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Photographer won't let cancer stop her

Tests and procedures needed before chemotherapy

POSTED: February 6, 2012 12:44 a.m.
/Photo for The Times

Realizing she may lose her hair to chemotherapy, Times photographer Sara Guevara cut off 12 inches of her hair. Guevara donated the hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis.

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After my diagnosis, I quickly set to getting in touch with an oncologist so I could get back to my life.

Cancer may slow me down, but it certainly isn't going to stop me. I simply refuse to allow this illness to dictate the direction of my life.

During the consultation with my oncologist, I learned that I couldn't immediately start chemotherapy. Instead, I would have to submit to several more tests and procedures.

That information was news to me. In the movies, cancer patients merely received a diagnosis and began chemotherapy. I supposed the next week and a half of procedures would simply slow down the flow of the film.

My first procedure was a bone marrow biopsy. This biopsy would show if the cancer had spread to my bone marrow. Thankfully, it later came back negative.

Next, I submitted to a multigated acquisition scan. A MUGA scan checks for the heart's ability to pump blood, as well as the size of the ventricles in the heart.

Unfortunately, chemotherapy can be very taxing on the body. It is cytotoxic; that is, it kills cells. In taking out the cancerous cells, chemotherapy can also take out the good cells.

One of the chemotherapy drugs that I would be taking, Adriamycin, could cause heart problems later on. The oncologist wanted to see how my heart was functioning before receiving this drug so she could note any potential damage after I stopped treatment.

The same was true for my lungs. Another chemotherapy drug used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma, Bleomycin, could result in pulmonary fibrosis.

I was shocked to hear that a batch of drugs meant to cure my cancer could result in such bodily damage. There was nothing I could do, however. I needed chemotherapy. I would just have to hope that I would make it out of treatment just as healthy as I had entered it.

The results from both the MUGA scan and the pulmonary function test were promising. My heart was healthy, as were my lungs. They were strong from years of exercise and healthy eating, no doubt. I took a moment to congratulate myself for taking such good care of my body.

I had received such devastating news recently. I reveled in the good news instead of the bad.

The end of the week brought me to perhaps the most important test - the positron emission tomography scan. As I understood it, the PET scan would determine my individualized course of treatment. The results would mean the difference between two or six months of chemotherapy.

The final procedure was quite possibly the most difficult. Its difficulty stems from the fact that, for the duration of my treatment, I would have a foreign device surgically implanted in my chest. And no, I'm not referring to those types of chest implants.

A port is a medical appliance the size of a quarter implanted under the skin. It has a hose, or catheter, which connects the device to a vein. Ports are installed in patients who must have chemotherapy frequently.

After all of the procedures, I was mentally exhausted. I began to feel like I had been reduced to nothing more than a science experiment. I needed to feel human again.

I kept a positive attitude despite my mind's best attempts to keep me down. I believe half of my battle is mental. It is imperative that I stay focused on success rather than failure. I know this journey will prove quite taxing on my body, but I must keep my mind balanced with good energy.

I am fortunate to have a strong support system of friends and family. I know that with a positive mind and the support from loved ones, I am sure to make it to the other side of this illness.

 



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