breast cancer treatment: no cookie cutters

One of the common misconceptions about breast cancer is that everyone receives the same kind of treatment. Our treatment, though, varies as much as our personal diversity. When we are diagnosed, our oncologists assess our condition both from the disease, which in itself can be complex, and from other factors, including our overall state of physical and emotional health, and then decide our treatment. If you talk to any number of breast cancer patients, you’ll hear about various drugs over and over again, for example, Adriamycin®, Cytoxin® and Taxol®. Each of us, however, gets a dosage based on our age, our weight, our condition, our risk factors, the protocol and a host of other factors. We might be participating in a clinical trial, or we might be simply on a regimen of treatment. Some of us get our drugs every other week; others, every week, and, yet others, according to another schedule.

Again, our tolerance and reactions to our treatments are as varied as we are. Some of us may get nauseated often and severe; some may vomit; some may have diarrhea. These are only the very common physical side effects affecting many of us. Yet, I know from just my own experience that my range of those particular side effects has encompassed the full gamut from mild to severe. Sometimes we react to the prep drugs for chemo or the drugs that treat the side effects of the chemo. When I went through my initial chemo treatment, I had severe febrile reactions not to my chemo but to the Leukine®, which helps combat neutropenia. I would sit with a thermometer in my mouth as soon as I took my shot and for several days following. As soon as my temperature started rising, I started eating popsicles and ice and using cold compresses on my head and under my arms. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes I ended up in the ER.

I have learned not to read about side effects in advance. It makes no sense to me to read about miserable possibilities that may never occur to me. If  I sense a reaction or feel a change, I look then to see if it might be one of the side effects. Bone pain, runny nose, nosebleeds, neuropathy, nasty taste, sore mouth, puffy face, red face, swollen feet, blood pressure changes, . . . the list goes on. I have had so many reactions I can’t remember them all. Yet, to me, in the long run it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the body is amazing and resilient. I continue to do what I can to stay strong and healthy. I know I’ll have periods where I will feel better and worse; I like the times when I feel better, but I am finding ways to deal with the times that I feel worse. I’m the master of ignoring the bad. It’s my Pollyanna side.

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© 2004-2009 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

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