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Why I Had a Photo Shoot With My Dogs After Doing Chemotherapy for Lupus

Recently, I did a photo shoot with an amazing photographer and close friend of mine. (I will include links to his pages at the end of this). I just finished my last round of chemo a couple of weeks ago for what will hopefully be a long time, if not forever (insert tentatively sarcastic chuckle). These were not easy photos to take. I cried scrolling through them as I realized that this is a part of my life. It has only been in the past few years that I have opened up about it to bring awareness. I felt incredibly vulnerable, which is not something that is very comfortable for someone like me. It shows a side of me and my life that very few people have ever seen. No makeup to hide the dark circles, no brushed and fixed hair… just me and my dogs.

woman lying on bed with two small dogs

Air mattress snuggles with my pups

There are pill bottles on my nightstand for the medications I have to take before I even get out of bed, stacks of books with reading glasses for the tough days, loads of pillows and blankets to help ease the inability to control my body temperature and the joint pain, an air mattress in the living room for when I couldn’t make it all the way to the bedroom, and a cane next to my bed for those particularly rough morning/days. All while wearing fuzzy Star Wars pants and a shirt that reads “Strong.”

These are all variables in my life that can change on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. That is why people don’t understand the amount of work that went into winning my recent volleyball tournament.

The recovery from chemo when it is being used to treat lupus is an interesting one. You are battling the side effects of a drug that is supposed to eventually make you feel better. This round was a combination therapy with prednisone. Prednisone is a steroid used to treat… pretty much anything (such as arthritis, blood disorders, breathing problems, severe allergies, skin diseases, cancer, eye problems, and immune system disorders.)

woman in bed with dog

Archie and Chewie cuddling

It also comes with a myriad of nasty side effects. (A few years back when I was in the ICU for my lungs, I was on such high doses of prednisone I had to take regular insulin injections because it was spiking my blood sugar so severely.) Common prednisone side effects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Sleep problems (insomnia), mood changes — Yep, sorry for what I said when I was on drugs that made me unusually bitchy
  • Increased appetite, gradual weight gain — #control
  • Acne, increased sweating, dry skin, thinning skin, bruising or discoloration — because sweating is sexy
  • Slow wound healing — with a nickname like Red Cross, this is the last thing I need
  • Headache, dizziness, spinning sensation — whole lot of yep (although I have migraines as well)
  • Nausea, stomach pain, bloating — because nausea from the chemo just isn’t enough
  • Changes in the shape or location of body fat (especially in your arms, legs, face, neck, breasts, and waist) — Often called “moon face”, also “if I look puffy pretend I don’t”
  • Low potassium — I have had leg cramps so bad they have woken me from a dead sleep

There is a multitude of sites with usually several pages dedicated to just the side effects of this drug, but it saves lives, so there is that.

Luckily, this round of chemo was via oral pills so, after several blood work tests, I got to do outpatient care at home. The comfort of home is immeasurable compared to a hospital room. I also have two pups that are the joys of my life to help me through each day.

My Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Archie, is 7.5 years old and I got him the same month I was diagnosed with lupus.

Archie snuggling with me on the air mattress

He was there through my first round of chemo back in 2010, multiple breakups, moves, good days, bad days, worse days and perfect days.

He is calm and loving and has seen it all. He knows when I am hurting and somehow seems to find the perfect nook to curl up into next to me. He doesn’t bark at all and he doesn’t require much. He and I have spent several days curled up in bed together. Sometimes, I feel like I demand more of him than he does of me. I have already told him that he has to live forever despite the gray coming in on his muzzle and ears.

woman petting dog while lying on bed

My second pup is a 1.5-year-old rescue that randomly came into our lives just over a year ago after being found with a broken leg on a freeway. Chewie’s gratefulness as a rescue is displayed with his protectiveness of me and his playfulness with Archie.

woman resting chin on arms and looking at dog

Sitting quietly. I was rather emotional in this photo

His sweetness never fails to cheer me up as he licks the tears from my cheek or comes to smoosh himself into the covers.

These dogs have been such an integral part of each moment of recovery, not just in the past few weeks, but constantly as we overcome the frustrations that lupus can bring.

woman on bed snuggling with playful dogs

Kisses from Chewie, pills and books on the nightstand

Most people would never know that I quietly deal with this disease. For the most part, I like it that way. I would never want to be labeled as “the sick girl.” I do what I can through diet, exercise, and natural holistic ways of healing and then when it is absolutely necessary, I am grateful for the modern advances in medicine.

For the most part, I have come to grips with this diagnosis. But, there was one day about three days after chemo where I broke down in frustration. I was tired of the pain, the vomiting and the mental reasoning that this is chronic.

woman lying on bed with dog next to her

Archie is curled up on my chest… in his nook

I cried to a friend about how I didn’t want to be sick anymore. He listened and did the best thing someone can do in that situation… just said, “I know.” People always want to “fix” a problem when you vent to them, but this cannot be “fixed.” It just is. Learning to live in that isn’t always easy. I think that is what is so comforting about a therapy animal. They don’t try to “fix” anything. They just live in the moment with you. And whether you are happy, angry, or sad it just is.

I can feel myself getting stronger as I continue down this road. I go in for more blood work soon to make sure my numbers are headed in the correct directions. I am optimistic. I am a fighter.

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This blog was originally published on The Better Half of Me.

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