Introduce yourself (Name, where you’re from) - What was your life like before undergoing chemotherapy?
Hi, I am Anna from Charleston, South Carolina. I am an Operating Room Registered Nurse and was working in Washington DC / Maryland before all heck broke loose. Life was busy and stressful due to the fact that we were in a global pandemic, and I was working in healthcare.
Bring us along your journey – when were you diagnosed with cancer? What was your initial reaction?
I first found my lump in August 2020 (I was 37). I made an appointment to get an exam and was initially misdiagnosed. I was told it was a benign issue and nothing to worry about.
Six months later when I received my 2nd dose of the COVID vaccine it made the lump itch. I knew something was not right and I had it rechecked. Once I came in for the mammogram and ultrasound everything started to move at light speed. I was in biopsy a couple of days later and then I got the call March 5th 2021 at 10:23am. I was told I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Grade 3, Ki-67 AT 97% and it ended up being triple negative breast cancer. By the time I had my MRI a week later it was almost stage 3. I started chemo in a quick two weeks time. This was by-far one of the worse parts. Everything was happening so fast, so many unknowns and it felt like my life was spiraling out of control. There were a lot of things in my specific journey that did not go to plan. It was really frustrating and downright scary at times.
What was your first chemotherapy treatment like? What treatment/treatments did you or are currently undergoing?
A few days after having my port put in, the nurses threw a massive DVT in my chest/neck that extended down through my arm pit. I spent a week in the hospital on a heparin drip and the port came out. Plan B was to put in a PICC line for the rest of the intense treatment. (Side note :I had to flush my PICC line daily with saline and a heparin lock. I also had weekly dressing changes that were pretty intense for me as I have sensitive skin)
The first part for me was 4 cycles of A/C ( the dreaded red devil) it was very hard on my body. I have an underlying inflammatory condition, so it made every symptom worse. I had to go in for fluids twice between cycles and I followed a dose dense protocol. Then I was only able to get through 2 cycles of Taxol, because I experienced pretty significant neuropathy in my feet and legs. Chemo was stopped after the 6th cycle and surgery was moved up. The last part of my treatment will be radiation which will start when I am done healing from surgery. I had a partial right-side mastectomy with sentinel lymph node biopsy in July.
Who did you turn to as your support system?
I had some very close nursing friends that would check on me regularly and my ex-husband helped with shopping, cooking and chores. My best girlfriends came and stayed with me for a week during my surgery. I did posts on Instagram on my treatment days which kept people updated and kept me busy answering messages. The support on those days from people far and wide was awesome for my spirit! My parents were able to help support me finically as I was in between jobs since I had moved back to Charleston to have better support. I didn’t have a caretaker, which made things interesting, but I made it through!
What is something you wished you knew before starting your chemo treatment?
All of the really annoying symptoms that no one told me about. How it affected my eyes (vision ect) there were times l wanted to keep my sunglasses on in the house. Or how they wept for three weeks. It was awful. The most important thing is that chemo affects everyone differently.
Have there been certain side effects that have been worse than others?
I had a really horrible time with all things GI. I didn’t like having to be on so many medications, but it did bring some relief. The nausea was the worst and for the first 5 days after treatment I would sleep upright on my couch because the reflux was so bad. The fatigue was awful as well. I had to be prepared to be in a safe place when it hit, because it didn’t matter what I was doing, it was naptime.
What are tips/tricks you have learned along the way to help with chemo side effects?
I have (as I call it “super sonic smell”) so getting my line flushed (which I had to do every day with my PICC) was making me sick. I was told by one of the veteran oncology nurses to suck on a piece of candy or strong mint. That actually did the trick! And it kept me from getting extra nauseated from the smells of the medications. Cinvianti was the worst, which it was an anti-nausea pre med before A/C. Once I started the candy trick, I felt much better.
I used Johnson & Johnson hands and face baby wipes for my eyes when they were weepy. I think I went though 11 packages, but they were worth it.
Stay ahead of your nausea (or pain) this makes all the difference.
Glad press and seal wrap for showers with PICC line. I wouldn’t shower every day but had a routine between, body wipes, wash cloth baths and then showers. I tried to shower as soon as I came home from treatment to be clean because it might have been a few days before I felt like taking one again.
Any advice for other chemo patients?
My mantra has been one day at the time. It has helped me get through this practically by myself. Honestly sometimes it was minute by minute.
I picked a wall in my living room to put all my cards I received up on the wall . I could see it from my couch and on bad days I would read all my notes. Very helpful!
I decided to find a therapist to help me through treatment. So it would take some of the load off me and I wasn’t putting too much on the other people who were looking out for me.
Getting in my own little routine during treatment helped me feel more in control when I really didn’t have any. I kept a weekly journal of what I ate, meds I took and any side affects so I could better plan what to eat, shopping, cooking, outings, ect. If the Doctors or nurses had any questions, it was all written down and I didn’t have to think about it.