Cancer 2.0: The Sequel

Six Months after Chemotherapy

Posted on: February 3, 2011

It has been over six months since my last chemotherapy session mid-July, so it’s time to do a review of recovery.

Post-chemo hair that sticks out in all directions

For the most part, I am back to normal, and the things that are still a problem for me are unusual for most patients.  I still am needing more sleep than I used to, including a mandatory rest during the day. If I don’t take the rest, I feel tired and am dragging for the subsequent 24 hours.  The doctors assure me that most patients are more resilient than I am.  My family doctor is checking on other possible causes, with some blood tests.  The oncologist thinks it will work itself out, which I’m inclined to believe.  Each week, I need a little less sleep than the week before. Very slow progress, but it is happening.

The most obvious chemo thing is my short-short hair which I have little control over. It is still too short to do much to dictate order to the weird waves and curls.  I gave up wearing wigs at New Years. I just measured, by hair is about 1.75 inches or 30 mm long. It beats being bald, I guess.

I’m watching the little grooves in my fingernails finally growing out – there is one wave for each of the chemo sessions. I’ve learned that each nail grows at its own speed –  the fingers closest to my little finger have totally grown out, but ridges remain on my thumb and index fingers. That’s kind of weird.

So that’s it on chemo.

It’s been like 10 weeks since my armpit surgery.  In the last week, I started feeling sensation in areas that have felt numb since the surgery.  It takes a while for the nerves to recovery.  The sensation comes back in layers – the surface has the least sensation, but there is a lot more in the deep parts of the skin.

Diligent exercises have paid off nicely.  I have movement back reaching up for the sky – I can do it, but it still hurts so I have to keep working at it.  The other movements – hands on my waist with elbows out and hands on my lower back facing backwards are both fine.   The trouble still exists with rotation when my arm is bent. Some of this is left over damage from 2001.  Each day I stretch it until it hurts, but not too much. It slowly progresses. Very slowly.

What about the radiation burns after 11 months?  Remember my skin has had a double dose of radiation.  The first time it was all healed by this time.  My skin is still a little darker in the radiated area and still feels different, a little dryer and less flexible, but nothing troublesome.  It often reminds me that I need to apply lotion to keep it feeling good.  There are not any obvious scars or ugly discolorations that were a possibility.

I got a phone call today from radiation oncology asking for contact information from my radiation in California.  Luckily, I have a notebook with basic information from that time to refer to.  It feels very anal to be taking such detailed notes, but I learned from last time, it is hard to remember all the major stuff, let alone the details.  They need to know how much radiation I had in California – I guess to look at the total amount of radiation that will be hitting my body – now they are prepping for a third round of radiation in a lifetime.  Soon I will glow in the dark.

For most patients, the worst is over by now and life returns to 3 or 6 months screenings and inspections with the oncologist and surgeon… Cancer takes a back seat and life returns to normal.  For me that will be delayed until I’m done with this next radiation, but it will happen.  Next week I go through the last of a very thorough battery of tests. Each so far has shown I’m healthy and no signs of nastiness which is what matters most.

For all of us, there will be little scares, biopsies or even things that need treating in our futures. For some, the disease takes a life of its own, defying the treatments. It is uncertainty we all have to live with, yet for now, the future looks good and I’m doing everything I can to sway the odds in my favor.

Back view is the worst. Soon it will be long enough to control, I hope.

I'm not thrilled with the hair, but not much I can do yet.


4 Responses to "Six Months after Chemotherapy"

K, you look really good and the hair is VERY nice. you can be happy it is as good as it is considering what was before. it is a perfectly legit style in its own right. now what is this fingernail groove thing? I don’t recall that!chemo did something to your nails, put grooves in? good no scars which mite have been. sounds nice on exer. will have to do qigong on my computer now that i realize i have dvd player there. see how smart it was now to take detailed notes. not anal at all. do you know what a pain to try to find this info again?? so wonderful your tests have all been good and sure this last will be too. will all be over soon. excellent update and very nice pix. i’m sure all readers glad to see what yo look like.

Hi, im kelsey and i’m 16, i had chemo and radiation therapy back in december for the first time. I just hit my six month mark this week and my hair looks very similar to yours in the pictures. I was just wondering if you had any tips on what to do with my hair or how to take care of it. Also since this is from february i was wondering if your hair has grown any longer since then? I’m just curious what it’s going to look like for me in the upcoming months. Thank you so much for sharing your story, you are a very inspiring person:)

Congratulations on getting through treatment. It is hard enough to do at my age, to keep focus that this is temporary event in a much longer life. My hair just hit 3 inches long (8cm) and is grows about a half inch a month since it filled in. I think rather than answering short here, there is a lot I want to say to help you, so I’ll post something longer later today to see if I can answer your questions a bit. Some people choose the super-cropped cuts, but I was not comfortable with that. Lots of hats when I went out. When it hit 2.5 inches- around 9 months, it began to feel like my hair again, just short.

I’m so glad to see Kelsey join the discussion. I know there is so much K can share to help. A good pt that there must be very diff perspective at diff ages. K has daughter just thru teens herself, so will be esp sensitive to needs and concerns of young women.

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Not a second time

One in 9 women will have breast cancer, and everyone will be in a position to support a mother, sister or friend as they go through treatment.

A few, like me, get the diagnosis more than once.

I wish now, I had more records of how I got through it the first time – I remember mainly the support and love of my friends and how much it helped, conveniently forgetting the immediacy of day to day emotions and events. So this time, I’m making my notes public, in hopes that this can help prepare others for the difficult months of treatment that precede the rest of our lives.

In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I followed standard treatments and as many alternative aids as seemed appropriate. Since then, I’ve been doing all the requested follow-up treatments and spending the time attempting to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, expecting to remain cancer free.

Dec 2009, I discovered a lump while showering. The biopsy came back mid-January 2010 showing a tumor composed of invasive cancerous tissues. It was most likely something new, rather than a recurrence. So far, the prognosis is good.

This is my story, as it unfolds.

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