It’s in the bag

No one told me undergoing cancer treatment would turn me into a walking pharmacy.

I keep a bag now that has the remedies for most of the common side effects to chemotherapy treatment and the drugs that come along with it. (Kind of fitting that I’m using a giveaway bag from an Association of Health Care Journalists conference).

Most important are the prescription anti-nausea medications I take after each round of chemo. I also keep saltines and ginger chews in there just to help.

Can’t sleep? Here’s an over-the-counter sleep aid, Melatonin, and a container of ZZZQuil gummies. (At night, I also turn on an essential oil diffuser with lavender oil to help with this.)

Have a splitting headache (a side effect of the anti-nausea medication prescribed to me by my doctors)? I’ve got ibuprofen and Aleve. If one of them doesn’t work (and it probably won’t) check the freezer for an ice pack and try to sleep (even if it’s 6 p.m.)

There’s tea tree oil that I hope will keep my fingernails and toenails from turning black and falling off. So far they just kind of hurt and keep me from using my fingernails for things that might cause them any stress.

I keep sunscreen in there, too. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery scars all increase sensitivity to the sun, so I’m more careful this year to apply it when I’m out.

Constipation? Diarrhea? Yeah, got stuff for them both.

I’m grateful for the drugs that are helping me through this, but looking forward to a time when I won’t need them.

Just 10 more rounds of chemotherapy left to go. I can do this.

Until next year, Charleston Distance Run

Note: I promise not to do this a lot, but I wanted to share the column I wrote for today’s Gazette-Mail, just in case you missed it. I liked this one.

I’ve run the 5K portion of the Charleston Distance Run most years for the past few years, and 2020 was going to be the year I finally ran the entire 15 miles.
I’ve run five half marathons and countless other 5K races. But until this year, I’d never got up the nerve to sign up for the full Distance Run.
Besides being 15 miles, it takes on Labor Day weekend. If that’s not actually the hottest part of the summer, it sure feels like it. It could be because by late August or early September, I’m sick of the heat.
I’ve seen other runners sweating hard on Kanawha Boulevard in mid July in preparation for the race and thought to myself how smart I’ve been to train for races that take place in December or November. I really like avoiding heat stroke.
Then there’s the legendary Capital Punishment Hill. That doesn’t seem fun no water what time of year it is.
At the same time, I’ve so wanted to do this race. There’s something about it that makes me nostalgic.
Maybe it’s because it seems like every Charleston runner has a story about running it. Maybe it’s the way the city comes out to cheer on the participants. Maybe it’s the spaghetti dinner. I don’t know.


My uncle would run it when I was a kid. I remember hearing that he’d trained for it by running Route 21 from Sissonville to Charleston. That seems like a crazy feat when you’re a kid.

My uncle Gary and I after the 2019 Distance Run.


In the past few years, he and I have started the 5K portion of the race together. I’m a slower runner, so despite our age difference, he finishes first. (My grandmother jokes that if I keep running, one day I’ll beat him).
When I got the news that the Distance Run is cancelled for this year, I of course was not surprised. Even the Boston Marathon was canceled for this year. The organizers made the right move.
I would not have been able to run the race this year anyway because of cancer treatment. I started out the year training for training for the race by running Carriage Trail’s hill. I think I had worked my way up to running seven miles.
But I have not run since March when I was diagnosed, unfortunately.
I’m to a point in chemotherapy treatment where I get fatigued, even though I don’t exercise much. I walked a block in the heat Sunday morning and it was enough to make me sick.
But I will run again.
The race organizers gave us the option of having a refund for the registration fee or deferring it to next year. I chose to defer mine until next year. It’s my way of believing that I’ll recover from this. That I’ll get my life back. That cancer won’t have the final say.
When I was a reporter, I wrote a story about a woman who ran the 2015 Charleston Distance Run after finishing lung cancer treatment. She had run it before she was diagnosed and had a terrible time with it. When her cancer went into remission, she returned to conquer it.
I have to believe that I will, too.

Pink hair and the last of the Red Devil

I’ve had my last chemo treatment with the drugs with Adriamycin and Cytoxan. The former is referred to as the “Red Devil,” both for its bright, red Kool-Aid color and its nasty side effects.

I complained about the side effects in my last post. When the nausea is bad, it’s really bad. I’ve been lucky I’ve only had a couple bad days.

The nausea has been progressively worse after each round, so I’m bracing for when it hits next week.

Adriamycin is so toxic that the nurses put on gowns to administer it so they don’t come in contact with the drug. It makes my bodily fluids toxic for two days after treatments. It could cause tissue damage if it somehow is administered outside a vein.

It could damage my heart (a less common side effect).

But the important thing is that it’s a powerful drug that kills cancer cells.

The end of A/C is a milestone worth celebrating, but chemo isn’t over. Soon, I’ll start a weekly chemo regimen with the drug Taxol for 12 weeks. My doctor assures me it’s much easier on bodies than A/C.

So I’m looking forward to that.

Hair loss is a Red Devil side effect. I’ve been wearing a pink wig to deal with that. It got me a couple stares and few compliments at the Cancer Center. I think it’s fun, and if there’s ever a time I needed fun, it’s now.

Pink hair, don’t care

It’s not something I’ve ever done to real hair. I’m pretty plain Jane when it comes to that. But when will I get this chance again. Hopefully never.

Cancer treatment is daunting

With three rounds of chemotherapy down (and more than I’d like to admit to go) I’m to the point where I can predict what days I will feel bad.

I was told the second and third days after treatment would be the worst, but that’s not been true for me. I have chemo every other Friday right now, and I don’t feel bad until the following Thursday and Friday.

So it should have been no surprise that when I ventured out for a doctor’s appointment early yesterday morning, I was setting myself up for a bad experience.

But I underestimated how bad I was feeling and kept my appointment with a new primary care physician. My oncologist recommended getting one to oversee my care.

The nurse took my blood pressure, but it was so low she called in another just to check. She had done it correctly; I was just sick. And my doctor didn’t seem to know what to do with me.

I took one side off my face mask and tried to breathe through the nausea until I could make it out of the exam room.

We made it through my medical history, physical exam and my request to PLEASE WRITE ME A PRESCRIPTION FOR SOMETHING TO HELP ME SLEEP.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” I said.

“You’ll tell me if you’re going to, right?” was his reply.

Luckily, his attending physician came in after him and escorted me out, apologizing and telling me to call her in a week if melatonin didn’t help me sleep through the steroids after chemo.

I made it to the lobby bathroom of the doctor’s office before getting sick in my face mask. A nurse brought me another and told me to bypass their checkout line.

I felt too relieved to be embarrassed about it. The nurse offered to wheel me out, but I genuinely felt better after it happened. Until then, I wasn’t sure I would even be able to drive myself the 5 minutes home.

Cancer treatment is daunting.

I am amazed that even though 245,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year (according to the CDC), our best treatment for it these toxic chemicals that may make me sick, bald and may cause me to go into early menopause.

It makes me sad to think that some cancer patients will live out their last days like this. This is no way to live.

Once chemo is done, I’ll have radiation. From what I’ve read and heard, I can expect burned skin general exhaustion during those days.

Between feeling sick and not being able to see most people to avoid getting COVID-19, it’s hard not to be discouraged.

But there’s reason to be hopeful. I have one more round of the chemo drugs adriamycin and cytoxan before I switch to taxol. My doctor tells me it’s easier on people.

I’ll have to wait and see.

More on the haircut

Being bald (well, close to it) takes some getting used to. I went to my hairdresser about a week ago and got it buzzed off.

Soon, I’m told, I’ll lose even the tiny hairs that make my head feel foreign when I run my fingers over it.

I’d been dreading losing my hair for obvious reasons, but my hairdresser made the haircut fun. (Shout out to Jim at Spa Bliss in Charleston).

He cut my hair first into a mullet and we took a picture before he cut the rest of it off. I expected to be crying, but we mostly laughed.

I can say I’ve had a mullet now

I almost felt guilty asking my hairdresser to cut off my hair. It felt like asking a friend to be a co-conspirator in this disease taking my hair. But I’m glad I had a professional do it.

I’m still getting used to seeing myself without hair. I’ve always had thick hair. I catch my reflection in the mirror without it now and it startles me.

But I don’t mind the shape of my head as much as I thought. When this is over, I think I could wear a pixie cut. As it is now, I look like a Buddhist monk.

I’m still looking for appropriate hats and head covers. I’ve been wearing a light pink baseball cap with the words “girls support girls.” It was a gift from my sweet co-workers. I like it but it doesn’t quiet fit my head.

Me in the hat while holding my nephew.

The headscarves I ordered from Amazon are still in a drawer in my bathroom. I’ve watched a few YouTube videos about tying them but I still don’t feel comfortable with it enough to wear it outside my apartment. Not that I leave much.

I’ve ordered a wig and a ball cap. With wigs, I can play around with colors and hairstyles. Why not?

Hair today, gone tomorrow

It finally happened, almost exactly to the day I read and have been told it would. My hair is starting to come out. I noticed it recently when I ran a brush through and much more hair than usual ended up in the brush.

I thought I would be more emotional about losing my hair. Maybe that will come when I cut it all off. I made an appointment with my hairdresser for this week.

I don’t trust myself to do shave it and having a loved one do it with clippers doesn’t seem kind to them.

It may sound like I’m sad, but I’m really OK. Hair grows back. This is just part of the process. It might be nice not to have to deal with drying and straightening my hair for a few months, especially during the heat of the summer.

It may be longer. I’ve read that it doesn’t grow back immediately after chemo treatment.

I need to round up all the hair ties and hair products lying around my apartment and put them away.

For now, I’ll just try to keep it from shedding everywhere and maybe try to learn how to tie a head scarf and keep it from falling off.

Chemo starts

I’ve had one chemotherapy treatment so far and several more to go.

The actual treatment part wasn’t so bad. The CAMC Cancer Center is nice and quiet. Each patient area has a recliner and a television.

The hospital’s no-visitor policy is still in effect, so I went alone. I didn’t mind.


The nurses are kind. They brought me cookies and were great at distracting me by talking at any chance of pain or discomfort.

I brought a laptop, listened in on a meeting call, responded to emails and did other work.

Chemo is administered through a port the surgeon implanted beneath my skin below my left collarbone. Once the nurses start the IV, the worst part was over.

So far the only side effects to chemo I’ve had are these: I didn’t sleep well in the days after infusion, at times my thinking was fuzzy, and my face broke out really bad. I was expected to be sick to my stomach but the drugs they gave me must have knocked that out.

The prescription steroids they gave me after treatment made it impossible to sleep. The night after treatment, I woke up at 2 a.m. and was awake the entire day after that. It was miserable. The second night was only a little better.

I’d heard of “chemo fog,” or “chemo brain,” the terms cancer patients use for the concentration and thinking issues that chemotherapy gives them. I noticed it, too. Luckily that feeling was temporary.

I expect these are the last few days I’ll have my hair, but it hasn’t started to fall out yet

I’ve washed it more lately because there’s no chance over-washing is going to make it dry and brittle before it falls out. It might as well be clean so I can wear it down while I still have it.

I have a drawer full of head scarves ready to go.

Column: A new appreciation for Mother’s Day

For this week’s column, I wrote about being referred to a fertility specialist before starting chemo to talk about the possibility of having kids after treatment.

Here’s an excerpt:

“My doctor at first tells me he doesn’t know of any reason I couldn’t have a baby after treatment, as long as I waited long enough. But he ultimately refers me to a fertility clinic in North Carolina that will freeze my eggs and store them, just in case I need them later, if I pay them enough.

I Google the average costs for such a service, check my insurance plan (fertility services are not covered) and then quickly decide to let fate determine whether I’ll ever give birth.

Between that and paying for the impending medical bills for cancer treatment, I couldn’t afford to have children, anyway.

Babies or not will become one more decision this disease will make for me. Just like it could ultimately decide if I live or die.

You can read the whole thing here.

We were supposed to be in Tennessee

The calendar app on my phone is an almost painful reminder of all the fun I had planned this year but have had to cancel. Right now, the app tells me, my family was supposed to be on vacation in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It would have been a whole week of hikes and late night porch sitting and probably kitschy shops and tourist attractions with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.

Last year, we sat out on the porch of the cabin late into the evening and listened as coyote howls answered the sounds of nearby sirens. We saw black bears. We hiked to the top of Clingman’s Dome for the breathtaking view of the mountains.

But COVID-19 did not care one bit about our travel plans, or that I was really looking forward to playing with my nieces and baby nephew. That I need a few days of waking up to a cup of coffee and a good book on a front porch rocking chair in the mountains. Just like it didn’t care about my best friend’s grad school graduation or the countless weddings it canceled.

The vacation will hopefully be postponed, not completely canceled. I’ll still get to go, pandemic permitting, if I can hold on to enough vacation days (that may be tough while battling cancer).

Postponed vacations and canceled celebrations are just some of the many micro aggressions waged on us by this pandemic. I call them micro because they’re not nearly worth mentioning next to the tens of thousands of deaths COVID-19 caused in this country.

But I also think it’s OK, even mentally healthy, to let ourselves be kind of bummed out about them. Pain and disappointment are relative, after all.

And we’re allowed to feel all of it.