Episode 2: Attack of the Chemo

“I call it aggressive negotiations.” Padme Amidala, Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones

It bears repeating: In my whole life, I was only hospitalized when I was little and that was because I was dehydrated.  The only reason.  And that was a LONG time ago (in a galaxy far, far away).  So, I really only saw a doctor once a year for my “woman” check-up.  (This is why self-breast exams are SO important, ladies!)  My world was now flipped upside down, scheduling all these appointments for mammograms and MRIs and genetics testing and fertility and a port placement…  It was all very overwhelming.  There is a ton of information that you have to take in and try to understand.  Because of all of that, I started chemo a little over a month after I was diagnosed.  Which, in hindsight was a good thing because I wasn’t in a dire situation, but I really just wanted to get started as soon as possible.

My doctor’s plan was to start chemo first (4 medicines every 3 weeks for a total of 6 treatments) in order to shrink the tumor.  The size of my tumor was around 1 cm; small but dangerous.  And with the added factors of being Estrogen receptor and HER2 positive, it was on the aggressive side.  If I were to be diagnosed years ago, it would have been a more delicate situation because they didn’t have the medicine to fight HER2.  Now, they have Perjeta and Herceptin.  ~As I type this, I am still getting Herceptin treatments because I needed to be on it for a year, but I’m at the tail end of them (2 more to be exact)!~

While I was ER and HER2 positive, what I was not was genetically disposed to cancer.  I had the BRCA genetic test done and fortunately it came back negative.  This would have altered my ultimate course of treatment and it would have given me a higher risk of it returning.

When I started chemo, it was very important to me to live my life as normally as possible.  I didn’t want to stop doing what I was doing, but I knew I had to start limiting things.  At the time, I was working my full-time job as a manager at a bank, a part-time job as a voice teacher, and had a show that I was working on in which I was music directing and performing in.  I had to work on paring things down, but it was very difficult.  I had to remind myself that my health was the most important thing above anything else.  I had no idea how I was even going to feel once treatments started…  What my body was capable of handling…  The list of side effects is very long. (This I will get into in my next post).  It is not weak to say, “I can’t handle this.”  I had to face this new reality.  This “new normal.”

My “new normal” was going to consist of traveling every three weeks to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago (which on a good traffic day is an hour and 45 minutes; on a bad traffic day is 3 hours…).  I would be there most of the day as my chemo treatments took between 4 and 5 hours to complete, plus having to get my blood drawn and see the doctor before hand.

It’s a difficult reality when your own body is fighting against you and you have to fight back.  I’ve not had any children so I used to think it was my body punishing me for that.  Or maybe that my body was just confused, but in order for me to move on and stay positive, I had to accept that it just happened.  You’ll likely read this over and over again, but I’ve learned that it’s so important in life to accept that things happen.  You don’t have to like it.  You can think it unfair.  But there is no time for constantly asking “what if” because those things that happened cannot be changed.  You can only control how you react to it and what you learn from it and what you can teach others.  This is something I’ve always struggled with, and going through cancer has helped me be aware of when I think, “I wish I would have…” or “Why didn’t I…” and change it to, “I will do this!”

So, I looked toward my future and knew the chemo was going to cause a war inside my body, but now I was prepared and ready to fight.

Here is some information I found about being Estrogen receptor positive and having the HER2 protein marker:

“The HER2 gene makes HER2 proteins. HER2 proteins are receptors on breast cells. Normally, HER2 receptors help control how a healthy breast cell grows, divides, and repairs itself. But in about 25% of breast cancers, the HER2 gene doesn’t work correctly and makes too many copies of itself (known as HER2 gene amplification). All these extra HER2 genes tell breast cells to make too many HER2 receptors (HER2 protein overexpression). This makes breast cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled way.  

Breast cancers with HER2 gene amplification or HER2 protein overexpression are called HER2-positive in the pathology report. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to grow faster and are more likely to spread and come back compared to HER2-negative breast cancers. But there are medicines specifically for HER2-positive breast cancers.  

A cancer is called estrogen-receptor-positive (or ER+) if it has receptors for estrogen. This suggests that the cancer cells, like normal breast cells, may receive signals from estrogen that could promote their growth.” (breastcancer.org)

Up next – Episode 3: Revenge of the Side Effects


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