Hi Friends! A few health updates for you! I started my first cycle of oral chemotherapy on Monday (Feb 18th). I also had my radiation mapping appointment on Monday….a big week! February 22nd was the official “release” date that I was allowed to get back to the gym (6 weeks after surgery). SO, I ripped off the band aid and went to Orange Theory yesterday morning and this morning. Oh boy, it wasn’t pretty….but I felt SO much better after I left. I was debating on whether I should go back to the gym this weekend (right at the 6 week mark)…..then yesterday morning I got a sign 😉
Regarding the chemo pills- I know some of you might be thinking “but what about your clever #NoMoChemo captions?” Well, I’m still calling this a win because even though yes, I’m scheduled to be on 6 months of chemo pills if all goes well, I’m SO thankful NOT to be on IV chemo!! I read that if you’re busy thanking God for all of the good things in your life, you won’t have time to feel sorry for yourself. I do my best to live by that principle. Anyway, I’ve had a lot of questions lately about the chemo pills, side effects, radiation, schedules etc…..so I’ll try to address all of those in this blog. After my workout (bright and early this morning) I’m feeling a little tired so a Q&A format will have to do for now. So, for those asking J
What kind of chemo pills are you on? How often do you have to take them?
I’m on a pill called Xeloda. Each tablet is 500mg and I take 7 tablets per day (yes, you are reading that correctly).
Do you have to eat with the medicine? Does it upset your stomach?
Yes, per my oncologist’s instructions, I have to take the pills 20 minutes after I finish a meal (the acid in my stomach is what “activates” the pills”). So I take 3 pills in the morning 20 minutes after breakfast and then I take 4 pills in the evening 20 minutes after dinner. Yes, my stomach is a upset after I take them (which is why I went to the EARLY OTF class this morning…..so I could have breakfast and my morning dose AFTER my workout). I take the pills every day for 14 days, then I have 7 days “off” without taking the pills. So, 3 weeks is one “cycle” on and I’m supposed to have eight 3 week “cycles” of the medication if all goes well (prayers for that!)
What do the chemo pills feel like compared to IV chemotherapy?
If I had to use an analogy…..I’d say IV chemo is like camping in the woods without a bathroom (my personal version of hell) and the chemo pills are like staying at a perfectly respectable 2.5 star hotel. Would I rather be at the Four Seasons/aka not have to take the pills at all? Of course….but the 2.5 star hotel is definitely manageable thus far. Granted, I have only been on the chemo pills 7 days ….. but so FAR the pills are easier. In case my camping/hotel analogy is trash, I’ll get to the point: no, the pills are not “easy” per se……but they are a LOT better than IV chemo. On that note, if you have time, I’d love some prayers that God will help my body tolerate the high dose of Xeloda that I’m on- AND that the medicine works for that matter! I want to stay on the highest dose possible to give myself the best shot of this stupid cancer not coming back! J If my hands and feet are covered in blisters- a common side effect, they’ll have to decrease my dose. (More on that later)
I know someone that was on tamoxifen, is that an oral chemotherapy pill too?
Oddly enough, I get this question ALL the time. I’m not a doctor by any means, but from what I understand, women that have “hormone receptive” breast cancer take certain medications to block/inhibit those particular hormones after their chemotherapy or radiation treatments. These types of drugs are considered “hormone therapy” NOT “oral chemotherapy”. Since I’m “triple negative” the hormone blocking/inhibiting medications don’t apply to me from what I understand. I’m sure I’m over simplifying it…..but you get the idea.
What are the side effects from the chemo pills?
One of the main side effects the doctors want me to keep an eye on is developing blisters on the palms of my hands and the bottom of my feet. That’s a very common side effect Xeloda for some reason (I have no idea why….and haven’t taken the time to find out). As a result, I’m keeping my hands and feet moisturized all the time. (I’ve been putting lotion on my hands/feet and then I wear socks/gloves for a few hours). I read that if you sleep in the gloves you need a fresh pair every night, so I bought a 24 pack of cheap cotton gloves on amazon in case I need to sleep in them. (See below)
I’m also drinking a lot of water every day which is a good idea regardless. Other side effects are fatigue, decreased white blood cell count (but should not be as drastic as IV chemo), and some people have nausea or a “sour stomach”. I think I’m one of the people who experience the nausea/sour stomach……but so far my hands and feet are okay J My throat has been hurting this week and I’ve had some mild headaches …..but I’m not sure if that is related to the medicine or just feeling worn down. But again, I’ll take this over “camping in the woods” (aka IV chemo) any day!!
When do you start radiation?
We do not have an exact date yet but think my “dry run” of radiation will be this Friday March 1st (to make sure the plan is correct) and then I should start radiation therapy around March 4th.
How long is radiation?
Once radiation begins, I have to go 5 days a week (Monday-Friday) for about 6.5 weeks. Radiation is not nearly as time consuming as chemo thankfully.
Will you still be on the Xeloda during radiation?
The original plan was for me to overlap one “cycle” of Xeloda with radiation, but since I started the chemo pills early….I’m waiting to find out if I will need to do two cycles of Xeloda instead of one. Then the plan is for me to finish the remaining 6-7 cycles of Xeloda after radiation.
How does it feel to be rid of the chemo port?
Amazing. Free. Wonderful. J I hope and PRAY so hard that I will not ever need another one. (Again, for those handing out prayers….that’s pretty high on the list!) J A lot of my friends wanted to know what the port removal process was like. (Forgive me if I’ve already discussed this, I can’t remember)- but it really wasn’t bad at all. If you know me, you are well aware that I’m a HUGE baby when it comes to needles…..and I can be well, a “tad” high strung. (I believe the kids would call that “extra”). Even with all of my shenanigans and having to take my port out at the VERY end of a long day, Dr. Bowie (and her nurse Heidi) were SO gentle and patient with me. They were so nice to me it honestly made the procedure easy. My friend Lauren Fairbanks came with me for my “deportation” which was nice. I can’t stand the sight of blood so I didn’t look at anything during the procedure…..but Lauren calmly held my hand, chatted with me, and watched all of it (she was given the choice to sit outside for the record!). Tip: if you’ve just been diagnosed it helps to go ahead and identify which friends are “good” with blood, needles, and medical things. They REALLY come in handy! Pic below was taken right after my port was removed earlier this month. A big day!!
How are you feeling?
(Before I answer- I realize how lucky I am that I have people in my life who care and keep up with how I’m doing via this blog/social media/etc. That warms my heart more than you know). To answer your question, I’m starting to feel like “me” again! My lashes are slowly growing back- praise the Lord! J I’ve definitely had my moments where I’m scared (thankfully I have an amazing husband who is always around to give me a hug and listen)- but overall I think I’m pretty good considering! Here’s a pic (below) from my first “outing” after surgery. Just going to dinner with friends feels like such a treat! I took things like this for granted for SO long. Unsolicited advice: make time for your friends when you can.
Things that made me smile recently:
A perfectly fitting Valentine’s Day card from my husband.
Friends that make me feel like I’m part of the “survivor” club already…even though we aren’t quite at the finish line (YET!)
Seeing my new name in print (on my nametag) at a CLE this week. (….AND getting to see a couple of good friends while I was there!)
Funny surprises in the mail like this…..
Friends coming over to visit💛 (The champagne happened BEFORE I started my chemo pills for the record)💛
I haven’t forgotten about my “surgery tips and tricks” blog I need to finish…..that will be coming soon. Until next time, thank you for all of the prayers, support, and love.
-Holly Hollis Stars-