Working and writing while on chemo and maintenance

I almost wished I used a typewriter. Crumpling up paper seems to be almost therapeutic.

One question that seems to come up for a lot of chemo and maintenance patients is whether they will be able to work while getting treatment. The answer seems to vary widely depending upon how each person reacts to treatment. In this post, I will share my experience of working while on chemo and maintenance therapy.

I should establish what I do for work

Before actually discussing my ability to work while on chemo and maintenance I suppose I should establish what I do for a living. The main this I do is write. I used to write a blog about South Dakota Politics called SoDakLiberty. When I became sick last year it just honestly became too much to keep up with that blog, and I stopped. Plus the amount of time I put into the blog really didn’t align well with what little revenue I got. To replace that I now do research and ghostwriting for others about politics. Ghostwriting isn’t a bad gig, but it does keep my name from being connected to stories I am quite proud of writing.

Additionally I am working on two different books. One is almost completed and I hope to publish it at the end of this year. The other is in need of major rewrites; more on that later in this post.

Finally, my wife and I own a tax and business services office. For the office I act as the IT guy and quality control. This time of year I am absolutely swamped. I have been spending about fourteen to sixteen hours a day for the last few weeks reviewing returns. Luckily I can do this from home by remotely connecting into my computer at the office. With corporate deadline being this Friday I should soon be able to slow down a little bit.

Working while on chemo was tough for me

From September through December of last year I was on chemo. During the first few rounds of chemo my side effects seemed pretty mild. The main two side effects that would impact my work was fatigue and brain fog. Fatigue is an obvious one that would affect someone who is trying to write. It is challenging to put words together when all you can think about is sleeping.

The brain fog, or chemo brain as it is often called, was by far a worse side effect impacting my ability to work. It was dreadfully difficult to write while my brain fog was at its worse. I found it difficult to put words in the correct order. Actually much of what I wrote at that time came out almost like dialogue from a Tarzan cartoon. I would then go back and rewrite those sentences many times. Doing a five hundred word post would take me a few hours at that rate. As a comparison, I am almost up to five hundred words in this post and have been writing for about fifteen minutes.

As chemo went on I found a way to combat the brain fog. Each morning I would play word and logic games for anywhere from one to three hours. This worked great. After playing these games, my ability to put words together seemed to be back to almost full capacity. As time went on I didn’t have to spend as much time playing these games. By the end of chemo I would only have to play these game about fifteen to thirty minutes a day to clear the fog.

During this time I did very little work for the office. The girls seemed to be afraid they would be an imposition on my recovery. At the time though I wish they had sent me more work as I was going stir crazy!

The fog wasn’t lifted as much as I thought during chemo

As I said, during chemo I was using word and logic games to clear the brain fog. This seemed to work well enough. Looking back at the posts I wrote I am mostly happy with what was published (I’m never 100% satisfied with my work). But then I recently looked at four chapters of a book I wrote at that time. To put it mildly, those four chapters are a disaster. None of the paragraphs seem to tie into each other, and I am continually switching directions in each section. It is as if I wrote each section in those chapters without actually knowing what was written previously. It is so bad that I have decided editing isn’t going to work. I have now deleted all four chapters and will have to start over. It was earlier this month I deleted those chapters, and I must admit a certain amount of depression occurred for a couple of days afterward.

Working while on maintenance

Maintenance has been a different matter. The work I have done on my book since being on maintenance has been normal. The cutoff point between a disorganized mess and actual writing appears to be about one month after finishing my final round of chemo. From that time on I only see the usual grammatical issues I suffer from (such as ending a sentence with a preposition).

It was also around that time I really had to step up and start working for the office more. Tax season hits hard at the end of January and continues hard until mid-March. This is because March 1 is the deadline for farm returns; which our office has a lot of farmer clients. And March 15 is called corporate deadline; which is when partnerships and S-Corps are due. Earlier I noted that I have been putting in long hours. For the last few weeks on a typical day I am working at least fourteen hours a day, shuffling kids between school and activities, and trying to write at least a thousand words either on a book or blog post. Part of this is possible due to my inability to sleep.

Insomnia has not relented now that I am on maintenance. Just prior to maintenance it appeared I was starting to sleep a little bit longer each night. After maintenance I am now back to only a few hours of sleep per night. Today as an example I went to bed about two AM and was up at about five AM. My work doesn’t seem impacted at all. Actually, I am able to write better than I have for ages. Perhaps sleep is overrated after all.

Time to get back to work

Now that I am over a thousand words in this post I probably should get back to reviewing tax returns; corporate deadline is this Friday after all! In this post all I really wanted to do was share my experience trying to work and write while on chemo and maintenance. When tax season ends, I can get back to writing and find out for sure whether the brain fog no longer impacts my ability to write books.

Song of the day: Working in a coal mine

No, I don’t work in a coal mine. But writing a post about working just made this song pop into my head. This version of the song became a massive hit for Lee Dorsey back in the 60’s.

Bonus song: Play Something Sweet

The above song was written by Allen Toussaint. He wrote and produced a large number of hits back in the day. This track from Three Dog Night is also a Toussaint song. It wasn’t one of Three Dog’s biggest hits, but I’ve always liked the song. Plus it happens to be about a person trying to perform their job, being a musician in this case.

Bonus Bonus Song: I never been to Spain

This song is not written by Toussaint. Hoyt Axton wrote this hit and it is one of my favorite Three Dog Night songs. Music has helped me get through many tough times in my life, including fighting cancer. Songs like this remind me that in this huge world I am very happy to be here with my family.

The week and a half following the maintenance infusion

It has been just a little over a week and a half since I had my maintenance infusion of Rituximab. Overall I would say maintenance has gone well for me. But I have experienced some side-effects. In this post, I will share how the last week and a half has gone for me.

Lack of sleep is back in full force!

In the post about my maintenance treatment, I mentioned taking a four-hour nap afterward. Unfortunately, that seems to be about the longest I’ve slept over the last couple of weeks. That night I slept for only a couple of hours. At the time I hoped my lack of sleep was due to having taken such a long nap. I also believed the steroids given to me during the maintenance infusion might have caused the sleeplessness. Both of those reasons could have been true for that night, but wouldn’t explain my sleeplessness since.

Since maintenance I seem to get about three to four hours of sleep a night. Every four or five days I seem to sleep about six or seven hours, most likely my body trying to catch up on sleep. I did have sleep issues prior to maintenance, but at that time I was back up to five or six hours of sleep every night. It is possible my sleep apnea is getting worse. This week I actually go back for a second sleep study to get a CPAP machine set up in order to help me sleep. I’m not really looking forward to sleeping with a CPAP machine. But then if it actually helps me sleep better at night I’m all for it.

Irritability came back!

As part of maintenance therapy I was given a steroid. According to my chart, the steroid given to me via IV was dexamethasone sodium phosphate, also known as Hexadrol Phosphate. This was also the steroid used during my chemo infusions. The only difference between maintenance and chemo is that I no longer have to take the prednisone steroid. But just like during chemo I experience some extreme irritability for a couple of days.

Previously I blogged about the rage experienced while on prednisone. I was much less full of rage this time, but there was still a definite irritability. For a couple of days I seemed to get annoyed and almost angry every time the boys fought. As a parent I know the boys will fight for no reason at all. Yet on one of those days I had a large confrontation with my youngest son that left me apologizing to him for a couple of days. Hopefully the kids understand I was not quite myself on those days.

The chills!

The chills can get quite annoying!

Since my last round of chemo, I have experienced the chills occasionally when going to bed. I hadn’t really thought too much of this due to the fact it is very cold outside and it didn’t last very long. On a typical night prior to maintenance I would experience the chills for about five to ten minutes. After maintenance therapy, I now experience the chills for about forty-five to sixty minutes per evening. The chills always seem to come when I am going to bed. Nothing I do seem to get rid of them.

I’ve spoken with other lymphoma patients that have experienced the chills after chemo is completed. There doesn’t seem to be a unifying reason as to why some of us experience the chills. One common reason given is that chemo causes early menopause. Since I am not a woman I don’t really think that applies to me. Part of me wonders if it is not due to the rituximab. Rituximab is the common drug I used both during chemo and during maintenance therapy. And the chills is a common side-effect of the drug. I’m hoping as time goes on this particular side-effect will either go away or at least get reduced.

Not a lot of side-effects

I don’t seem to have a lot of side-effects from maintenance therapy. The main side-effects I have is lack of sleep, irritability, and the chills. Overall I can live with these side-effects if it means maintenance therapy can keep my lymphoma at bay longer. Plus I hope that as maintenance therapy goes on my body will just adjust better and the side-effects will reduce each time.

Today’s song: I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

Today’s song comes from Warren Zevon. This track is called I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Since getting lymphoma my wife doesn’t like me to use the phrase I’ll sleep when I’m dead, but I actually have used it many times over the years. The song has some obvious references to living life to its fullest. But at the same time there are references to being stretched a little thin. So much to relate to in this song, especially when experiencing sleep issues!

Bonus song: Poor Poor Pitiful Me

Actually, this song isn’t about me at all. My constant companion throughout chemo and maintenance is Lucy. She is a nine-year-old Yorkie and is always at my side! Of course, just like any other dog she thinks her life is so rough, and I often sing this Warren Zevon song to her.

Going from large amounts of sleep to insomnia

109107663Going through chemotherapy is hard on the body and leaves the body fatigued. Getting a lot of sleep is important to heal the body. But I find myself going from sleeping constantly to now getting almost no sleep. In this post I will blog about this transition from two different sleeping extremes.

During my first round of chemo I basically slept the day away. The following few days weren’t much different. After that I was able to function pretty well by getting a good nights sleep and a nap in the afternoon. There were still some days during I would get more fatigued, but that would usually go away after my afternoon nap.

A week and a half ago I had my second round of chemo. Just as before I basically slept through chemo. Now I know this is likely due to the fact they inject me with a large dose of Benadryl. The two days following chemo I also napped a lot. This seems to be normal for chemo patients. After that things seem to go different from my first cycle of chemo. Actually things have changed so much I almost wish for the days when I would seemingly nap nonstop.

This time around I find myself unable to take a nap in the afternoon. I still feel exhaustion requiring me to take a nap and I definitely lay down for a nap. But no matter what I do I can’t fall asleep. On a couple of days I have been able to lightly snooze, but that really isn’t the same as actually sleeping. This has led me to stop even trying to nap over the last few days. The frustration that comes from trying to nap is more annoying to me than the fatigue I suffer from.

At the same time as I began to have problems napping, my nights started to get shorter. During the first three-week cycle of chemo I would get eight to ten hours of sleep each night. Now, on my second three-week round of chemo, I am down to about four to five hours of sleep a night. As I check my fitbit chart I see a definite drop downwards since my latest round of chemo. For the last week my average sleep duration per day has been four hours and forty minutes.

Last night I actually got a lot of sleep compared to other nights during the week. I slept for five and a half hours. But then I had a long day of watching/filming a band competition. Plus I only had two hours and twenty minutes of sleep the night before. Since my body is supposed to be healing I’m not sure only five and a half hours of sleep should be considered a good nights sleep.

Insomnia is nothing new to me. The first time I remember experiencing insomnia was when I deployed to Bosnia almost twenty-five years ago. Since that time I have occasionally experienced lesser insomnia. Usually I would be able to link it something lifestyle related such as drinking too much pop or unhealthy eating. This time however I am unable to link the insomnia directly with any action I am taking. I think part of it may be stress related such as was the likely cause in Bosnia.

I have been trying different natural remedies to keep the insomnia at bay. So far nothing has been effective. Since it has only been a little over a week of insomnia I’m not overly worried, but I will continue to try different remedies. One possibility I’ve read about is restless leg syndrome, which I suffer from. I’ve never actually seen a doctor about my restless legs, but now I might have to. I’ve found articles linking restless legs to low iron levels, which can be made worse by cancer. And of course I am on chemo which can actually create a anemia condition in the body. But at the same time I have an iron-rich diet, which should keep iron deficiency and possibly anemia at bay. Yet I have found quite a few articles linking restless leg and anemia to insomnia for cancer patients.┬áThis upcoming week I’ll set up a doctor’s appointment to see if this is possibly what is causing my insomnia.

I’ll continue to look into possible causes for my insomnia. Insomnia is a very common complaint from cancer patients so I shouldn’t be surprised it is impacting me. Any cancer patients out there reading this post should know they are not alone! If I find a remedy or there is any change to my sleeping patterns I will share that information on this blog so it might help others.