Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Plunge

(written by Jen Kwiatek)

My sweet baby girl, I wouldn't wish cancer on my worst enemy, let alone on one of my best friends. You have an amazing medical team, a support system that blows my mind, people following your journey from nine different countries, yet there is nothing I can do to fix this. I can't fix this. It pains me in ways I am unable to put into words. All I can do is share my journey to help you be as prepared as possible and reassure you that I will fight alongside you until you are cancer-free.

(Let me wipe my eyes and clear my throat. Ahem. Now I can continue.)

Tomorrow is the plunge ... your first day of chemotherapy. There is nothing I can say or do to prepare you for it. Other than to share some of my experience with you. (You might remember quite a bit from being there with me during my treatments.)

I know one of your friends told you that you are like Lara Croft. I LOVE THIS ANALOGY!!! I think there is no better visual. Embody that concept. You are a warrior. Cancer has come into your home and is threatening the life that you have with Christian and Camilla. It's time to put on your kickass boots, rally your friends, put on your war paint and go to battle. It's time to stop this cancer in it's tracks and kill it. BELIEVE. 

The first 1/2 hour to hour of chemo is incredibly annoying. It's a lot of waiting. They will hook you up (access the port in your chest), which you shouldn't feel. Although the first couple of times I was hooked up was uncomfortable (sore) because my body was still healing from the Mediport surgery. (But as we know, my surgery did not go as smoothly as yours did. I think it was due to Michael Jackson's milk.) So it could ache when they insert the needle and you will feel pressure when they push. The sensation of the port connecting is similar to pulling a cork out of a wine bottle ... kind of a suction-feeling. It's weird to say the least. It feels the same when they remove it at the end of chemo.

Then they will take blood and run it at the lab. They have to run your blood work prior to administering any medicine each time. So you will sit and wait 15-20 minutes depending on how long the lab takes. (This is typically when I would read gossip magazines and do word searches to minimize my anxiety.) They will print out your blood work and give it to you (this way you can chart your counts week-over-week, Mrs. Google). They will flush your tube into your port several times because it has to be cleaned before and after each medicine and blood draw. You might taste/smell the saline flush. Again, it's a very weird feeling, typically cold. (To this day, I cannot stand the smell or taste of saline.)

Once you have the green light on your blood work, they may give you more preventative drugs through the IV prior to chemotherapy. More flushing. Then chemo starts. The best thing is, you won't feel any different at all. Life is normal, except you are hooked to a bag of fluid ... oh, and other than being super healthy, you have cancer. It is all surreal. I would continuously eat and drink to clear the taste/smell from my nose and mouth. It will be metallic in flavor, like you are sucking on a nickel, especially with the Taxotere. Carboplatin doesn't taste or feel like anything, in my opinion.

Jenn, you have to stay focused on how your body is feeling. Several times I got itchy, my chest got tight and my skin was hot. THIS IS AN ALLERGIC REACTION. You might get it one time and not another, but you need to tell the nurse immediately. It is imperative to listen to your body's signals. It will not prevent chemo; they might just slow down the drip or give you some Benadryl. Be honest with your nurse. Promise me that.

By the end of chemotherapy you will still feel the same as you do right this very instant. You will ponder, "Is it actually working? I don't feel any different." (Just like you did with the Xanax.) This is when your meditations/yoga with Kelli, acupuncture and visualization come into play. Remember, mind over matter. You have to keep your mind focused and positive -- completely self consumed. You might be tired from the anxiety of the day and sitting in a recliner for three and a half to four hours. Listen to your body. Go home and take an hour nap if you need to recharge. Remember, if people come by to drop off food and want to see you, you do NOT need to be the good host. People will understand and respect the fact that you need to rest, or spend time with Camilla, etc. This will also keep your environment germ-free since your immune system will be depleted. I know you're a big girl, but I am telling you this because I love you and I have pushed myself too far before and gotten sick during treatment. Again, listen and trust your body. Your friends will understand.

You will have good days and bad days (primarily due to the Taxotere). My bad days were always day 3 and 7. I also had bad chemos and good chemos. The drugs should build over time and toward the end you might be more rundown, but that's not always the case. Every body is different.

Now, the topic I know you don't want to talk about. You can expect your hair to be gone in 14 days. On about day 11 or 12, your scalp will hurt and your hair might start thinning (since you have so much of it, like I do). Your scalp will feel like you have slept in a tight ponytail for a month while wearing a headband. No one tells you this, but your head is going to hurt like hell while the hair follicles die at the root. It sucks ... one of the worst things about chemo. And it comes out patchy, so it's super attractive. You will want your hair gone. I know we are planning to shave it on the 19th, but if you wake up one morning and you can't stand it anymore (which is what happened to me), call me and I will come over. We will do it together. It is surreal, but it is also empowering to remove your hair before chemo does. It made me feel like I had control. (There are some things you can't unsee. To this day if I shampoo my hair and see a lot of it shed on the floor of my shower it can throw me into a panic attack. It's OK. Stay in that moment and feel those feelings. It's important to help you heal as you move through your journey.)

I love you with all my heart and you are going to do great tomorrow. Until you find your own quote, I am going to loan you mine:

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." -Albert Camus


  1. Dear Jenn, You are such an empowering inspiration to me. I am a level 2 nursing student in Professor Shroade's class. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers as you go through this battle. Lean on your faith, your family, your friends and Fight like a girl and kick this cancer's ass. xoxo

  2. Jennifer, I wish I had the perfect thing to say but words escape me. Healing prayers are sent up for you multiple times a day. Tomorrow is the day you get to take action and the first day to kicking cancer's butt!!! I will be thinking of you. Sending you a huge hug!!!!

  3. That was beautiful, Jen. You are an angel! She will be in my prayers as you were, everyday, always! This letter really touched my heart!

  4. Jenn,
    I will be thinking about you tomorrow as you start your road to butt kicking the C.

  5. Great post....we are fighting with you Jen....keep strong.

  6. Aloha Jen and Jenn

    You gals do not know me, came across your blog on Kim Britner Facebook page and was drawn to the 2 of you because I am a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed March 18 of 2011. Hard to believe that it has been a year ago -Feb 20- that I found my tumor. Time just stood still... I know the anxiety, frustration, anger, fear that I felt waiting for test results, anticipating chemo... all of the above. I think that once you have all the details in front of you, that is when you put on your big girl panties and go into kicking cancer ass mode. It is doable, I found my strength in friends and family, and just having hope and believing that you will be alright. You have a lot to live for girl!
    I have been having all my treatments in HI, originally I am from WV, but was here on job contract when found the tumor. I was on the same regime, taxotere and carboplatin for 6 treatments/ every 3 weeks, was also on herceptin 1 year and tamoxifin for 5. You just have to put your faith in your healthcare team, they sound like they are the best!
    When I had chemo a gal i came across recommended ginger snaps/ ginger ale during chemo to help with nausea- helped me :) Also I have a great link to a neutropenic diet, if interested. My 7-10 day window after chemo my WBC counts -neutrophils- plummeted. This diet just gives you a heads up on food to avoid if you have the same problem. If interested forward me your email. Mine is ptskc1979@yahoo.com.
    I will end on a quote that got me through.. "happiness is reminiscing about yesterday, looking forward to tomorrow and enjoying today completely."
    I have always been a glass half full gal, but nothing will be more of a reality check then the words "you have cancer." You can do this girl! Will be thinking of you tomorrow! Think of it as a jugular cocktail! mimosas anyone! ?
    goodluck to you
    Sarah Crowell

  7. Jenn I know we are not super close but I am praying my loudest prayer for you!! ♥

    That was a very motivational blog, thank you for sharing it with us! Praying all goes well! Let's kick some cancer ass!

  8. Jen, you are such an amazing lady! So thankful that Jenn has you there for her. Her support system just has me in awe.

  9. Kwiatek:

    We met once at Jenn's baby shower. I just wanted to leave a comment for Jenn's biggest supporter. This message was particularly powerful because it gave Jenn the power of knowledge. Now she has gone into "The Plunge" knowing what to expect to feel. Talk about mind over matter! You're such a wonderful friend. Thank you for being there for Jenn. One of the main blessings I keep hearing from Jenn is how thankful she is that she does not have to go through this alone. You've not only been there for her but you've empowered her! Keep it up, sister! ;)


    1. Kate, thank you for your kind words. I know I wish someone would have been there to tell me what to expect and how I would feel. I think it would have alleviated some of the anxiety I experienced. Jenn and I have always been close, but now our lived are forever intertwined.

  10. if you need help with the head shaving, i've got that experience :-) jen and i had a grand ole' time. well written jen. Jenn's a lucky one!