Thursday, November 15, 2012

Round Two: Mission Accomplished

Just after midnight last night, my veins were full of all of the Herceptin, Taxotere, and Cytoxan that I checked into the hospital the night before to receive. The nurse removed one of my two IVs, leaving the other in my bicep just in case I had a delayed reaction in the middle of the night and they needed to pump drugs in fast. Thankfully, that never happened. Instead, after Sean turned the lights out on me and my Mom around 12:30am, I fell almost immediately to sleep and didn't wake up until six. (Brian left after the Taxotere infusion was complete to relieve Brianne and Seamus, who had relieved Janice and Paul, of the marathon babysitting duties.) Sleep (albeit, Ativan induced) felt wonderful.

Tonight I feel enormous relief to finally have my Allies back on board. It was unsettling, and even downright scary at times, being alone without them for these past few weeks. I know that the next few weeks will bring some nasty side effects. But those are nothing compared to all of the good that my Allies are doing inside -- all the years they are giving me to live my life, and enjoy it to its very fullest. 

Last night when Katie, the chemo nurse who took such good care of me all day, retrieved the last bag of Taxotere from the pharmacy, she noticed that the internal bag of the drug had leaked into the outer bag. She was not pleased, and I was very thankful for her decision that we were not going to mess around with a leaky bag. After consulting with several members of her team, Katie requested a new bag of Taxotere. It was going to take an hour to prepare and retrieve it from the Dana-Farber pharmacy next door, so I braved the sight of my far less fortunate ICU neighbors, and Brian and I went on a slow and steady walk to the gift shop. There I found a few cute Christmas gifts, and I found a great little book called Hope which is full of inspirational quotes just like the ones you'd expect to find from me here (I know, I'm getting kind of predictable). Many of the quotes are very rich, but one especially caught me last night when I got back to my bed. 

Believe that problems do have answers, that they can be overcome, and that we can solve them.
-- Norman Vincent Peale

I always Google the name of possible "quotees" before I include them here so that I don't end up posting words of a total looney-bird. Some brief research on Mr. Peale reveals a controversial character and one with whom I would forcefully disagree on several issues, including that our nation would be doomed with a Catholic (John F. Kennedy) as our President. So I wish to include the quote without any looney-bird baggage, and without any particular shout-out to Mr. Peale. Because I still think that the quote is a powerful one.

Until two weeks ago, I had absolutely no idea that someone could be allergic to chemotherapy. It took me a while to process that I was, and since chemotherapy is something that my life likely depends on, that wasn't always easy. Soon I learned that I am one of many people with this particular allergy, and with the need to press on regardless. I learned about the desensitization process, and about all of the precautions that the doctors and nurses take to avoid anaphylaxis and other reactions. Gradually, I believed that the process would work for me if only I was given the chance to team up with it. After the skin test, when I was handed that chance, I knew I could do it. Once again, what had seemed like an insurmountable problem, yet again, had a solution.

When Brian and I were wrapping up our trip to the gift shop, Sean came running in telling us the new bag of Taxotere was already prepared. I hurried back while Brian paid for items that probably had him murmuring under his breath, What the heck is this for? He doesn't always understand things I purchase, but that's OK.

I hopped back in my bed and Katie hooked me back up to the monitor and the IV. On this last bag, the desens protocol called for my dosage to begin at 20, then increase to 40 for another internval, then jump from 40 to 80 for another two hours and 45 minutes (sorry, I don't know the units we were talking about, I only became familiar with the numbers). Eighty was the dosage amount that I began on when I reacted two weeks ago, and I admit, that I was nervous to approach that speed again.

I did fine at 20. But when Katie turned it up to 40, we all noticed a number on the heart monitor start to climb. And climb. I didn't feel well. My insides felt hot. Katie was right there to turn off the machine and insert some IV Benadryl. We waited until my body found peace again. Then Katie started up the Taxotere once more. I carried on with the 40 for 15 more minutes, getting myself relaxed enough to start to read the Hope book and come across the quote above.

Then came the acceleration to 80. That, my body couldn't handle. In much slower motion and with much lesser intensity, I felt the symptoms that instantaneously overcame me on my Halloween round. Heat in my chest, throat and chest tightening, more heat, flushing, more heat, shortness of breath. Brian, Sean, and my Mom's eyes were glued to the heart monitor. My heart rate was rapidly accelerating. It's starting to happen, I told them. But everyone already knew, and everyone had already started to act.

Then the most amazing thing happened, something for which I will forever be proud -- while Katie and her expert team assembled to reverse the impending reaction, I closed my eyes and told myself I wasn't going to let it happen. Perhaps I'm foolish to think that my mind could have such power over my body, but somehow, in those few minutes, I whole-heartedly believed that it could. Maybe it was all that practice on the elliptical, on my walks, and at CrossFit convincing my mind that it has the power to control the good and the bad in my body. Maybe it was an angel watching over me. Or maybe it really was just pure science, including the drugs that Katie was pumping into my emergency IV. But I'm going to let myself believe that my mind had something to do with it. Because in those five or ten minutes, I believed in my heart -- my physically confused and whacky heart -- that I could control this thing; that it would not take me over like it did last time. And it didn't. In those minutes, I felt the feeling I had been dreading most for two weeks, I faced the problem that I feared worst of all. And I believed that I could overcome it.

This journey sure does have some serious highs and some serious lows. Early last week, I felt so defeated and deflated. I didn't know that this new problem had an answer, and I sure didn't see yet how I could overcome it. But today is a brand new day. I can feel the side effects of the chemo starting earlier this time -- the heart burn, nausea, mouth discomfort. My right arm is unbelievably sore from the twelve hours of infusion into it. But none of that seems to matter. Because I'm starting to see that every time we face a problem and we find an answer, I get stronger. Another quotee from the Hope book needs no background research or introduction. In fact, she's one of my Grandma's greatest heros. Her words wrap up this entry better than I ever could:

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Last night, I had the honor of looking fear in the face. In the heat of the moment (no pun intended) I found something in myself I honestly didn't know I had. I found the courage to say, Sorry, not today, and I found the optimism to believe that this problem had a solution -- a team of skilled nurses and doctors, my family standing by my side, and my own mind and heart convinced that I could overcome it. Even with a little pain, all of that feels so darn good. And when I say good, I mean a good comparable to the taste of my warm ham and cheese croissant and box of chocolate covered almonds that I enjoyed half-way through my Cytoxan last night. Much better than the jello and chicken broth of the 24 hours prior. Again, highs and lows. I'm just thankful that somehow, I keep ending on the highs. 


  1. Tara...u don't know me but I was recently hospitalized at Faulkner Hospital after having a double masectomy. I has the pleasure of having Katie as my nurse and she told me about you and your website.
    I am 39 years old, married, with 3 kids (9,8 and 6). Last month I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. The devastation I felt is beyond words. I know follow your path, but a few weeks behind.
    I am petrified of this journey but I WILL BEAT THIS! I too see Dr. Bunnell and I'm seeing him on Monday for my treatment schedule.
    Since last week, I have been reading your blog and I find it very inspirational! In a weird way, I feel like I know you! I wanted to say that you are a strong woman and an inspiration! You...and I....will beat this demon! You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Lori Roche (

  2. So happy that you are now 1 step/ treatment closer to the "win" . Prayers that the days ahead are tolerable for you and that you will be able to rest. Barbara Theodore

  3. Tara:
    I am so pleased to hear everything went well. I hope that your "allies" are not too bad with their side effects. You are always in my thoughts and prayers. Keep the faith!

    Sandy Sepulveda