End of Treatment Week 7

Thankfully at the end of week 7, I am feeling a whole lot better than I was at the start of the week. I was warned to be expect two difficult weeks after the conclusion of treatment but I was not ready to be so miserable.

During these two challenging weeks, I have dropped 7 kg (15 lbs). My weight is now 77.1 kg (170 lbs). Eating has been an extreme challenge. To get within a pain level I can tolerate, I need to prepare to eat by taking a Tylenol 3 about a 1/2 hour before consuming anything. Without this medication, the burn and pain is too great to get even the smallest amount of mushy food to descend down my esophagus and past the inflammation around the entrance to my stomach. This inflammation is a result of tissue damage from radiation and it is aggravated by the always-present acid reflux.

As well, I have ongoing chest pain in and around my breastbone and ribs. It makes it difficult to sit up for any extended period of time. There is some relief when I lay down as long as I change my position frequently.

And finally, my level of energy is low. Climbing from the main floor to the second floor requires a rest. I’ve been trying to do a few small jobs around just to stay active. After five minutes, I need a break for a few minutes. Compared to what I am capable of when healthy, this is so discouraging but I was warned to expect this side effect of treatment. I will improve with time.

On Monday of this week, at around 6:00 pm, I was in the family room watching the nightly news and having something to eat. A wave of exhaustion swept over me. I decided to head to bed and lie down. By the time I got upstairs I felt cold and turned up the temperature in the bedroom. As I crawled under the sheets, I was shivering so I added an extra blanket. It took about ten minutes for the shivering to pass but I still felt cold. I took my temperature and it was elevated but below 38°C (100.4°F) which is the trigger point to get worried. An elevated temperature is a sign that the body is fighting infection which can quickly spiral dangerously out of control when the immune system is compromised.

Janet came up around 8:00 pm and I took my temperature again. It still fell short of the trigger point so she decided to go downstairs and get the new thermometer. This time it read read 38.5°C (101.3°F) so we took it a second time. It came in slightly lower but flashed red which is high-temp warning signal in the new device. We packed and headed to emergency.

Since our January 13th. visit, there have been major changes in the protocol. In particular, no visitors are permitted so Janet headed home.

I have a yellow card from the cancer clinic. All the emergency centres throughout Nova Scotia recognize it as belonging to a cancer patient and it moves me to the front of the line. A elevated temperature, taken by the triage nurse, of 38.7°C (101.6°F) is considered serious. If it is still going up, the situation will quickly change from one of being a cause for concern to a crisis. I was fast-tracked into a bed within ten minutes. The time was 10:30 pm.

Blood was drawn but no medications given. It takes a while to get the results. Addition blood was drawn and sent off-site to a lab where it would be incubated to see it any bacteria grows in the cultures. This takes a couple of days so not related to any treatment during this visit.

When my blood work came back, there was no indication of infection and my temperature was already starting to drop. I was sent for a chest x-ray and provided a urine sample. Neither showed any indication of infection and my temperature was getting back to normal. I was released to head home around 4:00 am. There was no obvious explanation for the temperature spike but I understand that happens with most cancer patients.

The best news is that my temperature dropped without any medication. This means that my immune system is working and took care of whatever caused the elevated temperature. It requires a few days to see if anything develops in the incubator. In that case I’d be given an aggressive round of antibiotics. I didn’t hear back so it would seem nothing grew in the petri dishes. Good news!

Although I was still pretty miserable at the start of the week, I could feel myself improving each day. I still tire quickly. I decided to wean myself off the meds on Friday and see how I made out.

I’m sleeping well at night … actually at pretty much any time of the day. The overall ache in my chest around the breastbone and ribs is better although still present. My appetite is improving so I can expand the choices in my diet. I carefully select soft food and/or things easy to chew. I need a lot of water to get a meal down but it is no longer burns which is great news. And the best news is that my acid reflux is way down … so I won’t need to pop Tums like candy. Yeah!

Illustration of red blood cells

Although the reason for my blood work on Monday was to identify infections and to see if my immune system was active, a hemoglobin count was included. To my delight, my count is up to 108. The last test on March 9th was 93 so even though still well short of the ideal between 140 and 180, this is a huge improvement.

I am clearly on the mend. Here’s hoping I’ll see an improvement in my energy level soon. I really want to get more active.

As always, thanks for coming along for the ride and being at my side. It means so much to have your support. I got this!

Peace, Love and Laughter

PS – A huge shout-out to Carol and Gordon Flowerdew for the gift CD of the Lenten Carols by his son Mark. His next concert is coming up on April 3rd and will be online via Facebook.

This music is a source of pleasure for both Janet and I. Thanks again!

6 Replies to “End of Treatment Week 7”

  1. Wonderful news that you are improving – as you have said, this is a marathon not a sprint! As always, I am so impressed with your courage and strength…..hang in there!

  2. Wish you did not have to go through all that… but grateful to hear that those awful symptoms are improving somewhat. Love you brother

  3. Great news, Phil. I am not much of a road bike person but I had mine out for a spin last weekend and was thinking of you and Brad. You’re warriors! You’ll Be Back!

    1. When I was getting started, I found the Shearwater Flyer, starting at the rink, can be taken 30 km right to Porters Lake and is pretty flat. From the rink to Lawrencetown Beach is 20 km. By the same token, the trail in Halifax starting at Dutch Village Road is a good ride to at least Mahone Bay … I haven’t been past that. Both keep you off the road and are pretty flat. I hope to be back on Kermit in June.

  4. We are classified as “old people” and we’re fighting cancer and there is this worldwide pandemic… such times. So many reasons to talk about phlegm and sputum and bowel habits and joint aches, lets not forget fatigue! But in between all that, the sun was out yesterday. A pair of doves is nesting in a tree outside my favorite chair. A cardinal and a blue jay have been fighting for world domination … and we are safe and cozy in a home with most everything we could need. I do hope to get my bicycle out of the basement where it has hybernated for 3 summers in a row. Greetings and salutations to you and Janet.

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