Hair falls like snow as second chemo round begins

It's been another roller-coaster stretch as Amanda's treatment for ovarian cancer continues after it was found during the birth of our son. She's staying strong, but as she's said, "what else am I going to do?" It's weird to be called inspirational when you're barely keeping it together.

After the first day of chemo treatment, chronicled in my last post, Amanda went through excruciating bone and joint pains and a level of physical exhaustion that left her afraid to hold the baby. Otherwise, it was an emotional experience.

Remember that she never had any symptoms of ovarian cancer. The symptoms women are told to watch out for -- abdominal pressure, frequent urinary urgency, quickly feeling full, clothes feeling tighter -- were easily explained. She was pregnant, after all. Then the C-section and testing said she was very very sick. But she didn't FEEL sick.

Getting that needle in her arm and watching the IV bag drip poison into her body forced her to face the fact that she was sick and was soon going to feel sick.

Shining in those big eyes is a reflection of his mommy.
The chemo side effect she was dreading and expecting was slow to come. Her hair started falling out toward this past weekend and became obvious by Sunday as we prepared to go to the Blue Nose Marathon in Halifax to cheer for our friends Greg and Christine. (Both did tremendously, by the way! Congrats, guys!) We took baby Gordon out for his first experience in a big crowd. It was a beautiful day marred only by Amanda's fatigue and the growing nest of hair piling on her neck, back and shoulders.

Tuesday had us at the Victoria General Hospital in Halifax for the second round of Carboplatin and Taxol chemotherapy treatment. By then, her hair was coming out rapidly. It fell in chunks in the shower. Even for someone who's not vain and believes strongly that one's appearance does not determine one's worth, seeing a formerly lush head of rich brown hair coming out with barely a touch and jamming up the shower drain is a disturbing sight.

The day of chemo began with a round of questions: Sores in your mouth? Tingling in your hands and feet? Constipation and diarrhea? Some blood testing. Some seriously uncomfortable physical exams. (Hope your doctor has slim fingers.) Wait for the blood test results to come in -- looking good this time! -- and eventually into the chemo chair with her good buddy, the IV pole. Then it's hours and hours of sitting around as the drugs get pumped into her body.

Chemotherapy is serious business and has profound consequences, but it's really, really boring. This time we brought gadgets, chargers and an extension cord. She watched Grays Anatomy on her mom's iPad. I listened to podcasts including Tell 'Em Steve Dave and Judge John Hodgman. As usual, she appeared to be the youngest patient in the chemo room. We were in at 11am and the last ones to leave.

By day's end, Amanda was teary and ready to take severe action on her hair. Amanda's mother and I stood by her side in the bathroom as she took a pair of sharp kitchen scissors and cut her already short hair even shorter. In doing so, she revealed another hidden talent. Her improvised, hurried, untrained emergency haircut looked terrific.

Within an hour of that, though, the odd patch of scalp was visible. Handfuls of hair now come out at a slight touch. I'll be surprised if she makes it to the end of today without wanting to buzz it all off. It's horrible to see her go through this. I never would've expected losing hair to be so traumatic. But that's how it's turned out.

Some side effects of these drugs are cumulative. We're anticipating the pain to be worse this time and even worse next time. The doctors say she can take Tylenol and Advil to try to head off the pain, but it probably won't make a difference.

"If that doesn't work, get in touch and we can try something else," said the doctor this week. "But it won't work."

That sounds line with what we've read online from patients who've even taken Vicodin with no relief. This will be a hard weekend for her.


Camera operator JW shoots some B-Roll. B is for Baby and Bottle.
Thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting. I hadn't intended this to be a chronicle of the cancer discovery and treatment process, but people have been telling us that they've been checking back for updates. We really appreciate the support. Our friends have been terrific, and so have been the countless strangers who've been sharing these posts on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and elsewhere. You can follow me on Twitter @Simpson957 and Amanda @AYateman.

It's also been neat to see how many friends and relatives have been sporting teal toenails! (See for the connection.)

We're not attention whores or sympathy hustlers, Amanda especially. I have a history of being less private. I mean, you can see from the fact that I've been writing about my life here since 2005 that I'm not shy about talking about myself. We're not out to call attention to ourselves over this. But maybe our experience can help someone else somehow.

Having said that, we've been approached here and there by people who've read the story and want to share it with others through larger media.

CTV News Atlantic came to our house last week to shoot a segment for their Housecall segment, and that aired tonight (Wednesday, May 22, 2013) during the 5pm show. The producer, cameraman and whoever else was involved along the way did a great job. You know I work in news and watching TV news usually gets me shouting corrections and style suggestions at the TV. But they got everything right on this one.

You can view the story at CTV's web site. You just have to sit through a short commercial to see the story.

There may be more from other media as time goes on.


As for baby Gordon -- he's still amazing. Hardly makes a fuss but always keeps us guessing about when he'll eat, sleep and poop. Big thanks to Barb and Wendall for staying with us and taking some of the load off. We love him to pieces and he's been the inspiration we keep coming back to. We're looking forward to seeing more family over the summer so they can meet the kid and be personally barfed upon.

1 comment:

  1. It's so surreal, my thoughts are going out to you and Amanda and your little man, Gordon. I very much understand what she means when saying that there's little choice except for bravery.

    Don't know if she's trimmed her hair yet, but the Look Good Feel Better here in Canada suggests trimming it to about 1/8 an inch rather than cutting it all off. That way it helps prevent irritation or infection thought little cuts.


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