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My Body Says NO to Chemo

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

The dreaded day had finally arrived. July 23, 2019. I walked down the long skyway to the Taussig Cancer Center of the Cleveland Clinic-a path I never envisioned to be part of my life. A week before, I had been prepped of all the possible side effects of chemo: gum bleeding, mouth sores, nausea, vomiting, reduced immunity, constipation, fatigue, and the horrific list goes on.

It seemed counterintuitive to make the body sick in order to get well. I write more about that here.

In anticipation of losing my long hair, I had already cut it to a short bob. Watching huge clumps fall out would be devastating, and I wanted some control of what seemed to be my inevitable fate.

On the plus side, all the treatment rooms in the newly built Taussig Center were private with a shared bathroom and my own TV. This isn’t always the case in facilities where patients receive treatments in long lines of chairs. My friend Bill settled in with his computer next to the soaring windows reaching the ceiling.

We were going to be there for at least 3 hours. I had my Mother Mary picture inside my bag and prayed for her presence and protection that day. I was going to need tremendous strength and courage. I didn’t want chemotherapy, and because of my sensitivity to medications, I was terrified of allergic reactions. When they brought the IV treatment bags into the room, I started crying.

But the story gets better.

Two people were heaven-sent that day. The first angel was Jessica Chapman, a breast oncology social worker. Jessica would be part of my journey through all my visits, offering emotional & financial counseling and kind support. With her calm voice and demeanor, she guided me through my fear of treatment that day by reminding me that, rather than viewing the drug as the poison enemy that I believed it to be, it was were there to help. This calmed me down.

The second angel was my transfusion nurse. This lovely young woman in her 20’s had been drawn to her profession after losing her mother to cancer. She felt it was her way of giving back. She was fairly new to the treatment floor and was overseen by someone senior if a situation arose. Her instincts were solid and would prove to benefit me later that day.

My treatment started with allergy drugs/steroids, followed by the targeted drugs Herceptin and Perjeta. Due to my strong allergy concerns, Dr. Kruse had omitted from my treatment plan the chemo drug with the harshest side effects- Carboplatin. I was still left with one chemo drug, Taxotere.

Thankfully, I was able to get through each of the targeted treatments without any problems. I steeled myself for the Taxotere. When your infusion nurse suits up in protective gear, you know you’re dealing with toxic chemicals. She stood by me as the drip began. If there was to be an allergic reaction, it would be in the first 15 minutes. And she was right.

The Body Speaks

After about 10 minutes, I suddenly felt strange and had difficulty swallowing. She immediately stopped the IV and took my vitals. Everything read ok and she called her superior. The senior nurse whisked in and wanted to pump me with even more allergy drugs so I could continue on with the treatment.

I know she believed she was coming from the right place, but I felt pressured.This was the way it was done. I had to have this treatment. Thankfully we waited for the arrival of my oncologist, Dr. Kruse.

I was upset.

I explained to Dr. Kruse that forcing my body to take more Taxotere was not what it wanted. My body was saying "enough" to the treatment by fighting and rejecting it with an allergic reaction. I wanted to listen. It was then that I heard Dr Kruse's words that rang true to my soul: For now, I could do the targeted treatment (immunotherapy) alone if it proved to be working. She was comfortable with this decision since it was before surgery. We would do an ultrasound after three treatments to see how it was working.

The Great News!

To give you a sneak preview - after three treatments that ultrasound would show 2 tumors gone and the other 2 at 50% smaller. The lymph nodes- looking good! After six treatments, everything was GONE! Although I will never know for sure, I don't believe it was immunotherapy alone. I had incorporated a whole new diet & lifestyle with alternative practitioners and emotional release. And many were praying (including me!). I had given my body and spirit all the tools it needed to heal. As a current followup: In July of 2020, my scans were still clear.

A month later doing immunotherapy!

The Second Challenge

I left the clinic far happier than when I arrived. But now I had another obstacle to overcome: Bill. Stoic silence all the way home. It was obvious he was not pleased with my decision to forgo chemotherapy. The data showed a higher rate of reoccurrence with only taking the targeted treatment alone. {5 months into the future, I would have what is called a complete response to the targeted treatment (immunotherapy) thus dropping the reoccurence rate to a very low percentage}.

Although Bill could not articulate it at the time, he was afraid.

Having lived through seeing his mother suffer through multiple rounds of breast cancer in the late1990’s, and ultimately having died of breast cancer complications, I understood. A dear friend for many years, Bill had immediately swept in after my diagnosis. Being financially unprepared for such a health crisis, I was relying primarily on him. He had taken tremendous stress off me so I could focus on getting well. A true angel. Could I risk him mad at me? As I sat in that uncomfortable silence, I knew I would not make a decision based on fear. Or to please others. I had to follow my gut. This was path I was meant to take.

The next morning Bill called me in an incredulous state. He had spent much of the evening researching the chemo drug, Taxotere. He read that it was the solvent in the drug that caused the horrific side effects. No way did he want me taking Taxotere. Why were people still being treated with it? Bill had read that there was a less toxic alternative, but for some reason this older drug was still being used. I am surmising it is a lack of data-the known and "proven."

Yet, at what cost?

If I was going to have cancer, one could say that I was fortunate to have a type that had a targeted treatment. The standard protocol was to combine targeted treatment (immunotherapy) with chemotherapy drugs-a path I instinctually knew was not mine. I was meant to take the path untraveled. And not for me alone.

Time and again, people were shocked that I looked healthy and vibrant during cancer treatments. Why? To begin, the immunotherapy treatments were not making me ill. They were working with my body. The strongest side effect was extreme fatigue, and although I fought it at first (I hated resting) I learned to make peace. The forced rest helped my body to heal. I was eating healthy, able to take my supplements, unburdened of many of my previous stressors, and, with the help of wonderful practitioners in the alternative medicine field (and God!),doing all that I could to heal emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Most of all, I believed I would be well. The mind is a powerful healer.

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