Cancer College

2014-05-29 19.03.22It has just been approximately a month and a half since my unexpected enrolment in C (Cancer) College  or CC for short. What an uphill learning curve!

In month one of this new college experience, I have learned the difference between the various types of breast cancer: Estrogen, Progesterone, Her2 and the winner in my case….Triple Negative. This ‘course’ also teaches what the staging letters T, N and M stand for in CC, and that the reference to stage in this school has nothing to do at all with acting. Furthermore, CAT scans are not anything which involves mi amiga, Cat – thank goodness for her. Through trial and error I’ve discovered that appointments which include bone scans – and anything else which makes me horizontal in a hospital for more than five minutes, are much less stressful when combined with Lorazepam.

I’ve read numerous articles for and against chemo and radiation therapies, as well as learning about multiple products available to help with nasty side effects of both chemo and radiation therapies. Some of these include: cold caps, mistletoe, IV Vitamin C, Maduka honey, magnesium, iodine, I could go on and on. By the end of each day, I’m typically on information overload –  as if I’ve been cramming for an exam! However, I’ve always felt that being well-informed is the only way in situations like this, so I’m learning to sort through what is important and what is not, so that I’m not continually overwhelmed. Besides, there has to be room for a few smiles, laughs and a  little enjoyment still!

In month two of CC I have graduated from newly diagnosed to post-surgical. I have thoroughly investigated insurance coveragewhich as we know, is a multi-billion dollar business, especially when it comes to the big C! Most private insurance plans cover a majority of costs involved with C. In fact, when prescribed by your physician, they even cover costs of wigs or head accessories; mastectomy bras; and prosthesis! Depending on your plan, they may also cover specific medications prescribed which support the chemo (which can cost as much as $3000 per injection); massage therapy, naturopathic visits and acupuncture – all with limits of course.

Regarding chemo therapy, I’ve learned that there are numerous different chemo cocktails, which are personalized depending what type and stage your C is. The number of rounds that you will receive of chemo depends on the type and aggressiveness of your cancer. The reaction each person has to their cocktail is very personal, ranging from working throughout treatment duration with no hair loss, to “wishing you were already dead”. Thus the best advice given has been: do not prejudge as to your own reaction, just wait and see. You have a choice of receiving your chemo via either a PICC Line or Portacath. A PICC is a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter, which is essentially an intravenous (IV) line that is inserted into a peripheral vein in your arm. It stays in for the length of time you will be receiving chemo – which in my case will be approximately 16 weeks. A Port (or Portacath®) is a type of central line that, like a PICC, has an intravenous line that goes to a major vessel near the heart. It is inserted via surgical procedure and is implanted underneath your skin near your heart. These are typically used for longer term patients than me, so it seems I may be sporting a PICC line as part of my summer fashion. The verdict is still out though, and I need to make my mind up quickly, as it does require scheduling a minor surgery to have it implanted. It will be interesting to see how many scars and tattoos I will have on my body by the end of this process.

In addition to the Bone Scan and CAT scans, which were part of the introductory course, month two brings a MUGA scan (MUltiple Gated Acquisition scan). This scan creates video images of the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart) to ensure they are pumping blood properly. During this scan you are injected with yet more radioactive materials, which make it easier to see how the blood is flowing through your veins as you lie on a cold table in a sterile room. This one awaits me in a couple of days, and yes, my Lorazepam is ready ;-).

The entire C path can be very de-humanizing really and very daunting if you let it. Having (what can be gender-defining) parts of your body removed, then losing every hair on your body….hmmm. It can be very challenging just figuring out how to dress to go out in public! Independence during all of this may not, and most likely will not be, an option. So the bottom line is: sit back, enjoy being helped, pampered, spoiled and live (not just get through) each day at a time! Make no expectations – just have gratitude for all of the wonderful things around you :-). Thus, my Gratitude Journal continues to fill.

About denisemacdonald

I am a Canadian entrepreneur who has been spending the majority of my time between Canada and Panama, Central America. Living oceanfront, I am an 'investment consultant', predominantly in the area of real estate in the beaches areas. Photography is my hobby. In April, 2014 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I will be sharing my journey here on these 'pages'. If you would like to learn more about "Triple Negative" breast cancer, please click onto
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4 Responses to Cancer College

  1. Cheryl Newell says:

    Dearest Denise, your blogs are beautifully written and we can feel your sense of humor. It is going to be a great healer for you continuing to keep up the blog.FYI, the port is an easy operation. and really lets you get wet for showers or dipping in a pool.For me it was the gold standard. When you are getting your chemo everyone else looks like you do so no worries about eye brows etc.Wigs are hot and sticky but a beautiful scarf can do wonders if you lose some hair. Just think ,no shaving. A word of advice for chemo days, wear shoes and socks , pants, and take a sweater. Most patients carry a bag full of extras . Bring a snack, it is a long day although they do serve cookies. They keep the room very cold ,even Brian was wrapped up in a blanket.
    As far as after effects, you may not have any, some people actually sail through treatment. just keep up your food intake and vitamins, drink lots of water even if it has chrystal light in it. It is a miserable disease but if you follow the rules you will be okay .Could you send us your address?
    Brian and Cheryl

  2. John July says:

    I too really enjoy your candidness combined with the humor. You are paving a path for those who may find themselves in that situation. What a wonderful gift you’ve given us. 🙂

    • Thank you John :-). I was surprised to learn that not too many people have really ‘put it out there’, and hesitated to do so at first. But the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and both the writing, sharing and feedback are all very therapeutic for me – so ALL good, all the way around :-). Hugs to you!

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