Gaining Strength

I had my fifth of twelve Taxol infusions yesterday, January 19. I usually go in on Mondays, but the clinic took MLK day off, so this week it was Tuesday. I am happy to report that as the adriamycin and cytoxan departed my body last month, my energy level improved while the headaches and nausea disappeared.

I’m on a cardio routine that one of my oncology rehab therapists created after putting me through a stress test. Adriamycin does quite a number on the heart; when implemented properly, cardio exercise improves energy during treatment. It is challenging to keep my heart rate at a mere 109 to 120 bpm for thirty minutes. I feel like I am exercising in slow motion. I look and feel like a total weenie on the elliptical at the gym. Three days a week and not on consecutive days is the rule. Pretty easy stuff! At least now….not so much six weeks ago. Chemo is humbling at so many levels!

Between my fatigue and the holidays I fought the blues more often than I like to admit.  December into early January were tough. Though it was a piece of heaven having both kids and Sarah’s guy, Chris, here over the holidays…it was also frustrating to be limited in how much I could do with and for them! Timing is everything and though they did not see me at my worst, I wasn’t at my best either!


Having Sarah to take me to and from infusions was lovely. That first Tuesday, in spite of her jet lag, we took advantage of my energy boost and spent the entire day shopping. It is such a treat to shop with this girl. She spots things I don’t! We spent so much time at the CAbi outlet that they found an excuse to increase our savings from 40 to 50%. We made out like bandits!

Periodically, a saleslady would knock on the door with a new size for Sarah or myself.  Often I was bald as a cue ball and did my best to shrink into the corner of the dressing room behind the door. We think the woman must have spied me through the mirror because Sarah noticed that she and the other clerk were really checking out my hair at the register. Ahh, the joys of wearing Jenn. You try pulling a sweater over synthetic hair…it either comes off….or gains so much static that you look like you just put your finger in a socket. Though Jenn is less of an enemy now…I fear she is not likely to upgrade beyond the term “frienemy.” She may look perfect, but she has a penchant for making me uncomfortable all the way round.

Sarah helped me discover that strangers often don’t process that there is no hair tucked up under my cap. So now I embrace going out in comfortable headgear more and more often. I’m actually getting compliments on my millinery from total strangers! A touch of make-up doesn’t hurt and so far my eyelashes and eyebrows are holding. Apparently my father was right, if you put a smile on your face, people don’t notice the flaws. I’ve learned that my self-consciousness is truly mine to own. Sometimes we just have to get over ourselves! Focusing on others is far more appreciated and usually more productive too.

I have figured out the Taxol routine and find that I am only limited on  infusion day, and that night. The premed infusions of Benadryl, Prilosec, and Dexamethasone mean at least a two hour nap when I return home (Benadryl related) followed by a nearly sleepless night (due to the Dexamethasone). That steroid packs a punch! The following day, I’m like the energizer bunny. No appetite, a bounce to my step and a sparkle to my eye that belies poisons coursing through my veins coupled with nearly no sleep the previous night!

Fatigue is still present, but not with the same intensity. In truth, the only really annoying symptoms I am currently experiencing are dry mouth and the interrupted sleep it causes, taste buds that are off, a persistent dry cough, and very slight neuropothy in my finger tips. A trip to Benihana’s with the kids and their father proved that I still have the dexterity to manipulate chopsticks just fine, thank you!

After the second Taxol infusion, my fingertips were red, shiny, and puffy. So much so that my iPhone could not read my fingerprint! Honestly, I was a bit panicked. I now have an arsenal of products and a routine for their use that borders on fanatical. Cracked nail beds are a possible side effect of Taxol…not nails….nail beds! That does not sound like a pleasant experience, so I am on it like glue. Keeping my mouth, nails, and skin moisturized is now a part-time job for me and a source of revenue for Walgreens! Hands and nails look good so far.


A concern during my third Taxol infusion arose. My red count was getting too low. The nurse informed me that if it registered below nine, they might schedule me for a blood transfusion. A day spent getting a couple of bags of new blood sounds simple enough, but really, how invigorating does five hours in a barca-lounger sound? Yes, the blood would be revitalizing; but feeling like a patient is getting really old! Sarah cooked up Cream of Wheat for me each morning. Leonard and I went out for mussels (I draw the line at liver.) We prepared steaks several different ways. I discovered that Frosted Mini Wheats have 90% of your daily requirement for iron. The end result? I raised my diminishing red count from 9.3 to 9.9 in just one week! This week I was up to 10.

Friends continue to be the wind beneath my wings. A month ago, a thoughtful Breckenridge buddy called to offer me a ride to and from the mountains to attend book group and an annual ornament exchange party. My energy was quite low; I never would have attempted the trip on my own. I gratefully accepted and enjoyed two evenings out with girlfriends. Granted, I spent the day in between wrapped up in a blanket doing computer work by her fireplace; but what a boost it was to my spirit to get out and connect with some of my Breck peeps! On the home front, two bighearted girlfriends set up a schedule to get me to and from infusions without me having to ask. Brought tears to my eyes. I would rather do it myself than ask for help. I hate being a burden. Other friends delivered delicious meals that were much appreciated when all the kids were here. What a gift to be that person that anticipates the need of another and then  fulfills it without being asked. How I long to develop that talent!

Leonard has been a beacon of hope and support. His no-nonsense yet caring attitude helps me keep my head up. When he is able, he takes me to my infusions at 7:00 AM. When I was too weak to do much of anything, he brought groceries over and cooked for me. He quietly keeps an eye on my energy level, not so quietly encourages me to eat-even though I have gained, not lost a few pounds. Several weeks ago, he commented that my eyes looked better. Not understanding what he meant, I looked at him quizzically, wondering if they had taken on a yellow tinge or something. No, they look brighter…like they used to. It cannot be fun hanging out with a chemo patient. Some would find it too scary or boring or ugly. Another might react with anger stemming from fear. Not this guy. He is a rock. And I am blessed. God is good.

Last week I accomplished a solo trip to Breckenridge to join a large gathering of ski buddies and instructors for cocktails at the Nordic Center. Upon returning to Denver, I packed and joined Leonard on a three-day family trip to one of his sisters in Bakersfield, CA. I returned home feeling empowered that energy and stamina are words I can use in describing myself.  Hallelujah!

I hope I don’t sound trite, but I must give God the credit….and all the people that have been lifting me up in prayer. Thank you! Though this journey is not one I would have specifically asked for, I am finding pearls of wisdom along the way. The key is to notice them and pick them up…not trample them in the haste of “getting things done.”

Peace be with you. Love and Light. Namaste. Aloha. Ciao. Sawadee Ka. xoxo.