Hanging on to Fitness and a Few Strands of Hair Through Breast Cancer Treatment

I am a Medical Oncologist, a wife, a mother of 4, runner of 12 marathons training to run my 13th with a goal to qualify for Boston when the diagnosis of breast cancer caused a significant detour in my well-planned life. When I asked for guidance on how to continue to stay fit while receiving treatment, I received blank stares and found little data. While I never intended to be in this experiment, I find myself now generating my own data about fitness through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. I am writing this in hopes to help others who find themselves in this same situation.


First Chemo Day

Today is the big day where I literally get a taste of my own medicine. Again, funny that for myself, I have avoided taking any medication unless it seemed absolutely necessary, but yet I have devoted my career to oncology, the medical field that utilizes some of the most toxic medications known to man. So I get it. I know I need this. But I am afraid.

To calm my nerves, I brought along a new knitting project: some fancy socks with some beautiful yarn sent to me by my good friend Lisa. The morning began by getting my pota cath accessed with a needle for the first time. I had been warned by others who have gone through this, that this can be painful. I was grateful to discover that it was no big deal. And although initially I dreaded the idea of getting the porta cath, this thing that would be visibly sticking out of my chest like a lump and a reminder to me and others who saw this, that there was something seriously wrong with me, I was now glad that I had this. Having the porta cath meant that once accessed by this needle, blood could be drawn, and chemotherapy could be given without the need for an IV in my arm. And bonus: hands free for knitting!

The Chemo process started by first getting some powerful pre-medications intended to prevent nausea. This regimen: adriamycin + cytoxan, or AC is classified as highly emetogenic, meaning without anti-nausea pre-medications, 90% of people throw up. Not just have nausea, but puke their guts out. Fortunately, the drugs available to prevent nausea are very effective. So hopefully, this will not be something that I will experience.

Next up: IV Fluids for about 30 minutes. This will make sure that the cytoxan doesn't accumulate in my bladder and make it bleed. It is also important to helping to flush this this through my kidneys to prevent kidney damage. And now for the main event: The Chemo. The Adriamycin is a red drug that is filled into a large syringe and slowly pushed by the nurse into the IV tubing connected to my porta cath. This took about 10 minutes. The final step was the infusion of the cytoxan. This took about 30 minutes. And that was it! All in all, the day ended up feeling uneventful in a way. Well, yes very eventful, but nothing bad has happened. I have not fallen apart. I am not throwing up or even feeling any nausea. Oh, I should mention the best part: They have a massage therapist in the infusion center. I got an amazing shoulder massage. Who knew that this would be such a spa like experience? I guess they want to keep the customers coming back.

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