guest blogger, Side Effects

6 Things I wish I knew before I started Chemo

By Taylor Eames

Most cancer treatment centers require you to go through a brief “chemo class” to learn about possible side effects.  However, having been through both the class and six months of chemo, there are some things you just don’t expect to happen.  Upon hearing that my treatment plan included chemo, I automatically pictured baldness and vomiting like it is in the movies and tv shows.  But it wasn’t how I imagined it at all.  Here are some things that surprised me.

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Chemo sucks.

Think car sick, morning sickness, and a hangover all in one.

The nausea is constant and it’s pretty debilitating at times.  But in my experience and from what I’ve heard from many other survivors, vomiting is rare.  You just feel crummy all the time.  Anti-nausea meds help for some patients.  Others just find the feeling to become a new normal.  But I’ll remind you, and I’ll say this again later on, this “new normal” is temporary.

When they say, “You’ll lose your hair,” they mean all of it.

Chemotherapy targets fast growing cells in your body in order to kill the growing tumors.  Hair, nails, intestinal track, and even brain cells are all collateral damage along

the way.  One of the most noticeable side effects is hair loss.  I went from having a thick, full head of hair down to my shoulders, to nothing at all.  But what I didn’t expect was that the hair on top of my head was only a starting point.

It will happen later on in your chemo cycles, but soon you will lose your leg hair (yay, no more shaving!), your pubic hair (this one was kind of weird), and even your eyebrows and eye lashes (more noticeable and somewhat sad).  Don’t forget, it’s all temporary.

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Bye bye, eyebrows and lashes.

 

Chemo hurts.  (And so does Neulasta.)

I remember my chemo class nurse saying these exact words, “Some people experience some discomfort and bone pain during treatment.”  It was so nonchalant that I blew it off thinking it wasn’t very common, and if it did happen, it wasn’t really serious.  But, oh my gosh, I was wrong.

Chemo is attacking white blood cells just like it attacks hair follicles.  Neulasta is an injection used to boost white blood cells development during chemo so you aren’t as susceptible to infection.  The battle that ensues is painful…seriously painful.  It feels like pin pricks but deep in your bones. The pangs of pain come and go all over your body.  For me, my feet, ankles, shins, ribs, and jaw hurt so bad that I couldn’t walk at times, and I ended up on heavy opioid pain meds for the 3-5 days that I experienced the pain.  Do not be afraid to tell your doctor that you need something to help you through this.  If one med doesn’t work, ask for something else.  And remember, this is only temporary.

You will take more naps than you did as a child.

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Sometimes when I couldn’t get out of bed, my daughter joined me.

The fatigue is real, and it’s something you just need to give in to.  As I said, chemo is attacking your body while fighting off the cancer cells.  As in any battle, your soldiers get tired. You need to allow your body to rest so this battle can be won.

I spent a lot of time sleeping.  There was one day in my third cycle that I slept for almost 21 hours in a day.  I remember calling the chemo nurse concerned that I had slept so much.  They did blood work to make sure nothing serious was going on, but when it came back as normal, she said I just needed the sleep.

Even when you are awake you can feel how exhausted your body is.  There were times when simply getting up from bed to walk to the bathroom tuckered me out.

You may gain weight.

When I first heard chemo, I remember saying, “This will be the most expensive weight loss plan I’ve ever taken part in.”  I was wrong.  While doing chemo, you also have to take steroids.  Steroids make chemo more effective, help reduce allergic reactions, and can be used as an anti-nausea medication.  Steroids also make you ravenously hungry.

Unless your doctor decides to use steroids for your nausea, you will most likely have to take it the day before, the day of, and the day after infusion, and you’ll probably get one in your premeds before the chemo is infused.  Because of this, you will feel great for the first and second day of your cycle.  (The nausea, fatigue, and pain will start on the third day.)  During the steroid bursts, you will experience sweating, insomnia, and as I said, veracious hunger.  I remember the day after my first chemo infusion we went to Red Lobster to celebrate my mom’s birthday, and I wanted to eat everything on the menu!

It’s only TEMPORARY!

Chemo sucks. I’m not going to lie about that.  But it’s doable.  You have to keep remembering that the cruddy feeling you are experiencing for 3-6 months is not going to last forever.  You may be scared, you may be thinking the worst, but you are stronger than you think you are.  Each cycle will fly by and soon your new normal will become part of the past.  I look back at it and remember the side effects—nausea, fatigue, pain—but it really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be, and even knowing these things, I know I would do it all over again because it helped me kick cancer’s ass.  If you are facing chemo as part of your treatment program, you can do it!

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I did it! So can you!

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Taylor Eames is a single mom of four living in Yuma, Arizona, who was diagnosed with triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma in January of 2016.  She openly chronicled her experience during treatment and continuing through the aftermath on TaylorTough on Facebook.  Taylor is one of the founders of Breast Cancer Sisters along with her dear friend, Kristy Irizarry.

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guest blogger

Breast Friends Forever

By Kelly Nemecek

This is a reboot of a blog post, Boobless in NJ, I wrote from last summer.

I believe that sometimes life can deliver blessings amidst what feels like an apocalypse. In my case several positive things came out of my breast cancer experience. I had a worrisome weekend wine habit that I kiboshed. I lost 40 lbs (still have some more to go). I learned how to appreciate life again and realize how precious it is. It’s like I have developed a force field against negativity in my life. I take care of myself and listen to my body. No, it’s not all unicorns and sunshine, but I feel a peace I haven’t known in years. But the biggest positive takeaway has to be hands down, the amazing friendships I’ve cultivated because of breast cancer, three in particular.

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Last August I made my first visit to New Jersey and the circumstances surrounding that trip are pretty freaking cool. I belong to a Facebook breast cancer support group, “Breast Cancer Sisters,” which I also help moderate. There are two admins and one other moderator of this group, and I met all three of these kickass ladies for the first time at Mary’s Place by the Sea in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. One actually lives in New Jersey, one lives in New York, and the other lady and I are from Arizona. The four of us talk all day every day about anything having to do with the group to what’s going on in our lives.

Mary’s Place, where we were able to meet each other for the first time, is a spa/retreat for women undergoing cancer treatment or are recent cancer survivors. It resembled a cozy but modern Bed and Breakfast. We each had our own rooms with our own bathrooms, common areas for recreation and dining, and vegetarian breakfast and lunch were provided. The food was excellent! For dinner the four of us went out partying, raised hell and painted the town pink (which is actually code for walking to the local pub and taking Uber back to Mary’s).

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During our stay we were offered complimentary treatments such as gentle yoga, oncology massage, reflexology, meditation and others that escape my memory just now.

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Just steps away was the ocean where we hung out on the beach and talked. There were other ladies outside of our group staying at Mary’s for the weekend and all but one were breast cancer survivors. This is how prevalent breast cancer is; it’s disturbing and sinister.

Besides having the opportunity to visit this incredible retreat and meet my three group admin counterparts, we conducted a Facebook Live Q&A and prize giveaway session for our group of 7,000 members (that has since grown to over 10,000) while we were there. One of the interesting aspects of our collective experience, is all four of us had varying diagnoses and treatments. All four of us have undergone bilateral mastectomies, three of us have had chemotherapy, one has had radiation and three have had reconstruction surgery. So even though we are all not necessarily boobless anymore, we did lose our breasts. The ones God gave us. The ones that showed up at puberty and later fed our children. They were perky and saggy, big and small and somewhere in between. We might have loved them or hated them or a combination of both during our lifetime but one thing is for certain-we never wanted to lose them to cancer.

We now have each other to lean on, to lift up when we are down, to understand how much of our lives are affected by this disease. I cannot imagine my life without these ladies in it.


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Kelly lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter, one dog, three cats and a bearded dragon named Pascal. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in 2015. She can be found blogging about her good, bad and ugly experiences battling breast cancer at Kelly’s Cancer Beat Down Blog.

guest blogger

This Is Cancer, Too

by Kathy Foushee

When most people hear the words “breast cancer” they think of a thin, flat-chested, bald woman with pale skin. For many, that is the reality. Chemotherapy can rob a woman of her hair, make many food tasteless, or worse, impossible to keep down. A mastectomy removes one of the most obvious symbols of femininity, the breasts. These Pink Warriors go through hell but somehow find a way through to the other side, to their “new normal.”

For others, though, the signs are subtler. They may look “healthy,” appear “normal.” They may go to work, tend to their families, and go about their daily lives with no one the wiser. Women with a lower stage of breast cancer often choose lumpectomy over mastectomy. Some require radiation alone, instead of in conjunction with chemotherapy. For these women, the outward effects are almost unnoticeable. But they suffer the same pains, insecurities, and fears as their sisters in cancer.

When I was diagnosed, the nurse said, “This is not bad.” At the initial consultation, the surgeon said, “This is not fatal. This will not be what kills you.” They meant to be reassuring and kind. And at first, I took comfort from them. After all, if medical professionals were telling me it wasn’t horrific, no matter what I thought, it must not be. Their seemingly casual dismissal of my condition made it seem…not terrible?  Something like the flu, perhaps.  A thing to be treated and forgotten. A co-worker, on hearing the news said, “But you look so healthy.” She meant it as a compliment, I think. Instead, their words had the opposite effect.

My treatment plan didn’t consist of the usual chemotherapy regime.  Instead I had a lumpectomy, radiation, and hormone blocker therapy.

A lumpectomy involves the removal of the tumor and the small amount of tissue surrounding it as well as some lymph nodes to determine whether the disease has spread. Pain, swelling, limited motion of the arm, and nerve damage which may take months to heal are common with this procedure. Lymph node removal increases the chance of lymphedema, a painful condition caused by a buildup of lymph fluid. To reduce this risk, patients who have had lymph nodes removed are cautioned not to have blood draws or blood pressure done on the affected side.

Radiation is usually done after surgery, to help prevent recurrence. The procedure itself is painless and quick. Many women have said getting undressed takes longer than the treatment. Side effects include redness similar to a sunburn, sometimes resulting in open sores. Women are cautioned not to wear underwire bras as they can make this worse. Fatigue, lasting weeks to months after treatment, is frequently reported. Radiation also causes tissue shrinkage. For breast cancer patients, this often means the treated breast is smaller than the other. Healing from radiation therapy can take a year or more.

In addition, women whose cancer is hormone driven, whatever their diagnosis and treatment, are often advised to begin a regimen of medication to suppress the production of the hormone that feeds their tumors. For younger women, this results in premature menopause, with the attendant hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and insomnia. Many of these women, on the advice of their doctors, choose to have their ovaries removed, to further reduce the hormone levels in their bodies. Those who have gone through “the change” report other side effects, most noticeably joint pain and bone loss, although these can affect younger women as well

As I began to go through treatment, I started to see those words in a different light. I began to feel guilty. If this was “not bad” and “wouldn’t kill me” why did I feel so awful? Why was I in such pain and discomfort? Why was I so scared? Guilt set in. So many women had it worse than I did. I wasn’t going to DIE from this. A little extra makeup and some loose tops meant my appearance didn’t even change noticeably.

I started to question myself, my feelings. If it was “not fatal” did that mean that I shouldn’t be worried? Did “non-aggressive” indicate that I wasn’t entitled to be a part of the support group I had recently joined, a group that has given me unconditional love and encouragement and patiently answered my many questions? When my husband took me in his arms, were the tears that soaked his shirt unwarranted because I “looked healthy”? Should I be happier, less depressed, less angry? No, no, a million times no. Because I HAVE CANCER.

While I kept my breasts and my hair, I still had over a dozen medical procedures in a span of three months, not counting radiation. We have thousands of dollars of medical bills. My skin is still discolored and sensitive a month after treatment. My breast is swollen. The scar is still tender four months post-surgery. Because my cancer was hormone positive, I will have my ovaries removed later this year, which will cause me to go into full menopause at the age of 46.

I only had two lymph nodes removed, but even that low number increases my risk of getting lymphedema, so I will have to get all blood work and blood pressure done on my left arm. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’m left-handed, and my veins move. Having blood drawn, necessary to monitor my continued health and hormone levels, leaves me sore and bruised. For the next five years, I will have to see an oncologist every three to six months. I will have annual check-ups for the rest of my life.

None of these things are news to any woman who has had breast cancer. They’re routine, part of what must be done to monitor our health and ensure we remain NED (no evidence of disease – the best we can hope for). There is no cure for breast cancer. There is only treatment, monitoring, and hope that it won’t return.

Most people think of breast cancer patients as flat-chested and bald. And for way too many of us, that’s the case. But some of us “look healthy.” Some of us have a “non-fatal” form.  But ALL breast cancer survivors, no matter their diagnosis, go through hell. Our lives are turned upside down and inside out. We work very hard to discover our “new normal” – whatever that may be. We are all Pink Sisters, members of a club that no one ever wants to join. So the next time you see a woman wearing a pink ribbon, don’t assume that she’s supporting a mother, sister or friend, just because she fills out her shirt and has a full head of hair. She may be one of us, too.


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I am a 45 year old wife, cat mother, and university library employee. On December 5, 2016, I also became a breast cancer survivor. I wrote this partly as a rebuttal to all those people who feel the need to tell me how fortunate I am that my cancer isn’t worse, and the ones who look at me and don’t see a cancer patient because I still have both breasts and all my hair. This is my journey so far. 

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We’re Back!

Good Morning, Readers!

After a long hiatus, we have decided to resurrect our blog.  We have amassed a large following even while we were posting new material, so we feel it’s a good time to get back into it.  Our blogs are filled with personal experiences and information that can help any breast cancer warrior or caregiver through their battle.

whats your story

We are once again looking for guest bloggers.  Please follow this link to learn how to write for BCS!

We are looking forward to reading your submissions!

 

giveaway

July Giveaway #4: CJ Hats Gift Certificate

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Mary Ann Weiss of CJ Hats has donated a $20 gift certificate to her store.  Mary Ann is an 18 year survivor of Stage IIIB Inflammatory Breast Cancer.   She began selling her hats for men, women, and children on Etsy and eBay a few years after beating the disease.  All of the hats are handmade in Michigan, USA.

Visit CJ Hats’ website HERE.
CJ Hats can also be found on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

***CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY***

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July Giveaway #3: Cancer Care Gift Package from Choose Hope

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Karen Shreves of Choose Hope has donated this Cancer Care Gift Tote to one lucky winner.

Visit Choose Hope’s website:  www.choosehope.com

Visit Choose Hope on Facebook HERE.  Follow Choose Hope on Instagram HERE.

***ENTER TO WIN THE GIVEAWAY HERE***

Our Cancer Care Gift Tote is the perfect gift for anyone newly diagnosed or going through surgery, radiation, or even chemotherapy. Designed by our very own cancer survivors, this heavyweight tote includes everything necessary for medical appointments, treatments, hospital stays or just lounging at home. Screened with our inspirational trademarked phrase, “No One Fights Alone,” the tote has a secured zipper main compartment with a curved zippered front pocket. It allows for easy storage of cell phones, tablets, keys, appointment cards, notebooks, etc. Made of 600D polyester canvas, it measures 14″ x 18″ x 3.5″. It’s better than your ordinary gift basket and filled with the following very special items:

  • Soft Plush Blanket – Comfy and warm. Measures 50″ x 60″, 100% polyester, machine washable. Colors vary (please see photos).
  • No One Fights Alone® Ribbon Awareness Water Bottle – 28 oz. water bottle with colored ribbon.  Domed screw-on cap and buckle clasp keeps it germ-free.  Perfect for keeping your body hydrated.
  • Cozy Slipper Socks – Soft and comfy socks that are sure to warm those cold feet on any day! Complete with dot grips to prevent slipping. Colors will vary (please see photos).
  • What Cancer Cannot Do® Notebook – Screened with the popular poem, What Cancer Cannot Do, this 5′ x 7″ notebook is perfect for jotting down thoughts, questions and medical information. Comes complete with matching pen.
  • Hand Sanitizer – 2 ounce bottle with a push lid for easy opening and closing. Perfect for keeping those germs away!
  • Framed Magnetic What Cancer Cannot Do Poem – 4″ x 6″ magnetic frame that holds the popular poem What Cancer Cannot Do. Provides a great reminder that cancer has its limitations.
  • Dionis Lip Balm – Infused with nourishing goat’s milk and antioxidant Vitamin E. Free of parafin, phthalate and gluten (Vanilla Bean flavor).
  • Dionis Body Lotion – Specially blended formula full of goat’s milk, vitamins and proteins needed to replenish moisture. Fragrance free makes it perfect for cancer patients.

The Cancer Care Tote is truly one of the nicest things that you can do for someone who has just been diagnosed. All items are of the highest quality and have been carefully designed and manufactured to make the cancer journey a little more bearable. And with a variety of cancer colors to choose from, this is a a thoughtful and useful gift that is sure to be appreciated!

Please note the Pink Tote for Breast Cancer has our Pink Ribbon Socks.

giveaway

July Giveaway #2: Pink Pepper Co Mastectomy Pillow

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Pink Pepper Co Website:  www.pinkpepperco.com

Like Pink Pepper Co on Facebook HERE.  Follow on Twitter HERE and on Instagram HERE.

***ENTER TO WIN HERE***

 

Mastectomy Pillows and Tops for Post Op Healing

Pink Pepper Co. specializes in post op comfort products for breast cancer and mastectomy healing.   We feature Mastectomy Pillows, which provide comfort and protection after any type of breast surgery.  As a patient is healing, they need to apply soft pressure to the chest area, and offer protection against bumps, drops, and the occasional pet or child jump.  Our Mastectomy Pillow is the perfect solution. Equally important is our Mastectomy T Shirts, which are 100% cotton, have easy open snap fronts, and are specifically designed to discreetly hold drain tubes and provide comfort during healing.  These are worn 24 hours a day by patients for the first month of recovery, and are absolutely necessary when mobility and movement are limited.

Made by a Breast Cancer Survivor who understands, for other future Breast Cancer Survivors!

The Breast Cancer Survivor Behind Pink Pepper Co

The owner of Pink Pepper Co is a Breast Cancer warrior, turned survivor! She now makes items to help others through their fight with breast cancer, and to help comfortably from a mastectomy or breast other breast surgery. Each item is handmade in the USA. Each item has been tested through use by Leslie as well during her own treatment. “I sincerely hope it can provide some help and comfort to others through their treatment as well.” You can also follow her journey on Instagram @pinkpepperco

giveaway

July Giveaway #1: Recovery Tee and Care Package from Courage to Conquer Cancer

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Kandi Stewart and Kristi James of Courage to Conquer Cancer have donated a Breast Cancer Patient Care Package including a recovery tee.

Visit Courage to Conquer Cancer at www.couragetoconquercancer.com.

Follow Courage to Conquer Cancer on Facebook HERE.  Visit Courage to Conquer Cancer’s Etsy shop HERE.

***ENTER THE GIVEAWAY HERE***

This is a great gift for any patient undergoing a mastectomy or other breast surgery.

Care package includes one of their patent pending recovery tees (for drain management, easy on/off while movement is restricted, and can be used during other breast cancer treatments), a soft, plush blanket to keep warm in the infusion center or hospital, small bottle of hand sanitizer, a small water bottle with straw, essential oil soap, lip balm, sickness bag, pocket-sized tissues, box of peppermint oil Angel mints, and a tote to contain it all.

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It’s time for a Giveaway! 

Our page is nearing 1000 fans and our support group has reached over 5600!  So it’s time to host a giveaway!

We are looking for companies who would like to donate items for us to giveaway to our breast cancer warriors or survivors.  Items can vary from something to help during chemo or radiation to post op products to celebrating the survivor.  In the past we’ve had mastectomy pillows, shirts, all natural beauty products, jewelry, handmade wooden signs, and much more.

Participating in our giveaways gives you the opportunity to make a cancer patient smile while also working on your marketing.  As I said above, our page and group reach a massive amount of people who will all see your generosity.  We share your name, fb page, website, etsy shop, and anything else you’d like the participants to know.  Our giveaways are shared on several social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you’d like to participate, please email bcskristyandtaylor@gmail com.  Please include the name and a short description of your company, a photo or two of the item (or a graphic representing your company if you are donating store credit), and a description of the item.

Thank you for considering donating to our group!  

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Giveaway #20: Letters of Love Designs SURVIVOR and HOPE Signs

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Nikki Barr of Letters of Love Designs has donated a SURVIVOR sign and a HOPE sign.  Shipping is donated by Taylor Eames.

Visit Letters of Love Designs at www.lettersoflovedesigns.com.

Like Letters of Love Designs on Facebook HERE.  Follow Letters of Love Designs on Instagram HERE.

***ENTER TO WIN THE SURVIVOR SIGN HERE***

***ENTER TO WIN THE HOPE Magnet HERE***

About the company:  Nikki photographs things that look like letters and then uses the photos to make neat, decorative signs.

HOPE :  3 inches wide/long x 1 inch tall/high.
SURVIVOR (either color style) : 10 1/2 inches wide/long x 2 1/2 inches tall/high.

These signs can stand alone and also hang on the wall – metal hanger on the back.

Indoor display only.

Nikki is also offering a discount to the members of Breast Cancer Sisters FB group.  The discount code will be announced in the group.