Category Archives: chemotherapy

Won’t you take me back to school-patient/teacher

Won’t you take me back to school…I need to learn the Golden Rule.  This song was rolling through my head this morning as I drove to school. Remember the Moody Blues?  It feels good to be back to work and teaching once again. Students rolled in on Tuesday, and their energy motivated me as it always does.


Fall Summer is in the air at Mid-Pacific! After a week of preparation, the real work began on Tuesday. In addition to making sure students are ready for college, I have the added challenge of Friday chemos.

Kawaihao at Mid-Pacific

The students are like a shot of adrenaline to the system! One of the things that I love about students is that you always know exactly how they feel about things. There is no holding back!

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Student tables at Watase Courtyrad

After a week of school, I am exhausted but happy. I went to bed before 9 o’clock every night and up by 515 each morning. Add the 45 minute commute both ways, and it is a challenge, even for a healthy person. I know that next Friday will be the real test of my mettle. Mega chemo (Carboplatin, Gemzar, and Avastin) followed by a all-too-short weekend and then back to school on Monday.

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Today after reviewing Scientific Notation with my students, one of the boys said, “I finally get this.” That is enough to keep bringing me back every Monday-chemo or not!

Double Trouble-Iselle and Chemo


It was a crazy week getting ready for Hurricane Iselle,  Friday Thursday chemo, and the start of school next week.

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Double Trouble as Hurricane Iselle and Julio track to Hawaii

Yesterday, Friday chemo turned into Thursday chemo because Hurricane Iselle was bearing down on the Big Island of Hawaii.  This is the first Hurricane to hit the Hawaiian Isles since Hurricane Iniki in 1992. The earlier part of the week we spent scurrying around getting water supplies, filling up the cars with gas, and course buying the all important jelly beans, pop tarts and Cheetos. Not surprisingly, the kids were a large influence in determining which supplies were important. I did buy 6 cans of Spam (the Hawaii staple) which will probably make their way to the Hawaii Food Bank in the coming weeks.

Number 1 Hawaii staple

My chemo nurses said to come in Thursday for blood work and chemo as the Chemo Clinic was meant to be closed on Friday. For the first time in months, my white count was in normal ranges. I guess that Nuelasta is actually working. My red count is creeping lower, but that is a problem for “future” Kym to worry about (if it gets too low a blood transfusion will be in the works….”future” Kym though, right?) The chemo room was packed with all the patients trying to get it their treatment done ahead of the storm. I was happy to get the last chair open in the room. The Gemzar transfusion went fairly smoothly.

Chemo trio
Chemo trio


We were tracking chemo symptoms and the storm last night. The storm slowed down as it approached the islands, but my chemo side effects did not. My effects hit at about 2 am and the storm hit at 2:44 am. Feeling better this morning, and happy that I can just reset and relax today. I have set an alarm for my Neulasta shot this afternoon, so that is my next big event for the day. As of this moment, I am halfway through the chemo treatments. Time for a celebration! Maybe some Spam?



Back in the Saddle-Getting the job done

Weekly reality TV shows start each week with a recap of the past weeks’ episodes including the most dramatic moments.

Does not include the Phernegen IV

So, if you are just turning in to this show, here’s what happened in previous episodes of “Kym’s Ovarian Cancer.” After successfully beating Ovarian Cancer in 2012, I received an ominous phone call from my docctor.   My blood cancer marker had unexpectedly doubled. To be specific, it was February 14th, and I was driving on the H3 from one side of the island to the other. When the doctor told me the news and indicated that the cancer was probably back, I had to pull over to the side of the road to take that information in. That was easily the worst Valentine’s Day ever!

Screenings and pre-surgery appointments followed. My exploratory (never-sounds-good-when-you-say-it) surgery was on March 10th. The affected area this time was the peri-aortic lymph nodes. This is apparently a dicey area in which to operate because the area is filled with a tricky vascular network. Four weeks post surgery, I began a series of 25 daily radiation treatments (I think we landed on 4500 CentriGreys) concentrated in the peri-aortic lymph node area. About a week after that was finished, we started on chemo. I was labeled Platinum sensitive, so Carboplatin was chosen again, along with Gemzar and Avastin. All medication is delivered via a port that has been surgically implanted in my chest wall. Fast forward through several failed WBC’s (White Blood Count) and unfortunate vomiting parties, we made it to July 4th!  We are again playing the  low can your white count go?  Then there was the Give yourself a Shot Day (Neulasta category),  If you were producing this as a show, it would make an excellent storyline with a huge cast of characters and a dramatic plot.  Maybe Christina Applegate will play me. Who will play you?


In this week’s episode of Kym’s Ovarian Cancer, we get a major dose of fun! The first chemo of the cycle is all of the meds to include Carboplatin, Gemzar, and Avastin.  The prelude is a nice fat bag of anti-nausea meds. Today, they’ve added an extra bag of anti-nausea meds. (Today’s total of IV bags was 7: 2 bags of hydration, 1 bag of steroids/antinausea, 1 bag Carbo, 1 bag Gemzar, 1 bag Avastin, and a bag of Phenergen.) Next Friday will be a few bits of steroids and Gemzar. After the next treatment,  I’ll be halfway though  chemo. This will be a major milestone. Despite the fact that I am not even halfway now, I am still ecstatic! Why? I am going back to work next week! I am beyond excited about seeing the students and my fellow teachers. Just to be normal again (even with these Friday blips) is one of the things I am most looking forward to (did it hurt when I ended that sentence with a preposition?) On March 7, the last day I worked before my surgery, I went outside and the beautiful Mid Pac campus and the sweet Manoa air almost made me cry (Seinfeld’s Newman once said this about Hawaii…”The air is so dewy sweet that you don’t have to lick the stamps.”)

My favorite day of school is always the first day of school. It’s like the first hole on the golf course, no mistakes and everything is awesome (Check out the Lego movie). I predict now it will be a great first day. The chemo will drag on into October, so will keep the spirits up by hanging around fun people who make me laugh.  Maintaining that energy will be the largest problem through the fall terms . Side effects from chemo can last up to 6 months, so even if you’re done, you’re not done.

SPOILER ALERT: In future episodes, Kym will go on maintenance chemo. PET scan will occur in November to see if these meds are arresting the growth of the tumors. Watch the hilarity ensue!


Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap serves as a warning to train passengers to take caution as they travel from train car to platform. It’s also the title of what is apparently a 2004 film of the same name about “Five people that take huge risks in their personal lives in an effort to find happiness.” One of my favorite reviews of the movie calls it “a very small film with a big heart.”
I am about to travel across a huge gap, literally, as I head back from a well-deserved vacation across an ocean and back to a job and a life that I love. I’ve been gone for more than a few months-first surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for recurrent Ovarian Cancer. Then I had this lovely little family vacation for two weeks in Washington State. I watched the Mariner’s beat the Mets! I ate too much (including questionable ball park food), I didn’t sleep enough, I was moderately careful about touching the shopping carts, but I did not have my guard fully up. Many hugs were disbursed against medical advice as I tried to pack in many family and friend visits. It was a lazy and fun vacation. I got to hug on family members that I haven’t seen for five years, and some I have only missed for a few months. I ate some of the most delicious food I have had ever! My tummy might argue the point a bit, but even that didn’t deter me from getting out there. If I wanted cake, I ate it. If I wanted cookies, I ate those. Hopefully, I didn’t eat any of the recently recalled listeria tainted produce sold throughout Washington State.

All in all, a successful vacation. I also found out there is a rib fairy who delivers ribs to your house, if you’re nice. You probably don’t know her though. The cheesecake fairy exists too, but clearly, she is a different person. The massage fairy was at work too! Busy time of the year for them.

As I travel back, it is time to shift gears back to treatment and back to work. There is definitely a worry about the gap in time between chemo treatments. It settles in the back of my brain reminding me that each day without chemo is another day the cancer could be mobilizing its forces. All I can do is choose to be mindful. I will start back next week with chemo…the following week with school. I need to reintroduce myself to Prilosec and Phenergen, and crank up the water intake. Nurse Jackie will be ready to take my blood and see what damage has been done, if any. As I head back to the love and support on Oahu, I can’t help but think that this gap in medical treatment was enhanced by an improvement in mental health and a reminder to not let my treatment get in the way of life. I can’t thank my family and friends enough. My current chemotherapy should last until mid October (with maintenance chemo afterwards) so a long road ahead.


Traveling with Cancer

Traveling takes on a whole new meaning for cancer patients. Every sneeze and every cough on the airplane has the potential to spread unwanted infection. To most people, it’s just an annoyance, but when your immune system is compromised there is so much more of concern. I had the opportunity to fly recently in what is essentially the middle of my chemo treatment. I survived the debulking surgery in March, 25 radiations, and 4 chemos already, but would I survive the passenger on flight 898 who touched the seat-back tray with his germ filled hands on the previous flight. How thoroughly do airlines really clean those planes? What about the recirculated air from the 250 passengers all around me?

I traveled with the blessing of my doctor and my chemo nurses. Nurse Cindy said to me, “We do these treatments so that you will be able to enjoy your life.” That is my plan! I brought my bag full of drugs with me (wondering if TSA was going to wonder about a gallon Ziploc filled with prescription meds). I brought 3 bottles of hand sanitizer, three packs of Clorox travel wipes, and two cloth masks ordered from Amazon. (The only masks I had at home prior to this were from Home Depot made with the intention for home improvement projects.) Not only do the masks ward off germs, I’ve noticed most people subconsciously create a healthy personal zone around mask wearing travelers. Although rather hot and uncomfortable, they kept me insulated from all that swirled around me (even if it was only a mental protection). My Trip is still a work in progress, but a welcome break from cancer, treatments, and hospitals. When I return, I will be ready to pick up arms and begin the fight again…as my sister said…RFM…Relentless Forward Motion. I concur.




Hot ‘n Cold

I wish I could say that I am halfway through chemo, but not yet (should finish with these cycles of chemo in October followed by maintenance chemo once a month). We are running hot n cold on getting chemo treatments. My fickle blood is not liking the Gemzar. My ANC (Absolute Neutraphil Count) is bouncing around from 400 to 7000. Normal range is 1500 to 7500. They won’t do chemo on me unless it is very close to 1000. The cycle of chemo follows a 21 day pattern. Day 1 of chemo is Carbo/Gemzar/Avastin and Day 8 is Gemzar and day 21 is off. (When I had frontline chemo in 2012, my biggest problem was the red blood cell count. I had two blood transfusions to counter that.)

Now the white blood cell count is the problem. The combat this, we use Neulasta one day after day 8 of chemo. I’ll do blood count again on Monday even though this is an off week. This time the blood count will tell me how careful I’ll have to be during the next two weeks of vacation. I’ve already been told to wear a mask on the airplane. I will be also watching for Neutropenic fevers. and carrying my own bottle of just-in-case antibiotics. I’m (not) looking forward to going through security at the airport all masked and carrying a large ziploc of all my meds. I’m sure folks will give me a wide berth at the airport. What I am really excited about is two weeks of just enjoying life. What are your vacation plans this summer? What memories will you make?


My chemo journey seems to bring me something new each week! One of my  biggest challenges with the Gemzar has been keeping my white count high enough to even get chemo, and also to avoid bacterial infection. It seems vaguely humorous that you need drugs to treat the side effects of the drugs needed to fight cancer.  It’s like the Inception (a dream within a dream) of cancer.  My latest challenge is the need to generate healthy bone marrow.  The best means of doing this appears to be Neulasta, a drug which stimulates bone marrow production.My cancer fighting chemotherapy is indiscriminate about which cells it kills, and it has been attacking my white blood cells.  Those infection fighting white blood cells are developed in the bone marrow.  We need to get the cell party started deep within my bone marrow.  To say that my last experience with Neupogen (another bone marrow booster) did not go well, would be a huge understatement.  The bone pain I felt from that was just excruciating.  But here’s a fun fact: Evidently Claritin fights bone pain.  Who knew? I always wonder who was the first person to figure out that taking something off label could help something else.  I started the Claritin today and will continue for a 3 days post chemo. The current plan is chemotherapy on Friday morning, and then the dreaded Neulasta on Saturday (24 hours after chemo). Then, let the fun begin. Image

Maybe it would just be easier to take Skele-gro!

How’d de do dat?

“How do they put the chemo in?” Fair question.  If you are only having a few chemos, the doctor will sometimes just have the oncology nurses access a vein just like a normal blood draw.  If you are having multiple chemos, it is much easier and less painful on the veins to have a PowerPort installed in your chest.  When I had chemo directly infused into a vein in the hand (the very first time before I had my port), my hand burned and they had to keep warm compresses on it while the chemo drug worked its magic. My port  is located on my right side directly beneath my collar bone, so it doesn’t interfere with the seatbelt in a car.  Inserted surgically two years ago, it can remain in the body indefinitely.  It can be used for blood draws, injecting MRI contrast dyes, or administering chemo.  Dr. D says he usually takes them out two years post chemo.  The PowerPort gives the nurses direct access to the veins.  To access the port, they punch a special needle into the port.  There is a cold spray that can be used, but I think the spray hurts as much as the needle, so I always go with no spray.  After the chemo is complete, the port is flushed with heparin and the needle is removed.  A small bandage (just like a blood draw) is put on the access point.

1.  It doesn’t affect your ability to swim or take a shower.

2.  It doesn’t set off metal detectors as airports.

3.  They undersold the pain of insertion, but it doesn’t hurt now.

4. It can be used for regular blood draws, but the needle used is a special needle.

5.  Only specially trained folks can access it.

6. It can be used within a few days of being implanted, but it will hurt few weeks.

7. On some people, you don’t notice the port, but mine pokes through the skin like an alien head.  My daily life doesn’t include a lot of bikinis, so no problem there.

8.  For people with bad veins, this is a life saver!

9.  Only one “stick” takes care of blood draw and chemotherapy infusion.

10.  There are no problems exercising with a port, so get out there!



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Get Your Burgers Here

There are a few moments in life, when you have no choice but to “live in the moment.” Vomitting being one those. I threw up 12 times last weekend, which was a world record for me.  My vomit-free streak lasted from November 16, 2013.  Like Seinfeld, I do keep track of these things.  Still not sure what caused the Linda Blair episode (which was accompanied by a migraine style headache) but I am praying it will not happen again.  I’ll get a chance to test it next Thursday when I have my next chemo.  Last Saturday seemed to be shaping up like a normal post chemo day….a little tired and a little nauseated.  I even took at short walk at 5.  At about 730 the headache came on and by midnight, I was revisiting my dinner (In other notes-I no longer like hamburger).  This weekend made me realize how fragile our bodies actually are.  One nurse said, “We are more delicate than we imagine.” I also found that neither Zofran, Reglan, or Phenergen really work once you really get sick.  Nothing does. More importantly, I found out that Nurse Jackie (my nurse Jackie) is there for me 24 hours a day as is my husband, who patted my back and made me feel slightly less horrible.  I also learned that when you throw up violently, you get a beautiful petechial rash on your face…..vaguely Howdy Doody looking.  If there is a badge to be earned with all of this, I think I earned it this weekend.  Still unsure how this weekend fits into the general side effects of chemo category, but I can guarantee you that I was completely in the moment!