Keri's Breast Cancer Story: A Bad Reaction to Chemo

Doug Haberstroh Health Guide
  • My name is Doug Haberstroh, and my wife Keri was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Her wish was to share her story with the world. Keri wrote this message to our family and friends at the end of a stressful time for us.

     

    Keri had just been released from the hospital after a very serious attack of pneumonia due to a reaction to one of her chemo drugs. I don't mean to scare anyone that is currently going through chemotherapy at this time, but I do want to stress that it is necessary to watch out for the side effects that, sadly, come with chemo treatments.

     

    Keri and I thought her cough and shortness of breath were due to the treatments and would go away on their own. We had to learn the hard way. The seriousness of our pneumonia attack is glossed over a little in the message, but Keri had us all scared, including the doctors and nurses that attended to her. Her oxygen levels dropped below a safe point which kept her in the ICU under constant watch and care for a few days.

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    Please don't ignore any signs or feelings of pain during your treatment. We learned to watch every little thing and took every little thing seriously. Keri and I kept a journal of how she felt on a daily basis and would share that with our doctor. He said the journal actually helped him know how she was reacting to all the drugs and procedures. I only mention this as a recommendation and as a helping hand.

     

     

    Subject: Update

    Sent: Sunday, July 3, 2005

     

    Hello All,

     

    I'm sorry this is so late in coming. We had a very eventful month of June. I have a lot to report, but if you've already heard any of it sorry for the repeat.

     

    Keri and her sister
    We made our trip to Tulsa to see my sister graduate high school and see my family. It was a great trip. The plane rides were not too bad. My side effects continue their normal pattern although I think I worried so much about not getting sick that I ended up making things worse than they could have been. It was a good time though. We celebrated our first year of marriage while we were in Tulsa. Can't believe it's been a year already, what a year.

     

    Well, upon arriving back to Florida I was ready to tackle another chemo session and get things moving again. Unfortunately, my body had something else in mind. I developed a bad reaction to one of the drugs that they were giving me for chemo and got a case of pneumonia. It put me in the hospital for about 5 days. That was not fun.

     

    The doctors said that I built fluid in my lungs which caused me the trouble that I was having breathing. It was a scary thing. I had to take extra breaths in the middle of sentences so it was making it hard to talk and I had a cough that was so bad it caused a blood vessel to pop in my eye. Being in the hospital was a new experience for me. My knowledge of hospital stays consists of only the outpatient surgeries that I had had so far.

     

    This was a new kind of hospital stay. They seemed to not know where to put me for a while so I ended up in the hall for one set of blood draws and then I was wheeled to get chest x-rays and other tests done. All the while I'm attached to an oxygen tank to help me breathe. I know now a little of how my brother feels with his asthma. It's not fun when you feel like you can't get a good deep breath in. Anyway after all the tests they determined that I needed to be in ICU for a couple of days.

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    Doug said I looked sort of like an alien with wires all attached to me and things stuck to me. It's a good thing there wasn't a camera around. I stayed in ICU only for two days and then spent the other three in a regular hospital room. The nurses were all very nice and even allowed Doug to stay longer than the set ICU visiting hours. Doug's work was great as well as understanding about what was going on even though we had just been gone out of town he was still with me the entire time I was in the hospital.

     

    Funny thing about hospital visits though is that you hate to be there, but once you are it's kind of nice knowing that someone is checking on you every few hours and if anything goes wrong you are already somewhere you can be fixed right away. Don't get me wrong I don't want a repeat of the visit, but after a few days it wasn't too bad, just uncomfortable beds and boring TV all day.

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    So, to keep this from being too long of a novel, I made it through and am doing fine now. The popped blood vessel in my eye is in an annoying spot when I read, but it's almost all gone now and when I saw the eye doctor again she assured me that it would be gone soon. My breathing is back to normal and the cough is gone. The only thing that isn't up to 100% yet is my strength. I still get tired in the afternoon if I've been doing things all day and even my physical strength is not the same yet, like I can't open the pickle jar.

     

    So since I had the reaction to the drug they have stopped my chemo drugs early. Yeah!!! I say if the drug got so strong that it attacked my good cells that way then it's done its job and it's time to stop. That means that I have only surgery to look forward to now. I have been assured that I will receive no more chemo, even after surgery, and that I will not need radiation afterward either because of the surgery that I'm having. Therefore, once surgery is done I am finished and can start looking toward getting back to a somewhat normal life.

     

    I did have some genetic testing done (I'm not sure if I mentioned it before) and that has all come back negative, which means that my cancer is not hereditary and will not pass on to my own children. It also means I have just as much of a chance of a reoccurrence as anyone else and my own children will have just as much of a chance to get it as they would if I didn't have it.

     

    keri week 3 comic
    Episode 3: See the full breast cancer comic strip.
     

     

     

    So with all the new developments in how my treatment is going I have decided to have as much done in the first surgery as possible. This means that I am going to have them start my reconstruction right away after they remove things and they will also remove my port at the same time as well. The reconstruction will take more than one surgery, but with things the way they are now I'd rather do it in two instead of three if I can. The surgeons and doctors here are excellent at what they do, and both Doug and I feel confident that things will go well.

     

     

    That doesn't mean I'm not scared about the surgery but it's more fear of the unknown of how things will feel afterward, but from the other women that have told me their stories it doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun. Not a totally unbearable situation, but not fun either. I've been told things are more uncomfortable than painful, but still everyone has a different reaction to things.

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    My surgery should take place within the next couple of weeks. I do not have a date yet, but have been told that the doctors are talking with each other and coordinating it soon. On a happier note I am eating well and since I have finished with the chemo my tastes are coming back to normal. Things are beginning to taste like they are supposed to again.

     

    Ice cream is good again. I am still a little sensitive to spicy things so I can't do full Mexican food yet, but I'll get there. My energy level is up as well, even though my body gets tired still after a whole lot of activity. So I'm back to cooking again which feels real good and I can drive myself around and make trips to the store by myself without needing someone else to drive me or shop for me. Things are moving towards a new normal.

     

    It will feel nice once I get there, but for now it's at least a light at the end of the tunnel. I've been hearing that 5 years after diagnosis is the date to go by for breast cancer where they say you're in remission, so April of 2010 I will be celebrating. There just will have to be no reoccurrence between now and then.

     

    I pray that none of you will have to experience anything like this in your lifetime. Although it's been a difficult thing for me to go through I have learned many lessons. The biggest one though is that you cannot allow your life to get so busy that you don't take care of yourself. Yes it is important to take care of your family, parents, children, but you can't take care of them if you are not healthy yourself. I've been keeping a sort of unorganized journal throughout this entire experience. It has been good for me to be able to write out my thoughts, especially the ones that are hard to talk about. Who knows, maybe all these thoughts will turn into a book after everything is said and done. Wouldn't that be cool?

     

    I will email again when I know the date of my surgery. I hope all of you are doing well. Thank you to all of you for the unwavering support you have provided me throughout all of this. There have been times that it has seemed like I could feel all the prayers and thoughts coming my way and you can't imagine the feeling of peace that has given me. I couldn't have made it through all this without you all. Thank you.

     

    Take care,

    Love,

    Keri

     

    week 3 comic
    A Note from Doug: We're also telling Keri's breast cancer story as a weekly comic strip. Check back each week to follow her story. This week's episode, Episode 3, illustrates Keri's bad reaction to chemo, shortly after her first wedding anniversary.

Published On: August 15, 2007