Monday, September 19, 2016

My Favorite Advances in Cancer Treatments

Cancer sucks. And, sadly, so do some of the treatment options. But things have improved over the decades, and I wanted to write about some of the options that helped when I was being treated. There's one that I consider to be a mind-blowing gift from heaven, so read on.

1. The "We've made considerable progress on nausea" Solutions

I always felt sorry for the doctors and nurses when they tried to sound enthusiastic about chemo. One of the treatments that I did was nicknamed "the red devil", and for good reason. But the days of yore when you came home from chemo and hurled all day afterward have indeed improved, thanks to an assortment of nausea medicines. They include one while dosing you, and then give prescriptions for additional ones. And they let the patient decide when to take them and which to take. For the record, if you don't have cancer, please don't assume that if you take away the nausea, the chemo is a light-hearted romp in the woods. It is still invasive, can have terrible side affects, and can make you feel hideously awful while it is going on.

2. G-CSF Medications (treatment from heaven)

The cancer treatment that was recommended for me was considered aggressive. Aggressive because the treatments were administered in a much shorter time period than normal. So I got the same amount of medicine, but had much less time to recover between treatments. You've perhaps seen ads on tv for a medicine called Neulasta. Neulasta is a medicine that they can give you the day after your chemo treatment. It helps boost your white blood cells, which helps boost your immune system. There's also a kit called Neulasta Onpro that the nurses can stick on your arm after your treatment. You wear it overnight, and then the next day, it makes a buzzing sound and administers the medicine. You throw away the pack, and you're set. There are so many advantages to the Onpro - imagine if you're driving 2-4 hours to get to your cancer treatment center; you'd have to stay overnight, or drive back again, to get the next day's medicine. And then there's the whole fear factor thing... the last thing I wanted to do was go back in the day after treatment to get hooked up with something else.

Of course, the list of potential negative side affects on Neulasta look pretty bad. I'm pleased to say that I didn't have any issues, and I also didn't get sick once while I was in treatment. I'm assuming the Neulasta had something to do with that.

3.  The Port

It used to be, a nurse could grab my arm, poke her fingers around for a bit and then say, "Is it always this hard to find a vein?", and I'd be sliding toward the floor in a faint. If you're going to be doing treatments for several months, doctors may recommend a port. A port is a plastic device that is surgically installed under your skin. It allows easy access for doing blood draws and chemo treatments. I used a port, and it made going in for treatments a simple process.

There are negatives to the port as well. For the first couple of months, I was acutely aware that I had a plastic device installed under my skin. It seemed kind of creepy. And for me, the number of people who felt they had to tell me their port horror stories was the hardest. I think the port made treatment much easier and less frightening for me, but it's definitely a decision that you should make understanding potential issues.

4. Wigs and Freezer Hats

I thought, heading in, that I was not a vain girl and that losing my hair would be just one of those things that one had to deal with. But losing my hair turned out to be a traumatic milestone. I thought I was being a big wuss, but there it was, facing me in the mirror every morning. So I bought a wig, which I hated because it made me feel like I was plopping a hairpiece on top of my bald head. I hauled out the wig for special occasions, though, because I didn't want to embarrass other people. Most of the time I wore a baseball cap, and because people nowadays are so nice about not staring, after a while I concluded that they didn't even notice. After a while I concluded I was pretty invisible. That all worked for me, but note that insurance companies don't much care about how you feel about losing your hair, so they don't cover wigs.

A new invention has come out that you can wear during cancer treatment that basically keeps your head very cold, which inhibits the medication from reaching your hair follicles. My treatment was in 2015, and I didn't notice anybody wearing this device, so I assume it is expensive and also not covered by insurance. Also, it looks pretty doofy, but I suppose if all the girls getting treatment were sporting one of these, then it wouldn't seem all that bad.

5. The Wonders of Chocolate Hagen-Daz Ice Cream

Yet another quirk of chemo is that it can make food taste awful. Metallic. I pitied my husband, who spent so much time at the grocery store trying to find food that I would eat. Sometimes he went 2 or 3 times in a day. And I remember my brother serving up a meal of hot dogs with baked beans. He looked over and watched me put two beans on my plate; I have never seen such a sad look before or since. For me, at least, I was very sensitive to artificial ingredients. My husband and I became avid label readers. For me, what worked best, was fresh fruit and vegetables, and chocolate Hagen-Daz ice cream, because Hagen-Dez didn't have any preservatives or funky ingredients. If you want to cook up something for someone who is doing chemo, you'll need to ask which things they can eat, because the list will likely be pretty short.

What Else Do We Need?

1.  Make the Treatments Less Awful

I've heard of people who had cancer treatment who said that if they had to do it again because the cancer came back or a new cancer occurred, they wouldn't do it. Cancer treatment can be that bad. So if you ask me, we need more ways to make the treatment itself less awful. My chemo was hideous. I still have side affects, and expect that some of them will never go away.

2.  Find a Cure

I hated the part where the doctor held up a chart to show me what my odds were. When I buy a lotto ticket, I rarely win. And if I do win, I plunk down my winnings and buy again, and guess what? I lose. I don't like to think about the odds because I don't consider myself to be particularly lucky. We need treatments that have a 100% success rate.

3.  Prevent it Entirely

If I had to choose, I would put my money on a 100% cancer prevention solution.

How Can You Help?

As much as we might like the government to be taking care of cancer research, if you can spare some change for the cause, it could make the difference. You can donate directly to cancer research organizations, or you can sponsor activities like runs and bike rides and such. This year I gave a charity bike ride a try. This is totally outside of my comfort zone. I haven't run in a race or done anything like this since high school. But I'd like to see a cure, so I'm in.


I was the slowest 10 mile biker in the lot. But we all finished, and we picked up two extra team members, my friend Denise's daughter Hannah, and Hannah's friend Shelby. And we raised $1,840 for cancer research. I am so thankful for all the people who sponsored us. I hate asking for money and doubt that I could stand to do that part of it again, but I loved all the training we did to prepare for the ride. So many people have helped me on my journey, I cannot thank them enough.


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