Friday, October 23, 2009

Tips from the Trenches

I spend quite a bit of time on this blog talking about how the experience of cancer feels, what the emotional impact has been, and how it has influenced my life spiritually. All of those things are really important, but there are also just the plain, practical things that can help other people who are going through this just behind me, with me, or might have to deal with it in the future. This post is about those things.

Some of the best advice I ever got about breast cancer came from a wonderful woman that I have never met in person, but feel like I know because I got the idea for this blog from hers. A friend of hers that goes to my church sent me the link to her blog, and I read every word she ever typed about her really tough trip through this nasty disease. Today, I am happy to report that she is a survivor. Having the insight and guidance that she provided me was priceless. Thank you so much, Sheri! Her advice to me was this, "Don't get cancer." Unfortunately, it was too late for me on that one, but it did make me laugh.

The other piece of advice that she had for me was about the Neulasta (white count booster) shots. You see, chemo kills all of your fast splitting cells. Cancer cells are fast splitting so that's why it works on them. Well, so are your white blood cells and other things like you hair. Since it can't discriminate between good and bad cells, it kills all kinds. So, many times either because your count drops too low or as a preventative measure, you have to get these shots to boost your body's production of white blood cells. Since these cells are created in your bone marrow, a common side effect of the shot is bone pain. Take it from me, you DON'T want this. I spent my week this week dealing with it. Sheri struggled with this as well. He advice to me was to get pain medicine and take it BEFORE I had the shot.

That is GREAT advice. Here's my two cents to add to that. You don't necessarily need pain meds from your doctor. Advil did the job for me after the first round. I just didn't know it until I failed to do the same this time around. I had taken Advil every 6 hours for a full 2 days before the first shot for cramps. So, I was unknowingly treating myself for the shot 2 full days before I got the shot and 2 days after. Since I had no pain from it, I just thought I was having no effects. So, this time I didn't "pre-treat". The result was a very hard week that cost me a day of work and required prescription meds. Next time, I will begin taking the Advil 2 days before and through the day after like I accidentally did the first time. Then, I have the prescription only if I need it. I'm not going through that again. So, don't follow suit. Thank you, Sheri for the advice because I wouldn't have know why there was a difference without it.

One of the other things that made such a difference for me was something that Mom and I figured out all by ourselves the first week after surgery. When you have this surgery one of the most inconvenient things that you have to deal with right away is the stinkin' drains. These things are a complete nuisance, to put it nicely. So, you're cut up, medicated on opiates, and have 4 tubes with bulbs on the end of them hanging out of your body. Not fun. Then, they tell you to pin these things to your pj bottoms. You don't want them pinned to your shirt because they're gross, so you go ahead and pin them to your bottoms. And that's all just fine...until you have to pee.

So, since you're operating at a diminished capacity (reads: drugged out of your mind on narcotics), you forget that they are pinned to your pj's and tug away at them by mistake when attempting to get the pj's down. Ouch! Now on the off chance that you remember to unpin them, then what? How do you do anything else when you're holding 4 drains?? You can't just let them hang, so now what? Your hands are full, you're still fully dressed, and desperately need to pee! Plus, you're still drugged on the narcotics so your problem solving capacity is COMPLETELY absent.

The solution is simple, really. Bring a 1.5" wide satin ribbon to the hospital with you. Make sure it's long enough to go around your waist and tie in a bow. Each of these drains has a plastic loop attached. If you string the bulbs on a ribbon and tie it around your waist, they stay put, are out of sight, and don't interfere with peeing while on heavy drugs. The drains are secured and completely independent of your clothing. PRICELESS advice I assure you...

Then finally, whatever you fear most, face it and become a boy scout. What I mean by that is "Always be prepared." Any of you who have been following my journey know that for me this was the hair thing. If you are like me and worried about the hair thing, here's what I've learned about that.

First, you don't need to buy human hair. You might think you want it, but you probably don't. For me, this was decided as soon as I saw the CSI Miami where the lady got busted for murder because her human hair extensions had been cut off a cadaver and had microscopic mites as a result. With my bug phobia, even the mere mention of the possibility was more than I could handle. Besides, you just won't believe what the quality synthetic hair looks like these days. And real human hair has to be styled. If it rains, it falls and frizzes. Synthetic doesn't. It looks great no matter what and is so real that you just can't tell the difference.

A quality human hair wig will cost you more than $500-$800 for starters. A quality synthetic one retails for between $150 and $300. But, if you find what you want and go to to get it, you can cut that to $75-$150 for the EXACT same wigs. Then, you can get it cut by a professional stylist to make any alterations.

I have one that I paid retail price for at the cancer salon. The service that I received and the support they offered me was MORE than worth the investment. But, for my other looks, it just made sense to shop. So, I ordered those from the site above. Here's the funny part. I now have the hair I've always wanted. It not only looks real, but healthy, shiny, and there's no grey hair or roots to color. I also have 3 different looks that I can interchangeably wear. Plus, I get to do my hair the night before and pop it on just before leaving the house.

Now I've even got the brows and eyelashes covered. I still have all of my eyelashes, but have lost 1/2 of my brows. So, I am already using a brow kit that I received at my Look Good, Feel Better class. The key to looking natural here is that it is not a pencil, but a powder (like eyeshadow) applied with a specially designed brush, It also has a pomade sealer. You can't tell the difference! Although I've never used BeautiControl before, I totally recommend their brow kit. They have that down! And when the lashes go, I have those as well. I found some that look just like my real ones and black glue, too. So even that doesn't have to be a big deal. As long as I can get them on...Stay tuned for that report.

I guess that's enough for one post. I hope that these things are able to help other women that have joined this "club" against their will like the rest of us. There are SO many of us, and we have to help each other through. The good news is that we can. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You to all of those women who have helped me, most of which I have never met in person. I couldn't have made it this far without the things that each of you have taught me.


Shauni L. said...

Oh my gosh I love this!!! I can't wait to share it with the other oncology nurses that I work with! I know that what I have read today on your blog will come in really handy when trying to help out one of my patients in the future!

kitykity said...

Wow that's cool, I had never heard of a "brow kit" before. I remember when I was really little, my mom used to use a brown eyebrow pencil, and she'd heat it up with a lighter before she put it on. Man, that was a memory I haven't thought about in a long time...

Advice. This is awesome. Maybe you could keep it going, in each post that you write, with like a "tip of the day" or something? It would help remind you to share a tip each time you post... just a suggestion ;)


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