I haven’t taken dexamethasone since December 31, 2017. I didn’t plan for it to be a year-end thing, it just worked out that way. And, although I’m proud to be 72 hours steroid free, I am not completely out of the woods.
I’ve been pretty much bed-ridden since Christmas, when I started the final step down before quitting. My muscles hurt in ways that force me to shuffle down the hallway taking the tiniest steps. I ask Dan to fill my water glass for me and turn switches on and off, because I just can’t.
My skin hurts. When I twist my torso to grab the toilet paper orI roll over in bed, my skin feels like it’s being twisted or pinched after first being carpet burned. But all of this is on the under side of my skin, not the surface. (Don’t worry if this doesn’t make sense to you; it doesn’t make sense to me either.)
My coat hanger pain is so intense, it frequently reduces me to tears. The referred pain from the nerve it pinches goes into my left arm, my neck, my jaw, my ear. And the muscles covering my skull on the left side of my head—the ones I used to use to wiggle my ears—are just tiny over-dramatic knots. When my head hits the pillow, they signal to my brain that someone’s digging around in an open wound.
Because I hate to leave things on a completely negative note: I bought the Bedknobs & Broomsticks Blu-Ray with an Amazon gift card the other day. It is supposed to arrive today, and once it gets here I am going to watch it on repeat until I fall asleep.
Last week my parents were here to help us clean and organize.
That’s because I came home after completing daily radiation therapy in April, and there were still things I hadn’t found a place for. My home office was the catch-all for anything I couldn’t deal with—meaning the floor was entirely covered with laundry baskets full of clothes, books, gifts, papers, and furniture.
Sure, it was annoying walking by that room and seeing the chaos, but it was also a hazard. I don’t exactly get around well on my feet when there aren’t a billion obstacles in my way.
Anyway, my parents (a.k.a. the best parents in the world) helped us clean, mow, fix my Kitchen Aid mixer, and more—all while my mom is dealing with her own sidelining medical problems.
In October, the plan is to have a garage sale as a way to finish de-cluttering and fund-raise for ourselves. If you’re in the area and want to see what we’ve got for sale, watch my Facebook page for an announcement. If you’re not in the area but want to help, you can contribute to my YouCaring campaign or buy from our Amazon wishlist (items automatically ship to our address when you buy).
It’s been so long since I’ve posted here. I feel like I should give a health update. Truth is, there’s not much to tell. I spend a lot of time sleeping. The first week after a chemo treatment, I’m exhausted and tired.
But there’s also the issue of my tapering off of dexamethasone again. I’m down to one half-milligram dose daily. It makes me so lethargic and all of my muscles are achy and sore. Not just major muscle groups like quads and hamstrings and biceps and triceps, but the muscles in my cheeks and hands and toes.
My oncologist says I’m on such a low dose of dex that he doesn’t see how it can be affecting me so dramatically. This is the story of my life, people. Medicines that barely affect most patients will potentially melt me from the inside out. It’s a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, if I take a half dose of Benadryl, I will sleep for a week. On the other hand, medical cannabis works so well on me that I only have to visit the dispensary every six weeks or so.
Anyway, coming off of the steroid is not fun, but I am more confident that I will actually be able to quit taking the dexamethasone entirely in a few more weeks. That will hopefully lead to much needed weight loss and help me scratch steroid-induced diabetes off my list of things to worry about.
It’s been about 72 hours since my first dose of gleostine, and I wanted to let you know how things are going.
No Puking, Hooray!
Although I was awash in waves of queasiness for the first 36 hours or so, my stomach never gave up the goods. (Thanks, Zofran. Thanks, medical cannabis.)
This is particularly encouraging because I’m also just a few days into another dexamethasone taper, and I learned at the oncologists’s last month that dex is sometimes prescribed as an anti-nausea med. So it could’ve been a double-whammy. But it wasn’t. I am grateful.
So Much Fatigue
The most severe side effect I’ve experienced is a crushing fatigue. It surpasses any fatigue I’ve experienced to date and feels like my legs and arms are encumbered with cast iron while I try to wade through peanut butter.
The good news is that it seems I’ve reached peak fatigue already, and I’m starting to get some energy back. The new sativa strain I vape during the day actually gives me a little boost of energy, but it’s not powerful enough to completely counteract the chemo.
We celebrate tiny miracles in this household though. Usually with food.
Gearing Up to Say Goodbye to My Eyebrows
I rubbed my eyes today, and noticed a disconcerting number of eyebrow hairs just fall out. I have no idea if this will be limited to eyebrows or if I’ll start losing the hair on my head too.
And I was just bragging yesterday about how I was going for an Anne Burrell-inspired hairdo as my hair had been growing really well the past couple of weeks.
No Allergic Reaction
The absolute best news is that I’m able to tolerate the gleostine. Having a few extra weeks of treatment made it possible for me to enjoy some outdoor time and play Just Dance, but I was getting itchy about doing something to proactively target the brain tumor.
True story: There’s a medium-security federal prison on I-70 in Greenville, Illinois. You can see it from Interstate 70. You can also see a sign situated in front of it that reads “If you lived in Greenville, you’d be home by now.”
“Oh my God, Dan. Did you see that?” I asked through my laughter. “Who puts a ‘you’d be home by now’ sign in front of a federal prison?”
“Why, the great citizens of Greenville, Illinois, I do reckon.”
“It makes me wonder if someone has the best sense of humor ever or if someone is uncommonly oblivious.” And then I paused reflectively for a second. “Doesn’t matter I guess. I can’t decide which would be funnier.”
We were on our way to St. Louis to see my doctor about my brain tumor, a Grade 2 astrocytoma nestled all up in my brain stem.
I had a full day of doctor things at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. It started off with an MRI. Then I had labs done to check my counts and make sure I was in good shape to start back up on chemotherapy, and then I had a visit with my neuro-oncologist.
The nurse who installed my IV for the MRI contrast immediately made my day. “Are you going to have other labs at the 7th floor location? If so, I can leave this IV in, and the nurses there can use it to draw blood. One stick today.”
“YASSSSSS!” I cheered. I’m a hard stick now that I’m a cancer patient. Like, my-veins-are-sentient-and-burrow-into-my-bone-marrow-at-the-scent-of-an-alcohol-swab kind of hard stick.
When it was time for the draw, the IV wouldn’t give up the goods though. In all, they stuck me five times yesterday. And that just sort of scratches the surface of the list of Things That Were Hard About Yesterday™.
My MRI appointment didn’t show up in my patient portal thingy, so I went to the wrong location. We had to walk to another zip code to get to the right place. And the sign-in process there was senseless. Requiring bouncing around on three different floors. I don’t know if y’all remember this, but walking is hard for me.
I managed to get it done without a wheelchair because I’m stubborn and had my rollator. (My legs cramped up all night long. Today I can hardly stand up and there’s a spot on my to-do list in all caps “APPLY MAGNESIUM LOTION AND SIT IN YOUR DAMN RECLINER ALL DAY.”)
The MRI itself was the best one yet. “Imagine” played on the headphones while the magnets jiggled the table and lulled me into a relaxing sleep. When I wasn’t dozing in the Skinny Tube of Loud and Screechy Noises, I was able to keep my eyes open. I am officially over all MRI fears.
Die in a tire fire, claustrophobia.
Despite an extremely draining six outpatient hours at the hospital, I feel good about the outcome. The MRI told the doctors that my brain tumor is still stable—a comfort considering any active treatments were postponed while we waited to figure out what was happening with the Temodar.
According to the nurse, my blood counts were “beautiful” following my treatment hiatus, meaning I’m in a good spot to resume treatment.
I don’t have to go back on the Temodar!
My doctor has prescribed a new chemotherapy pill, and this is one of those rare cases where “the evil that you know is better than the evil that you don’t know” just does not apply.
When my doctor said, “We’re very concerned about what happened to you on the Temodar,” I was so relieved.
My doctors are still listening to me and they are concerned about my quality of life. They care about me as a whole human person. I’m not just a tumor incubator with the potential to land them on the cover of Brain Tumor Slayers Monthly.
So here’s the plan:
- My new chemotherapy is still a pill that I can take at home. No infusions.
- The name of the medicine is gleostine (also called lomustine, Ceenu).
- I take it for one day and have six weeks off, as opposed to the five-day regimen for Temodar.
- Fatigue seems to be a certainty as far as side effects go.
- One dose of chemotherapy costs $110. (That’s in addition to my monthly premium of $350 for health insurance, so here’s where I plug my YouCaring fundraiser page again.)
- I will resume weekly labs to make sure my blood counts are good, or at least passable, but I can do them here in Urbana.
- My doctor gave me a new script for PT/OT. I have to check with insurance to see if I can even afford it. But I’m hoping it will be possible and that it will help me get over some pain and numbness that’s overtaking the left side of my body lately.
- My dexamethasone dosage is being reduced from 2 mg daily to 1 mg daily. (Fingers crossed, I can stay active but a little less hungry on this dosage. I gained another 10 pounds since my last doc visit.)
I used knives this week—and I mean ones for cutting, not just buttering. I sliced tomatoes for a couple of turkey sandwiches and then on a couple of other occasions I cut fresh strawberries.
Two things make this accomplishment noteworthy:
- Kitchen prep requires standing and balancing at the counter with BOTH ARMS FREE.
- Wielding a knife while standing and balancing at the counter requires a certain amount of confidence in my ability to perform a task while working with something sharp and stabby.
Assuming that my brain tumor is still unchanged since the last MRI, I pretty much give all credit for my dexterity and standing-up strength (however little of it there might currently be) to the dexamethasone.
My chemo doctor has given me another 30-day prescription for the dex. He’s also requested that I have another MRI. It’s just that time again; there’s nothing troublesome that’s forcing the issue. So I’ll be doing the MRI thing again on July 26.