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Tongue-tied and tasteless in the tenacious land of Taxotere

Now that 12 days have passed since my first Taxotere infusion, I feel as though I can provide a fulsome report on the drug’s side effects and their affect on my life thus far.  Taxotere round one differed drastically from my first AC treatment, in both positive and negative ways.  Before I attempt to humour you with a little compare and contrast, I give you the final instalment of my short segment, entitled:

Neulasta, the wonder drug

As it turns out, Neulasta is some serious medicine.  I had my first injection the day after my last AC treatment, administered in my thigh, not in my stomach, as I’d been warned would be the case (read: Don’t believe everything you’re told!). For someone who neither enjoys nor fears needles, I can report that it did sting a fair bit going in, but the pain quickly subsided.  It took about 12 hours before I had any kind of reaction to the drug.  I was warned it could cause bone pain in some individuals, and this time the warnings rang true.  It began in my hips the day after my shot, and radiated down my legs, increasing in severity over the course of the next 3 days.  The pain was far from disabling, but it certainly made me feel like an arthritic senior.  I think I walked three days in my mother’s shoes!  It dissipated after about 5 days, first leaving my ankles, then my knees, and finally lingering on my hips before bidding a fond farewell and what I swear was a whispered, “see you next round!”  The end result?  Outstanding.  My neutrophil count prior to my last AC round had been 0.8, too low for chemo (see blog post: No soup for me!); after this Neulasta blast, my count leading up to round one of Taxotere was 6.7!  Neulasta means business, and I highly recommend getting your hands on some by any means possible, should you ever find yourself wandering the infamous neutrophil lowlands. 

Ellen on the rocks

If AC round one was a red-devil heat wave, Taxotere round one was a bone-chilling winterfest.  It was rumoured that the T cocktail caused nail discolouration and eventual breakage, and that to minimize these side effects, some chose to wear ice packs during infusion.  Little did I know that ice packs came in not-so-cute oven mitt/slipper combinations!  I sheepishly adorned my new frozen accessories, and “chillin’ in my pod” took on an entirely new connotation.
It's frikken cold in here, Mr. Bigglesworth!
Although fun and frais at first, my new frozen frou frou soon became cold and old news, and I still had the better part of 90 minutes to go.  Problem was, the mitts and slippers were lined with custom fit gel ice packs, so my entire hand (wrist to fingertip) and foot (ankle to toenail) were chilled, not simply the nail beds.  I sucked it up, tucked the heated flannel blankie under my heels and thought of new and innovative ways of delivering the required chill tactics.  Individual fingertip puppet packs, perhaps?  Toe-sockettes?  There had to be a solution I could warm up to.  I decided then and there to use my entrepreneurial skills to develop a marketable alterative to the traditional Taxotere mani-pedi.

The Tasteless Wonder

The rest of the infusion was uneventful.  Whereas AC had tended to leave me a little foggy/groggy/in-the-boggy, Taxotere may as well have been water going in as I felt no different upon departure than I had on arrival.  It was a welcome change.  More change was soon to come, but not the warm, fuzzy kind. 

On day two post chemo, with bone pain in full force (which by the way, originates not only from Neulasta but also from Taxotere itself), I lost my sense of taste.  Onset was sudden and all encompassing.  With AC things tasted different, but they still tasted like something.  Taxotere made everything taste like nothing.  I thought I was prepared for this, but honestly, I was not.  I remarked at how amazingly well I could feel the texture of food once its taste was removed.  Things like rice and oatmeal were terribly unpleasant, and meat of any sort was unmanageable - enough to make me return to my former vegan ways!  By far the worst was peanut butter, my lifeline.  And so I turned to my other favourites, like fruit and veggies, yogourt, and of course, lots of club soda to wash it down (and substitute the saliva I was no longer producing). 

Unfortunately, a greater and stronger enemy was brewing inside, and it appeared in the form of a tongue infection (thrush) on day four post chemo.  I remember reading about thrush when my kids were each infants, so I reread that chapter and tried to understand exactly what was going on.  It was nasty.  I don’t know how infants do it.  White, painful, bumpy tongue and teeny tiny cold sores galore.  The pain went from bad to worse in hours, and I spent the next 5 days unable to eat anything that wasn’t liquid form and ice cold.  Thankfully, it only took a call to my PDN (primary designated nurse), some strong meds and a few days of hunger to quash my opponent.  It’s been 9 days since the infection started and although my tongue is not yet back to normal, it is no longer the bane of my existence.  I think this has been yet another good lesson in “being happy with the cards you are dealt”.  Not eating for any stretch of time certainly makes bland food easier to swallow.

I’ll now finish with an account of the first side effect I experienced this round, that which was the most profound and by far, the most amusing:

Doping Ms. Ellen

The precursor to the Taxotere infusion was a high voltage dose of steroids (dexamethasone).  Purpose?  To prevent a severe allergic reaction that comes hand in hand with Taxotere infusion 50% of the time.  You recall my infusion was uneventful, so the steroids did the trick; I did not react to the Taxotere.  Instead, I got me a hefty three-day energy extravaganza, including late-night brainstorming sessions, never-ending list making sit-ins, and super-sonic organizational blitzes.  It was awesome, and frighteningly, freakishly productive! I think I accomplished more in those three days than I had in the three months prior.  I can only describe it as how I would imagine myself on a fixed diet of coffee, Red Bull, pop rocks and fizz candies.  My stomach was a bottomless pit, I was so hungry.  Thankfully, I still had my taste buds as I was devouring everything in sight.  And then, sometime shortly after noon on day two (I started dexa one day prior to chemo), I crashed.  Hard.  All I remember is murmuring something like “starting to wind down now, yep…” and then I was catatonic for the next eight hours or so until I went to bed.  Then I slept for twelve hours and woke up tired, so went for a nap.  And that, my friends, is why you don’t mess with ‘roids.

AC vs. Taxotere.  And the medal goes to..?

I can’t really say which chemo cocktail I prefer.  I think I’ll have to wait until my fourth and final round of Taxotere.  At this point if I had to choose, I would lean towards AC simply for the fact that I experienced no real discomfort throughout the cycles, and was able to eat and taste once I passed the initial 3 days post infusion.  AC caused me some mild nausea, but there was no bone pain, and I’ll take nausea over pain any day.  Bone pain just doesn’t go away.  No bones about it, it is terribly strange to “feel” your skeleton.  And although Taxotere’s steroid-induced energy marathon initially made it a gold medal contender, the consequent crash and burn gave it a dismal, last place showing.

Everyone’s a Winner Blessings Report:

This was a particularly stellar week, with some outstanding blessings to report.  Here are a few that I feel made it to the podium, hands down:

The many thoughtful, heartfelt messages sent my way. 

Being contacted by a long-lost friend after 12 years.  What a nice surprise.  Estou muito feliz.

Finding out that friends and colleagues are running in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s Run for the Cure under the team name “Keeping abreast of Ellen”!  Check out their fabulous team Ellen page here: www.runforthecure.com , and don’t miss the race on September 30th.  Ironically, it falls three days after my 8th and final round of chemo.

Meal fairies abound!  Thanks to D, M, R and mom for a never-ending potpourri of gastronomic delights, delivered to my doorstep.  I enjoyed them before I lost my taste buds.

Gift fairies abound!  Thank you R and K for the lovely, handmade cap and jewellery.  When you have no hair, it’s particularly satisfying to accessorize!

After a drought-stricken summer, it finally rained!  That large tap in the sky opened up on Sunday morning and rained down on Ottawa something fierce.  Commemorated it by running (toting umbrella and my camera) the final leg of the 24-hr photo marathon I entered as part of this year’s Lumière Festival: www.lumiereottawa.com.  That was a picture-perfect distraction, thanks for joining me, S!

Mini-break #2, this time to Parc de Plaisance, Québec.  I grabbed the family and my mom and escaped to a wonderful country farm house for 3 days of serious relaxation.  Campfires, banana boats, swimming, full moon, strolling over the marshland on a floating walkway, and a pontoon boat ride were a few highlights of our trip.  
our home for three days

4/5 of my family

moon gazing

early morning fog on the farm house

mystical morning walk with my son

exploring the marshlands at Parc de Plaisance

beach time

Honourable mention:  “Poutine glacée”, which I did NOT consume at the local crèmerie.  Instead of the classic poutine components (french fries, gravy and cheese curds) it is made with soft serve ice cream, chocolate wafers cookies (the fries), tiny marshmallows and caramel popcorn (the cheese curds) and caramel syrup (the gravy).  Likely invented by a Taxotere patient.  I wish I had taken a pic, but the mental imagery must speak volumes.  In case it doesn't, here's a pic I googled:
what the...
I hope you are making the most of your summer, whatever and wherever it may bring you!  
Ellen

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