My first day of chemo will be August 18.
My blood runs a little cold as I say that. Chemo. I never in a million years thought that I'd be experiencing this. You always think it will happen to someone else but now it's the reality I'm living. But strangely I've been able to put off thinking about it because (in true Erin fashion) I've been busying myself with things that help me avoid it. (Most notably - I'm producing TWO SHOWS right now - one I've directed [BOYS' LIFE] and one I'm starring in [BOY GETS GIRL, running through August 2.]
I just had a "chemo class" where I was taught everything I needed to know about my upcoming treatment. I thought I'd share with you a little of what I learned.
I'll be brought into the infusion center to get blood work done, and then I'll have an appointment with my oncologist who will go over my blood counts and make sure I'm ready for my treatment. During that appointment the chemo nurses will be mixing the drugs, and by the time my meeting is done they'll be ready to administer the chemo. For those of you who like to do research, here's what I'll be on and for how long:
I'm getting what's known as ACT - Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Taxol. This is the schedule:
• 4 cycles of A & C - 2 weeks apart (for a total of 2 months)
• 12 cycles of T - 1 week apart (for a total of 3 months)
Total chemo time: 5 months.
The most common side effects of all of this chemo:
• Hair loss
• Nausea/Vomiting (which is offset by strong meds they give)
• Low white blood cells (lowered immune system)
• Low red blood cells (causing anemia, shortness of breath, etc)
• Mouth sores
• Loss of appetite and loss of taste
• Dry, brittle nails (some people actual lose their fingernails & toenails)
• Neuropathy (numbness and tingling in fingers, which may be permanent)
• "Chemo Brain" - a general fuzziness, loss of short term memory & concentration, etc
• Cold extremities
• Forced, early menopause (and all that comes with it - hot flashes, lack of fertility, night sweats, irritability)
One area they don't talk about as a side effect but is definitely present: Anxiety. I have general, overall anxiety about what's to come and then I have specific anxiety about making sure I'm doing everything correctly to prepare for chemo and that I don't make my health worse along the way.
Interestingly, some of the medications they give to combat the above side effects cause their own side effects. Severe bone pain is a side effect of the drug Neulasta (a shot they give to boost white blood cells. Also interesting - one drug to help combat THAT side effect is Claritin.) Also, the steroids they give to boost your immune system cause weight gain, despite the lost of appetite and loss of taste. WEIGHT GAIN = UNFAIR.
The most upsetting side effect to me is hair loss. I'm considering an experimental treatment called a cold cap, which freezes your head during chemo to keep chemo drugs from hitting the hair follicles. It's horribly expensive (over $3000 & not covered by insurance) and VERY difficult to manage (adding hours of extra work to each treatment day), which is making me consider just dealing with the hair loss. In the event that I decide to go for the cold cap, I will certainly let everyone know in case we want to come up with some kind of fundraising event. For those of you who are interested in learning more about this, here's a link. I've also written a personal blog about losing my hair would impact my acting career: here's the link.
Thanks for all of your love and support, and for all of your gifts! It's getting to be that the gifts are almost too many to able to acknowledge personally, but I will keep trying. Click here for a link to see what kinds of things I still need help with along with acknowledgements for what you've done so far. I also have a Amazon wish list for important items I have to buy to counteract chemo side effects: here's the link. Finally, if you feel like money is the easiest way to make an impact, there is a donation button on the upper right hand side of this page.
PS: as a reminder I have a personal blog where I talk about the non-medical aspects of what I'm dealing with. You can see that here: www.erincronicals.com.