Chemotherapy and the Cross

So, my first post on my Breast Cancer left off with me saying I would tell you about chemo in another post...here it is - finally.

The Cross Cancer Institute (CCI) is Northern Alberta's cancer hospital. You can get your chemo locally, but if you have to have radiation therapy you have to come to Edmonton. Needless to say, it is a busy place. When it first opened it was referred to as the W.W.Cross, after the man who started it. I am not sure when they started to refer to it as CCI & dropped the WW, but my first experience (many years ago for a friends son), it was the WW Cross and in my tiny mind, it still is. Especially as the college I went to was CCI. Change when you are this old, is hard!

Yes, I'm getting there.

To recap a bit though.
  • May 15 Mammogram
  • June 5 Lumpectomy & Sentinal Node Biopsy
  • July 5 Axial node surgery (lymph nodes under right arm)
On July 24th, I went to the Cross for a New Patient Information session. This is where they tell you a bit about the place, show you around the various treatment areas and tell you about the other services available. The tour is run by volunteers. There are volunteers everywhere in the Cross, they come around offering drinks and cookies. They are there to escort patients when they don't know where they are going, they run the gift store and the bookstore and information centre.

July 26th, I had my first consult with my Dr. This is where I learned about the type of cancer I had and the treatment plan. I had hormone positive breast cancer, a 1.5 cm tumor was removed from the top of my right breast, they gave me a 2/3 grade rating on the severity. The sentinal node was 1+, 2.5mm, which is what determined they would take out the lymph nodes, but of the 6 nodes they took, none had any trace of cancer.

So, the plan was to be as aggressive as possible to try to make sure it doesn't come back. I was to get chemo, radiation and then have my estrogen killed. Six to nine months of treatments.

I had a muga the next day (some kind of imaging of the heart) to make sure I was fit enough to have all this abuse piled on me. Then I had appointments for classes on what to expect from chemo and what to expect after it started. I was given pamphlets and information sheets on dry mouth, eating right, soft foods, how to manage my energy and anything else they could think up. They do a very good job of making you feel comfortable there and making sure you have all the information you could possibly want.

The actual treatments didn't start until August 8th (mom's birthday), when I had my first blood test. The 9th was the first of six chemo treatments. My sister came with me for my treatments, the first one, the nurse told us all about what she was doing, that I could walk around if I felt like it, but that I couldn't leave the room. I couldn't leave the room, because if for any reason the toxic chemicals they were pumping into my veins spilled outside of the room, it would result in having to shut down the floor and evacuate and emergency services would have to come and its hazardous waste and the world as we know it would come to an end. Or something like that.

So, of course, both of us being a bit nervous (well, me anyway) and leery of the whole process, got a bit carried away and we are a sarcastic, witty pair at the best of times. But the nurse played right along with us. Talking about steel gates crashing down around us and lights & bells and action movie heroes. Well, anyway, we had a laugh. Then it got boring. It takes about four hours to pump all that crap into a body. We had each brought books and sis brought along a crossword puzzle book, which we managed to involve the woman in the bed next to mine. Four hours later, we were let go, so we went shopping. It was a bright sunny day. I now tan really easily in my face! Oops!

Well, the next day, I was okay, a bit tired, not a lot of nausea, but, didn't really eat a lot. I had to inject myself for seven days and take certain drugs at various times and durations around the chemo dates. It was about the third day after chemo, sis had gone home already, when the pain struck. Every muscle and joint in my body ached, I felt like I was 900 years old and it was an effort just to go to the bathroom. Thankfully, I had plenty of ready to eat food on hand. I love living alone, but, this is one time when it would have been nice to have had a husband. By day 5 I was in agony, then it got better, in total the body aches only lasted about 5 days. I was very lucky, I was not vomiting, I was able to eat, I didn't have much appetite, but, it could have been so much worse. I got fungal infections in my throat, so wound up with a very disgusting mouthwash. Other than that it was not a horrible experience.

before shave

I lost my hair after the first treatment, just a week or so before the second treatment. I went in to the Cross as they have volunteers in a hair salon and they shaved it off for me and lent me a wig. I had my (very bad) shave Aug 30th. Sis, eventually gave me a clean shave, but, I seem to no longer have the photo on my 'puter. Oh well, it felt much better, as the stubble that was left from the first shave, would poke through head scarves.

bad shave

Having had the lymph nodes removed, limited the chemo to one arm, so by the last appointment, the nurses were having a bit of trouble finding places to put the needle. One time, I bruised as soon as she put it in, so she had to move it, then I bruised from the rubber tourniquet!

Just one of many bruises

Sis managed to come down for three more treatments, then I took the bus until I could get on to the volunteer driver schedule. Usually she just dropped me off then went and did something else, it is really very boring to sit and watch someone with an IV in their arm. It is really very boring to be that someone. I am very glad that I am such an avid reader, I can't imagine what non readers do in situations like this. So, she did my wash and cleaned my apartment and did things for me that I just had no energy to do. After the treatment, we would go and shop or one time we went for a drive out to our grandparents homestead with some cousins. I'll post on that later too.

I will post later on the radiation treatments. As for the chemo, it was pretty much the same, six times, fine for a couple of days , achy for 5 or 6 days, then fine again. As I said, I was lucky.

Good Afternoon.

P.S. there is no proper website fro the Cross, but for those that are interested and like links, here is one for the Alberta Cancer Board, they have a link to the Cross's Patient Guide and how to get there & contact info etc. (all in pdf )


Leah J.Utas said...

I'm enjoying (okay, not the best word in the lexicon, but . . .)reading about your treatments.
You've kept your sense of humour about it, which has made all the difference, methinks.
Love the part about to being able to leave the room.

the Bag Lady said...

Just wanted to clarify that when "sis" went shopping, leaving you alone with the toxic chemicals, she was mostly shopping for your groceries. Or for silly things at the Dollar Store to entertain and distract you...
Well, that and the fact that she didn't want to spend any time in isolation if you started walking around and created some kind of bio-hazard! :)

the Bag Lady said...

Just wanted to point out that it was a 900km round trip for your devoted sister to come down to help you out. (Gee, do I sound a little defensive?)

Reb said...

Thanks Leah. Enjoying works for me.

I did try very hard to keep my sense of humour, it wasn't easy some days though. I am not sure how much of it was tinged with a bit of panic, at least for the first couple of times. After that it was just something I had to do.

I did try my best not to whine too much or take it out on the staff - after all they were trying to help.

Reb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reb said...

OMG, now everyone is going to think I ignored Sis's comments when they look at the time line. They didn't show up until after I logged off, honestly!

Yes, Sis was shopping for me and it is a long and boring drive back & forth. She is right to point that out, I am a bad sister for not mentioning it in the original post.

If it weren't for her, I would have had quite a different experience I am sure.

Although, if she were patient, I was going to do a post just for her. Well, I will anyway ;)

Crabby McSlacker said...


The whole idea of chemo has always scared me, as I'm not a brave person, hate to feel queasy, and have little tolerance for pain.

Good for you for facing it with such good spirits and good humor!

Reb said...

Crabby, it scared the pants off of me too. You find the reserves when you need them. Having family around to help makes it easier too - I am so glad the Bag Lady is close enough to have been able to come help.

the Bag Lady said...

Blush, blush. Thanks Reb, both for the compliment and the 'other thing'!

Penelope said...


That's quite an awesome bruise.

I have a respect for what you've survived. You are doing a wonderful service talking about it.

Keep On, Keep On . . .


Reb said...

Thank you Karen. I usually bruise like that, but that is when I have banged into something, not usually that big for needle sticks.

Even though the treatments were three weeks apart, you could still see the previous bruises. The nurses felt so bad the day I bruised as soon as they stuck me.