Thursday, September 3, 2009

"The worst is over...but your tongue may turn black"

I've fallen behind on my blogging, but not because there's nothing happening here. To borrow Ted Kennedy's line replayed so many times over the past few weeks, "the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives..." It's a fitting battle cry for Karen.

Her treatments have taken a toll on her as the chemo toxins build up in her body. She has become increasingly weary as the chemo wipes out her red blood cells. Migraines grip her head like a vice. Her infusion port bulges like a transmitter just under her chest. Mouth sores line her lips. And the waves of nausea have grown stronger and last longer.

Here's the crazy thing about all of this: none of Karen's pain or exhaustion is from the cancer -- the evil, scary cancer that we feared more than anything. Not a single moment of pain was ever from the cancer. It's hard to make sense of it, but all the pain and discomfort comes from that which is meant to cure her. Karen is caught in the crosshairs of a battle between her doctors and cancer. The chemo drugs are the weapons; her body a battlefield.

The doctors always presume that at least some rogue cancer cells may break loose from the original tumor and find their way into the blood stream, travel to somewhere else in the body and then divide and conquer. So, chemotherapy becomes, in some ways, a kind of scorched-earth defense -- kill everything that grows and divides -- even the normal, healthy cells. The result: you have to become sicker to get better.

Thursday marked another milestone in Karen's treatment. She finished four cycles of the powerful Adriamycin and Cytoxan (AC) drugs and has moved onto the chemo drug Taxol.

"The worst is over," say the doctors.

It's hard to find comfort in these words knowing that Karen still has 11 more Taxol treatments ahead of her. The "AC" may be one of the toughest regimens to tolerate, especially with infusions every two weeks. But Taxol has its own set of destructive side effects: pain in the joints and muscles, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, skin and nail changes, mouth sores, mood changes (oh, joy!), and occasionally, the tongue may turn black. She can also expect to lose the last few hairs on her body -- her eyelashes and eyebrows. But remember, the worst is over.

Still, her spirit remains positive and her resolve is strong -- bolstered in large part by the support of many amazing friends, neighbors, family and colleagues.

It has been 22 weeks since Karen first found that lump and nine weeks of chemo treatments have been crossed off the calendar. Eleven more treatments in as many weeks stand between her and the end of chemotherapy. Radiation therapy will add many more weeks. And then it will be a new year. Surely, a year of recovery, healing and renewal.


  1. What an AWESOME, AWESOME post.

  2. Hang in there Karen! You're nearly half way there! I follow your blog every week now and find your husbands words so fitting, considering that YOU are the one going through all this, he seems so wondefully connected to all that has fallen upon you. How blessed you must feel! I have 16 more weeks of Herceptin infusions and then I too will done with chemo. What a New Years celebration it will be indeed!
    Praying that God gives you enough strength today to see you thorugh to the finish line! By the way, carries great lolly pops for the nausea from chemo!! Give that a try!
    Your Bosom Buddy

  3. I too have no pain from the cancer ... all the discomfort is from the treatment.

  4. What a well written post! Great explanations to read for someone who has not gone through this experience!

    Since October is Breast Cancer awareness month, I am looking to raise awareness and money for this great cause. I have found numerous etsy shops that are willing to donate prizes as giveaways during the month to get more people to come to my blog and donate.

    I will be putting links in my sidebar that will allow visitors to donate to Susan G Komen and hopefully to Keep a Breast.

    I am looking to have some guest bloggers leave posts about their own interaction with this disease. Whether it's about surviving, losing a loved one, hair loss, testing, being related to someone with bc, informational, poems, etc. Anything breast cancer related. It can even be a copy of a post that you have already posted on your blog.

    If you can be of help or know someone that can, please pass this email on to them.

    My mom is a breast cancer survivor which is why I have gotten involved with this charity.

    Please let me know if you can be a guest blogger on my blog in October asap so that I can get a schedule going.

    Thank you so much!


  5. Karen, Brian and Jack (and Caramel, too) -- I think of you often and am saying prayers for all of you. Bonnie provided me with this blog site. Brian this is a terrific piece of writing and inspirational to everyone. Karen, please know we are all pulling for you. You are strong. You will be OK. I know the going is tough at times, but take a big breath and please try to stay strong. Hugs, Kim Bierly

  6. I don't know you but I know Karen and I read your posts religiously. They make me laugh and cry...she is an amazing woman and I pray for her daily as do scores of my friends here in Virginia. My love to you all.

  7. I too endured what you are in the middle of right now. I am here to tell you that you WILL get through it and you WILL be fine.
    Remember when you are having a rough day, place your self and picture yourself when this is all finished and you are happy and strong !
    Hang in there girlfriend, you CAN do it !
    To your husband, I know that this is a family affair that affects all involved, especially the husband. Take time to be sad, but come back up and be glad for today. My daughter was my inspiration as I am sure your son is for you. May God grant peace, health, and love to you all.
    A fellow breast cancer SURVIVOR that saw your story in my Frontlice News Letter !
    Thanks for sharing !

  8. What a wonderful post. My mom has been going through chemotherapy for her breast cancer and your post has calmed us. We feel as though she is not going through this alone. Thank you.

  9. Thank you for the post i really needed that...