Sixth chemo: behold my poisoning, and reconnecting with an old friend


Trying to keep this message in mind as chemo progresses. But when I’m not falling asleep sitting up, it’s my nature to try and cram in as many activities as I can. Thank you to the Keep Calm-O-Matic for endless Keep Calms…. (

Complain, complain! I am really hating this paclitaxel. Right now my legs are aching so much I can barely think, or think very effectively. I take over-the-counter Claritin—weird but true, women all over take it and report that it works—for the bone pain from the Neulasta shot, but this is a different pain that the Claritin doesn’t touch. So, I have a couple of yellow pills on board now, and hope to be feeling better (or asleep!) in a little while. [N.B.: did not fall asleep, in fact stayed up until 5:20 a.m. watching episodes of Fringe on Netflix with Luka. Yay March Break and complete irresponsibility for following a sleep schedule]

My sixth chemo was three days ago. It’s March Break, so I thought what a great thing for Luka to do on his holiday: accompany his mum to the medical day care for eight hours or so. Hardly! I left him at home, snoozing, and I went to St. Mike’s for 8:30 a.m. (Tessa had an overnight babysitting job), so I was flying solo. But the flying solo ended when my longtime friend Kelly walked into the exam room. We hadn’t seen each other for an embarrassing length of time, but like the old friends and kindred spirits we are, we picked it up like it was 2004 (that’s when we last worked in the same office, but we’ve remained very good, if often silent, friends). It’s a weird thing to call a friend and say, “Hey! How were your holidays? I got a cancer diagnosis from Santa, yeah, what a drag. What did you get?” So I chickened out from telling friends I’m not in constant contact with, and who’s kidding who? With a single-parent household, full-time job, kids, pets, etc., who can keep in constant contact with friends? And no suggestions to get on Facebook, please. I find it far too Big Brother for my privacy threshold.

This was my second round of Paclitaxel, my sixth chemo.

  • The hand-foot syndrome, with its burning, swelling and blistering, seems to be over (bang your knuckles against anything made of wood, please), to be replaced by
  • koilonychia, the gross prospect of my nails lifting off the nailbed and possibly falling right off. It’s starting already, with the nails flattening out and foamy-looking guck underneath.
  • My white count is double what it should be, but with the steroids and immuno-boosters, and this cough/cold/pink eye/laryngitis thing I’ve had since the end of November, who knows what it is. So I continue to take my temperature every four hours and will know when to head to the hospital (that’s a fever above 38°C or 100.4°F, which I’ve had four times, but it has always retreated after 100.7 so I stayed put. The last thing I want is to go to emerg to get hooked up to IVs unless absolutely necessary.
  • Nausea. Im pretty sure this version of Taxol I’m getting is not supposed to cause any nausea, but I’m getting waves of it, chills, sweats, etc., so I’m taking those meds.
  • Exhaustion. I got it. I slept two marathon sleeps between the fifth and sixth chemo: from 10 a.m. Saturday (I’d just driven to Toronto from Stratford at 7:30-9:30 a.m.) to 7 p.m. Sunday (with breaks for coughing, drinking, sleep-eating) and from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 a.m. the next day. When it hits, there’s nothing I can do to stay awake.
  • I’m going to lose my hair!!!

I got crap from my chemo nurse, with Kelly as her witness, that I am “doing too much.” I have to say I was feeling really energized having Kelly there for the day, and of course we were talking nonstop and laughing, and for the first time my nurse put me in a single room with a bed for my chemo instead of one of those chic beige naugahyde lounge chairs, but I could not lie down because I was having too much fun catching up with Kelly. Plus my nurse heard about my driving to Stratford and London and back.

She said that I need to sleep, relax, let my body be sick and heal. She says she sees women like me who keep pushing and don’t listen to their bodies and let their brains lead the way. After six chemos, she said, I have to stop and heal. I am trying to take this to heart as I sit in a basement parking garage waiting for one of the kids to finish an appointment. “Sure, I’ll drive you, and I’ll post to my blog while I wait for you,” I said. Hmmmm, so do I resemble my nurse’s remarks?!?! Yes. As soon as I post this entry, I am going to relax (after a quick trip to Dollarama, Sobey’s for a prescription, and a couple of groceries 😉


Between fifth and sixth chemos

The two worst things, so far, about this paclitaxel are pain and exhaustion. The exhaustion is also a result of the continued and cumulative poisoning of my body over the last 10 weeks. This week I did a lot, including volunteering at Luka’s school for pizza lunch—which I enjoy doing because I love seeing kids being kids, goofing with their friends, handing over their money, eyeballing their change, smiling and saying thank you—every kid, I swear, says “Thank you”—it gives a mother faith in teaching good manners!

The biggest event was going to Stratford to take my dad to hospital in London for an angiogram and surgical consult with one of the most amazing doctors I’ve ever met (Dr. Adam Power, London Health Sciences Centre, vascular surgeon, with more compassion in his little finger than many docs bring to bear in their lifetimes and the best bedside manner I have ever witnessed. He should write a book). It sounds like a lot of driving, 450 km, but it was with my man in the front seat beside me all the time, and we spread it over three days, spending both nights at my sister Heidi’s. I have always loved driving, and prefer to be behind the wheel than kitty-corner to it in the passenger seat (in 2000 I drove Tessa, Graydon, Al and me to Women’s College Hospital while I was in labour with Luka—that does sound like I’m a bit of a control freak, now that I think about it…).

Friday evening Heidi, my man and I were sitting in her den watching the 2008 Canadian flick One Week. It’s about a man diagnosed with malignant cancer and a 10% chance of surviving with immediate treatment, who instead buys a motorbike and heads west across Canada. An odd choice for entertainment considering my diagnosis, but Heidi had already seen it and said it was good, so we watched. She had just baked up a batch of cookies (yes, she baked cookies so we could have something tasty with our tea!) when I started coughing. In the last four months I have had a terrible cough and laryngitis, and the coughing goes all night sometimes. Since November I’ve had attacks of coughing that have resulted in my gasping for breath, and not just gasping, but truly feeling my throat shut off so that no air can come in or go out. Each episode seems to get longer and more severe. This time I had Heidi and my man there, but there was nothing they could do—and all I could do is try to slow everything down and not panic, which is nigh on impossible when you are trying to drag air into your lungs and can feel almost nothing coming in. The technical term is stridor.

It freaked me out. I had a laryngeal spasm at the end of my sentinel node excision in December, so I think this is something serious, and on top of cancer. WTF????

I now have an appointment with an ENT doc for April, and I’m on the cancellation list as well. That appointment can’t come soon enough for my liking.