Chemo Infusion and Aftermath, 12-3-22

As you probably know I started chemotherapy on Tuesday, November 8th, to try to address my cancer. When Wilson, my tumor, and his offspring first showed up, I told myself I would NOT go through chemo or radiation to deal with them (as I had years ago when I had chemo for breast cancer) because I didn’t want to spend months having the treatment take over my life – with no guarantee that it would accomplish anything. My oncologist, however, kind of talked me into chemo saying it was much different these days than it was when I had it before, so I decided to give it a try.  It  WAS very different from the previous chemo I’d been through, but not in a good way.

I was signed up for 6 infusions of Taxol and Carboplatin, each infusion about 3 weeks apart, with lab tests within 24 to 48 hours of each infusion. Well, I sat for the FIVE HOURS of the first infusion on the 8th, and had taken a buttload of anti-nausea medication beforehand, so the infusion process itself wasn’t bad (although the drip for the second chemical of the cocktail was set so fast it made my hand swell and ache for days afterwards.)

I felt okay for the rest of that day, and really didn’t have much of a reaction on the day after that, so I thought I would be able to tolerate the future infusions. Wrong.

On the 10th, I awoke to lower back pain, and around lunchtime was hit with myalgia pain that struck every muscle in my body. It was like everything had tightened into one big knot of pain. I literally couldn’t move my thighs much at all, so walking was nearly impossible.  The pain persisted throughout the night, so I got no sleep, and then continued through the next day.

I emailed my infusion doctor, and asked if my symptoms were “normal” for a first infusion. He didn’t really answer the question, but said I was probably just “sensitive” to the Taxol. I asked him if he could lessen the amount of Taxol I was given over my protocol, and he said, no. The only alternative would be to come in every day for smaller infusions… which would mean a drive of 30-minutes each way to the infusion center every day, AND lab work every day. Well, I thought that was ridiculous. I wasn’t going to let the infusions take over like that, disrupting not only my life but my sister’s, too. (I also didn’t understand why a cocktail of different chemicals couldn’t be used.) I’d just try to see if I could tough it out, I thought.

Over the next few weeks, the myalgia pain dissipated, but I was then faced with every other symptom known to chemo-dom: vomiting, diarrhea, breathlessness (I couldn’t walk from one end of the kitchen to the next without being out of breath), bone pain along my shins, restless leg syndrome (on a few nights), and vertigo.  I couldn’t catch a break. Keep in mind, this was after just the first infusion. When I had chemo before (in 2003), I didn’t have these problems until near the END of the entire protocol as the poisons built up in my system.  I was shocked by how brutal this was.

On the 16th, I had a Zoom meeting with a social worker and doctor in Kaiser’s palliative care division. They kept trying to tell me I’d get through it, and they’d figure out a pain management system for me, but they wanted me to keep my infusion schedule. They were very nice about it, but I sort of felt as though I wasn’t being listened to or taken very seriously.  I cried through most of the appointment.

Since then, the diarrhea and vertigo persisted, which meant I couldn’t walk or drive anywhere by myself, so I couldn’t get out into nature, and most days it was difficult to get out of bed.

Being so sick in so many different ways had just sucked the joy out of every single day. By the 22nd, I’d had enough. 

I cancelled all of my doctor’s appointments and infusion dates, and only kept the appointment for lab work on the books. As soon as the cancellations started showing up at Kaiser, I started getting phone calls. The assistant from the infusion doctor’s office wanted to know if I wanted to keep that appointment, but do it virtually, so he’d know what was going on with me. I told her, no, I was composing an email message for him, but I needed to gather my thoughts first. She asked me the same question three more times, using different verbiage… which once again made me feel as though I was not being listened to or taken seriously. No means no.

I then got a call from one of the nurse practitioners at the infusion center, wanting to know what was going on. I told her what I’d been going through, and reiterated the laundry-list of persistent symptoms I was having… and she said, “A lot of that sounds like you’re extremely dehydrated.”  And, yes! That made sense to me. Finally, someone who listened to me and offered me some useful guidelines to work with. 

She wanted me to drive in to the infusion center or go to the nearest ER to get some extra fluids to jump-start my body, but I wasn’t going to do that, so I opted instead to focus on forcing fluids myself, and ordered some Gatorade to get some extra electrolytes. She also suggested I get some Imodium to see if that couldn’t squelch the diarrhea. So, I ordered the Imodium along with some packets of electrolytes that I can add to my water bottles and had them delivered to the house.

Oh, and a new symptom showed up around Thanksgiving. While we were eating breakfast, I felt something fall onto my shoulder. I checked to see what it was, and it was my hair.  My hair didn’t fall out during my last chemo until about halfway through the protocol; I certainly wasn’t expecting it after just an initial infusion this time around.  It made my sister wonder aloud if they’d given me way too much of the drugs. I worried about the same thing. My eyelashes have also fallen out and I expect my eyebrows will follow suit.

I believe my hearing and eyesight have also been affected by the infusion, but the persistent vertigo is the next big hurdle to overcome; I can’t do much of anything on my own outside of the house until that’s controlled, or at least goes down to a dull roar. I’m not sure how to do that, so I have an appointment with my GP on December 13th to discuss it.

All of this being said, I’m glad I stopped all of the other infusions, and won’t be subjecting my body to any further plant-based or heavy metal poisonings.  And I’m looking forward to feeling better, reinstating my joy, and being more of a help to my sister as things move forward. 

Hopefully, too, the next post will be a happier one outside in nature.

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In Agony at Effie, 10-19-22

I wanted to go for a walk again after being “down” because of leg pain, but was actually in a lot of pain even as I headed out to Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again. I chose that location because it’s close and I know all of the trails there – and where the benches are. Despite that, I barely made a single loop of the main trail, the nerve pain in my left leg was so horrific.

I had to sit wherever I could and got to the point where I was shaking and sweating, and felt like I was going to faint. I leaned over on one of the trail signs — and vomited. Then I stayed there, hanging onto the sign until I felt I could walk a little further. I made it to the picnic tables in front of the nature center, but was feeling pretty fragile. Fainting can wreak havoc on my blood sugar level, so I found one of my glucose tablets in my bag and sat at the table for about 15 minutes until I felt the fainting symptoms resolve.  Then it took me several minutes more to get myself up and over to the car in the parking lot. Gad!

Despite the agony, I DID get to see several deer, including a 4-point buck. There was one group that included the 4-pointer, some younger spike bucks, a single doe, and another doe with a fawn. The big buck followed the females, sniffing the air, to see if they were in season yet. Neither one seemed interested in him and just focused on eating.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Later, one of the spike bucks challenged the 4-pointer. It was a hugely unbalanced fight; the 4-pointer was physically larger than the younger bucks, and had a more deadly rack of antlers. It looked to me like the 4-pointer was playing with the smaller buck; they fake-jousted for a few minutes, then ran back and forth chasing one another. Buck zoomies!

I don’t use my left leg to drive, so I was able to get back to the house without too much difficulty. Still, I spent the rest of the day in bed. I just can’t seem to get ahead of the pain…It’s so frustrating.

As an aside:

Just FYI. Because the cancer is rearing its head again, and I have a calendar full of doctor’s appointments, chemo classes and lab work, it may be a while before I post again…and posts may be fewer and far between. I’m still around — unless you hear otherwise — just not at my laptop or in the field.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  3. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  4. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus

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River Bend, 10-12-22

I got up around 7:00 AM, and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk. Thankfully, my left leg was relatively quiet and cooperative, and I didn’t feel the nerve pain creep back in until I was in the car on my way back home.

I saw a pair of does along the side of the road as soon as I drove in. Then further along I saw some large bucks, 3-pointers, but trying to get them to lift their heads so I could get a clear shot of their racks was pretty much impossible. Further along still, I found two young spike bucks. One of them was just starting to rub the velvet off his antlers. It’s nice to see them all up and about.

I also saw a couple of wild turkey parades going across the road. And there were a few jackrabbits hiding in the grass.

The first sulphur shelf specimen I came across was one that had been hacked away from the tree, just leaving the white butt behind.  Elsewhere, though, there were some very robust and brightly colored specimens. There were also a couple of small ones, about the size of your palm, that looked like shells. So pretty.

I was trying to keep a look out for migratory warblers, but didn’t fine any of them. I did find other birds, however. On the top of one of the cottonwood trees there was a small flock of Cedar Waxwings. In the river there were Mallards, Canada Geese, Common Mergansers, gulls… but no migratory birds.  One the “resting rocks” in the water there were a Canada Goose, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Double Crested Cormorant sunning itself in the morning light, a Great Blue Heron and a Green Heron.  Wow!

I saw a small flock of Mourning Doves on the ground doing a display I’d never seen before. One or more of the birds would raise one wing straight up as though trying to shoo away another bird near them. Cornell says: “…Defensive-threat Display. Immature and adult birds crouch, tuck in neck, and orient head toward intruder; then erect plumage, lift and spread wing farthest from threat toward vertical, and spread tail in direction of threat. Usually occurs while defending nest or food source…”            

It looked so odd! I got a little video snippet of it. Later, I saw some of the doves drinking water from the horse trough.

I found my first Alder Tongue Gall of the season; and also found a bud gall on what I think was some kind of rabbitbush or something. I walked for about 2½ hours and then headed home.

Alder Tongue Gall

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Alder Tongue, Western American Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina occidentalis
  3. Alder, White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  6. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  9. Cedar Waxwing, Bombycilla cedrorum
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  11. Common Merganser, American Common Merganser, Mergus merganser americanus
  12. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  13. Desert Stink Beetle, Eleodes acuticauda
  14. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
  15. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger [rusty belly]
  16. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  17. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  18. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  19. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  20. Gull, Larus sp.
  21. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  22. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  23. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  24. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  25. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  26. Oaks, Quercus sp.
  27. Ochre Spreading Tooth Fungus, Steccherinum ochraceum
  28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
  29. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  30. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  31. Speckled Greenshield Lichen, Flavopunctelia flaventior
  32. Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  33. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  34. Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  35. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  36. Whitewash Lichen, Phlyctis argena
  37. Wormwoods and Sagebrushes, Artemisia sp.

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The Sulphur Shelf have been Activated, 09-29-22

I got up around 6:00 this morning and, after feeding Esteban his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It had been a while since I’d been there and I was hoping to see some deer. I walked down the main trail to the Meadow Trail and then around to the Pond Trail and back toward the nature center. It was a cool and breezy morning; perfect for a walk.

I saw some deer when I first got into the preserve – mostly does and yearlings; none of the big boys. And I saw one young spike buck, but after that it was slim pickings as far as the deer went.

I was surprised about halfway through my hike, though, by a pretty female fawn who stepped briefly out from the cover of the forest to get a look at me. She even tentatively stomped her tiny hoof at me. OMG, she was sooooo darling. I was able to get a short video snippet and a few still shots of her before she ran off back into the brush.

How beautiful is she? Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

Another nice surprise was to see how many of the larger Sulphur Shelf fungi had sprouted out since the rain of last week. The Sulphur Shelf don’t need a lot of rain to get them “activated”; in fact, they don’t like it when it’s real wet outside. They are the harbingers of the fungus season, though; usually the first fungi we see each year. I saw quite a few very large, very brightly colored specimens (along with a few that were already fading). I’d come around a bend in the trail, and there would be another specimen. When they’re new and young, as most of these were, they’re absolutely gorgeous: brilliant orange and yellow. 

California has two species of Sulphur Shelf: Laetiporus gilbertsonii, which grows on hardwood trees and stumps including oaks and eucalyptus trees, and Laetiporus conifericola which grows on conifer trees. Laetiporus gilbertsonii, also called “Chicken of the Forest” is edible when it’s young, but Laetiporus conifericola really isn’t because it pulls in the pine tar taste from the trees.

According to Mykoweb: “…Edible with caution. Prized by many, this species is also known to occasionally cause gastrointestinal upsets. This appears to be caused by eating old and/or insufficiently cooked specimens. If you decide to try it, eat only the young, fresh, growing margins, in small quantities, and cook it thoroughly…”

On some of the specimens, I could see examples of “guttation”, droplets of moisture exuded from the fungus as it grows. The droplets on Sulphur Shelf are clear, like tears, but on other fungi they can be orange, red or even black.

An example of “guttation” of the Sulphur Shelf Fungus.

“…Transpiration and guttation are the two important process of removal of excess water from the plants. However, the two processes are different from each other. Transpiration is the removal of water from the stomata [minute pores in the surface of the epidermis] present on the leaves. On the contrary, guttation is the process of removal of water from the hydathodes [pores along the margins]…” 

I was also happy to see a lot of bee activity in the “bee tree”.  This is one of two natural bee hives in the preserve.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

This was hike #52 (!)in my #52HikeChallenge for the year. Woot! I got the 52 hikes done in 39 weeks. Go me!

Species List:

  1. Bee, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  4. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  5. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  6. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  7. Dragonfly, Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  8. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger [rusty belly]
  9. Fly. Flower-Loving Fly, Apiocera sp.
  10. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  11. Moss, Crisped Pincushion, Ulota crispa
  12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  13. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  14. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  15. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  16. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  17. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  18. Primrose, Tall Evening Primrose, Oenothera elata
  19. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
  20. Snowberry, Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  21. Towhee, California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  22. Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  23. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  24. Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  25. ?? Spider egg case

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Travels of a Certified California Naturalist

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