4 Months Post Chemo

I had the impression that during my chemotherapy treatment I would have the hardest time, physically and mentally. Although this was true, I never thought about how my body would change after all the treatment was finished. Yes my body was under attack each time the chemo drugs were injected into my body, and yes my body cells died every few days but for most of these symptoms I was given medication to alleviate them. I used strong painkillers to numb the bone and joint pain, corticosteroids to ease the nausea and gather some strength, and anti-anxiety pills to fall asleep on tough, sleepless nights. Now that I am all done with that I have new symptoms that pills can’t help or reduce.

I have always had hip joint problems, but now I find that it’s weaker. Anytime I abduct or raise my leg to the side, I find that the joint is more tight and I can’t go too far. Sitting for long periods of time also irritates my hips. Now I’m sure that some exercise movements may strengthen it, but being a medical student I don’t have much time to spare. I must sit for long hours because I study all day.

Headaches. Again I have suffered from occasional tension-stress headaches throughout my student career, however taking an Advil or Tylenol would usually relieve it. About two months after I was finished with my chemo I started getting intense tension headaches that felt like they lasted all day, getting a lot worse at night. Nothing would relieve the pain. I tried everything from over the counter pain medication to my hardcore pain killers. At this point I was getting more stressed out. All I could think about was a new tumor, but this time in my brain! One of the symptoms my oncologist said I could have was an excruciating headache that persisted all day, for example going to sleep with a headache and waking up with a headache. This is exactly what was happening to me. The longer this went on, the more worried I would get.

I was due for a follow up appointment with my oncologist, otherwise I would have urged to see her as soon as possible. Every night I would cry to my mom and dad about the fear of having a brain tumor and of course the fear of death. It also didn’t help that I watched a television special about Roswell Park Cancer Institute and its relentless fight against cancer, where one woman complained of sinus pain several months post chemo for her fight with breast cancer. That pain was due to a tumor that they found in her brain.

I went to follow up appointment with my oncologist and told her of my problem. She referred me to a neurologist and reassured me that it is not related to my breast cancer. If I had a brain tumor I would present with more severe symptoms than just a headache, my vision could be impaired along with my balance and even my personality could change. Thankfully my only complaint was the constant headache.

Before seeing the neurologist I had a CT scan of my brain, the results were normal. NO BRAIN TUMOR. The CT scan was more stressful than I imagined it would be. I had an early morning appointment thinking that the sooner I get it done and over with, the faster I would find relief. Instead when the test was over I felt terrible, morally I felt at my lowest point since finding out my diagnosis. A few days later I went to see my primary care doctor to see what he can do for my headaches. He prescribed me some triptans and some steroids to see if any of those would help. I tried the triptan and found no relief. I didn’t bother with the steroids because I didn’t want to gain anymore weight. So I finally went to the neurologist.

The neurologist did basic neurology tests to see my response to different stimuli, such as shining a light in my eye, checking my tendon reflexes, poking me with a sharp object, etc. I passed every test. Again, he also reassured me that my headahces were not related to my breast cancer per say. Instead he told me that I suffered from migraines, and because my mom went to him a few months before I did he told me I got it from her… Migraines are genetic, so if your parents suffer from migraines especially your mother you are very likely to suffer from them as well. My migraines were triggered by stress. Funny to say since stress is something that a medical school must live with and lets face it, being a cancer survivor is no walk in the park either. His advice was that I wait for them to pass or comeback and be put on daily medication.

So now I know I suffer from stress migraines, although they are not worsened by light or sound, I had to find a way to de-stress my self. I tried meditating before sleep but that did not work because I would only to get a bigger headache since my mind would not shut off. I even tried intense exercise work outs but that only helped for 30 mins after I was done. The minute I felt I was getting better my headache would return stronger than the last time by any kind of stress.

I started my surgical clerkship where I had to follow a surgeon for a several hours a day, at this point my headaches improved but as time went on they came back. I was only able to distract myself from them for several minutes. Now my tensions headaches turned into cluster headaches. Cluster headaches are more painful then tension headaches, they feel like a dull, burning sensation located around the eyeball socket and brow. The burning sensation would last for hours before it calmed down and a new one started. At this point I knew something had to be done, but I didn’t want to start taking medication on a daily basis and damage my liver and suffer from more side effects.

I decided that I would try to do a session of Reiki.┬áReiki (pronounced Ray-Key) is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that promotes healing of Body, Mind and Spirit. One of my classmates from my medical school recommended that I try it, as well as my mother’s friend. I made an appointment for a session in early December. Like any other type of treatment this one takes severe sessions to work. After my first session I did not feel any difference. It is recommended to do at least 4 sessions in 2-3 weeks before seeing results. The week after my first session I went on vacation to the Caribbean for 12 days, so I could do another session two weeks after.

While in the Caribbean, my headaches were gone. For once I could actually relax. I would wake up and spend the whole day headache free and fall asleep peacefully. The day I returned home the headache came back. It was after my second Reiki session that I felt a major difference. My headaches have almost disappeared. I go for days without a headache. The dull, burning sensation in the back of my eye is gone.

The headaches and hip joint problems have been the major issues during my healing process. Now that I learned how to manage my symptoms I feel more in control.

This entry was posted in My Blog.