Part 2: Different Treatment Options and Hope For Chemo-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy

I have the chorus “I get knocked down, but I get up again! No one’s ever gonna keep me down!” by Chumbawamba playing on a loop in my head most days. I’ve referenced this song in previous posts because of the comfort it brings me. I seem to possess a natural resilience and consistently get back up and push forward when facing the never-ending challenges this world throws at me. I would be lying if I said it’s easy to keep kicking and feel hopeful.

I wasn’t sure if I would ever find new treatment options for my chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). I had begun to not only lose hope but fear was doing its best to cripple me. As a chronically single woman, I’ve been fearful of more falls occurring when by myself as I get older. The only reason I can almost grin when thinking about the grade 3 sprain I suffered from in January is that it was the first time I’d fallen and wasn’t alone. I had been walking with my realtor looking at townhouses when I went down hard. That dreamed dissolved right then and there.

So, as the winds of resilience push me forward, again and again, I was determined to find a specialist who could help with my CIPN. Lo and behold, I found one who not only listens but thinks outside of the box because he fully understands how debilitating and painful CIPN can be for cancer patients.

Meet my chiropractor Dr. Dan Ruitenbeek in Marietta, GA. His training is in clinical neurology. He’s the first specialist who wasn’t trying to shove medications down my throat or make me feel those were the only options. What many cancer patients with CIPN don’t think about or maybe even know is the lack of blood flow and how that plays into how severe or not the symptoms can be.

First, we had a consultation and he did some tests to get a baseline of the nerve damage in my hands and feet. With every little test, including thermal imaging, I was floored but also overwhelmed with emotion by what I was NOT feeling. There’s quite a bit of math involved, too.

Second, Dr. Dan reviewed the results of my consultation and laid out his suggested treatment plans. I knew there was major nerve damage, but the numbers did shock me.

Severe sensory loss category:

  • Right foot – 62.9% loss
  • Left foot – 60.0% loss
  • Right hand and Left hand – 45.7% loss

My new treatment protocol is a combination of both in-office and at-home treatments. The first three months are like a bootcamp of sorts to see what stimulations I respond to, the levels, and any unforeseen reactions.

***Disclaimer: This is my specific treatment and not for everyone. Everything you see below is based on the severity of my CIPN and prescribed by my chiropractor.***

Anodyne Therapy – At-home treatments 2x per day

Rebuilder Tub with rubber pads and electrodes – At-home treatment 1x per day

Conductive Garment Gloves – At-home treatment to help with my hands for 30 minutes 2x per day

In-office treatments – I receive stimulation and get help with blood flow.

Light therapy (not pictured) – In-office treatment

My back, thighs, and feet are wrapped (kinda like a baked potato) and I feel this heat from the pads. I do this for 20 minutes. Though I can feel the heat in my back (helps with lumbar facet joint pain), I feel some heat on my thighs and a minuscule amount in my feet. The goal is to help with blood flow to help gain some feeling again. One day (fingers crossed) I hope to fully feel the heat.

I’m still in the first month of all these treatments. It definitely takes planning to do the at-home treatments and time to go to the in-office treatments. Still, I’m hopeful that I will begin to feel small to moderate difference after my first three months. My treatment plan is for a full 12-16 months, which also includes eating foods to help reduce inflammation and cutting out other foods. This is a slow but intentional process.

If you want to know more about my chiropractor, location, and other offices, here’s the information below. Tell him or his staff that Megs referred you. I don’t get anything monetary out of sharing all of this information about my holistic treatments. I just want to give others hope by knowing there are other potential treatments that might help deal with the falls, pain, and lack of blood flow caused by CIPN.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

You Never Forget The Cancer Call

I’ve been struggling with writing lately. It’s not because I have nothing to say or am uninspired. It’s because I have way too much to say and struggling to get my thoughts written down in a cohesive way. The perfectionist in me doesn’t want to write something awful, yet I need to release some of what has been on my mind lately.

My six-year anniversary of getting the cancer call was on Tuesday, September 14th. I woke up that morning with mixed emotions. It’s one of those memories that will never fade. The flashbacks are clear and packed with emotion. I was working at iHeart Media sitting in my cubicle on 9/14/15. I’d had the biopsy at 4pm on 9/11/15 which fell on Friday that year and was told it would take 48-72 hours to receive the results. I’m always aware of the time because of all my years working in media and making sure the commercials were the correct spot length. I remember looking at my phone when it rang at 3:05pm and not recognizing the number but knowing in my gut to answer.

“Megan-Claire, you have Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. We don’t know the stage yet. You need to get a pen and paper and take some notes because time is of the essence.”

The entire trajectory of my life changed in an instant. Yes, I’m still alive and “survived,”, but many other warriors I’ve crossed paths with during these six years have died. Why am I still here and they aren’t? They had husbands or wives and children. I don’t. Survivor’s guilt is real. It’s important for people to not negate these feelings because the guilt is just as crushing as the loss of friends. 

I miss them.

I think of their families.

I wish I could’ve taken their place.

So yes, I’m still here but not physically or mentally the same. I’m chronically ill thanks to fibromyalgia, back pain, and neuropathy. I’m in pain every second of every damn day. Some days are manageable and other days it’s off the charts. I literally look like a different person (chemo curls are back) in a body I don’t recognize at all. 

Being naturally resilient is a blessing and a curse. Even when I don’t want to show up for myself I somehow always manage to push up and just do it. I’m fully immersed within the cancer space. There are days where I feel passionate about my advocacy and days where I am utterly drained. I have to continuously remind myself that it’s okay to put myself first and can say no to various requests of my time. That doesn’t mean I am selfish or don’t care. That is self-care.

For the first time in six years, I did not completely wallow on that day. You see, cancer cannot take away the essence of me, you or anyone. Ever. The one constant that brings me pure joy is the arts, specifically the theatre. So, I went to see a musical with another theatre friend that evening. It was the first time I had done something that literally breathed life into me. I fully enjoyed myself and felt the familiar feeling of walking into a theatre and feeling like I was home. It was an evening that cancer could not touch.

Until next time,

Warrior Megsie

The Insanity of 2019

I can’t believe 2020 is around the corner. Just when I think a year can’t get any worse or filled with more challenges, I get a whole new slew of health issues. I’ve been reflecting a lot this week. I will make this a two-part series to discuss these challenges and the extraordiary opportunites of 2019.

I compiled a list of health issues that plagued me this year. Get comfy because the list is long!

February

Tried my 5th post breast cancer medication called Aromasin (Exestamine) to help prevent recurrence. Once again, my body is completely intolerant of it. It stressed my body out so badly within the first two weeks that I developed shingles on my left arm, hand and left side of my face.

For those who have never had the shingles, it’s essentially adult chickenpox. According to the handout my dermatologist at Preston Ridge Dermatology, PC gave me, here is the definition of shingles.

They are a painful skin rash that often blisters, caused by the zoster or chickenpox virus. Anyone who has had the chickenpox can get shingles. A weakened immune system seems to play a role in re-awakening this dormant virus, so people are more likely to get shingles after an illness, serious injury or stressful event. It usually occurs only on one side of the body.

Of course mine would be on the cancer side – the left. They are extremely painful and have to be treated within a certain timeframe for antibiotics to work properly.

My oncologist (my 4th one in three years due to previous one retiring) officially agreed there are no other options for the type of breast cancer I had and my pathology. It’s always tough hearing that. He said the only thing left to try is only available if I ever become metastatic. Lovely.

April

I landed in the ER due to severe dehydration and vertigo. I had been feeling odd for about two weeks. My head was pounding. I was quite dizzy and nauseous. I just pushing on and going to work every day.

I started feeling a tightness in my chest and pressure. I had never felt like that before and having difficulty breathing. I was initially going to call an ambulance but knew the cost would break me thanks to the high deductible of my health insurance. Since I only live two exits away from Northside Hospital, I elected to drive myself ever so slowly to the ER around 2am.  I didn’t call my mother or even tell anyone what was going on just yet.

My BP was 187/112 when I arrived to the ER. I didn’t even know blood pressure could get that high. I was scared to death. I realized it must be serious because three doctors came in after reading about my breast cancer history. I finally called my mother around 3am. She was not pleased that I drove myself and waited so late to call her. Once mother arrived, that’s when the doctors told us they feared I would have a stroke. I wasn’t released from the ER until almost 10am after hours of fluids and getting my blood pressure down to a below critical level.

May

Literally two weeks later, I had developed what I thought was the flu. My temp was 104.1. After three days in this misery and temp not going down, I went to my primary doctor’s office and saw the PA. I was tested for the flu but was negative. Again, I was having trouble breathing. When the PA listened to my breathing, she didn’t hear anything concerning. I asked for an x-ray and she agreed. I wanted to be sure.

It was pneumonia!!!!! I wish I had taken a picture of her face when she looked at the x-ray. She shook her head in disbelief and kept saying, “I couldn’t hear it, and would’ve missed it if you hadn’t insisted on an x-ray.”

By this point, I was so physically weak from pushing myself so hard for years on end, that my body officially shutdown. I called my supervisor and said I needed a two-month medical leave. She was so fantastic and immediately supported my decision. It was so sudden in the company’s eyes but a long-time coming in my eyes.

I was basically an empty gas tank.

June

I had my 8th breast cancer related surgery. It was initially revised secondary breast reconstruction due to the extensive fat necrosis that had built up in the exact area of my tumor. During the operation, they discovered not only the extensive fat necrosis but an “underlying association of a necrotic cystic cavity with an extensive capsule.” To break it down, it means I had a thick capsule around the fluid-filled sac, evidence of an old hemotoma and the extensive fat necrosis. Nothing is ever easy with me.

So the pain was much higher than I anticipated. It was the first time ever that I finished a complete bottle of pain medication.  

December

I received a new diagnosis last Thursday. I am very upset this doctor told me I have spondylitis in my spine through the patient portal. I was to call and set up an appointment for next steps. I’m furious she wouldn’t call to actually tell me what that means. So me being me, I have been researching and still have no idea exactly which type I have or anything. I went to a website called myspondylitisteam.com and found this information below.

Spondylitis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that pain and inflammation are a result of the body’s immune system attacking its own tissues. No one knows yet exactly what causes spondylitis to develop in some people, but it is now believed that genetics play a significant role.

More specific subtypes of spondylitis include ankylosing spondylitis, enteropathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, undifferentiated spondyloarthritis, juvenile spondyloarthritis, and peripheral spondyloarthritis.

I pitched a fit and will be seeing a different doctor at Northside but at a different location than that other doctor. It is unacceptable to give me news of a new diagnosis through the portal.

Needless to say, it’s been another exceptionally rough and painful year on many levels – physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally and financially. Even when I want to give up and just curl into a ball forever, I continue to get up each day and push forward.

I suppose that’s the meaning of resilience. Something deep within will not allow me to give up even when I’m aching to do so.

When Trust is Gone

Was there ever a time when one could just be the patient and trust the doctor would take time to review their chart and make customized recommendations of treatment?

I was born three months premature, so I was a sick baby and little girl. I was always going to the doctor for tests, infections and surgeries. I have fond memories of my pediatrician Dr. Tift. He always wore a bowtie and had the best bedside manner. I trusted him.

Once I graduated from college and had to find my own doctors, I was still that trusting little girl at heart. I really had excellent doctors in LA and GA during my 20’s and early 30’s. I felt like a person. I had so many issues with my ovaries, uterus, cervix and painful periods. They knew I was at risk for those cancers. I had more vaginal ultrasound action than sexual partners!

All my gynecologists over the years truly made me feel like they were doing the heavy work and monitoring my health. I trusted them.

Fast forward to the three years before my breast cancer diagnosis. All that comfort and trust was diminished.

I remember being told by countless doctors – primary, endocrinologist and dermatologist – that I was overreacting and needed to reduce my stress level and exercise. I was so angry and wondered why they made me feel like it was my fault for gaining weight, hair changing texture and falling out and irritability. I’d never been an overweight person in my life until six months after my 34th birthday. The dermatologist said there nothing she could do about my hair falling out or give me a reason. All she said was I should invest in Rogaine and eat better.

I was beyond devastated, yet I kept pushing for answers because I knew in my gut that something was very off in my body. It’s only when those tiny green bruises appeared on my left leg that I was finally taken seriously.

Why wasn’t my word and other symptoms enough to warrant concern from the start?

Why did it have to get to the point of feeling miserable and lethargic to be taken seriously?

“Oh, let’s get her a blood test here and there to shut her up,” is the vibe I consistently felt during that time until I physically felt the mass in my left breast that August 30, 2015.

During active treatment for my breast cancer, I felt heard and heavily monitored. I felt like I was a person again and not just a number. I was a well-cared for patient.

Then I enter post-treatment and just feel thrown out into the sea with no life jacket. I’m now swimming with millions pushing and shoving to be heard.

I thought palliative care would be different. I started out feeling heard again regarding my chronic pain from fibromyalgia and neuropathy thanks to chemo and multiple surgeries. I felt comforted knowing I was wrapped in this extra level care. I naively thought the relationship with my palliative care doctor would be different.

Instead, I’m consistently dealing with managing my own health and presenting outside the box ideas to help manage my chronic pain.

Get ready for my rant…

Why am I paying the copays when I’m presenting research to my doctor about new treatments for my case?

Why do many of my doctors look shocked when I make a suggestion?

Why aren’t any of these doctors’ part of cancer support groups to read what other patients go through?

Why does the doctor always ask why I’m there even though I’ve stated it in the portal, filled out the stupid paperwork and told the intake nurse?

Why are they so quick to dismiss my ideas or when I’m experiencing a side effect?

Why are they recommending medications within the same family when I’ve already shown the first option didn’t work or was allergic?

Why am I having to beg for x-rays and scans and other procedures?

Why aren’t doctors staying up to date on the latest research?

Why are doctors using Google on their phones to look up medications and the side effects in front of me?

More importantly, why aren’t they listening to the patient?

I no longer trust that any of my doctors truly have my best interest at heart. They are being mandated by insurance companies to push certain drugs. They aren’t taking the time to review my chart before walking into the exam room.

I didn’t set out to be my own doctor. I no longer have the mental bandwidth to stay on top of it all but I must because none of them will.

When will these doctors stop trying to cookie cut my treatment? I’m a square Meg who can’t be pushed into a round hole.