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Last Chemo Day! And More Treatment Details

‘This is a breast cancer and treatment post. If you don’t want to read about medical stuff, check out some of my DIYs and recipes.

I actually started this post about a week and a half ago on my last chemotherapy day. Then, I got tired, then sick a few days later and got to stress over whether I needed to go to the hospital. Luckily, all I needed was rest, antibiotics and my mom for a few days.

Today is my last chemotherapy treatment. I had an MRI done a week ago that shows all the previously affected lymph nodes to look completely normal. As for the three tumors in my breast, all that remains is wispy asymmetry in a benign pattern. “Wispy asymmetry” almost makes it sound pretty. Almost.

I’m still having a double mastectomy in June. The cancer was so diffuse and since I’m young, we’re not taking chances. It’s kind of funny how relative age is. When I was pregnant at thirty five, I was of “advanced maternal age” and it was considered a “geriatric” pregnancy. Get breast cancer at forty one and I’m young again, lol.

The chemo has made it so I won’t lose as many lymph nodes, so that is great news. Fewer lymph nodes removed means less chance of lymphedema.

Pathology from the surgery will determine if radiation is needed and if I will continue on the Herceptin and Perjeta or switch to a different targeted therapy. I’d really like to avoid radiation, if possible. For some reason, I’m more worried about radiation than chemo and surgery.

I am looking forward to having hair again. It will be nice not having to wash my hair while recovering from surgery, and being bald in summer isn’t terrible. I’m over tying scarves or wearing my wig, though, and as it gets hotter, both are uncomfortable. I need some hair to keep my scalp from getting sunburned.

I did make myself a couple of bucket hats that are easy to throw on. They turned out nicely, so I made a couple more to put in my shop. Right now, this is the only print, and I only have two available.

Bucket hat available for sale at SubEarthan Cottage.

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DIY Embroidery Patch Quick Tip

I love upcycling in my crafting. I love that it saves money and keeps things out of the landfill. One of my latest ways to upcycle is using denim as a base for machine embroidery patches. Just about everyone has a pair of worn out jeans. Denim is the perfect weight for patches, so I take usable fabric from old jeans and stitch my patch designs on that. Give it a shot!

Patch stitched on a scrap of denim.

You can find this design in my shop here.

Stitching mini patches on a denim scrap from blue jeans.

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10 Reasons I Love My Electric Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot)

This was originally posted in 2017. I’ve been using my electric pressure cooker a lot lately to have easy, healthy meals. It’s been a while since I’ve shared, so I thought it was a good time to revisit it.

Last Christmas my lovely parents bought us an 8 qt. GoWise Pressure cooker that I have used almost daily ever since. This is the exact one I have:

With all the sales happening, and the Instant Pot craze still going strong, I know lots of people will be getting an electric pressure cooker and then wondering what to do with it. At least that’s what I did. Now that I’ve used mine for a while, I have some favorite uses for it to share with newbies. I have never used an official Instant Pot, so I can’t say how they compare. They should work about the same, though, so if you have an Instant Pot or other similar electric pressure cooker you should be able to enjoy all this awesomeness, too.

10 Reasons I Love My Electric Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot)

Easy Instant Pot Boiled eggs:

Boiled eggs on the stovetop are easy, unless you’re getting ready for work or school or have young children or are otherwise easily distracted. Then you either burn them or undercook them. Peeling them also is hit or miss. Sometimes the shell comes off easily, other times it takes half the egg white with it.

In the electric pressure cooker, I can put a dozen eggs in the steamer basket with a little water, push the button for eggs (mine has 1,3, and 5 minute settings for soft, medium and hard), and forget about it. The end result is perfectly cooked eggs that peel so easily my two year old can do it.

Potatoes:

Even in the microwave, I have a hard time getting potatoes and sweet potatoes to cook properly. It seems like I always have to restart it a few times to finally get them done. With the pressure cooker, I set it for 15-17 minutes depending on how soft I want them, and they are always done. I’m trying to quit using my microwave all together, too, so the pressure cooker is definitely the faster option compares to the oven.

Slow cooker recipes:

Anything you’d make in a crockpot can be cooked in the pressure cooker. You can either use the slow cooker setting, or, if you forgot about cooking dinner until after lunch, you can cook it under pressure and have it done in an hour or less.

Not only that, but, unlike with a slow cooker, you can use the sauté setting to brown meats or anything that needs browning first. That means more flavor with fewer dirty dishes.

Beans:

If I forget to presoak dry beans, I’ll put them in my pressure cooker for five minutes to do a quick presoak, drain, and add back to the pot along with the seasonings and broth or cooking water, then cook using the bean setting. It’s possible to skip the presoak entirely and go straight to cooking, if I’m short on time, but I prefer to presoak when I can.

If I get them cooking early enough in the day, I’ll switch to the slow cooker setting after they’ve cooked with pressure. That gives them the super yummy, second day flavor on day one.

Stews, soups and curries:

Browning meats and onions in the pot add flavor, and you can use the pressure then slow cook trick to further develop the flavor.

Bone broth:

Normally I would simmer bones all day on the stove for broth. With the pressure cooker, I set it to the two hour maximum time and get yummy bone broth. Easy Homemade Chicken Broth in an Electric Pressure Cooker

Stackable foods:

Smaller meats like chicken breasts, vegetables and rice can be put into separate heat-proof containers and steam cooked at the same time. I usually cook too much at once to do that, but when it works out, it is handy and doesn’t heat up the kitchen like using the oven. Easy All in One Electric Pressure Cooker Meal

Rice:

It cooks rice even better than my little rice cooker, and I don’t risk burning it like I do on the stovetop. (There’s lots of distractions here, people.) I don’t use it much for rice, though, since I usually cook curries and things I serve with rice in the pressure cooker. Whenever my rice cooker dies, though, I’m seriously considering a second, smaller pressure cooker as a replacement.

Yogurt:

I haven’t quite perfected yogurt with any method yet, but so far, the best I’ve made is in jars on the trivet in the pressure cooker. It is still a little runny, but it works well for smoothies.

Baking in an Instant Pot:

I’ve only done this once, but thought I’d mention it. You can bake cakes and breads in it by setting the bread or cake pan on the trivet and adding water to the pot for steam. This helps keep the bread or cake moist, which is especially handy for baking with gluten or grain-free flours.

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Ways to use your Instant Pot or electric pressure cooker.
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How to Grow Your Own Herbs

With the cost of everything going up, many people are turning to gardening as a way to save money on food. Depending on your location or gardening experience or abilities, a fruit or vegetable garden may seem daunting or just not possible. One way to get started that doesn’t require a huge amount of space is planting an herb garden. Dried herbs from the store are pricey, so growing your own still can help your budget while giving your food loads of fresh flavor.

Starting Your Herb Garden

 

Choosing Your Herbs

First you’ll want to choose the herbs that you’ll plant. You might have a hard time doing this because of the huge scope of herbs available. The most practical way to choose is to do what I did; look at what you have in your kitchen. By planting your own collection of the herbs you already use, you know you’ll get the most use from your garden. Some of the herbs you might start with include rosemary, sage, basil, dill, mint, chives, and parsley.

Don’t feel that you have to only start with these, though. If there’s an herb you’re curious about, give it a try. If plant medicine is something that interests you, research and plant a few basics like lavender, catnip or lemon balm.

Location

When choosing an area to put your herb garden, you should remember that the soil should have extremely good drainage. If the dirt gets watered and stays completely saturated, you have no chance of ever growing a healthy plant.

One way to fix the drainage problem is to dig a foot deep in the soil, and put a layer of crushed rocks down before replacing all the soil. This will allow all that water to escape, thus saving your plants.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Another way is to build a raised bed. This allows you to fill the bed with a suitable soil mix without having to dig down deep into your existing soil. Raised beds can be made from timbers, bricks or any suitable material you have available.

If you are incredibly limited on space or don’t have a yard at all, herbs are perfect for container gardens.

Getting your plants

When you are ready to begin planting herbs, you might be tempted to buy the more expensive plants from the store. However, with herbs it is much easier to grow them from seed than it is with other plants. Therefore you can save a bundle of money by sticking with seed packets. If you’re a little impatient (like me), a selectively chosen plant or two is nice for some greenery to tend while you wait for the seeds to sprout.

I personally haven’t had much luck with starting lavender or rosemary from seed, so I would choose those to get as a small plant. Plants in the mint family and basils do really well from seed, so save your money on those.

Once mints start growing, they can get out of control. The best way to prevent this problem is to plant the more aggressive plants in pots (with holes in the bottom to allow drainage, of course).

Harvesting from Your Herb Garden

When it comes time to harvest the herbs you have labored so hard over, it can be fatal to your plant to take off too much. If your plant isn’t well established, it isn’t healthy to take any leaves at all, even if it looks like it isn’t using them. You should wait until your plant has been well established for at least a few months before taking off any leaves. This wait will definitely be worth it, because by growing unabated your plant will produce healthily for years to come.

It’s a good idea to harvest from the ends of the plants as needed throughout the growing season to keep the shape and encourage new growth. The end of the season is when you’ll want to harvest and dry more of the plant for storage. Do check recommendations for the specific herbs in your garden as not all are the same.

Storing Your Herbs

Once you’ve harvested your delicious home grown herbs, you’ll want to use them year round. The easiest way to store them is drying. If you have a safe place to hang them to air dry that isn’t overly humid, that is the simplest. I also think this way preserves the most color and flavor.

You could also use a food dehydrator on the recommended settings. If not, don’t worry. You can dry them in the oven. This is easily achieved by placing them on a cookie sheet and baking them on the lowest setting, usually around 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 4 hours. After they’re sufficiently dried, store them in an airtight container such as a Ziploc bag or glass jar. I think they look beautiful in glass jars, so save any you get to upcycle as herb storage.

Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

During the first few days of storage, you should regularly check the container and see if any moisture has accumulated. If it has, you must remove all the herbs and re-dry them. If moisture is left from the first drying process, it will encourage mildew.

Herbs are a fun, easy and useful way to get into gardening no matter what your space. I encourage you to give it a try.

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How to Make a Port Pillow

Something that I have found very useful since getting my chemo port put in is a port pillow. Port pillows are small pillows that attach to seatbelts to prevent the seatbelt from irritating the port. Luckily, they are super easy to make with very little materials needed. There are many organizations that accept them as donations to give to cancer patients, so that’s something to consider if you are looking for a charitable way to use up your stash.

Materials for a port pillow.

Materials needed for One Port Pillow

  • 2 rectangles of soft fabric, approximately 4 inches by 7 inches. I like using quilting cotton.  There is enough fabric in my soap’s wrapping to make one pillow, so upcycle if you have it. 
  • 2 pieces of hook and loop tape (Velcro) measuring 3.5 inches each. 
  • Polyfil or other stuffing.
  • Thread

Step one: Baste the Velcro

Separate the Velcro pieces and baste them in place on one piece of the fabric close to the edges. I just eyeball the placement at about halfway between the middle and short edge of the rectangle for each Velcro piece. I like to make the softer piece face up, but it doesn’t really matter. You could also use pins to hold it in place instead of basting, but I find machine basting easier. 

Step Two: Sew the pillow

Sew the fabric rectangles wrong sides together as shown in the photo below. Be sure to leave an opening for turning. I left the opening on a long side for this one, but it’s easier to sew closed if you leave it on a short side. 

Leave the opening on the end next time.

Step Three: Turn and Stuff

Clip the corners, being careful not to cut the thread, turn the pillow right side out and stuff. I like to press the empty pillow before stuffing for a crisper look. Just be careful not to melt the Velcro if you do this too. 

 

Turned and pressed.
Stuffing. Needs a little more to be semi-firm.

Step Four: Sew it Closed

If you want the seam hidden, you can sew it closed by hand. I don’t mind the seam, so I use my machine to make it quick. This is much easier when the opening is on the end as evidenced by the number of pins I used to hold it closed. I hate using pins. 

I can usually manage without pins when the opening is on the end.

Done

The end result should look something like this.

 

This is one of those projects that I’ve done so often I may have overlooked something in trying to tell someone else how to do it. If anything is confusing, please ask in the comments. I will clarify it ASAP.

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My Breast Cancer Diagnosis And Treatment Plan

The title says it all, so if you want to skip the breast cancer talk and get back to the fun stuff, now’s your chance

On November 1 of last year I had my first ever mammogram at age 41. The next day I found out I needed further testing and two weeks later I had a follow-up ultrasound and biopsy of two of three tumors and one of a few suspicious lymph nodes. From the appearance on the ultrasound, I was told they were about 95% likely to be cancer. On Monday of the following week (aka Thanksgiving week) it was official. 

Type of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is classified both on location and whether it has receptors for estrogen(ER+ or -), progesterone (PR+ or -), and/or HER2 growth hormone (HER2+ or -). If it’s negative for all three hormone receptors, it’s called triple negative breast cancer. I have two types: invasive ductal carcinoma that is ER+ and HER2+ and invasive lobular carcinoma that is ER+ and HER2-. All are PR-. It is also stage 2, and grade 2. Stage describes the extent and is what most people are familiar hearing. Grade is how slow or fast it’s likely to spread. Grade 2 is not as slow as 1 but slower than 3.

Genetic Testing

Because I have a family history of breast cancer, I had genetic testing. I do not have any known genes for breast cancer, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. It did show I have two variants. That just means that those genes are still being looked at for contributing to breast cancer. Most of the time variants get moved to the harmless category, so for now having them makes no impact on treatment or advice for other family members.

Treatment

Because I’m complicated (ha!), it took some time and more test results for my oncologist to determine the best course of treatment. It also uncovered some weird activity in my left femur on a PET scan. Thankfully a bone biopsy came back negative for cancer, although we will still need to keep an eye on it. I also get to say I had someone drill into my bone while I was awake, which my weird self thinks is kind of cool. Not that I want to ever have to do it again, but since it happened I’m embracing the cool but slightly gross factor.

We knew that the best course was chemo followed by surgery, probably radiation and definitely a year of a targeted HER2 therapy called Herceptin. Which type of chemo was the question. Eventually, she decided on six rounds of TCHP for the chemotherapy, which is two chemotherapy drugs, Taxotere and Carboplatin, and two HER2 targeted therapies, the Herceptin I will continue and Perjeta.

Chemo Port

For the chemo and Herceptin infusions, I have a port. That link gives more details on what that is. When I first heard that I would need one I was definitely grossed out by the thought of it, but now that I’ve seen how much easier it makes the infusions, I’m very glad to have it. I just can’t think about it too hard because it still makes me a little squeamish.

How I’m Feeling

I receive chemo once every three weeks. So far I’ve had four rounds, so I’m over halfway done. Yes, I’m bald now, but it is about to be summer in Texas, so the timing isn’t too bad. As far as other symptoms, I mostly feel tired achy, like I have the flu for the first week, more easily tired the second week and almost normal the third week before it starts all over again.

I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at how much easier it’s been than I was expecting. Part of that is probably the almost half a dozen anti-nausea meds they’ve given me. Between the two or three preemptive meds chemo week and the two as needed at home, my nausea is so well controlled I think I’ve managed to put on a few pounds.

Annoying Side Effects

I do have a few other side effects that are more a nuisance than anything. Heartburn is way worse than usual, and I occasionally get hot flashes. The most annoying thing is chemo mouth. Basically everything tastes weird at best, like I drank nail polish remover at worst. It does make it a little hard to drink water or find things to eat when it’s bad and so far I haven’t found one thing that consistently helps. It also seems like the things that taste the best then are some of the least healthy. Like Sonic Cheddar Peppers, for example. Probably explains the few extra pounds, tbh. I also can’t stomach coffee for about a week and a half after a treatment. I should probably cut it out the whole time, but no. Just no. (Currently sipping my second cup.)

I have another round coming up next week, my last one the first week of May and then surgery the second week of June. I’ll share more on the other parts of my treatment as they happen.

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