Sunday 9 June 2013

Epidural Update

I've been meaning to update you on the caudal epidural I had on Tuesday afternoon at the Ottawa Hospital's Pain Clinic. For those of you considering the procedure, I'll tell you a bit about how it was done and I will report on success and side-effects to date.

First, The Procedure

I was met by a nurse who interviewed me about my current pain medication and pain levels. After a bit of a wait (I'm not complaining), a young doctor I hadn't met before came in. I'd seen him consulting my regular anaesthesiologist moments before. He asked me a lot of questions about the extent of my pain and nerve symptoms, explained the procedure and its risks and then asked me to sign a consent form.

Moments later, a handsome young man -- who Sweetie thought was dressed for a joust given his head to toe x-ray shields -- took me into the room where the procedure would take place. He introduced me to the female X-ray technician and asked me to mount the bed. Yes, "mount." The bed was at a 30 degree angle. I was to aim my hips at one pillow and my head at the other. Now I'm not very athletic at my best... and Grace is not my middle name. So, it is a miracle I made it on there in one try. Then things got weird. I mentioned that the caudal epidural goes into the tailbone. Well, I hadn't thought through how they would get there. You see where I'm going with this? Yes, that's when The Jouster pulled my pants down around my hips. But we've just met!

He also set me up with a blood pressure cuff and the little thingy that monitors your blood oxygen. Then the young doctor came in. They placed a drape, wiped my butt with disinfectant, which I later discovered was that bright pink stuff that is hard to scrub off. Probably the worst pain of the procedure came next, when they gave me a local anaesthetic. I didn't feel much, maybe some pressure, when the doc inserted the catheter through my tailbone. The Jouster kept me informed of each step of the procedure, and reminded me to breathe deeply to relax. I felt more pressure as the doctor injected some contrast dye to mark his location. He continuously asked the X-ray tech for another shot, sometimes asking her to switch the angle of the X-ray machine for a better view. All that to make sure that the drug was released where my frazzled nerves needed it most. Next thing I knew, the steroid was being injected and the catheter removed, neither of which I felt. I was then unhooked and moved to a wheelchair for 20 minutes of monitoring... And a snack, which I appreciated having fasted through lunch.

The After-effects

The first few steps after I left the wheelchair felt a little funny, but I'm always stiff when I get up. Plus, my bum was numb. We stopped to pick The Bean up from our neighbour on the way home and I was able to stand a while to chat. Later in the evening I was drowsy, but that isn't unusual. I couldn't really tell if the epidural was working. I was told it could take a week to get the full effect. I thought I was feeling fewer zings. That was good.

The next day, I felt fine most of the day. In the evening I had some chills. I also got wicked indigestion after eating a chocolate bar. I also felt in a peculiar mood for a short while. By the next morning, it was clear that I was reacting to the steroid as I did during chemo. Thursday, my cheeks were hot and red all day. I was told I looked like I was teething! The chills continued off and on, as did the indigestion. I felt quite low, chemo low, for a couple of hours Thursday and again Friday. For what, I ask you?

This is the problem, the zings haven't completely disappeared. I do think they are fewer and farther between, but they are not gone yet. If I had to decide now, I don't think I would repeat the procedure. But let's give it a few weeks to see what the real improvement is.

It wasn't really pain I was hoping the epidural would relieve. The medication change in early May did that. It was the lingering nerve damage, which left long enough will become permanent. I want to be able to lie down beside my girl at bedtime, I want to brush my teeth, I want to pass the potatoes without feeling a zing up or down my back. That's all I'm asking for. We will see if I get that.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Epidural Time: Wish Me Luck!

I am fasting now, in preparation for my caudal epidural this afternoon. To avoid nausea, the Pain Clinic asked me to stop eating six hours ahead. I still have a few minutes where I can drink clear liquids, then nothing for two hours.

The epidural will go into my tailbone and be threaded up to my mid-back, where bone mets caused my vertebrae to shatter before I was even diagnosed with this cancer. There, a steroid will be released, which we hope will relieve some of the nerve pain I have been experiencing. Maybe I will be able to say goodbye to the zings that go up and down my body every time I bend a little, like doing something as risky as brushing my teeth. I get a lot of muscle pain in my mid-back too. I think the muscles are trying to firm up what the bones can't. I don't know if the epidural will help with that.

There are a few risks associated with epidurals. If the spinal cord is nicked you can end up with a headache, or dead, if I understood that right. Perhaps I shouldn't Google as much as I do. No, really there were helpful documents online about caudal epidurals. And the anaesthesiologist explained it to me at my last visit. This procedure is safer than an epidural for labour. First, they go in the tailbone, which is farther from the spinal cord, and second, the procedure is guided by X-ray to ensure they know where they are before releasing the medication.

I am not worried or nervous. I think. In fact, I think my greatest concern is that I have to skip lunch. Really, I better go now. I just have ten minutes left on clear liquids. I`d like to get a few more calories in me before I have to stop drinking. Cranberry juice? Oh that reminds me, a possible -- and temporary -- side effect is urinary incontinence. Oh great!

Wish me luck, friends!

A Milestone: 20,000 Page Views

Wow! Sometime in the last couple of days, this blog has hit a milestone I never anticipated: 20,000 page views. This is something that merits celebration, and gratitude.

I started my cancer blog after a short career as a geaneablogger (about family history) mostly as a way to keep family and friends aware of how my treatment was going. I knew many were getting the info through my mom and their parents. I'm sure some details got lost in translation. It was also difficult to tell the whole story over and over. My blog gave me a chance to write it down, once and for all.

My secondary purpose for the blog was to raise awareness of breast cancer. For a while, I gave my readers a monthly reminder to "check your boobs!" I think I felt that I might have caught my cancer earlier if I had done regular self-examinations. Then, as I became more educated about breast cancer, I realized that self-exams and mammograms aren't the be all and end all for finding cancer. That's when I dropped the words "breast cancer awareness" from the blog's title and went for the straightforward "Kate Has Cancer."

I received some criticism for the change. Is it defeatist to call myself Kate Has Cancer on the blog and Twitter? No, it's realistic. Remember, I have Stage IV breast cancer. I have had advanced cancer since they found it. Chemo, radiation and the other therapies have shrunken my tumours -- you can't even feel the one in my breast -- but many of them are still there in my liver and bones. My blood tests are fine. so I figure, if my liver can live with these tumours, then so can I!

Over time, another purpose for my blogging has emerged. I hope that others with advanced breast cancer can find, in my blog, some peace, some information and some hope. I don't focus on the latest news from clinical oncology. I talk about my treatments and the resources available to me here in Ottawa. Judging by the Blogger Stats, my most popular post, with nearly 600 page views, is perhaps my most practical one, on PICC line covers. I hope my link to a crochet pattern helped someone with cancer or even someone who wanted to help someone with cancer. I've had 800 views of my About Kate page, which I imagine could use an update. Almost 400 read my early post about how I started onto this cancer roller-coaster. Around 300 read two of my glimpses into the terror of Stage IV cancer, Reflections on Recent Deaths and Someone Took the Monster Out of the Cupboard. I have seen my readership rise to, on average, 200 page views per post. I never expected this. I may be Italian, but I don`t have that many cousins!

That brings me to the grateful part. I thank you readers for continuing to read and support me. Your comments on the blog have given me new perspectives and great support. I also thank God that I'm still here to write! Every day, every post is a blessing. I must also express my appreciation to my fellow bloggers who have directed considerable traffic my way: Ann at Breast Cancer? But Doctor....I Hate Pink!, Nancy at Nancy's Point, Jenny at Putting the GRRRRR in Grimes, and Nancy at The Dirty Pink Underbelly.

I hope to be here many more years. And I hope you stick with me. Thanks for coming.