Penny’s Blog

Archive for December 2008

Who would have thought it? I’m bored with cancer and chemo and the whole deal. (Thus the lack of updates for a month.)

I had treatment #4 last week. Christmas Eve in the chemo clinic, the nurses wearing their candy-cane-print scrubs and Santa hats. Some patients in the clinic finished their last treatments that day—I couldn’t see them, but I heard the staff applauding and singing “For they are jolly good fellows…” I saw one patient sent home without treatment because her blood counts were too low. Another patient near me wasn’t receiving chemo—it had stopped working—and was getting a blood transfusion instead.

At the pre-chemo visit with Dr. Van Deventer, he surprised me by starting out, “Hmmm… four rounds or six?” I guess stopping at four rounds of chemo is sometimes an option. However, we’ll keep going for six, because (1) the “c-myc translocation” of my cancer is usually associated with particularly aggressive types, and (2) if chemo doesn’t completely cure the lymphoma, the next step is a bone marrow transplant, and we don’t want that. Ironically, because my blood counts are bouncing back so well after each treatment, I’m effectively getting a lesser dose of chemo than someone whose blood counts stay low.

One minor, but persistently annoying, side effect of chemo has been a gummy, sickening, sweetish feeling/taste in my mouth. Dr. Van gave me a recommendation for a mouthwash (Oasis) to provide a couple of hours of relief each day. (Dr. Van plays trumpet, and was told about Oasis by fellow trumpet players, who use it to combat dry mouth.)

The gumminess and all the side effects are pretty routine by now. Nausea and fatigue are always lurking; I’m stinting less on the anti-nausea drugs and trying to remember to take naps. I have two kinds of laxatives in the medicine cabinet (severe constipation is one of the most unpleasant side effects of vincristine). The hair loss seems to have reached a stable point: Head still bald, eyebrows still present, etc. I’ve also lost hair inside my nose, so part of my morning routine is putting fresh Kleenex in each pocket of my skirt and jacket—without nasal hair, secretions just slide right out, so you have to do a lot of dabbing.

(I know some of the above-described symptoms are a bit distasteful, which is why I haven’t rushed online to inform you of them. But they give you an idea of why chemo is so dreary, even in a case like mine where the side effects are minimal.)

My therapist Rebecca was saying yesterday that she thinks the cliche about health crises bringing great insight is probably bogus—that really, people just endure them. I think she’s right. I used to fantasize about having a life-threatening illness, imagining that such an event would provide the impetus and inspiration to radically change my life. (“As God is my witness, if I get through this, I’m going to give away all my possessions and pursue my passion for teaching puppetry to homeless kids.”) But now I think that once I get past this cancer experience—my “life crisis lite”—there will probably be little or no difference in my daily routine. Check back with me in a few months and we’ll see if that’s correct.

I’m grumpy today and have a bad attitude, but don’t want to close without expressing my continued wonder and gratitude around all the gifts, calls, favors, and support so many people have shared with me. I don’t know how I can ever repay you all.


Yesterday was not a good day at the hospital. Every appointment ran long and late… patients and staff were stressed out. Several times during the day I thought, “Okay: Now is when I’m going to burst into tears.” I didn’t start getting my chemo infusion until 3:30, and didn’t leave the clinic until almost 8 p.m., by which time I and one nurse were the only ones left in the building.  But the day was made easier by Marion, who took me to the hospital and stayed with me for hours; by Leslie, who provided gossip magazines and a big sandwich; and by Ruth, who came on short notice to give me a ride home.

And it was so good to be home, away from the fluorescent lights and the ticking and beeping of the chemo pumps and the smell of rubbing alcohol.  I had a lovely late dinner of items selected for their non-hospital-y fragrances:  mint tea, a square of chocolate, a clementine. Chased it all with an Ativan, then went to bed and slept until 8 a.m.  Ahhh.

Dr. Shah called this morning to tell me the results of yesterday’s PET scan: Totally clean.  So it looks like the chemo is working. We’ll continue treatment as planned, with 3 more rounds of chemo. My docs have been talking with a radiologist, who says that we may want to consider radiation at the end of all the chemotherapy.  In cases like mine, where the lymphoma was very localized, radiation can help prevent the cancer from recurring at the original site.  We’ll talk about the pros and cons of that in a month or two.

I’m getting over myself and am able to enjoy having people call, and come over, give me stuff. Folks at work have been providing great lunches for me. Other friends have given phone calls, cards, CDs, goodies, and hats. Thanks, everyone! And this weekend my big sister Alyson is coming up from Wilmington to visit and clean my house for me hang out with me. Life is good.

By the way, I decided instead of dividing days into “down” days and “up” days, it’s more accurate (and less bipolar) to call them “resting” days and “energy” days.


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  • dswope: I just happened by after my I received an email from a close colegue that he was headig for IVPalooza. All I knew was that it was a form of chemo.
  • Brian: Hi Penny; When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma I found your site. Reading about what you went through was incredibly helpful to me. Tha
  • Tricia: Still here; still caring; still rooting you on!