The reality of cancer is not pretty.
I’ve said it before. I have had a fairly easy time with the drugs that I’ve been prescribed to keep my cancer at bay. From seven years of successful treatment on one drug to three years of successful treatment on another. Neither of which caused me difficult side effects.
But the past month and a half have reminded me that it really isn’t always that easy.
You may remember in late February I received the news that there was more progression in my bones. The first weekend in March I ended up in the hospital only to discover I had 2 broken vertebrae that were causing excruciating pain. After being released, I started on my first infusion of what is currently being hailed as the next big drug for breast cancer, Enhertu.
Between the pain in my spine from the broken vertebrae and the side effects of the new drug (nausea, vomiting, headache, loss of appetite, fatigue/exhaustion) I was not sure what I had signed up for.
After the first infusion, I had a procedure to insert a port-a-cath (a device to make it easier to receive drugs instead of having an IV every time I receive the treatment). Followed by a second procedure, Kyphoplasty, to repair the broken vertebrae.
The second infusion did not go much better as far as the side effects. In fact, I think it was worse than the first one. More nausea, vomiting, fatigue, exhaustion, etc. In fact, I even had to have a blood transfusion because my hemoglobin was extremely low.
Second trip to Emergency Room this year
Last week I noticed that my breathing was labored after just walking to the kitchen from my bedroom. I also had a slight cough when I couldn’t quite catch my breath. On Friday, I went to the doctor with these symptoms and was immediately sent to the Emergency Room.
A common risk associated with Enhertu is pneumonitis. After a CT in the ER, unfortunately, the ER doctor and the hospitalist thought it was pneumonia. I argued with them and tried to show them the documentation I had brought with me from my oncologist’s office. They would not be swayed and told me they looked the same on a CT and started me on a regimen of antibiotics to treat pneumonia. They told me they were admitting me and instead of sending me, a stage IV breast cancer patient, to the cancer ward, they admitted me to the pulmonology floor.
I got to my room at 10 PM Friday night. Saturday morning the hospitalist came by to see me and again I asked about the pneumonitis. He said he would defer to the on-call oncologist and input from the pulmonologist.
It was late afternoon, about 3 PM before the oncologist came by. By this time I was exhausted and frustrated. I had several doses of IV antibiotics, but still no steroids to combat the true underlying cause of my issues.
It wasn’t until midnight Saturday I finally received a dose of steroids. Not because pulmonology came by and agreed, but because the on-call oncologist had to push the orders through. I received a second dose of steroids Sunday morning.
By Sunday at lunch, I was ready to go home. The steroids were making me feel much better and I was even up walking the halls, just waiting for the doctor to sign the papers for me to go home.
Let me say, the breathing issues were less frustrating than trying to get all of the doctors necessary to sign off on my release. They were determined to keep me another day, I was determined to get out of there as soon as possible. A hospital is no place to get rest, and rest was exactly what I needed.
OK, Rant over regarding the hospital.
Monday I was supposed to receive my 3rd Enhertu infusion. However, due to pneumonitis, that option is off the table now. I am still taking steroids to make sure my lungs are clear.
Scans will be scheduled soon before a new treatment is started. Right now I am just trying to wrap my head around all that has happened in the past two months since learning about the progression. Once the steroids have run their course, and we are sure the pneumonitis is cleared up, I will start a new treatment. Hopefully, one that is less harsh than the Enhertu.
I will keep you posted. But until then, I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all of the friends that have gone above and beyond to help me through these past 2 months, including watching my sweet dog Guin, rides to appointments, food deliveries, grocery pickups, a well-timed visit to lift my spirits, and prayers.