September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. October, AKA “PinkTober”, is the month we think of Breast Cancer. And, apparently November is Lung Cancer awareness month. December? Not sure, but I’m sure there’s a cancer for that month, too. Don’t you think it’s a little ironic we try to remember different cancers on different months throughout the year?
On a Thursday in May 2006, Sarah was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. She was blown away. SHOCKED! Maybe if we’d paid more attention to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month she might have checked earlier? Who knows. She used to say that sometimes she was a “stick-your-head-in-the-sand-when-something-bad-comes-up” kind of girl.
So, this September, I want to point out that any cancer can crop up at any time. It’s scary and an unfortunate reality we live with. During the five years Sarah fought her cancer, two other very dear friends died from their cancers – a melanoma and a rare sarcoma.
As Sarah became closer to a much larger community of men and women who were fighting all kinds of cancers, we lost even more new friends. BUT, we also gained many new fiends and most are survivors today. I’m counting our collective blessings for that.
The ovarian cancer thing really gnaws at me. Mostly because there’s stuff people should know and can do about it. The first thing you should ask is “what are the symptoms.” Because knowing them and paying attention to your body can save your life. Did you know that ovarian cancer goes undetected far too long, too often? It can be one of the most deadly cancers for women. Not because it’s not treatable, but because once it gets to stage 3 or 4 it’s much harder to treat and often returns over and over and over. The earlier it’s detected, the better the chances for long-term survival!
Okay, okay. I hear ya! Here are the symptoms:
– Pelvic or abdominal pain
– Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
– Urinary symptoms, such as urgent or frequent feelings of needing to go
– Feeling tired more than usual (not usually listed, but this was big for Sarah)
Early stage ovarian cancer CAN be detected via these symptoms. No doctor in their right mind is going to think you’re crazy for asking, especially if you say you’ve been having more than one of these symptoms.
This summer, after Sarah died, I heard many stories of woman getting checked because of Sarah’s story. Unfortunately, at least one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The good news? They caught it early! And she’s being treated. If she hadn’t been checked she could still be wondering, and getting worse.
I’ve also heard stories of women who got checked and were given a clean bill of health. Taking the worry off their shoulders when they were feeling a little uneasy. Music to my ears (and I’m sure to theirs).
Earlier this spring, I went to my dentist and he saw a spot on my tongue. They said I needed a biopsy to be sure it was nothing dangerous. Whoa! This is my tongue we’re talking about. Kind of important! Yes, it freaked me out a little, but I knew I had to do it.
The surgery was a little painful, because they had to cut a small chunk out of my tongue. (During the painful stuff, I thought of Sarah for strength.) The spot turned out to be nothing, THANK GOD! And, the hole in my tongue healed up very quickly. There isn’t even a scar. Weird. But, best of all, I’m healthy, and not worried.
When you talk with your doctor, make sure you go armed with lots of questions. Ask whatever you want and don’t let them go until YOU are satisfied that YOU got what YOU need to know. Asking pointed questions about this stuff can save your life. If you don’t feel like you’re getting a satisfactory answer from your doctor – or they blow you off (yes, I have heard of this happening all too often) – then go see another doctor. I know! It’s a pain in the butt and takes extra time out of your busy day, but what are a few hours when you could be adding years to your life?
I’m sure Sarah would agree with me. She wished she’d gone to the doctor long before she actually did. She had reasons why she had held off. Things like just not wanting to deal with it. Or saying to herself “well, I’m young, I’m healthy, it couldn’t be anything bad.” And of course she was exhausted and didn’t really want to go see a doctor. I probably could have pushed harder, too. But, hindsight is 20/20.
On a Tuesday in May 2011, Sarah died. It was 5 years after she was diagnosed.
Now, in May or September, or any other month for that matter, make sure you remember the signs for ovarian cancer. Whether it’s you or a loved one, if there’s concern, go get it checked out. Better safe than sorry.
To close today, I would like to share a quick story from a friend, Dawna Leger Phillips, who recently said her own good-bye to Sarah while on a Buddhist retreat. Here are some of her words and a photo:
“The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is located on the 600 acres of Shambhala. It is said, “anyone who approaches a Stupa with a pure heart and the intention to benefit others will receive its blessings.” On my last day at Shambhala, I walked to the Stupa and made a final offering. As I placed the Ovations for a Cure bracelet, which I had been wearing more times than not since Sarah’s death, on someone else’s offering of C3PO*, I spoke these words, “Sarah Sadtler Feather, wherever you are, may you rest in peace, may your heart be open and your body strong” and then I let her go, I let her be… It was not an attempt to forget about her but, instead, to detach myself from this part of my past and to simply let her be on her way and to let myself be more mindful of every present moment. This was one of the gifts given to me at Shambhala. I am learning to let go; to trust; to be gentler with myself and with others; to become more peaceful, tolerant and compassionate; and to be more present in the tiniest of moments that make up my big life… I’m still learning…”
*For those of you who knew Sarah, you will fondly recall her sense of humor and her love of fashion. You might also recall her boys’ love of Star Wars and her naming her home oxygen tank R2D2. I thought Sarah would find humor in the placement of my offering as a sash across C3PO. It is as if he’s saying, “Thank you! So long! May the force be with you!” 🙂
Thank you Dawna! I agree. May the force be with us all!
Alright, stop harassing me, I’m back.
A couple of items before I jump in:
- I don’t know who the 100+ people per day are who have been re-reading my last post over and over for the past month, but thanks. Your dedication is astounding.
- I hate winter.
The past month has been really insane. From the fabulous boots to the non-existent nephrostomy bag to the fact that my trial drug seems to be working. Yes, you heard me, it appears to be working.
I felt like death-warmed-over the week before Christmas, and Mr. W and I were having the tough discussions about what music to play at my memorial service, how pretty his next wife was allowed to be, etc. etc. I had aches and pains, took Dilaudid to get to sleep at night, had trouble with a flight of stairs. I was pretty out of it.
Then all of a sudden, with that fabulous news about my hugely resilient kidneys (and the onset of the action of my new Celexa prescription, coincidentally), things sorta turned around. Okay, I did spend 24 hours in bed with a stomach bug, but I wasn’t huffing the inhaler all the time; I wasn’t taking narcotics to sleep, and my symptoms (full all the time, pain in the cancerous nodes in my neck, groin) seemed to fade away.
Which brings us to the news, delivered last Monday, that my CA-125, previously in the 200s, had dropped to 79. Seventy-nine. Holy crow, is there a light at the end of this tunnel? And even if there isn’t, if the CT scan scheduled for the end of the month shows not stability but merely slowed progression, so what?
That’s right, I’m feeling grateful. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but if all I get from this clinical trial is an extra two months without symptoms, I’ll take it. It has been an opportunity to feel like myself again — well, the latest incarnation of myself, with two-hour naps and no muscle tone — and to read out loud to my kids without getting winded; to not only have the energy to make dinner but to go to the grocery store and have the presence of mind to think of a recipe to make, collect all the ingredients, then move down the aisle and see another idea pop up. (And to be grateful as well for the freezer full of lovingly prepared casseroles to thaw and bake on the nights when I’m beat.)
And to feel gratitude that my hair is too long and desperately in need of highlights, but sprouting from my very own head.
Without this two months of feeling better, I might have missed this:
Tomorrow: Part II.
With apologies to Mr. Clooney (and if he’d like to drop by, I’d be happy to deliver them in person), this week has been the definition of “up in the air”. I’ve been to The Cancer Factory three times looking for a plan, and each visit has given a teensy glimpse of what my upcoming schedule could be, but also another question or two that need answering before any decisions can be made.
So if there’s any truth to that “chronic-stress-causes-cancer” thing, I’m fooked.
Today’s downtown journey revealed another medical truth: no matter how much iron you consume the night before, you cannot pass a failing hemoglobin test. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to eat grilled grass-fed buffalo rib-eye and sautéed spinach with pancetta, garlic and shallots, which I HIGHLY recommend, I won’t blow your cover.)
Wednesday I met with the urologist, who aside from being a nice guy, said he could fit me into his schedule for my left stent any time, all I had to do was figure out when the Phase I gang wanted me to have it done and call his nurse to book it. But I couldn’t get an answer from the Phase I gang until my hemoglobin was re-tested; 8.9 was not the 9.0 the “sponsor” (Pfizer) needs it to be for me to start the trial.
Yesterday, despite the fact that I hadn’t called to schedule it, I got messages during my nap from: the urologist’s office, the anesthesiologist’s office, and the admissions department at New England Baptist Hospital (where the procedure would be done) all telling me that I was to arrive this morning at 10:30 for my stent insertion. So I had to scramble and check with Phase I – no, they wanted me to get a transfusion (for my pitiful hemoglobin) before I had the stent placed, and I couldn’t start the trial within two weeks of a transfusion, so “no-go” with the stent procedure for today.
TODAY, I had a re-check of the hemoglobin, in hopes that my yoga, steak and spinach had helped it rebound from chemo, but no luck. Still 8.9. SCRAMBLE again to find Mr. W (and get him to answer his phone) to pick up the boys from school this afternoon, so I can get a two-hour transfusion (starting at 3:00 PM, yaaaaaawn), so I can start the trial two weeks from Monday. Which, in case no one has noticed, is the 21st of December. I’m sure I’ll have TONS of time that week to be down here three days in a row.
What I still don’t know is when I’ll be having my stent placed, but now that I’ll have a transfusion on board, I hope they can fit me in next week. But not too early, so I don’t miss Mr. W’s company Christmas Party, the only one (pathetic!) we’re scheduled for this month. And not Wednesday, ’cause Mr. W’s in an off-site meeting all day. Guess it’ll be Thursday or Friday… maybe?
It’s still up in the air.
Clooney? On second thought, I’ll meet you in Como.
Photo credit here.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have teal and pink ribbons twined together next October? Or rainbows? The internet is a powerful place.
My totally simpatico blog-sister Ann, of the hysterical “Breast Cancer? But Doctor…I hate pink!” asked me recently to weigh in on October, pinkwashing, and Susan G. Komen fatigue. Did I have an opinion I’d like to share?
That’s like asking a burning man if he’d like a drink of water.
See the results here.
How do you feel about it?
So. Multiple conversations at The Cancer Factory today elucidated the rationale behind the slightly ambiguous bi-directional recommendations of my multi-partite team of oncological specialists.
If the previous sentence took you three or four tries to make sense, you now know how I felt.
My CA-125 finally came back at about 10:30, reading 137, a five-point increase over the previous test two weeks ago. That might sound like a statistically significant increase, but it’s not. Dr. B finally came to see me in the clinic and we hashed back and forth for a few minutes. I told him that the steady increase in my CA-125 since mid-July gave me the impression that the trial wasn’t working, and shouldn’t we oughta switch to chemo? He said that despite the CA-125, which may not be a good indicator for this trial (and certainly hasn’t been a good indicator for me very often), my CT scans showed good stabilization in my disease up to the scan two weeks ago. Even as my CA-125 was rising, my scans showed stability in the disease.
Dr. B did apologize for his earlier discussion with me, and his email to Dr. A, that gave the impression that he wanted me to quit the trial and switch to conventional chemo this week. He wanted me to meet with Dr. A to discuss the next steps in the event that I go off the trial in the future, not to actually plan my switch, which is what she and I talked about last week.
We talked together about getting another data point next week with a CT on Friday to see how my lungs look, as apparently Drs. A and B discussed (after my appointment with Dr. A) that my lungs didn’t look all that definitively worse on the scan after all. Once we get that scan, THEN we will decide what to do. I’ll need a Vitamin B12 and a folate shot a week before I start Carbo and Alimta, so I would do that next Friday and then start chemo after my trip.
Or, the CA-125 and CT will both show relative stability, and we’ll keep on with the trial, because there aren’t that many good PI3K Phase I trials available right now, and to jump off this one at the first sign of trouble would be foolhardy, as I probably wouldn’t be able to get back on it again. And if nausea and fatigue keep being a problem on the trial, I could go to the reduced dosage (330 mg vs. my 450 mg) that’s being used as maximum for the Phase II trial now going on, to see if that reduces my side effects.
Short story long: keep on the trial this week. Next week is my week off the drug. Friday’s chest CT will decide if I continue the study or switch to chemo, which I’d start late in the month.
Clear as mud, right?