Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Own Personal Zenith

I was told that days 8-14 of my 21-day chemo cycle would be my "nadir", or lowest point, in terms of immune function. My blood test on Tuesday confirmed that my neutrophils were low (I had no idea what neutrophils were a year ago). They were not dangerously low, but were below human normal range, and low enough that I need to avoid sick people, watch out for fevers, etc. etc. Nothing really new there.

But what I do find fascinating about this new chemo drug is that it knocks me down so completely for about 8 days, and then I begin to recover steadily, to the point where I feel very close to normal. Compared to the last drug combo of carboplatin and gemzar, on the new drug (docetaxel) I feel worse than before at the beginning of the round, and better than before at the end of the 3-week round. Currently I have no nausea, a decent appetite, am sleeping pretty well (even without sleep aids) my mood is good and my energy, while still low, is enough that I can take care of things like walking the dog around the block, driving, doing dishes and laundry, etc.

If the opposite of nadir is zenith, then I believe I am reaching my energy zenith. The horrible metallic bitter taste has faded almost completely, water tastes normal again, and my mouth doesn't feel burned. 

This is a pretty big range to experience over a 3-week period, but it gives me continued hope that this chemo will be manageable. When the chemo nurse said, "I think you'll really like this chemo," (and she really did) perhaps she meant the last 2 weeks of it. I don't know.

I'm nervous about the next treatment, mostly becuase I know I'll feel terrible afterward, but at least at thius point I now what *kind* of terrible I'll feel, and for about how long. Knowing that it's temporary makes a world of difference for me, psychologically.

Acupuncture, my secret weapon

To a large degree, I credit my post-chemo recovery to my acupuncturist, with whom I've been working for nearly 2 years now, seeing her once a week, every week. She's good enough that she deserves a plug: Christine Gendreau, at River Island Acupuncture in St. Paul. I experienced a night-and-day change from day 8 to day 9, largely because I had acupuncture on day 8. Some think acupuncture is "out there", woo-woo, psychosomatic healing, and with some acupuncturists I think it can be. Everyone has branches of medicine that they think are bunk. I have talked to people who said "yeah, I tried acupuncture once..." its subtle yet powerful medicine. The needles (and I don't like needles) are so fine that they are generally sensation-less going in. I find that it takes a few treatments for the acupuncturist to get to know you and to figure out what your body needs. Christine, by this point, knows me very well and has the ability to succeed where a drawer full of pills failed. Example: digestive troubles, brought on by the opiates, resolved within 45 minutes, drug-free. My mood, terrible and dark one day -- sunny and upbeat the next, following treatment. Again: drug-free. Acupuncture can address nausea, appetite, etc. with great success. My back also experienced about 60% relief immediately using acupuncture. When my neutrophils were low, a treatment helped to bring them back up to a reasonable level within a few days. Just a few examples. And acupuncture is covered by many insurance plans, these days. I know that Christine takes HealthPartners and possibly more.

Sadly, my insurance (Medica) doesn't cover any acupuncture as far as I can tell. I pay 100% out of pocket. And even so, I go every week.

Check it out, but do yourself a favor and go 3 or 4 times. You'll notice a difference, I guarantee.

I recommend acupuncture strongly to anyone going through chemo. It can mitigate the side effects to a very large degree, and I consider it to be one of the absolute, most powerful tools in my post-chemo toolbox.

There are diferences in Acupuncturists and certification thereof. Some doctors and chiropractors offer acupuncture (usually limited to pain relief) but many go through a fast-track, abbreviated program that can be as little as 200 hours. Most dedicated acupuncturists (most are NCCAOM accredited, in my experience) go through an arduous, 2,000 hour (or more) program that takes many years to complete.

Some veterinarians offer acupuncture as well, which I jokingly refer to as dogupuncture. Watching acupuncture being used on my dogs was actually the turning point for me in believing that it is not psychosomatic. A dog doesn't have any reason to believe that this needle being put in its back should help him to calm down and have less separation anxiety, but when it clearly works -- you know there's something real going on, there.

And, while I'm on the subject: thanks so much to the anonymous donors who have bought me some treatments along the way. It is very touching and very helpful. Thank you. Sincerely.

Dr. Owen Wilson

I met with a new local urologist today as a followup to all the recent ER/hospital drama, and to find out what has been causing all the issues. Perhaps because it was caused by Mayo, they have been unhelpful in working with me to diagnose the problem. But maybe its just because its a mundane complaint in their world, and not very interesting. Regardless, its a good idea to have a local urologist for me, and doubly so since I'm getting frustrated with Dr. Hunter (the Mayo urologist) recently. He's a great surgeon, but I think he's dropped the ball a few times for me, recently, and may actually be to blame for not catching the spread of the cancer (becuase he hadn't ordered scans that would catch it) before it metastasized. That last bit, if true, could be a megabuck malpractice suit. Maybe that's why he's distancing himself from me. It certainly seems that way.

The new doc is a year older than me, and we know some of the same people from my high school, etc. Tall and blond, he looks more like a retired surfer than a doctor. He reminded me a little of Owen Wilson so I thought the name was appropriate. He's communicative, friendly and knowledgeable, and doesn't seem to have that "me doctor; you patient!" barrier than some docs can have. The scoping procedures were as pain-free as they have ever been, which I appreciated. I also like his staff, which is a big plus. Jen liked him as well. I plan to continue with him as my local urologist, and will see Dr. Hunter at Mayo only as needed, now.

His guess is that the trouble could have been (as I suspected) some damage to the prostate during the bungled catheterization at Mayo a few weeks back. Dr. Own Wilson says that the prostate is healing nicely, though.

With any luck, I won't have to go to the ER again anytime soon.


Amy Burge said...

So glad to here you are feeling better. I need to get on your calendar again. Or I'll just see you at your party. Let me know if you need anything.

Deborah in MN said...

I'm happy for you that there are so many positive things to report. I'm praying your next round of chemo has far less negative effects. Looking forward to seeing you after we get back from vacation.

Eclector2 said...

I like this. I'm happy about the transformation from dark to light, which I witnessed, that acupuncture has given you. The word Miracle comes to mind. I am also pleased that you like the new doctor and that he is local.

P.S. I love the cartoon. Mom

Anne-Marie said...

"I think you'll really like this chemo," I guess that is one way to be positive! I am very heartened to hear that this round is going well. I do believe that there are many alternative treatments that don't get enough "real" support from traditional medicine. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about this option. I may have to check it out after all.
Hugs to you. Germ free thru the internet.

Dave Matheny said...

Good news all around.

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