Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Toxic Woman

I am so pooped! It makes me wonder just how toxic I am? While there's never a good time to get breast cancer, women diagnosed today tend to have less debilitating treatment experiences than women who were diagnosed 10 years ago. While one might assume the change is due to gentler therapies, chemotherapy for breast cancer, for example, has actually gotten more aggressive. Chemotherapy, of all cancer treatment, is most feared for its toxicity, and the most disabling side effect has traditionally been nausea and vomiting. The experience is so ingrained that some women who have undergone chemotherapy recall anticipating nausea or gagging at the sight of the hospital where they received their chemo, or even at the sight of their oncology nurse. (How true! Just walking into the "chemo ward" sets me off!) Today, however, new medications have made such difficult experiences increasingly usual. New serotonin-based anti-nausea drugs have revolutionized oncology making vomiting rare and nausea less common among women being treated for breast cancer.
Chemo-related fatigue is also often better managed today, though women are still likely to be more tired than usual. "Women need to pace themselves and prioritize their time," says Jean M. Lynn, MPH, an oncology-certified nurse and director of the Breast Care Center at George Washington University in Washington, DC. "I always look at breast cancer as a part-time job for six months. You can't continue doing everything else you were doing. If you try to do everything, you'll just crash." Maybe, just maybe, that's what I'm experiencing?
Just as every woman's breast cancer is different, women's treatment experiences will vary. Some women have no side effects, some have one or two, and other women have all of them. I, of course, must experience them all! And some women have them bad and some women have them mild, and you don't know until you've started. While some women will be more affected by treatment than others, it's safe to say that many will be able to continue leading an active life during treatment. I was handling the experience well up until this last round. Perhaps I am now so toxic that it's finally caught up with me? I was so far ahead of the cancer that I was sure if I didn't stop moving, it wouldn't catch me. But now I'm thinking I was wrong! (How I hate being wrong!) I'm trying to decide if I even like the term "toxic". After all, "Toxic Woman" isn't exactly a great super-hero name! Maybe a good starching of my cape would help?

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