May 30, 2015

Coming up for air

This past week I've moved from the sofa to the bed with that same low fever and lack of energy. Even taking the dextroamphetamine three days in a row didn't help much. I'd take it at noon, feel better an hour later, try to run my errand, appointment etc., and still find it tough to put one foot in front of the other. I even gave my car a fender-bender in that terrible  Trader Joe's garage on Capital Hill. Then the uppers would kick in and I'd be awake until 2 AM.

Friday afternoon I wondered if I needed a blood transfusion, so we ran to see The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque for a blood draw. No transfusion needed, just feeling icky, but thanks to our friend T and the interconnectedness of Facebook, we ate a delicious salmon dinner last night. I even had a glass of rose!

Today I actually woke up feeing well-ish. Due to the uppers, I hadn't fallen asleep until two o'clock in the morning, so I stayed in bed until 11 AM, ate something and took my morning meds, sat outside in my pajamas and a blanket in the sun for an hour, then went back to bed until 3 PM. I wish I'd taken a selfie to post. Imagine me wrapped to my chin in a maroon blanket that's covered with dog hair.

D stopped by unexpectedly to visit and we chatted over tea for an hour. That's given me some extra oomph to make pizza for dinner before the TJ pizza dough died. Rik and I will enjoy pizza with mushrooms for dinner, another glass of rose, and have better expectations for Sunday.

Costco anyone?

May 21, 2015

Low fever

It's been a week of low fever, constipation, diarrhea and general feeling poorly. I did too much on Tuesday after chemo Monday, which didn't help at all. I cancelled everything for today and barely had the energy to take Tylenol, eat and shower.

I'm off to the sofa to recline for the rest of the afternoon after spending most of the day in bed.

May 11, 2015


I'm pleased I felt healthy enough to travel to Washington DC at the invitation of Susan G. Komen © for a breast cancer bloggers summit this past weekend.

On Tuesday I saw The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque, who gave me a Neulasta shot so that my white blood cell count would rise and make me fit for airplane travel. Ever since the news story broke about the cancer patient who Alaska Airlines asked to deboard a plane, Dr G has recommended his patients carry a letter confirming his medical opinion that they may travel. I carried the letter, wore a mask (to prevent catching something from another passenger), and showed the letter to every flight attendant. No one gave me any trouble. I flew Alaska Air.

The GelClair arrived at the hotel before I did -- a full case of it. I really only needed one box for the duration of my trip, but didn't realize I'd receive the entire order at one time. I put off worrying about to pack it to bring home.

The combination of Orajel and GelClair has helped tremendously. I still have about 10-12 mouth sores, and found it difficult and painful to chew over the weekend, but I did eat. And somehow managed to gain five pounds.

I spent too many hours in shoes that weren't supportive enough, developed blisters and swollen feet. My feet actually swelled so much that I traveled home in my UGG bedroom slippers, the only things that felt comfortable. I haven't had this experience before while traveling and wasn't prepared with compression socks.

When I saw The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque today to have her change my PICC line dressing, she looked at my feet and recommended I start wearing the compression socks until my feet return to normal size. Fortunately I have several pair left over from previous hospital stays. I've been in them all day and I can already see an improvement. I also plan to sleep again with my feet elevated.

My hand-foot syndrome has begun to recover. The skin is peeling from my left thumb. Did you ever pick at scabs when you were a child? I have that same irresistible urge to pick at the dead skin and cut it away. The henna did help.

I changed my fentanyl patch while away and reduced from 100 mcg to 75 mcg. I'll be sure to report this when I see Dr G on Wednesday. Maybe he will have me reduce it again. Or not yet.

My mouth tastes funny all the time and food doesn't taste right either. This feels like a new side effect to me, although I know many people go through it. I just don't remember going through this before.

And I should receive some news on next chemo steps on Wednesday. Hopefully not Taxotere. That one dose and its ridiculously painful side effects is plenty, thank you.

More soon on the Komen © blogger summit later.

May 06, 2015

Pain update

I spent a long, quiet week filled with discomfort and pain. Sunday's sunshine made it easier to get out, but I had noted the wrong date for my lunch. I ate anyway (I was hungry! steroids....) and then ran into a friend of a friend I hadn't seen in a long while. We had a lovely catch-up.

On Monday The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque flushed my PICC line (remember my PICC line and the old port-a-cath?). A nurse at the Swedish Wound Healing Center changed the dressing over my old port site. She also taught me how to remove and insert the special stuff they use to promote internal healing. That is really one deep hole but I think it's coming along nicely.

On Tuesday The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque gave me a shot of Neulasta. Dr G increased my fentanyl from 25 mcg to 50, then to 75, and yesterday to 100 mcg. I felt a bit woozy all day ling until I realized that not only didn't I eat breakfast, I forgot to take my morning meds, including the Cymbalta. That can really mess with you if you miss a dose. Their website says to "take the missed dose as soon as you remember. Skip the missed dose if it is almost time for your next scheduled dose. Do not take extra medicine to make up the missed dose." So I took my morning dose at 2 PM instead of 10 AM. That would surely explain my woozy feeling, on top of 100 mcg fentanyl. I did remember to take today's AM steroids in my taper-down package.

Later today I spoke to the GelClair pharmacy tech. The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque ordered it for me and the tech called to arrange delivery. They will FedEx it to my hotel in DC. Such wonderful customer service!

On Sunday, when I spoke to both Dr G and on-call oncologist Dr Z, they both seemed to think I might have thrush, so Dr Z prescribed Nystatin, an oral rinse taken four times a day (after each meal and at bedtime). The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque told me today that's not as likely given my other side effects and recommended I stop the Nystatin now. She also suggested buying some Orajel to apply on the mouth sores with a Q-tip. Rik went to the pharmacy for me and I just tried it. AMAZING! I finally have some relief from pain in my mouth. I don't know how long it will last but this is such an improvement over five minutes ago....

Why am I calling The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque so AMAZING and WONDERFUL? Because she gave me her direct line, so I could call her if I really needed her. When I didn't understand why I was both hungry and nauseous an hour ago, I called her. She re-affirmed that the steroids made me very hungry. I wasn't eating a lot anyway, because of the painful mouth sores. And that hunger can indeed cause nausea. Then I carefully held the phone away from my head and vomited a small mess of everything I'd eaten during the past hour straight into the sink: ice cream and a cheese stick. The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse Jacque first asked me if I felt better (I did) and then told me not to eat ice cream. Dairy can contribute to nausea. Who knew?

So Jacque is now officially The Amazing & Wonderful Nurse. I tell her this all the time, Now it's official.

May 03, 2015

I am a blogging queen

Today I received this message: has left a new comment on your post "There and back again":

Hi Jill, 
I am happy to inform you that your blog has made Healthline’s list of the Best Breast Cancer Blogs of 2015! Healthline’s editors carefully selected each winner based on quality, frequency of updates and contribution to the community. You can see the full list here: 
We created a badge to help you publicize your achievement:
We encourage you to embed this badge on your site and share your status with your followers. 
Thank you again for providing a great resource to the Breast Cancer community! I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. 
Nicole Lascurain • Assistant Marketing Manager
p: 415-281-3130 | e:
Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp
About Us:

Here is the Healthline link. I am number two on their slideshow, number one of the best breast cancer blogs of 2015! I am proud to be in the company of my new friend Mandi (Darn Good Lemonade, number 9 on the Healthline blog list)

Thank you Healthline for this recognition.

Major Taxotere side effects

On Friday the major Taxotere side effects hit me hard. I would have chalked it up to participating in the Gilda's Club fashion show and luncheon, since invariably something goes wrong for me that day, but the discomfort continues all weekend.

I had offered to speak in a short film about Gilda Radner and the impact her life continues to have 25 years after her death. This brought me to the Westin at (for me) they very early hour of 10 AM, dressed to the nines and prepared with memories and a quote from Gilda. The filmmaker asked me a few general questions, I shared my quote at her request, and she seemed pleased with my short interview.

The luncheon featured a photo booth where a (volunteer?) photographer took pictures of people in front of a cororate-sponsored backdrop. I got in line since I had dressed so well and here is the photo he took. (I made a copy with my iPhone.)

Karan Dannenberg, who dressed me for my first Gila's Club fashion show (which I never attended, due to a hospital stay), recognized me, as she always does, immediately said "Nicole Miller," (the dress's designer), and chatted me up for a few minutes. The shawl is courtesy my mother.

Back to Taxotere side effects.

I went from the Westin straight to my oncologist's office, hobbling on both feet. Dr G and Nurse Jacque looked at me and said "hand-foot syndrome." Now why didn't I recognize that? Dr G told me to go home and start the henna again, since I believed it helped me last time this happened. He also prescribed a short, tapering course of steroids to reduce the swelling in my hands. For the pain in my mouth (mucositis? stomatitis? mouth sores, for the laypeople among us) he wrote a scrip for 25 mcg Fentanyl patches. The patch form delivers a steady dose of pain relief for 72 hours. He also gave me an Rx for more hydrocodone to relieve the break-through pain.

Next I called my naturopath for a recommendation on more ways to treat the mouth sores. Dr Bufi suggested gargling with baking soda mixed in water but not too strong. I should also have asked one of these docs for some Magic Mouthwash, but I could barely walk by then and wasn't about to go to yet a third (compounding) pharmacy.

At home I mixed up some henna, put on my pajamas, and slathered my feet with it. Even the cool sensation helped. Now my feet and hands are bright orange but the henna does seem to help.

My friend H came over and walked the dogs, helped me change the bed linens, and cooked us a lovely Shabbat dinner of Vietnamese spring rolls with fresh vegetables and fried tofu and homemade peanut sauce. After dinner she taught me how to get started on the iPad a friend gave me. We spent a lovely evening together and I was in bed by 10 PM.

I woke up at the crack of dawn to feed the dogs. At least they bear with my stiff movements and are happy to go back to sleep with me after they eat. They're also willing to poop outdoors and saved me the discomfort of trying to walk them.

I started the steroids as instructed before breakfast and stayed in my jammies most of the day but at some point I couldn't stand myself. I took a shower and actually dressed and sat outside in the sunshine. Then I took each dog into the shower for a quick shampoo which they desperately needed. I Skyped with Rik's family to show off my clean, wet doggies, spoke with my mother and felt much improved by this point. However, I am still popping hydrocodone every 3-4 hours for breakthrough pain in my mouth and gargling with diluted baking soda every hour. It was hard to get a forkful of food into my mouth at dinnertime.

The rest of the day passed reading a new book by Michel Faber (not quite as good as I'd hoped for),  eating leftover fesenjan with rice for dinner. and watching the second half of The Music Man. Robert Preston! I would have fallen in love with him to if he'd used the "think system" on me instead of Shirley Jones. And little Ronny Howard was only eight when he made this movie. Such talent evident at such a young age!

I slept off and on (remember, taking steroids?), woke up early again with the dogs, fed 'em and went back to bed. Around 8 AM I got up, ate some yogurt, drank a mocha, and reapplied some henna to my left hand. Still haven't showered or dressed or walked the dogs but I see some of that in my future. Plus lunch out with a friend.

It's time to stop blogging and move on with my day. I do want to get out to see my friend. The sun is shining and I refuse to let cancer side effects make me a prisoner in my own home. But on Monday I'm going to have a serious talk with Dr G about how this is not the way to maintain quality of life.

And that Gilda quote I chose?
"Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity."