I have 6 chemo treatments total and I’m proud to say that the first treatment is completed and went very well! I already feel a significant improvement in my symptoms. Normally, the chemo treatment I’m prescribed (R-CHOP) is done outpatient and in a day, but due to my pregnancy, my doctor wanted my first two treatments to be inpatient and administered slowly so they could better monitor me and limit any adverse side effects.
Prior being admitted for my first treatment, both Roberto and I felt incredibly pumped to start. I was tired of feeling like crap all the time and ready to start feeling better! My doctors had said that even after the first treatment, I’d start to notice a difference. I didn’t care if chemo was going to possibly have bad side effects, I was weirdly excited about feeling better.
Before every treatment, I meet with my high risk obstetrician and she checks the baby through ultrasound to make sure everything is going well. She signs off that the baby and I are ready to go through chemo. The R-CHOP chemo regimen has been used on pregnant patients in the past and the outcomes have been positive.
Chemo – Day 1
I was pretty ignorant about cancer before my diagnosis. Admittedly, I didn’t even know chemotherapy was administered through IV. I have a tremendous amount of respect for anyone in the medical field and especially the staff at MD Anderson who openly educated me over the last few weeks. I’ve learned a lot!
I was admitted for treatment on December 4th, less than a week after my diagnosis because I needed to start immediately. Aside from when I had Camila, this was my first time staying in a hospital. And for anyone who has stayed in a hospital, you know that a lot of it is waiting. By no means am I saying the hospital is inefficient, but there’s lots of checks and due diligence required before they can start giving you drugs. Because I have so much downtime, I’ve been able to continue working during my treatment
Roberto and Maggie (my best friend, who is conveniently also a clinical pharmacist at MD Anderson) stayed with me throughout my chemo treatment. I really couldn’t have been in better hands! Having them there really made me feel more at ease.
My chemo treatment, called R-CHOP, was started in the evening around dinner time. They gave me the CHOP portion of it. The C, H, and O were administered over IV and took about 3 hours total. The P was prednisone, a steroid pill that I take daily for 5 days. They gave it to me at night, so I was super hyper that evening. Roberto said he had never seen me so chatty at night in a long time, because lately I’ve been so exhausted.
We were done with the CHOP portion by bedtime and immediately that evening I already noticed my symptoms subsiding. I was coughing much less and way less itchy. Maggie said that this is probably from the immediate effects of the prednisone, but this was really exciting to see I was already feeling better! I didn’t fall asleep until 2am because of the prednisone side effects.
Chemo – Day 2
The next day, I was going to be administered the R portion (rituximab), which is the largest dose of chemo and most likely to have side effects. The doctor wanted to administer it very slowly to minimize my side effects… so slow that it was going to take over 13 hours to do it. We started around 11am and it completely finished at almost 2am! The only adverse side effect I had was a brief period of feeling lightheaded and low blood pressure at the very beginning. It’s very possible it was caused by the Benadryl they gave me though, to help with the possible itchy skin side effect. Overall, it wasn’t too bad as I expected it to be. I was still able to get up and walk around with my IV while it was being administered.
I was fortunate to have several people come visit me at the hospital that day to keep me entertained during the long infusion. My cousins Brian and Julie, aunt Thu, and friends Alice and Jeff came by to keep me company.
My symptoms continued to improve that evening. It was really motivating to see such immediate results. Also, I started to finally have more of an appetite and eat like a pregnant woman. The hospital food at MD Anderson is actually pretty decent and the portions are huge! I was laughing with the nurses because the fried shrimp platter contains 8 pieces of shrimp, each the size of a baby’s fist. What other restaurant serves that much shrimp and that big?!
Day 3 – Ready to Go Home
By the third day, I was ready to be discharged because we were done with treatment and I had no adverse reactions that required additional monitoring. However, I needed a blood transfusion to increase my hemoglobin count before going home. This is a pretty simple procedure with minimal risk. (Side note: thanks to anyone who has ever donated blood in the past!) Being pregnant, doctors wanted me to have sufficient hemoglobin so enough oxygen could be carried in my blood to the baby. I had to get two blood transfusions that day which took over 7 hours to do. I was finally discharged at 9:30pm that night and it felt so good to be home!
A New Routine
As soon as I got home, I realized my home life was not going to be the same. I had to focus on my health. That meant making sure I didn’t get sick because my weakened immune system may not be strong enough to fight it. Inconveniently, Camila had a cold this week so I had to stay away from her.
There are a lot of things I have to avoid doing now to prevent getting sick or infections. This includes not going to crowded, public places, working from home, washing my hands constantly (they are so dry now), wearing a face mask, not doing certain household chores, avoiding raw fruits/veggies, and the hardest of them all, relying on others to care for my child. Since Camila goes to daycare, it’s potentially exposing me to a whole lot of germs. And it’s cold and flu season. For now, Roberto and my parents are the one helping take care of her (as well as many other things around the house) while I sit wearing a face mask. I know she’s in good hands with them, but it’s hard to sit back and not be mom. (More on this topic in a future post.)
All these things are temporary though. Eventually, my life will be back to normal and I realize this is a temporary sacrifice for my overall health.
Until the Next Chemo Treatment
I have three weeks between chemo treatments. I’m still working during this time (willingly and happily, as I enjoy my job and my employer has been very understanding). I’m able to work from home. It helps me feel safer since I’m less likely to get sick, and I also feel productive and engaged everyday.
My priorities each day are to get lots of rest and sleep, drink lots of water, and exercise/walk. So far, I’ve been feeling great. My energy levels have been pretty good. The doctor is happy with my progress. To reduce daily stress, we’ve outsourced some of our household chores. Several gracious friends and family members have provided food for us and that has taken the relief off from cooking. I’ve even succumbed to using the <gasp> dishwasher daily!
My symptoms have dramatically improved just after one treatment. I went in with a terrible cough caused by the mass in my chest. The mass was so large that I couldn’t even lay in a reclined position without coughing uncontrollably and feeling like I was suffocating. The cough is nearly gone now! I can finally lay in reclined positions comfortably (my back is so happy). I no longer get winded from walking up a flight of stairs! My fractured rib is nearly completely healed. I still have itchy skin and unfortunately this keeps me up at night at times, but I’m optimistic it’ll improve with the next treatment.
All the Support
I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support. Whether this is praying for me, texting to see how I’m doing, sending food, helping with Camila, or just sending positive vibes, please know all of this is helping me!
I know a lot of people feel sad when they hear my situation, but please don’t feel this way. Instead, find comfort and hope knowing that my treatment is going well and I feel so much better.
Notable Progress From This Round
- Coughing is almost completely gone!
- No longer winded from walking up a flight up stairs. I even went on a 30 minute walk and started doing light resistance training at home.
- Huge appetite increase – finally eating like a pregnant woman and having cravings!
- Increased lung capacity – spirometer (breathing tool) readings have gone up 500 mL since I left the hospital.
- Improved energy level – I have more energy now than before. There are some days I am fatigued, but it is completely manageable.
- As of the publish date of this post, I still have my hair and have not yet noticed any hair loss. I’m crossing my fingers those prenatal vitamins pull through, but I know it’s a long shot.
- I had an MRI after the first chemo treatment to check if the cancer ever spread to my pelvic and abdominal and it did not! So this means I do not have stage 3 or 4 lymphoma, likely stage 1 or 2.
- Most importantly, baby is healthy and growing at the right pace. As of the date of this post, I’m 25 weeks pregnant.
Next chemo treatment is December 27th. I’m ready! I’ll be 1/3 done by the end of 2017!