Sunday, January 11, 2015

the second round of chemo & my hair, falling

I am in the second round of chemotherapy now. The first chemo session was some days before christmas, and the rhythm is 3-weekly. So last Friday was the next date.

A thing I knew that would happen when I started chemotherapy, but it still feels strange: my hair now is starting to fall, as a side-effect of the medication. It's not happening right away, though: the effects of the chemo treatment come in different waves. The first wave is the direct impact: nausea, especially in the first days after the treatment. Which gets smoothed by medication that balances the nausea.

The second impact of chemo is delayed, affecting cells that grow faster than the average body cells: cancer cells. But also: leukozyte cells in the blood. And hair cells. Leukozytes reach their low point 2 weeks after the treatment - that was the first week of January for me. During that time, I got antibiotics for some days, until the leukozyte count was rising again. The most dangereous thing for me at this point is getting an infection or a cold – things that my immune system would need to handle, but would be limited in doing so. So shoveling snow is fine, but taking the train and hanging out in a shopping mall and being surrounded by many people (and their potential viruses) is the more dangerous thing. So far I am lucky, and didn't catch a cold or anything else.

The leukozyte low point is also the point when the hair tends to fall. It started slowly, but the others told me already that when it starts, it often happens quickly: that there first are a few hairs falling, and then in the evening, you draw your shirt over your head when you undress, and end up with a shirt that is full of falling hair. Sometimes, I found myself gently tugging at a curl, to see what happens. Emotional, it’s a mix of odd and sad.

The photo above is after the first larger loss of hair. I ended up cutting the remaining hair to neck-length. That was some days ago. Now maybe the half of back then is remaining, and I wear a hoodie. And try to see it as an experience. It feels kind of like a nasty joke of the meds, though, to have this side effect: we will help, but you will be bald.  And the loss of hair, it both is taking a part of your personality away - and it takes the treatment to the outside. You get reminded of it whenever you look in a mirror.

The other difficulty of the treatment is its cyclic character: you get the first treatment, you feel bad for some days, then you start to feel better while your leukozytes start to slide down and you actually are more vulnerable. And when you feel well again, and the leukozytes are up, the next cycle starts. And after it, the next. And then, the next... It's like a marathon, with every cycle leaving your body a level weaker, while there is still more way to go.

Right now, I am on the third day of the second cycle, and I still feel low and worn out. From tomorrow on, I probably will start to feel better. At least that's how it worked the last time, and so far things are happening in similar patterns. Which makes it easier to deal with: to know what will happen and what to expect.

The task will be to stay on the positive side of things, and not get too frustrated and tired along the way. And to enjoy the days that are better, instead of thinking of the lower days. To find ways to cheer myself up, with simple, little things. Like this owl napkin.

Looking at the year, and reading the new-year-notes of others, I noticed how some picked a word for this year. Which made me think: "2015 will be the year of healing for me." Which sounds so much more positive than “the year of chemo and related treatments”.

I am glad that so far, after the first days, things pick up again and I even feel close to normal for a while, at least for a part of the day. And so far, I didn't get bad headaches, which are another possible side-effect. Which means, I can still work, and write, and read. And I am really grateful for that - it makes such a difference to have other themes that are part of the day, and have a feeling of normality, beyond all, or rather: beyond those first overshadowed days.

And reading: thinking about the books I want to read, and of wider horizons, I started to read around the world again. The idea is to visit all 7 continents this year in books. And with the troubled world news of these days, hopefully this will bring some positive and beautiful sides of the world. At the same time, the news is a reminder that the world right now holds a lot of dark sides, and that there are so many who have to go through troubling times.

Related links:
If you are interested in world books, here's more about the word reads: 7 continents, 7 billion people, 7 books reading challenge. Or you can simply join the facebook group, to share reading notes.

I now started to mark all blog posts about this shadow journey with a tag, you can click here to read them: C is for cancer, and for courage, too


Cathrine said...

you are doing so impressively well - so brave .... sending you a big hug

Jen Knox said...

Thank you for sharing your journey and modeling strength. Also, you have inspired me to read around the world this year. Thank you.

Rouchswalwe said...

Hats! They are making a major comeback and the winter is cold. So it's time for a hat or two, dear Dorothee. As my dear Great-Grandmama told me, "Halt die Ohren steif, gelle! Un' vergiss' dei' Hut net!"

Dorothee said...

Thanks for all your lovely notes. Hats - i might try this. Jen, and lovely that you join the world reading. Looking forward.

And like I wrote in facebook in the connected post: it helps to write about it and to share it, to find a way to deal with it. the tough part is that it will take a while until i am through. but i try to take it on a day-by-day-basis, otherwise it feels overwhelming.

(and here's the facebook post: )

Beth said...

Dorothee, just sending you my love and bon courage. I know I'd be trying to do just what you are, holding onto as much normality as possible and keeping on doing whatever you can. Please keep writing and letting us know what you're reading as well as how you're feeling. xo

Michelle Elvy said...

Your view of life -- in image and words -- is always an inspiration, Dorothee. And the fact that you see something bright on a grey day, like that owl napkin. Thanks for sharing this post and your experience. Wisdom, strength. One day/ one step/ one word at a time.... love from here.

Dorothee said...

THANKS again for all your thoughts and for the support! I just read through the comments here and in facebook -it is beautiful and encouraging to read your lines, and to keep them in mind when things are shadowed. Yes, holding on to normality does help, and living one day at a time, while still keeping the wider horizon in mind.