decision of whether or not to take bioidentical hormones. I know, you’re thinking at this point that I’ve finally lost my mind. After all, I just finished treatment in December for a cancer that was 95% positive for both estrogen and progesterone receptors. Do I have a death wish?

Quite the contrary. I have a life wish, a desire for a full, vibrant life. For those who have been down the path of being suddenly and completely thrown into a premature hormonal black hole from the effects of chemotherapy, you can attest to the fact that it takes away something of your essence. You may not be a raving lunatic, but the light in your soul is dimmed.

Of course, some will fare better than others, but it nevertheless leaves you forever changed from the person you were before. Last June, I was a young woman with a regular (albeit overzealous) menstrual cycle; fertility was a stretch, but still within sight. Boom! In July, I was menopausal, my ovaries poisoned and relegated to the role of dusty internal decorations.

Now, if you are diagnosed with cancer in your 60’s, as most women are, hopefully you have been allowed to gracefully cross over the threshold of menopause, and perhaps some of the hormonal side effects of chemo are less pronounced. But at 45, or God forbid 30, like some of my blogging sisters, you are asked to live like a woman 20 or 30 years your senior and just be grateful to be alive at all.

To add insult to injury, the final step in breast cancer treatment is often Tamoxifen, Femara, or one of their ugly step-sisters. These drugs eliminate whatever poor, lonely molecule of estrogen that might remain in your body, trying desperately to hang on. The side effects of these drugs can include: joint pain (post-menopausal arthritis), mood swings, weight gain, cognitive impairment, depression, uterine cancer, osteoporosis, heart problems, etc. If you complain to your doctor, you’re likely to get a pat on the shoulder and a prescription for pain meds and anti-depressants.

I understand the thinking in the medical community that IF estrogen drives breast cancer, the best course of treatment is to eliminate the offending substance, thereby creating a “cure”. What puzzles me is that there are a few chinks in this hypothesis. First, the times in a woman’s life where she has the highest level of hormones, i.e. pregnancy and in her late teens/early 20’s, also happen to be the times with the lowest incidence of breast cancer. You are much more likely to be diagnosed in your 60’s or 70’s, when estrogen levels have been low for some time.

Also, I see all around me women on these blogs who have towed the party line, done the chemo, radiation, and estrogen-blocking drugs, only to see the cancer recur in a more aggressive, or metastatic form. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, which would lead me to believe that cancer is a multi-factorial disease which can’t be watered down to a simple “kill the estrogen” approach.

I wrote about the work of Dr. Jonathan Wright, the doctor for Suzanne Somers, in this post. Dr. Wright is the pioneer of bioidentical hormones in this country, and he has had Suzanne on them since her breast cancer diagnosis over 10 years ago. He believes that estrogen (in it’s natural form and when properly balanced) does not cause breast cancer and may help prevent it.

He uses a formula made of a small fraction of estradiol (the aggressive estrogen), and a large fraction of estriol (a weaker protective estrogen). He believes that the estriol acts as a sort of Tamoxifen, attaching to beta receptors on the cell, which actually discourages cell growth and proliferation. He then balances the formula with progesterone and other hormones as needed.

I’ve read his book, and it makes a lot of sense. But, being me, I feel more comfortable consulting with someone who is knowledgeable and respected in his field, so I had an appointment this week with an integrative MD. Yes, I’ve been down this road before, but the previous guy I saw, while a lovely person, didn’t project the confidence that I need to see in such a serious matter. I don’t mean this to sound arrogant, but most of the time I leave a doctor’s office feeling like I know more than he does about nutrition, supplements, and the relevant research that’s out there. I want to be wowed.

I spent 3 hours at the new doctor’s office on Tuesday. Good start. For the first hour, I sat with the nurse as she took a detailed history and listened to my issues. She then gave the doc a synopsis while I had vitals taken. The next hour was spent with the doctor, going over his thoughts on my case and his recommendations. He told me right off the bat that he is not an oncologist and he wants me to be monitored by my own doctor. He also said that while he is an MD, he would be offering things that no mainstream doctor is willing to do, often at the risk of being attacked by the medical board.

I appreciated his honesty and his willingness to step “out of line” in spite of the repercussions. It was clear that he must have tangled with oncologists before, as he included in my packet a “Dear Medical Oncologist” letter that he had written in response to an angry doctor who challenged his use of hormones in a breast cancer patient.

He wasn’t the kind of warm and fuzzy that I prefer, and I actually put off going to him because I had heard that he is very arrogant. In truth, he is not so much arrogant as confident and efficient. He stared at me intently as he laid out his plans in a no-nonsense fashion. I scanned his eyes for signs of hesitation or self-doubt as he spoke. I saw none. I asked tough questions. He answered them, sometimes in a surprising way.

So what did the doctor suggest as the next move in this high-stakes chess game? Stay tuned tomorrow for the results of my visit and my decision.

I Had To Buy New Big Girl Panties….

inspirational quote

Life for the past week or so has been rough. I went on the fabulous, soul-sustaining trip to Florida with my son, and the after-glow lasted for several days once I got back. I felt like a new girl, like I wasn’t in the middle of a grueling 4-month course of chemo. Then the crash came…

Last Tuesday, I woke to the most overwhelming sense of sadness that I’ve had since finding out about the breast cancer back in March. It came out of nowhere and threw me for a real loop. It felt exactly like the neurotic, post-partum funk I always experienced when I brought a baby home from the hospital. I lost my bearings, and I couldn’t control the tears which flowed freely at the drop of a hat.

I chalked the emotional avalanche up to the complete dearth of estrogen in my body caused by the chemo drugs. Interestingly, I have to say that Adriamycin, aka “the red devil”, didn’t feel as inherently toxic to my body as Taxol has. Yes, it made me more physically ill with nausea, heartburn, etc, but I feel intuituvely that Taxol is leaving a more lasting, albeit silent, wake of destruction. For all it’s red rage, Adriamycin did not stop my menstrual cycle. First drop of Taxol = “instant menopause”.

I had an appointment with the oncologist at last Thursday’s treatment. He asked how things were going. I held it together for a few minutes as I described how horribly I was struggling with the emotional aspect of having no estrogen. I asked if he had read the research about using low-dose vaginal estrogen to help with menopausal symptoms in breast cancer patients. He said that he had, but that he didn’t feel comfortable doing that because he wasn’t sure how much estrogen would be released systemically. Game over. I started sobbing.

He went on to tell me that I could get anti-depressants and lubricants, neither of which appeals to me as a long-term solution. I explained that I had been on anti-depressants for post-partum issues and that it took me 6 years and 25lbs to break out of that prison. I finally got to a happy, balanced place with the running and the healthy diet. Then this shit happened. I almost felt sorry for him because he is a genuinely caring person, and I know he felt bad that he couldn’t offer me any real hope. His advice was, “Don’t get ahead of yourself. Just take things one day at a time.” Ok.

Today, I am in a little bit of a better place. Ever the problem-solver, I took the advice of my Gyspsy goddess acupuncturist and made an appointment with an integrative MD that she knows well and respects. She assured me that I would really like him and that he is very open-minded. I hope so…the initial consult is $465 for two hours. And of course, he is not covered by my insurance. I’m a little very leery of spending this much out of pocket since I know there will inevitably be follow-ups and supplements, but I really want to meet a doctor I can fall in love with and who gets me. I will run my hormone hell by him.

I have also been reading more inspirational things on the web lately. I went on the BreastCancer.Org discussion boards yesterday and read about ladies who are 5 and 10-year plus survivors of Stage 3 breast cancer. Some were even 25+ years out with things like triple-negative status and 20 positive nodes. I needed to see that. They are living normal lives and having fun, and they don’t spend every day anymore worrying.

I’m considering doing a 5k to celebrate the final round of Taxol next week. Friends are uging me on, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off two days after chemo. I’ll go with my gut when next Saturday comes. Whenever I get back to racing, I have designed the t-shirt I’ll wear:

5K CANCER SHIRT

5K CANCER SHIRT BACK

I’ll keep you posted…until then I’m pulling up my crisp new pair of big girl panties and reclaiming control.

Taxol #5 And Dinner’s On Me

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

 

***RECIPE IS AT END OF POST***

Today was chemo day; the 5th overall and the 3rd of my weekly treatments. Always being the rebellious child, I started out with 2 dose dense treatments and decided really fast that those were for the birds. So, I switched to a weekly regime with a lower dose and caused my new doctor to have to do math and stuff. He sentenced me to six more weeks with no chance of parole. Fast forward to today, and I have 3 weeks left!

Last week was sooo nice, as chemotherapy goes. My white blood cell count was low, so my dose was reduced even further. That was the best I have felt after any treatment, ever. My mom came to stay for a few days because my husband had knee surgery on top of everything else. You know, chemo just doesn’t present enough of a challenge sometimes. I went for the lightning bonus round! We were able to shop all weekend, and I actually felt pretty decent in spite of having a Neupogen shot on Friday and another on Monday. Let me tell you, Claritin is the ticket if you have to get cell booster shots. No bone pain whatsoever.

burka

Unfortunately, I gallivanted around so much that I caught a nasty cold Monday. So here I am, this pitiful creature with a bandana and a snuffy nose. Quite a lovely sight! I should probably wear one on my head and one over my nose and mouth so I don’t get germs. Too bad I’m not Muslim; a burka would be perfect for someone in my situation.

I find that I’m able to do a lot more of my usual activities with weekly Taxol. I just get a little tired two days after infusion, and my hemoglobin is going down again, uggh! Today it was 10.6, which isn’t terrible, but normal for me is 14, so I’m really feeling the effects when I try to run. There’s just not enough oxygen to do any sustained exercise. But I’m still getting out there at least twice a week to keep some level of fitness. I’m not expecting to be in top shape. (Ok, I do get a little frustrated, but I’m trying…) 🙂

Today I’m going to share a recipe that requires a little more prep than the others you’ve seen, but it’s very healthy and tastes delicious! So the extra effort is worth it. A food processor would be a Godsend for recipes like this. I don’t have one, so it takes a long time to dice all the veggies. I’ll be getting one soon.

STUFFED PORTABELLA MUSHROOMS

Ingredients:

1 diced yellow squash

1 diced zucchini squash

1/2 diced sweet onion

1 cup diced mushrooms (can dice portabella stems)

6 large portabella mushrooms

organic canned diced tomatoes

4 servings basmati or wild brown pecan rice

1/2 pound browned meat (I used mild Italian sausage)- optional

shredded mozzarella cheese to taste

Directions:

Cook rice according to package directions. Dice all vegetables. Wash mushrooms thoroughly and pat dry. Scrape ribs out of mushroom caps gently with a spoon to make room for filling. Brown Meat; drain and set aside. Hover over pics below to see captions:

Bake at 400° for 8-10 minutes. Serves 4-6, depending on appetite.

Well, I’m off to dice veggies…enjoy.

Taxol Round #3: How 2 + 1 = 7

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

 

Well, here we are, three days post chemo. I have officially taken Taxol outside, grabbed it by the throat and hogtied it. I’m whispering this, though, because Taxol is tricky. While I have my back turned, typing, it could sneak out of that seedy alley and beat the crap out of me. It is a formidable component.

boxerpicture by Keith Abigail

A lot has changed since my last treatment over two weeks ago. Do you remember my doctor saga? After that fiasco, I had an appointment with a new oncologist last week whom I had met once before and found extremely likable and caring. As I predicted, some karmic wind blew through my old oncology office and foreshadowed my leaving.

I kid you not. On my way to the appointment, I got a call from the nurse at the old group telling me that the doctor I had been trying to switch to for 2 weeks had an unexpected opening the next morning right before my chemo session. So, in some twisted version of the Dating Game, I had gone from no doctor to having to decide between two new ones in the space of 5 minutes.

the dating gamephoto courtesy of ICVDM

What’s a girl to do? I absolutely loved them both. They were down to earth, respectful, and humble. They both spent a lot of time answering my questions and looking at my research studies, and neither tried to tell me that my fears about Taxol were unfounded. Instead, they admitted that Taxol may not be useful in all women with breast cancer. The truth is, we just don’t have enough studies yet to change standard protocols. I can appreciate that. I have an open mind, I just want someone to thoroughly explain why I should put myself through something so grueling when it’s benefit has been called into question.

In the end, I decided to stay with the old group. The new doctor is younger and more open-minded, and I like that. He had no problem with me icing my hands and feet to prevent neuropathy; he actually pointed out that they are doing studies on this at MD Anderson Cancer Center. And I didn’t get a single eye roll when I told him about taking L-glutamine!

So how does 2 + 1 = 7? Both new doctors suggested that I change my chemotherapy regimen to a weekly Taxol schedule, and they seemed genuinely surprised that I wasn’t already doing this. My first oncologist gave me the option, but he made it sound so undesirable that I quickly went for the 4 rounds of dose-dense treatment. Well, we all know how that turned out. Since I had completed 2 of the 4 dose-dense cycles, that amounted to half of the Taxol treatments, which would be 6 of 12 on a weekly schedule. Last Thursday I completed the equivalent of #7, leaving 5 more to go. Confused? Just follow the simple diagram below.

calculusphoto by Kaustuv Chadhuri

Anyway, I think this new schedule is going to work much better. I was a little tired yesterday, but it was a vast improvement over the last session (i.e. no one was digging in my cerebral cortex with an ice pick).  I’m heading out with my girls to downtown Asheville to get a healthy dose of sunshine and freakiness. I think I’ll take some pictures so I can share.

Here’s what’s for dinner tonight (photo mine):

DSCN1817

 

VERY VEGGIE PIZZA

Ingredients:

Whole-wheat prepared crust (preferably organic)

Organic spaghetti sauce or basil pesto for base (about 1/4 cup sauce or 4 tbsp pesto)

Shredded mozzarella

Organic Spinach

Pre-slice portabella mushrooms

Marinated artichoke quarters, ripped into smaller pieces

Grilled squash, sweet onions and red peppers

Feta cheese

Assemble:

Spread sauce in a thin layer on crust and top with mozzarella cheese. Add desired vegetables. I happened to have leftover grilled veggies, but there’s no need to pre-cook. Top with feta . Bake for 10-12 minutes at 425 or until crust is golden brown.

I’m looking for a good scratch pizza dough recipe and will share soon.

Happy Sunday!

I’ve Been Using Someone Else’s Needles…

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

No, I’m not a drug addict, although you will find me with a needle in my veins weekly. Not by choice, of course. I am normally a girl who doesn’t even like to take an aspirin, but being a chemo patient will quickly strip you of any preconceived notions such as, I don’t know, health coming from healthy stuff and not from a drug that can only be handled by your medical staff with a hazmat suit.

My Nurse Preparing A Delicious Chemo Cocktail

My Nurse Preparing A Delicious Chemo Cocktail

HOW AN ACUPUNCTURE TREATMENT LED TO A LOVE TRIANGLE

yin_yang_01_by_deiby_ybied-d55b1tn

In order to cope with all the fabulous side effects of being poisoned, I have turned to a number of alternative (translated to doctor’s terms = futile and annoying) treatments. Aside from supplements, I have been relying on acupuncture to diminish the side effects of chemo, shore up my immune system, balance my hormones, keep my mood in check, and for a host of other important functions. (see article link at end of post)

I love my acupuncturist. He’s caring, easy to talk to, and very intelligent. And he’s adorable in a young, carefree Asheville hipster way. We’ve been seeing each other since chemo began back in May. I just assumed that we’d be together for the duration.

Hipster Acupuncture Dude

Hipster Acupuncture Dude

Then, yesterday, it happened. I cheated on him.  I had no intention of it going that far. I was simply tagging along with a very good friend to her acupuncture appointment downtown. “I made you an appointment too. This girl is great. I just want you to try her.” What could it hurt? I wasn’t doing anything that morning, and a good acupuncture session is very relaxing. She even promised that we could get breakfast after. I’ll do just about anything for pancakes.

When we walked into the old Victorian house, I knew I was in trouble. The inside was softly lit and charming, its rich Oriental rugs and dark cherry woods beckoning. There were a few simple yet elegant Asian-inspired decorations, and I could detect a fresh, light fragrance in the room, perhaps citrus with bergamot. This was in stark contrast to the unloved, spare-bedroom feel of my usual place. I remarked to my friend after a few minutes in the waiting room that I felt like I was falling into a sleepy trance.

Then she appeared like a soft breeze flowing into the room through an open window. She introduced herself as Allison, but she could have easily pulled off “Eden” or “Willow”. From her lithe, petite graceful frame to her soft, melodious voice that washed over me like a caress, everything about her suggested that she might actually be the source of Zen. She led my friend back to begin her treatment while I filled out paperwork, and then she came back for me.

I tried to resist her charms, but they were too many. I noticed that she wore no makeup but still managed to look twenty years younger than I suspect she was. She had soft, curly brown hair and deep blue soulful eyes that radiated kindness. The few lines on her face suggested a life lived with zest and passion, but always on her own terms. And when she smiled, which was often, I was envious of how she lit up the room.  She reminded me of a smaller-mouthed Carly Simon. As she spoke, she impressed me with the depth of her knowledge, which is very hard to do. She was at once confident and humble, professional and embracing.

carly_simon_grande4

Then it happened. I let her stick her needles in me. How could I resist? She might as well have led me by the hand to an opium den. As I relaxed in a comfy, overstuffed recliner, she covered me from head to toe in a soft velour blanket and whispered that I could press the button on the side of my chair if I needed her. And she left. I sank into the chair in my hypnotic state, oblivious to my friend beside me.

Until I was startled by a swift poke on my arm. “Hey. I really have to pee. BAD! I’ve been in here for 30 minutes longer than you, and I had a triple shot latte on the way.” What a Zen kill! I told her that Willow, er, Allison would respond in a jiffy if she pushed the button on her chair. She pushed, and pushed. I tried pushing mine, thinking that maybe her chair was not connected. Still no one came.

After five excruciating minutes, my friend said, “I can’t take this anymore. I think she’s gone out for a smoke break or something! I’m gonna pee all over myself.” So she oh so carefully pulled her blanket back and sat up in her chair, her hands and feet full of needles. Like a kid escaping from Catholic mass, she skulked out of the room, holding her arms out straight and walking on her heels to keep the needles from dislodging. She reminded me of one of the villains in “Scooby Doo”, stalking those “meddling kids” down a dark hallway.

scooby due villain

Soon my friend reappeared with a big grin. “I didn’t get caught!” As if my dear sweet Allison had been lurking behind the stairwell waiting to rap the knuckles of wayward, needle-laden acupuncture clients with a ruler. “This isn’t the Hotel California, for God’s sake!” I replied. In a few minutes, a tranquil, sweet-smelling Zen apprentice appeared to remove our needles and lead us back to the waiting area where we were to receive our “herbs”.

My bottle was plain white with the name of 13 items hand written in Chinese. She speaks Chinese too?!? She told me that these herbs would release my stagnated qi (“chi”), which certainly sounded like a good thing. Apparently, in traditional Chinese medicine, the root of cancer is stagnated qi. I asked Allison why one’s qi would become stagnated, and, of course she had a thoughtful intelligent answer. She said that there were numerous reasons for this to occur, but a common theme revolved around “stuffing one’s emotions”, leading to buried resentment and anger. That was a light bulb moment for me. I’ve been doing that my entire life. And intuitively, I feel like I will never be truly healthy until I can stand up for myself in the moment.

I left the office feeling like I had gotten a bargain. Acupuncture, zen, and therapy for one price. And of course, Allison, who is the kind of person that sticks in your brain and affects you deeply. What will I do with this awkward acupuncture triangle? She wants to see me again, but I am in so deep with the hipster. We have plans, a future together. Can I possibly juggle them both? I feel my qi stagnating at the very thought of it!

Related articles

And Round #2 Goes To Taxol

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY (this one goes out to Taxol):

First for the good news. So far, the things I’ve been doing to stave off the worst side effects of Taxol have been working. Icing my hands and feet during infusion seems to have kept the peripheral neuropathy at bay, despite my doctor nearly laughing in my face about it last week. Our conversation went something like this:

Highly Educated Doctor: So, any numbness or tingling to report in the fingers and toes?

Small, Unimportant Me: No, none yet. But you know I’ve been icing my hands and feet.

Highly Educated Doctor: (with a dismissive sneer) And you think that’s going to work? Ha Ha Ha.

Small, Pissed Off Me: I don’t really know, but I’ll be glad to try your alternative. Just tell me what that is so I can write it down.

Highly Educated Doctor: silence

Nuff said.

Photo Jul 28, 11 36 30 AM

In addition to the icing, I read a tip on several forums about keeping a nourishing base coat of polish on the nails of the fingers and toes for the duration of Taxol treatment. It seems to protect the nails from discoloration and splitting. I did try to find a polish without the usual set of carcinogens in it. Look in a a natural foods or makeup store. I just use clear polish, and the nails are in good shape (yep, that’s me).

And I also have very good news to report on the bone pain front. As you may remember, I likened my last encounter with Taxol chemotherapy to being tied up and worked over by Lilliputians. I felt like a 90 year-old woman all weekend. I read about the virtues of Claritin to help with this very unpleasant side effect, and it seems to have worked. I didn’t take it early enough last time because I had no idea it was coming. This time, I took a dose the morning of my Neulasta shot, the day after chemo. I am now 3 days out, and I’ve only felt the slightest tug here and there, very manageable.

headacheUnfortunately, this was me on Saturday. I woke up at about 3am with a splitting headache. I took a hot bath and managed to keep some ibuprofen down, only to find, when I woke up again at 6:30, that this was only the tip of the iceberg. It felt like my skull was literally going to explode. I tried to get more pain pills down, but then the nausea began. At 7am, I told my husband to call the doctor, which is huge for me. I am not a whiner, and I rarely ask for help. I have probably only taken half a dozen anti-nausea pills through this whole ordeal. The doctor must have been thrilled to hear from us bright and early on a Saturday, but he was very nice (different doctor, I might add). He told my husband to crush the anti-nausea pill and let it dissolve under my tongue. Then I was to take 2 ibuprofen and 2 Tylenol after 15 minutes. If that didn’t work, the doctor told my husband to take me to the Emergency Room to get a migraine injection. Yeah, right, because riding in the car in bright sunlight and then waiting for 6 hours to be seen would probably do the trick!

dog with headacheI kept the anti-nausea drug down but didn’t manage to swallow the pain pills without vomiting. So, I kept up the cycle of headache, vomiting, and occasional relief for several hours. Needless to say, I was in bed for the duration yesterday. I never saw our downstairs. I was able to eat exactly one half of a piece of toast and half a bowl of ramen noodle soup before bed last night.

I feel much better today, just tired and weak from being in bed all day and not eating or drinking much. My new mission is to either figure out how to prevent this scenario from ever happening again or to drop down my Taxol dosage. I really don’t want to do that because it might mean several more weeks of chemo, but being completely debilitated is not an option. Back to my research….I’ll keep you posted. You know I don’t give up that easily!

Supplements That Have Let Me Live Well During Chemotherapy, Part 2

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

As promised, I am going to outline the supplements that I have used specifically for chemotherapy and why I chose them. If you missed the first part of this post, you can catch up here. I am undergoing Adriamycin/Cytoxan/Taxol (ACT or ECT) chemotherapy for breast cancer, but I feel that these supplements would be helpful to anyone needing immune or antioxidant support during a period of chronic stress.

I can see your eyes getting big when I mention antioxidants. It is a very controversial topic when it comes to chemotherapy. Some doctors discourage the use of antioxidants for fear that they might lessen the effectiveness of drugs that work through oxidation. However, there are many scientific studies showing that antioxidants actually increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs while reducing the side effects. Click here to take a look at an article that is really well done and explains how each drug category is affected by a specific antioxidant.

Just a note of caution here. Most of the following supplements are plants, so if you have strong allergies, proceed slowly. If you are allergic to ragweed or daisies, be aware that Echinacea and Astragalus are in this family. Also, if you take a large amount of prescription medication, it would be wise to do some research and see if there is any interference with these substances. If you feel like you want to talk to someone about it, your best bet would be an herbalist or a Naturopath. Your MD will probably look at you like a deer in the headlights.

Astragalus by jrdnzASTRAGALUS (photo by jrdnz)

Astragalus is a fantastic product for deep immune support. It inhibits tumor growth, increases natural killer cells, protects the kidneys and liver, and reduces fatigue. The product I take is from Gaia Herbs and is called Astragalus Supreme. This is from an organic farm right here in Asheville, but it is available online. I take 2 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Echinacea Purpurea by Jonathan BillingerECHINACEA (photo by Jonathan Billinger)

Echinacea is another fantastic immune support product. It is helpful in preventing illness with decreased white blood cell counts and also instrumental in stimulating new cell production. This is the magical herb among Sioux Indian tribes both for healing and for health maintenance. I use a Mediherb product called Echinacea Premium. Once again, this company has a wonderful reputation for quality, and they grow all of their own herbs on a large organic farm. I alternate this product with Astragalus; when one runs out, I take the other, etc. I take 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Milk Thistle by H ZellMILK THISTLE (photo by H Zell)

This is the ultimate in liver protection. And when your liver is being bombarded by chemo drugs, pain killers, steroids, and God knows what else, you need some protection. Milk thistle also protects the kidneys, lowers LDL cholesterol, and decreases intestinal damage. I read some research showing that silymarin, an ingredient in milk thistle, may have an estrogenic effect. But other research showed that it inhibited metastasis. I probably will discontinue this one after treatment, just to be safe. But for now, my liver is in tip top shape. I use a product called Liver Health, also by Gaia Herbs, 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Turkey Tail Mushrooms by BuckeyeinTriadTURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM (photo by BuckeyeinTriad)

Also known as Trametes versicolor, the turkey tail is the “mack daddy” of mushrooms. As a matter of fact, it is used as standard of oncological care in Japan and China, where 9600 clinical randomized clinical trials have been done on disease-free and overall survival. Improved immune function seems to be a key in prevention of primary and secondary breast cancer, and medicinal mushrooms shine in this area. I use a product called Chemo/Rad Support by Dr. Kang Secret Formulas. You can Google this and order online. I like this fomula because it has other ingredients to help with the toxicity and side effects of chemo and radiation. It says to take 2-3 three times per day, but I can’t do this many pills. So I take 1 in the morning and one in the aftenoon. After treatment, I may move strictly to a mushroom extract.

So far, all of these supplements have been basic support formulas for any kind of stress/disease state. The following are more specific and I took these when I couldn’t stomach anything else in those days right after treatment.

ESSENTIAL FOR AC/EC:

COENZYME Q10- One of the most devastating side effects of AC/EC is cardiotoxicity. I am a runner, and this doesn’t work for me, so I got serious about protecting my heart. Adriamycin works by damaging DNA in cancer cells. Unfortunately, the mitochondria (or energy plants) in the cells of your heart are very susceptible to the inflammation that this creates. CoQ10 is an anti-oxidant that protects healthy tissues in your heart. Not only that, but COQ10 has been shown to stimulate the immune system, allowing it to “fight back” against cancer cells. I take 100mg twice per day.

ESSENTIAL FOR TAXOL:

L-GLUTAMINE- I know you’ve heard me talk about an L-glutamine cocktail to drink during infusion and for a few days after. In addition to that, I take L-glutamine capsules every day. They can help prevent destruction of the GI lining and peripheral neuropathy. As a bonus, they can enhance your mood, and who doesn’t need that right now? I take two 1,000mg capsules twice per day.

For infusion days: mix 15mg of L-glutamine powder in ginger ale or fruit water and start sipping about 15 mins prior to Taxol. I keep sipping throughout. That day and for the next 2-3 days, I have one of these cocktails twice per day.

pills

 

HOW CAN I TAKE ALL THESE?

 

I know this seems like a lot of pills, and I’m not gonna lie. It is. But you do get used to it, and you have to remember that it’s for a very good cause, you! I break it up so I’m taking pills 3x/day. It’s just a habit now. Write down everything that you choose to take, the dosage, and how many times per day you need to take it. Then build yourself a dosing schedule that works around breakfast, lunch and dinner. I find that it’s easier to remember to take pills if I’m sitting down to eat. The only exception is L-glutamine: try to take it on an empty stomach, at least in the morning.

I’ll be posting additions as I go along in treatment and beyond. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found supplements that helped with chemo, radiation, or general health. Good luck!!

 

 

 

 

Supplements That Have Helped Me Live Well During Chemotherapy, Part 1

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

LIVING WELL WHEN YOU’RE BEING POISONED…AN OXYMORON?

Well, I’m down to 3. Three more rounds of chemo to go. All in all, it has not been as bad as I anticipated (I’m knocking really hard on some wood here). Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been pleasant by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve managed to live life without major changes and with very little downtime. I have worked 3 days per week without calling in sick. I’ve been able to run/walk through it all, allowing myself more rest on chemo weeks. I’ve shuttled kids back and forth, cooked, shopped, gone out with friends, and kept my sense of humor. The only major casualty has been cleaning, but honestly, if you had looked at my house on any given day since…well,.forever, you would have thought that I was born with a disease that didn’t allow me to pick up a rag.

dirty-house-3

CHEMO IS TOUGH, BUT THERE ARE THINGS THAT CAN HELP

I know that all this may be a matter of sheer luck, and that chemo affects everyone differently. But I think that there are things we can do to stack the deck in our favor and get through it with more strength and fewer bad days. As you know if you’ve been reading some of my previous posts, I have been using a few tricks here and there to minimize the toxicity and side effects of chemotherapy. If you missed it, you can see a picture of me icing my hands and feet during my last Taxol infusion to prevent nail discoloration and neuropathy. And you can check out my recipe for an L- glutamine chemo cocktail here.

SUPPLEMENTS I TAKE AND WHY

Since I started chiropractic school 10 years ago,the field of nutrition and supplementation has been a passion of mine. The idea that we can alter body chemistry and possibly disease states through natural means is amazing to me. I have attended hundreds of hours of seminars on these topics, and I never tire of reading about them. Yesterday we went on a family trip to Gatlinburg, TN, about a two-hour drive. Just for fun, I read notes and research studies from a cancer symposium put on by the Institute of Functional Medicine. Can you say “science geek”?

nerd girl

What follows is a list of supplements that I have taken during chemotherapy with Adriamycin/Cytoxan and now Taxol. Some of these are just part of my everyday program, and I will continue to take them after I have finished treatment. Others are especially important for each type of drug. I’ll point this out as we go along.

REQUIRED DISCLAIMER

I am very happy to share what I have learned with you, but I completely respect your decision not to use any supplements if that’s what you have decided is in your best interest. This is a very individual decision. I’m not telling you that this regimen is a cure for cancer or that it will help everyone. I’m just telling you that I feel that it has made a difference for me, along with other lifestyle choices, which I’ll go over in a future post.

EVERYDAY SUPPLEMENTS:

Fish Oil- 2400 mg per day, but may double- very good for cardiovascular health and may help with depression- Bonus: eases constipation if you are prone to it

Cranberry Extract- 950mg/day- as estrogen levels drop in menopause and/or during chemo, women are more prone to UTI’s; I haven’t had a UTI since I started taking this 18 months ago- Bonus: high in anti-oxidants to reduce inflammation

Multivitamin- Go high quality here- you want the serving size to be at least 4 caps/day because you can’t absorb the nutrients all at once. I choose no iron because it is tough on the GI tract and I have read studies about cancer cells utilizing iron at a higher rate than regular cells. Also, choose one with “methyl” before the name for folate and B12. Some people can’t absorb regular forms. Bonus: you will make up for a crappy chemo diet and get some extra energy

Magnesium- 500mg before bedtime or less if you get loose stools- most people are deficient in this mineral and it is a required co-factor for countless chemical reactions. Bonus: eases constipation and helps you sleep better

Note: I take Cal/Mag/Zinc occasionally but only every 3rd night or so. I have read that Calcium is not as beneficial in supplement form as once thought, but I am still researching this one. I’ll get back to you.

Vitamin D- ***6,000mg/day (need to do a baseline level before dosing) This is the holy grail of supplements in my book. Get your level tested ASAP. If you are fighting cancer, your level should be at least 50 ng/mL and preferably around 70. I could write an entire post about the functions of vitamin D, and I think I will in the near future.

Probiotics- Did you know that a large percentage of your immune system lives in your gut? Probiotics keep that gut healthy by providing beneficial bacteria and preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This is a crucial supplement for chemotherapy. Adriamycin is an antibiotic which will destroy the normal gut flora. Buy a high quality, refrigerated probiotic. I am using Jarrow “ultra Jarrowdophilus” with a 50 billion colony count. This has been a lifesaver for my GI health and regularity.

Stay tuned tomorrow for supplements that I have incorporated specifically for chemotherapy.

 

Taxol…Bad To The Bone

Here is the 80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY: (I couldn’t resist):)

I am officially almost 72 hours out from my first Taxol chemotherapy infusion, so I think it’s safe to give you a preliminary update. Here’s how it went down:

THURSDAY (INFUSION DAY)

Taxol infusion is a longer affair than AC (Adriamycin/Cytoxan), mainly because there is a much greater potential for immediate allergic reactions, and you have to be monitored more closely. Therefore, they drip the medication in very slowly over 3 hours or so. By the time all is said in done, you’ve spent 4 hours plus in your “chemo suite”, which is really a misnomer, because there is no minibar, mint on the pillow, or even HBO. I won’t really be recommending this on Trip Advisor, although, sadly, it’s better than some hotels I’ve stayed in. All in all, Thursday was leaps and bounds better than than AC, which is spawn of Satan. I had zero nausea and went about business pretty much as usual. I still let my hubby cook dinner; I have to use the cancer card sometimes!

FRIDAY

Friday was a great day. I was a little tired, but I had been very restless the night before from being hopped up on steroids, and I couldn’t sleep past 5 am. I went in for my Neulasta shot, went to the acupuncturist, and took the kids to lunch and to do a little shopping. I made dinner and turned in early. I was sooo excited that this Taxol stuff was going to be a breeze.

SATURDAY

And this is usually when the Gods look down on my self-satisfied smugness and let out a long, evil belly laugh. Let’s just say, Saturday they were really having a ball. I was ok when I woke up, but a steady ache had started to settle in my pelvis. Still, I managed to get out with the family for a few hours. By the time we came home, the ache was more like a pain and the fatigue was much worse. I just started to feel really “unwell”. I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, trying to find a comfortable position, which is very difficult when angry Lilliputians are drilling wood screws in your hip bones and putting your ovaries in tiny vices.

I think a lot of my “crash” had to do with the steroids finally clearing my system, ending my artificially induced high.

SUNDAY

Today is a better day. I’m still achy, but I am functioning. I will be off to the drug store later to buy some Claritin, which I have read on some cancer forums may ease bone and joint pain. I’ll let you know if it works.

Also, I am almost done putting together a post on supplements which have helped me tremendously with this journey. Stay tuned…