How many pills?

I swear, the minute I hit “post” on my last entry, the world began to mock me.

Today I’m nauseated, can’t eat, and my feet ARE beginning to blister.  My feet hurt so much last night and today that I just called it quits, put my feet up, and have been slathering them in bag balm in desparate attempt to heal the cracks, soothe the blisters, and get back to freakin’ normal already.  And I’m angry.  Angry that I’m doing everything right and I still hurt.  I still have limitations.  I still have scar tissue and cording and I still have to spend mornings at PT making it all go away — when I should be at work.  I still have to take the chemo pills.  One after another after another, three each morning and night, and yet it’s still not enough.  I still am not strong enough to do everything I wanted to do, or to go every place I wanted to go.  Yeah, today I’m angry.

As a side note, I wondered how many pills I’ve taken to date, so I did a little dimensional analysis.  Do you know this trick?  Just start with what you know, and keep multiplying by things that are equal to 1 (example: 7 days = 1 week.  so 7 days/week = 1)  until you get what you need. 

I know I take 6 pills / day.  I know that there are 7 days / week.  And there are 2 weeks / cycle where I’m taking the pills.  If I’m strong enough to make it through the whole treatment, there will be 6 cycles / treatment.  So let’s put that all together: 

\frac{6 pills}{day}x\frac{7 days}{week}x\frac{2 weeks}{cycle}x\frac{6 cycles}{treatment}=?

Cross out the words (“the dimensions”) any time you see the same word above and below the line, and you’re left with:

6x7x2x6\frac{pills}{treatment} = ?

Which means that, if I’m strong enough, I’ll eventually take



How many pills have I taken to date?  I’ve completed one whole 2 week cycle, and 10 days of the second cycle. 

\frac{6 pills}{day}x\frac{7 days}{week}x\frac{2 weeks}{cycle 1}+\frac{6 pills}{day}x\frac{10 days}{cycle 2}= ?

6x7x2\frac{pills}{cycle 1} + 6x10\frac{pills}{cycle 2} = ?

84\frac{pills}{cycle 1}+60\frac{pills}{cycle 2} = 144pills

That’s a lot.  And you, my friend, now know how to do dimensional analysis, a favorite trick of physicists and math geeks everywhere.  It comes in handy — and distracted me nicely.  I’d so much rather be figuring something out than swallowing another three of my 504 pills.

Edited, 5 p.m.:   Well, here we go again.  As it turns out, I don’t have to take another three pills tonight.  Or at all this week.  I’m officially taking a chemo vacation, doctor’s orders, because the side effects are catching up to me and my feet are continuing to blister. By taking a break, the level of chemotherapy 5 fu in my system will plateau and my feet should heal by the time we start Cycle 3.  So we can start Cycle 3.  I understand (now) that it’s for the best, but I am NOT HAPPY to stop chemo when I know I need it to flush out the cancer cells circulating in my system, just looking for a chance to band together into a tumor again. Mama is not happy.  (Send chocolate.)


37 Responses to How many pills?

  1. Leave it to you to teach us math even while you’re in pain. This is why we love you.

    I’ve been doing dimensional analysis for years and never knew it had such a fancy name… so now I feel way smarter than I did before I read this post. You make people smarter. 🙂

    Sending you healing thoughts….

  2. Kathy U says:

    Awesome! I have been doing dimensional analysis for years but I didn’t know that is what is was called.

    Sorry you are feeling yucky.

  3. Kristen says:

    Grrr. I am so sorry about your feet. I am VERY glad that you have 144 pills down. Does it seem like progress to you? I remember when you tweeted you had taken the first 3. There is an end to this part of the journey. I’m sorry that the end seems out of focus right now. You are strong and brave and did I say strong? How can I help? Call me!

  4. Amy says:

    At least you’re basically 1/3 of the way done…. (Well, to be precise, 28.57% of the way there.) (sigh)

  5. extremeparenthood says:

    Wow. You totally lost me with the dimensional analysis but that is because numbers and I have never gotten along very well.

    However, that being said…the number of times I have prayed for you, for your family, and for your complete healing are too many to count…and those are just the prayers I pray…the number from all your friends, family, and strangers who may not know you but know your fight…those are countless and VERY VERY powerful.

    Sending you extra soothing peaceful prayers today Susan. You are mighty!

    • whymommy says:

      Take another look at that first equation up there, Sunday, and squint. The words on the diagonal are the same, so you can just cross them out. Does that help?

      And the prayers — thank you. Thank you. I pray too. All. The. Time.

      • sutari says:

        Or do it with something you get.

        60 seconds/min x 60 minutes/hour = 3600 seconds/hour

        cross out the diagonal minutes to get seconds per hour.

        Whymommy – feel better soon! Get lots of chocolate.

  6. clifford says:

    Aaacck! Get behind thee, Barbara West!!1!

  7. marty says:

    Blah blah blah, math, numbers, numbers.

    I cannot tell you how glossy my eyes are right now 🙂

    And I’m angry too, as you know. WE HAVE STUFF TO DO. You are so right. You are fighting and following all of the instructions. It’s supposed to work. It’s supposed to make you better, not worse. At least, that’s my train of thought.

    You will be SO missed this weekend.

    But I’ve looked at the train . . .

  8. Amy says:

    I hate it that you have hard days, but I think it’s so important the way you’re sharing the reality of what you’re going through, and even how you’re coping (although I’d guess that math wouldn’t be as soothing to your average patient!).

    It sounds like something cold might help those feet. Have you thought of keeping the bag balm in the fridge?

    I wish I could help. I hope it helps a little to know I’m thinking of you.

    • whymommy says:

      It does. Thanks. (And what a great idea! I wonder if that would help?)

      • Patricia says:

        Susan — I have peripheral neuropathy in both feet & have found those blue “ice” packs Walgreens sells to be rather wonderful. You might try those. (The quotes are because the cooling agent is not ice at all, but gel, very cold gel, with a protective bag over it.) I hope they will be of help to you should you decide to try them.

        I’m so very sorry you have to go through all of this. I admire your courage, intelligence and strength. Please know that you and your family are in my prayers.

  9. Jana says:

    Hi Susan,

    Don’t you hate when life is like that — you try to be upbeat, and then WHAM the cosmos rudely decides to mock you ten minutes later.

    Here is a tip from my Mom’s oncology nurse practitioner, that really helped my Mom deal with the foot/ skin issues from Xeloda. It’s a special lotion. (When you are using Xeloda, all lotions are not equal. Two skin products clearly made my Mom’s skin worse when she was on Xeloda, but this lotion definitely helped my Mom.) “Amerigel” is the brand name. It’s tough to find in a store, so I bought it for her online, and it costs less that way. ( )
    Amerigel makes several products/ lotions. My Mom used the “Amerigel Care Lotion” product (with the dark blue label on the bottle), but who knows, maybe Amerigel’s “Barrier Lotion” or the “Wound Dressing” might be worth a try too. I know that the Amerigel “Care Lotion” worked far better for my Mom than standard lotions that were available at her local store (and yes, better than “Bag Balm.” And it’s not greasy like “Bag Balm”). She noticed a real difference after she started using the “Care Lotion.” (Be sure to also rub it into/ around your toenails, as well as the soles of your feet.)

    Also, if you are not yet taking fish oil (for Omega 3), that would be wise, both for the anti-cancer effects, and also to help protect your skin. The expert at says the data indicates that the DHA type of Omega 3 is the most important for anti-cancer efficacy, so here is a good formula (and you would take 3 each day to meet that breast cancer expert’s recommended dose — as my Mom does):

    And you wrote in your previous post that you did not find much on the Internet re Xeloda… so I will mention that if you want to search for such info in the future, then I suggest that you check a few patient support forums. Those websites have a search feature, that would allow you to pull up strings of previous comments from breast cancer patients about X topic (for example: Xeloda), and if you like you could also post questions, and other breast cancer patients, and/or the site’s expert, would answer you. Here’s a link to one such website:

  10. Jill D says:

    I am a high school science teacher. We just reviewed dimensional analysis in my physics class, and I noticed one of the students had misspelled her assignment title “dementional analysis.” It made me smile because I know some of the kids really do think it’s demented.

    • whymommy says:

      Perhaps — but tell them that it’s a honest-to-goodness survival trick for physicists. Not for figuring things out (dimensionless constants tend to trip you up in atomic energy equations), but for checking your work. I know we always used it in grad school to make sure we’d done the calculation/derivation/project properly — and it really helped. I’m so glad you’re teaching it in high school!

  11. Jana says:

    And it sounds like you might need a dose reduction. Be sure that you are keeping your oncologist posted about the increase in your symptoms, because you don’t want to end up in the hospital. (Sorry, I don’t mean to scare you, but when my Mom’s oncologist first prescribed Xeloda, he told her, “Do not push it and try to tough it out with Xeloda, or else you could end up in the hospital. If your symptoms get worse, do not just keep taking the pills — be sure to call and keep us informed and let us deal with it.” The way they “dealt with it” was to reduce my Mom’s dose.) You are younger than my Mom, so maybe you can handle that higher dose, but it sounds like you are having too many harsh side effects, so my guess is that your oncologist might reduce your dose to “3 and 2,” or “2 and 2.” In terms of the anti-cancer benefit, we were told that it would be better that you get a lower dose and be able to stick with it for the complete length of the cycle, rather than a higher dose that forces you to interrupt/ delay (or even discontinue) doses because you can’t tolerate it. My Mom’s tumors continued to shrink on Xeloda, even on a lower dose, as long as she stayed on the “two weeks on, one week off” schedule…. but when she switched to the shorter “one week on, one week off” schedule, her markers started rising again within just one month. (Maybe you would have better luck with a shorter cycle length, but my Mom did not.) So I would not be shy about keeping your doctor informed about your sudden turn for the worse. I suggest that you call or email your oncologist if you do not have a followup appt scheduled soon, and ask whether a dose reduction might be in order.

  12. Robin Hurwitz says:

    Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?

  13. Linda Lawrence says:

    Dimensional analysis! You warmed my heart! 🙂 I always told my math students, that math was practical. I do, however, hope and pray the side effects will soon disappear and you can do many of the things you want to do!
    Love you!

  14. Stimey says:

    I’ll be angry for you too. There is nothing about this that doesn’t suck and isn’t incredibly unfair. However, I’m glad to see that it hasn’t inhibited your nerdosity. 🙂

    Love to you.

  15. I love that you do maths when you’re angry!
    Virtual chocolate delivered instantaneously with this comment, but it’s not as satisfying as real chocolate. I will totally send you some of the real stuff – email me your address 🙂
    Hugs, too.

  16. Mama Echo says:

    Lots of virtual chocolate, hugs, prayers and good thoughts are being sent your way.

  17. Oh Susan, this sounds so hard, and it’s so unfair. Your math talk did make me laugh (and my eyes cross a little), though. Thinking of you and praying for you. And virtual chocolate, of course.

  18. whymommy says:

    Virtual chocolate is much less fattening. I’m just saying.

  19. Seeing your math in this post put the biggest smile on my face. You just keep doing what you love, and we’ll keep rooting for you. 🙂

  20. whymommy says:

    But the real stuff *is* pretty awesome too. One of you just left a bundle of chocolate dangling from my doorknob — THANK YOU!

  21. jaydub26 says:

    I love the numbers… but it made me think how much more numbers we think about:- cancerversaries, treatments, positive nodes in path reports. things we never imagined that we would be measuring

  22. Reeve Friday says:

    Oh my friend. I pity on you. Your dimensional analysis made me awe. Somehow you overcame it. I could relate you so much as I spent all my teenage in pills. It’s terrible. I came out of that only by faithful prayers and good thoughts. Try this analysis 🙂

  23. Blistering feet? OMG that has gotta be the most annoying side effect.

    Thinking of you always, my lovely.

  24. elesha says:

    I kinda always new it but your like scary smart aren’t you? lol
    I’m so sorry that you are feeling the effects of the chemo. You seem to be making the right choices for you and your family. I hope things get better.xx

  25. Dana says:

    Virtual chocolate? Hmm. I can see the next new thing: Virtual dieting! Keep on writing.

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