Monday, April 13, 2009

Top Tips from a Chemo Loser

Look! I even found a pink Loser sign. Maybe there is hope for me yet.

So for now, on with the highly anticipated, much awaited, crowd-pleasing, no one really gives a darn "Top Tips from a Breast Cancer Loser to A newly Diagnosed and Probably so Much Better Person!!!" Let me be clear--this is not advice. I'm not one to give advice--note the reference to "loser." I get it. I'm not doing this in the spectacular fashion that so many inspirational, epiphany-seeking women do. Hey, I'm just trying to get through this with the least changes possible. I'm barely figuring this out for myself. But there were some really practical things that are working for me and if it helps someone, hey, why not? If any of this sounds crazy to probably have a point. But you've probably also not been through chemo. Just a guess.

In no particular order:

1) Kiehl's Centella Skin Repair Salve (my complexion still looks and feels good--even after the hives!). Chemo takes it's toll on everything--skin included. I'm not one for skin care (I'm lazy; you've figured that out right?), but it was necessary and this product has felt fantastic. For your body, I'd also recommend Arbonne's Sea Source Detox wash--particularly helpful with the hives. And moisturize. It's not like you'll have a choice. Besides, now that you don't have to shave anything, you've got all that extra time.

2) Biotene toothpaste and mouthwash. So your mouth really gets affected. Dry, sore, and can't floss and you have to use a soft tooth brush, so any extra help with the teeth is appreciated. Biotene was recommended by my dental hygienist when I told her I was about to start chemo. Bless her. There are times I want to drink the bottle of Biotene, it's so soothing. It helps for a short while with the "metal mouth" also. I've heard there is a Bitotene gum, which I'd darn near kill for, but I haven't been able to find it locally.

3) Books I'd read, in the order I'd read them:
A. "Five Lessons I didn't Learn from breast Cancer (and One Big One I Did)" by Shelley Lewis. I wish I'd read this first because it gives a nice overview of what a breast cancer patient is about to go through and gives really helpful tips. She doesn't pull any punches (hey, surprise, this isn't a good experience) but she delivers the information in a humorous and informative way--so early on, when you are overwhelmed with information, you can actually process what she's saying. It's got some medical info, but that's not the main point. See C below.

B. "Cancer Vixen" by Marisa Acocella MArchetto. This may not be for everyone--it's a graphic novel (read: it's a cartoon book). But, she also really lays out her story--good, bad and ugly--and again, it's imminently readable. I continue to refer to it just to check "is this normal?" And you gotta love her pluck. Or moxie. Or aplomb. But mostly, her shoes.

C. "Breast Cancer: Real Questions, Real Answers" by David Chan, MD. Okay, for the medical stuff, again delivered in a way that's easy to process and understand, this is it. Dr. Karam gave me this book--the author is his colleague. So of course, it's a good book. But, I did read others and again, this is the one I find myself going back to. I understand he'll have an update coming out perhaps soon as well.

4) Baking soda and water. Yeah, really. Quickest cure for the inevitable indigestion gift from chemo. Take that, then whatever you normally take for indigestion. That way you'll have quick relief, followed by the more long-lasting relief. Not kidding. And really, after you spend all that money on all those prescriptions, you'll be glad I told you this. (And thanks again, dad.)

5) You're going to have to do this your way. You'll get a ton of advice. Some good. Some crazy. Some you'll want. Some....well, you'll want to slap somebody. In the end, you'll have to just do what works for you and shut out what everyone else is saying. You'll find "your people" and go with that. Chemo and the whole overwhelming "I have freakin' cancer!!!" is enough to deal with. You don't need to also be trying to live up to other people's expectations. No one has the same experience. Cancers are different, treatments are different, reactions are different...hey, people are different!! (Who knew???) So no matter what people tell you--there is no "right" way to do this. (I'm sure there is a wrong way. And I'm probably on my way to finding it!).

6) Take naps. I'm a big fan of naps even when I'm well. But with chemo--it's a necessity. I find if I can get a nap in the middle of the day, I can keep going for pretty much a full work day most days (but let me be clear--this is nothing like the hours I normally keep; that just isn't happening and I have to just let that be....temporarily!). And I usually take a nap when I get home too. You probably won't be able to help yourself, so you may as well plan for it. I got a little fold out mattress/ futon thingy and I keep it and a blanket and a pillow in my office. Somewhere around 2 ish, when need be, I close my door, fold it all out and zonk out. It's fabulous. I don't know if I'll be able to give it up. How long can I make this last?? (Just the nap part. Will "Hey, I had chemo two years ago" still work as an excuse?)

7) Let Folks help. Okay, most days I can certainly take care of myself. Slowly, but surely. I can get my meals, I can work, I can run errands. But I get tired. So when I do those things, I can't do too much else. I'm not one to ask for help, so basically I sort of feel like if I can do it why ask someone else. But I'm learning (slowly, slowly; in true loser fashion) that my friends and family want to help and it is indeed a help to have someone drop by with dinner, drive me around on my errands, take me to lunch, and such simple but important things. Then, my energy is preserved and I can enjoy...say, blogging! I think this is key to keeping my spirits up (oh god, there's that "positive attitude" approach creeping in. Darn it!!) Chris is of course fantastic about pitching in and he takes care of a lot. Sometimes I try to give him a break by asking friends (or, more realistically, accepting their offers) to drive me to an appointment or an errand or something. And I'm getting better at "yes, please do stop by with dinner"--but first that was because I realized that would give Chris a well-deserved break. I hope you have a Chris. Can that be item 8? But I'm not loaning him out. I'm a loser and I'm selfish.

8) Dr. Karam as your surgeon. Okay, that might not work if you are outside California, but honestly, consider flying in to UCLA.

That's all I've got for now. I may have more to share. I'm also thinking I bet I could do a nifty little list of "ways friends and family can help a chemo gal" (and um, things that aren't helpful). Or maybe it's more "how to help." But, is that too selfish? Probably. But I'm making the list for myself anyway. So if I'm ever on the"'helper" instead of "help-ee" side, I know what to do. It's an art. But you guys already know that. Bold


  1. Where the hell does the title "loser" fit in here? Maybe cancer "unfortunate" but certainly not "loser". Wanna know what I take away from YOUR cancer experience? Here it is, "Holy shit, this is scary!" (that's day 1of the "I have cancer" email.) and "I think if I ever get breast cancer (and let's face it, we ALL have to come to grips with that reality) I can most definitely use each and every bit of this blog to get me through it...and I WILL get through it! Teresa did and so will I." So, file the "loser" title and find another, more appropriate word. So, there. You've been "blog lashed" by Laura. Hugs! :o)

  2. I LOVE your blog. And I have some of that Biotene Gum. I know I am not a very helpful friend, but I bought this somewhere in Riverside, I just can't remember where! (Target maybe?) Probably at the same place I bought the hive lotion that I can't quite remember the name of. So I am truly clueless and a loser. You are one of the stongest, funniest people I know. Keep up the blog.

  3. Your blog is fanastic! It allows all of us to stay connected to you and enjoy your ever present humor.

    I have Rich using the Baking Soda and Water trick! Thank your Dad for me.


Comments mean you care. That's all I'm saying.