my Breast Cancer blog

2004, age 34 — this is my story

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Kids are tough

Danny with no pacifier.I should take some lessons from Danny on mental toughness. I took him to the dentist on Thursday and was told he should not use a pacifier anymore. The dentist could see that his jaw and teeth were already affected by sucking on the pacifier and that continuing would make the problem worse. So we left the dentist office at 11:00 AM and he has not had a pacifier since. It took him more than an hour to fall asleep for his nap that day and a shorter amount of time to fall asleep at night. Yesterday he did better and today, he’s even tougher. He sometimes says “me-me” — that’s what he called his pacifier — and we tell him it’s “all gone.” And he moves on. It’s amazing that he is able to cope and manage without it. He loved it. He used it to fall asleep and he used it to relax. He used it in the car and whenever he snuggled with his two favorite blankets. It was comforting and soothing. Now it’s gone. And he’s fine. I hope to borrow from his spirit and move on despite what’s been taken from me. At least I know I will get some things back — my hair, my energy, my health. Danny will never have “me-me” again. And in a few days, he probably won’t know he ever had one. He is my hero — and he’s only 21 months old.

Jacki Donaldson

Confession

I must confess my not-so-positive feelings about my treatment process. In addition to the queasiness I feel from the chemo drugs, I have started feeling ill at the mere thought of this entire ordeal. It’s hard not to think about it so I get this feeling quite often. I am actually repulsed by what is happening to me — the drugs that are cycling through my system, the scars on my body, my bald head, the nausea, the dry taste in my mouth. Reading my breast cancer books makes me feel ill. Sometimes when I look back on my journal entries, I feel sick. Some of it I suppose I can control. I can stop reading. I can stop looking at what I’ve written in this journal. But the day-to-day thoughts and experiences I cannot erase.

I am still making it through each day without too much difficulty. I am still positive and hopeful. But while I once felt completely motivated and somewhat unphased by breast cancer and its implications, I now feel sickened and a bit angry. I am sure I will someday turn towards acceptance and will one day think of this journey as a life-changing gift. But for now, I just feel sick.

I read recently that some patients feel nauseated each time they see their oncologists — even years after cancer and treatment. So I know I am not alone.

Jacki Donaldson

Dreaded Sunday

Sunday seems to be my worst day following chemo. I feel queasy on Sundays — but somehow, I have still been able to function. Not today.

Today I was sick — so sick I stayed in bed most of the day. I got up for bites of food and to go to the bathroom and that’s all I could manage. I felt an overwhelming feeling of nausea, had dry heaves, and felt shaky and weak when I tried to stand up. No fun.

The feeling is slowly passing, though. Maybe it was my mom’s home-cooked lasagna that I managed to eat for dinner. Maybe it’s my anti-nausea medication finally kicking in. I won’t question it too much. I’ll just hope I continue to feel better and that tomorrow is a better day.

Mondays are usually good days. Hopefully, tomorrow is no exception.

Jacki Donaldson

Chemo #3

Three down and one to go — with the two drugs I am currently receiving. Then I will have another 4 rounds of another drug. But I’ll just think about this round and that I’m 75% done!

Today the usuals were with me — my mom, Tracy, and Jordan. And I had my private room again which was nice because my three boys showed up too. John, Joey, and Danny came to witness my routine. Joey tried to understand what liquids were dripping and tried to figure out their destination. Danny pulled at cords, tried to push buttons, and rolled all over the floor. Thank goodness for the anti-bacterial soap we found as they departed my room.

After my chemo, I went to another location to have a stitch removed from the site of my port. It’s been a little irritated because one stitch did not dissolve properly. It feels better now.

My post-chemo walk today was in the form of a stroll with Joey to a dirt pile in our neighborhood. He drove his John Deere truck, full of little Tonka trucks. I walked beside him and then watched him play like he was at the beach. Now we are home. And I am hoping for a healthy weekend.

Jacki Donaldson

GI Jacki

Me with no hair.Melissa Etheridge performed at the Grammy’s on Sunday night, with her bald head exposed to the world. She has just completed chemotherapy for breast cancer. If she can bare her bald head on national television, I can surely share mine with family and friends on this blog. I have shared just about everything in this forum — I might as well display the most visible sign of cancer and chemotherapy.

Apparently, Melissa Etheridge’s appearance has inspired women all over to proudly show their bald heads. It inspired me too. But I think I’ll limit my baldness to this site and to the privacy of my own home. I’ll stick with straight and curly for my more public moments.

Jacki Donaldson

I have curls

Jacki and our boys.I ordered more hair. This time I got blond curly hair. It’s longer than my straight hair and so much different than my usual style — but my mom and Tracy and John all tell me it looks good on me so now I have some variety. It will help to have two styles. Since I will be wearing this hair for another 12+ weeks, this will help with the wear and tear on each one. And I have to wash the hair every few days and while it dries (which takes some time), I will have a back-up style.

I’ve always wished for curly hair — just like people with curly hair wish for straight hair. For many years in high school, I had perms and bunches of curls. But that was 15 years ago, and I’ve grown attached to my straight hair. Now I have a chance at curls again. I guess this is the time to be daring and bold with my hair. What do I have to lose.

Jacki Donaldson

Side effects

Today I went back to the surgeon’s office. I have one little spot on one of my incisions that is not healing. It keeps getting a scab, the scab falls off, the tissue is exposed, and then it scabs again … then the scab falls off, the tissue is exposed and it scabs again. This has gone on for a week or so. But apparently it’s not infected and will heal in time. I will apply an antibiotic cream and it should get better.

Otherwise, I am feeling fine. I stopped taking my anti-nausea medication and have not felt any sickness without it. My temperature is still normal. And other than losing my hair and feeling queasy for a few days following each chemo treatment, I am not experiencing any side effects of chemotherapy.

There is one side effect, actually, that I have been experiencing since I first shared my diagnosis with friends and family — but it’s a good side effect. It’s the outpouring of support I’ve received — the thoughts and prayers, cards and gifts, e-mails and phone calls, and encouragement and compliments. I’ve had friends offer to fly from faraway places to help me. I’ve heard from friends I haven’t talked with in many years and thought I’d never hear from again. I hear from someone every day — it might be a comment on this site or a personal e-mail. Something might arrive in the mail or someone might call to check on me. It keeps me going. It lifts my spirits in moments of weakness. It reminds me of the power of love and friendship. It’s the best medicine — and the best side effect — so far.

Jacki Donaldson

The hair saga

my new hair and hatI didn’t want to lose my hair but now that it’s mostly gone, I just want a smooth head without a trace of hair on it. Right now I have a little stubble and it’s quite annoying. I can feel it under my hats and when I sleep. It’s slowly falling out — but not quickly enough. I hesitate to use a regular razor to smooth it out because I don’t want to cut my head in any way — any sort of cut could result in an infection due to the chemo. So when I take a shower, I rub my head in every possible direction to cause the hair to fall out. It works — my hands are covered with little hairs each time I look at them — but still, I have traces of stubble and I now realize how thick my hair was.

I had no idea how long it would take for my hair to actually fall out. Maybe it’s a long process to allow for adjustment. First, I had to deal with thinning hair and a mess all over my bathroom counter. Then I had the trauma of shaving it all off. Now I have the hassle of stubble. Next, I’ll have a completely smooth head — and in an odd way, I’ll be happy for it. It will be the lesser of all the evils, and I will be closer to getting my hair back than I have been with any other step in the process.

Speaking of hair, I had a friend come over today for a haircut. I had not seen her in a long time — so long that she did not know of my breast cancer. As I was cutting her hair, Joey said to her, “Did you know, I cut mommy’s hair. Actually, mommy is bald!” This friend said, “Really?” I think she dismissed his comment as just another crazy comment from a four-year-old. She has a four-year-old too. So then I told her my story and confirmed what Joey said. She told me of a young woman in her family with breast cancer — stage 3. She had her left breast removed and had 9 lymph nodes test positive for cancer. I am stage one. I have both breasts, and none of my lymph nodes were positive. I guess I am lucky that my biggest trouble right now is my bald head.

Photo pictured above: My new hair and a new hat too!

Jacki Donaldson

Surrender

my hair pile!My hair is gone. My head was so sore today, from my heavy hair weighing on my scalp. And my hair was pouring out — so I gave in. John and Joey were my stylists. I put my hair in three ponytails and they took turns cutting them off. Then they shaved my head. Joey did some shaving while telling me how pretty he thinks bald people are. He also said I might look funny with a bald head. And he told me he sees bald people all the time. He’s very honest.

Today’s haircut was hard. It was hard to see my hair fall to the ground. It is hard to realize that my body needs drugs so strong that I can’t keep my hair. It is hard to look at a bald head.

So now I am wearing my new hair. I do like it. It’s blonder than mine which brightens up my look a bit. I didn’t realize how dark my hair had become until I saw it on the floor. My hats fit perfectly with my new style. And I think my morning routine is going to be much quicker now. I just have to put my hair on — instead of drying it, curling it, styling it.

At night, I will wear a cotton cap to keep my head warm — and so I don’t have to see my bald head. For now, anyway. I’m sure in time I will get accustomed to it . And I may even post a photo one day.

Jacki Donaldson

Chemo #2 & the power of song

getting chemotherapyI cried today — not because of cancer or chemo but because a nice man with a beautiful voice sang to me while I sat in my pink lounge chair in the infusion center. I didn’t have a private room this time but that’s okay because I may have missed my serenade had I been secluded.

the power of songTwo men arrived at the infusion center today with bongo drums and string instruments. They set up shop right in front of the line-up of pink chairs and they played and sang just to brighten the day. They are both cancer survivors and wanted to share their joy. They warmed up with “You Are My Sunshine” and then made up songs on the spot. They asked for single words from the crowd. I gave one word — “baby” — since I was looking at baby Jordan at the time. Someone else offered “happiness.” So this man sang a song about babies and happiness. Then he went to each person and asked for his/her name. And he sang a song just for that person. The song he sang for me made me cry — and my mom too. He included her and Jordan in the song and it was powerful and touching and uplifting. Click on the photo to see the video clip.

This chemo session was the same as the last — except that I didn’t have the private room and I did have music. Actually, it was better this time because the stick into my port didn’t hurt. No screaming today. I used some numbing cream prior to my visit and the nurse also used some kind of freezing agent. The combination worked.

So the drugs are in, and my hair is still falling out. Today was worse than yesterday. I tried to blow dry my hair today and each time I ran the brush through my hair, clumps came out. So I stopped drying it and put on a ballcap with my ponytail coming out the back. That seems to control it for now. I guess I’m not ready to surrender and shave my head just yet. I think I’ll see how much I lose and how much it thins. When I can’t stand the mess or the trauma, I’ll give in.

I gave my new hair a haircut last night. John wore it on his head for me so I could cut it. He looks stunning with long, blond hair. Now the hair sits on a styrofoam head, waiting to be worn. Joey saw it today and said, “Why did you give your hair a face?” I told him that the face is just holding the hair until I need it.

I need to get back into my chemo frame of mind now. I have felt so good for the past two weeks that I stopped taking my nausea medication and I keep forgetting to check my temperature. But now I have to start up with both again, with the hope that this two-week period follows a similar course. My blood counts were perfect today (and I’ll take my shot of Neulasta tomorrow to keep them up) so all is well.

I just took my post-chemo walk. I did that last time and I think I’ll make it my two-week kick-off!

Jacki Donaldson

Handfuls of hair

my old hairHandfuls of hair are coming out today. It’s nothing that anyone else would notice but I know I am losing more hair today than is normal. Most people lose about 80 hairs each day and my count was much higher than that. When I run my hands through my hair, my hand is full of long blond strands. Thank goodness for thick hair — maybe it will take a few days before I need to cut it all off.

My scalp was really sore last night — and is today too. It feels like I had my hair in a really tight ponytail and then let my hair down. My hair feels heavy, like it’s pulling on my scalp.

I’ve heard now that people typically lose their hair 10-16 days after the first chemo treatment. Today is day 13 for me.

Tomorrow is my second chemo treatment and probably one of my last days with hair. I know I can handle the chemo. I hope I can handle the hair loss.

Jacki Donaldson