If you’re new around here, this is part two in the series of My Breast Cancer Journey. You can read The Day I Found Out I Had Breast Cancer here.
The day I found out I had to have chemo is etched in my mind forever. You see, when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, I think there is some part of you that always remains hopeful. Hopeful it’s the most treatable kind. Hopeful you can have surgery to “get the cancer out.” Hopeful for no chemotherapy. Hopeful to not lose your hair if you start chemo. By the way, there’s only about a 1 percent chance you’d not lose your hair. So there’s that.
But you just always want to remain hopeful. Well, I was until the day I heard my Oncotype (more below) which meant I had to have chemo.
Do Your Research
After hearing my breast cancer diagnosis, and after the initial shock and many, many tears, I started doing my research. But the good kind of research. Not the type where it sends you down a negative rabbit hole! I wanted to be an informed, educated patient. And that I was.
After the initial meeting with my breast surgeon to discuss next steps (chemo, surgery, etc) she also mentioned that I would need to meet with an oncologist and discuss my oncotype to see whether or not I would need chemo. See, research is always hopeful.
Knowing we were going to discuss my oncotype and whether chemo was in my future or not, I wanted to go in with all the information I could find. So I started doing some digging.
The Oncotype DX test is a genomic test that analyzes the activity of a group of 21 genes from a breast cancer tissue sample that can affect how a cancer is likely to behave and respond to treatment. Doctors use the Oncotype DX test to help figure out a woman’s risk of early-stage, estrogen-receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer coming back (recurrence), as well as how likely she is to benefit from chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery. As stated on breastcancer.org
I knew going into that oncologist appointment that I wanted my oncotype to be at least 10 or lower. You can imagine my shock when my doctor told me my oncotype was 31. Yup, that’s right 31. See below for it to make more sense. This is for women under the age of 50.
- Recurrence Score of 0-15: The cancer has a low risk of recurrence. The benefits of chemotherapy likely will not outweigh the risks of side effects.
- Recurrence Score of 16-20: The cancer has a low to medium risk of recurrence. The benefits of chemotherapy likely will not outweigh the risks of side effects.
- Recurrence Score of 21-25: The cancer has a medium risk of recurrence. The benefits of chemotherapy are likely to be great than the risks of side effects.
- Recurrence Score of 26-100: The cancer has a high risk of recurrence. The benefits of chemotherapy are likely to be greater than the risks of side effects. This was me. I was oncotype 31.
Chemo It Is
I automatically knew I had to have chemo when she said my score. I can still see myself in the doctors office, Chris sitting right beside me and the tears just start pouring down my cheek.
The doctor continues talking and the tears keep coming.
Chris hands me a tissue and I dry my eyes.
I honestly felt hopeless. There wasn’t anything left for me to do or say. I felt mad and angry. I literally just turned 35 (I got my diagnosis 3 days after my 35th birthday). I’m not supposed to be going through this. I have two young boys. I need to be here for them and the rest of their lives. They’re only 4 and 2. I need to be here for Chris. We’re supposed to start our new lives in Colorado. But now this?
It’s not fair. That’s what kept going through my mind. The timing sucks beyond belief. The timing for a cancer diagnosis is never ideal obviously.
But we’re here and now we have to deal with it.
We left the doctors office with my chemo regiment. I was going to be starting doxorubicin hydrochloride (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide or A/C for short. I’m telling you, the more research you do, the more empowered you feel in making the decisions that are right for you.
I would have 8 weeks of A/C and get it every other week. So essentially 4 doses of it. This regiment is called dose dense. They give you a higher dosage but over a shorter time period. This is important to note for my next chemo cycle.
A/C is the more aggressive of the two chemo treatments I was going to have. Meaning possible nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and yes, hair loss. In the midst of all of this, Chris leaves for Colorado soon and I start chemo soon. So, my sister offers to move in with me and my boys. Everything with Chris’ job was signed, sealed, and delivered before my diagnosis. His company was just so gracious with pushing everything back as much as we needed. Chris stayed as long as he could. We made the decision together for what would be best for our family. Chris felt better leaving knowing my sister was there for us. And knowing we would have help from his family as well.
So Chris is in Colorado. My sister and her daughter move in with us and would be taking Declan to school with her every day. My in laws are helping out with Beckett. I go through the 8 weeks of A/C. Each session got progressively worse. And they said that would happen. It was mainly the fatigue and lack of energy that got me.
I finished my last around of A/C on November 5, and we left Houston on November 14th to drive up to Colorado. The last round kicked my booty. And I was out for a good 4-5 days. Meaning I was on the couch and barely had enough energy to get off the couch to go to the bathroom or get something to eat. But that’s where you have to be OK asking for help. Let someone else pick up the kids. Let someone else bring you dinner. You have to be OK with taking care of yourself so you can be at 100% for everyone else. That’s what I had to keep telling myself.
A Few Quick Tips
- Electrolyte water is your friend. Your body is going through some serious shit. Yes, I said. Your tastes buds are out of whack and pretty much everything tastes metallic, especially water. But I could handle electrolyte water. And your body needs the extra electrolytes.
- Eat every two hours. You may not want to. Actually you probably wont. But you need to. So keep smaller snacks around.
- Get your rest. When you feel tired, go to bed. Even if it’s 9pm. Yall, this was the best thing I did. I knew what my body was going through and I know that rest is what it needed. So listen to your body and just rest!
- Let others bring you food. This helped out so much. Especially on my chemo days. Have a Meal Train set up and just let others help you.
Next, I would have 12 weeks of paxiltaxol. That’s right, I’m now up to 20 weeks of chemotherapy. That puts me into February.
But there had to be a two week gap between the last round of A/C and the first round of Taxol. So the doctor said if we planned our move in the middle of that two week period then I should be good and without any side effects. And that’s what we did folks. And I felt like myself in those two weeks. Hallelujah!
That brings us to today. I have lost all my hair. I do wear a wig most of the time. I’m not at that point yet where “it’s so liberating not to wear a wig.” I feel *sort of* like my self with a wig. So that’s what you see 🙂
I have gone through my third week of Taxol with minimal side effects. The first round, they gave me Benadryl as a pre med. You are given Benadryl or allergy medicine to help fight the histamines in the chemo meds. In lamens terms, to help with an allergic reaction. Well, that first round, the Benadryl knocked me out. Meaning, about 45 mins after they gave it to me, I was so sleepy, but with the steroids I was restless too. It was a mess.
Chris comes to pick me up with the two kids, and I’m so out of it. I come back home and sleep it off for another few hours.
Well, if you’ve been following me for some time now. Then you know that I tell my doc everything and I couldn’t go through 12 more weeks of feeling like that.
So, for week two, they switched it out and gave me Zyrtec instead. And I felt like myself. It didn’t knock me out.
Biggest tip for you: TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR. So that you can find out what works best.
I am going into each chemo day with a positive mindset. Because really, that’s the only thing you can do. I also pray a lot. I pray for God to soften my heart through this journey because there is still anger there. But I’m working on that and start each day with my gratitude journal (more on my stories. And when you focus on the good, the good gets better.
Thanks again for being here and reading my journey. My hope in writing this is to give hope for others out there who are going through breast cancer. To let you know that you are not alone. You are not meant to go through this alone. Reach out to me, I would love to meet a new face in this #breastcancer #chemolife thing.