During the weeks leading up to chemotherapy, I met with the oncologist, who informed my husband and I of the benefits and potential side effects of having chemotherapy. The doctor informed us that I would undergo a total of six treatments, once every three weeks. He alluded to the fact that I would loose my hair, have body aches and may experience nausea, changes in appetite, and taste buds. He expressed to me, “Now is not the time to diet. I want you to eat whatever you have the taste for.” He continued by stating that eating “comfort” foods was acceptable. His reasoning was that many people loose weight during chemotherapy due to lack of appetite and nausea, so he did not want me to have the mindset that I needed to “watch” what I ate.
In addition to all of the above information, the oncologist educated my husband and I as to the far reaching effect that chemotherapy would have upon my body. He informed us that my immune system would be compromised due to a reduction of white blood cells. He said that although chemotherapy has proven to be effective in destroying cancer cells, it unfortunately destroys healthy cells as well. Therefore, white blood cells that are instrumental in fighting diseases and viruses in the body, would be significantly impacted.
In order to prevent my body’s natural immune system (white blood cells) from becoming too weak, it would be necessary for me to return to the oncologist’s office the day after chemotherapy to receive an injection of a medication called Neulasta. The medication would artificially boost my white blood cell count. This artificial “boost” would be my body’s only defense against viruses.
The doctor explained to me that I would experience body aches and possibly nausea following chemotherapy treatments. He informed me that a “cocktail” of anti-nausea medications are given, just before the actual chemotherapy drugs are administered. Chemotherapy drugs can be very upsetting to the digestive track. Therefore, anti-nausea drugs help to soften the blow, if you will. In an attempt to be proactive, the oncologist prescribed a few anti-nausea drugs that I could take at home in case I became nauseous.
“Body aches and bone pain,” he explained, “are another effect of chemotherapy.” He offered opioid medications to offset the pain. I am extremely afraid of opioid drugs for obvious reasons, so I opted for the strongest dose of Ibuprofen that I could take.
The oncologist also communicated with us about a device called a portacath. He educated me about the device and strongly recommended that I have the device implanted. “Your veins are already small, and I am concerned that they may collapse during the chemotherapy treatment phase,” he stated. Without much hesitation, I consented to have a portacath implanted into my right chest cavity, just below my collar bone area. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I chose to get a portacath. It preserved the veins in my arms and protected them from the harmful effects of the harsh chemotherapy drugs. Additionally, the process of having blood drawn for tests was painless. Gone were the days of “marathon” poking, slapping and probing to try and find a viable vein in my arm in order to extract blood.
The oncologist concluded our conversation by explaining to me the importance of staying healthy and protecting myself from viruses and germs. He strongly encouraged that I avoid crowds, nail salons, activities where I could become injured, bruised, or cut, and to avoid exposing myself to others who are ill. “It is very important that you protect yourself,” he said.
With that said, I went into DEFENSE mode. Chemotherapy preparation for me, was a matter of LIFE OR DEATH. Without hesitation, I devised a strategy to keep myself and my immune system as healthy and as safe as possible. Being a mother, a dedicated wife, and a people pleaser, I must say that going into defense mode was more than a notion for me. I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I knew what I had to do in order to PROTECT myself. Self-protection would include limiting contact with well-meaning visitors, and essentially not leaving the house. I was determined not to expose myself to other people’s germs, and to remain as healthy as I possibly could throughout chemotherapy treatment.
On the night after the oncology consultation, I devised a general email which I sent out to friends and family informing them of my DEFENSE STRATEGY. For the most part, I received many emails in support of the strategy, but there were others from whom I received no response. I later discovered that the “no response” persons were offended. This came not as a shock, but as a disappointment, because I had hoped that everyone would be understanding and supportive of me during this time. It was during this time that I realized how important motives are in any decision that I make. Because my motives were pure, I was able to be free from what others thought about my decision.
Let me take this time to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with PROTECTING YOURSELF during cancer treatment. While going through this journey, you will discover that many people will have opinions about what you should and should not do. However, you must remind yourself that they are not the ones going through this, YOU ARE. People will always have opinions, but until they are actually in the situation, they never know what they would do, so why should you listen to them? Listen to your own “conscience.” As a Christian, I believe that the “conscience” is the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
Protecting yourself is not just limited to germs and viruses. When you are going through a health crisis, particularly cancer treatment, it is very taxing on every inch of your being. Therefore, it is very important that you are not stressed out, uncomfortable or constantly in a state of “fight or flight.”
Having said this, I am also aware that some reading this post may reside in unaccommodating environments, where you are surrounded by NEGATIVE and OPINIONATED PEOPLE, NOISE, HARMFUL AIR (smoking, strong cleaning chemicals, aerosols, etc.), and OTHERS WHO ARE ILL, and in some cases, for whom you are responsible to care for even while you are going through treatment. I have a message for you. There is hope. However, you must be RESOURCEFUL and UNAFRAID to allow those resources to work for you!
Sprinkled throughout God’s love letter to us, are several scriptures that support self-preservation, also known as PEACE. A few examples are Isaiah 32:18a which states, “My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places…” Matthew 11:29 says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all,” proclaims 2 Thessalonians 3:16. “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up,” says Proverbs 12:25. First Peter 5:7 invites us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Lastly, one of my favorite scriptures during this breast cancer challenge has been, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” Philippians 4:6-7.
God has blessed us richly with a variety of resources to assist us. As breast cancer patients there are many assistance programs that are designed to bring us help and relief. I encourage you to contact the American Cancer Society, your local Susan G. Koman Foundation, and to speak directly with the medical social worker at your particular treatment facility. These resources have proven to be particularly helpful for me and my family.
Be forthcoming and transparent about what your needs are. Whether you need transportation services, gas reimbursement, respite care for a loved one, baby sitting services, house keeping, grocery assistance, medication cost assistance, hair prosthesis, or whatever your need, make it known. There is help, you just need to reach out for it.
I challenge you this week to take time and think about how you can eliminate stress from your life. Additionally, think about how your life, during this stressful time, could be better if you had some additional help. Make a list of the assistance you need by answering this question, “If I had help with _____________________, I would not be so stressed, worried or concerned. After you have successfully completed your list of needs, I further challenge you to contact at least ONE resource to see what type of assistance they can offer you. At last, ASK FOR ASSISTANCE.
As a believer in God and Jesus Christ, I know for a fact that there is peace in believing. There is security in knowing that God is in complete control of my life, and of every situation that impacts me. There is peace in knowing Jesus Christ. I invite you to experience the peace that I have found. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to inbox me at email@example.com.
You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.
Until next time, Ciao!♥