Transformation, turning points and clarity in life.

September 25, 2011 at 10:12 AM (after chemo, Age, Awareness, Energy, Family, friends, Karma, Real Life, Silver Lining, Treatment, Uncategorized, Zen) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Our great friend and fellow blogger and radio host, Mel Majoros, AKA “The Cancer Warrior“, asked me to give her some thoughts about cancer awareness during September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.  I thought about it and decided to do something a little different: two stories about transformation, turning points and clarity in life – both before and after losing Sarah to ovarian cancer.

For all you Carcinista fans, I think you will enjoy this. See it here.

Let us know what you think!

Be well,

Mr. Wonderful

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Au Bout de Souffle

March 22, 2011 at 11:50 AM (Energy, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s been an interesting week since I got home from the hospital. Breathing is not better than it was last week, and I still need to rest to catch my breath after changing my shirt, walking down the hall, or visiting the loo in the middle of the night. My medical team keeps exhorting me to give the old-reliable Navelbine a chance to work, that it’ll be at least three cycles (yesterday) and probably four (next Monday) before we start to see results. I’m hanging in there, and trying to keep my inner cynic quiet while twiddling my thumbs.

I’ll have plenty of time to do that, what with my new pain meds keeping me from driving and everything. SuperMom has come to town indefinitely to fill in my gaps…er, gaping holes. I hope that a switch to a Fentanyl patch next week will allow me to drive again, but for now I’m a Roxy-Zombie who’s great at conversation and sleeping, but not much else. Well, except finding pretty patterns in the rug or wallpaper or shadows and clouds.

Another delightful development is that our spring break is taking on a whole new shape. I’d say “I don’t want to talk about it,” but with my acceptance of my path on this journey comes a little peace at changing plans about which I can do nothing. Yesterday, Dr. A told me that she doesn’t feel comfortable with me taking an airline trip anywhere, which, following my last flying fiasco, I completely understand. And I certainly can’t be spending ten days (10!) on St. John at the end of April. No good medical facilities nearby; no liquid oxygen delivery, no emergency aid. Cancel the trip to my happy place — no one wants to go without me unless and until they have no choice.

So instead of flying, we’re looking for a driving vacation, preferably something within a couple of hours’ drive of Boston, justincase. I think we have a couple of good ideas; now we need to start convincing the kids that they’ll have just as much fun in New England in April as they would have had in the Caribbean, a vacation to which we have all been very much looking forward since, oh, the day we left in 2010. They’re good sports, but how much of the rah-rah Kool-Aid will they drink?

The good news is that we’re getting to the stage of my illness when people start coming round to see me all the time. Just for coffee and a chat, but I’m having lots of visitors, people I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like. It’s lovely! They come sit on my couch in the sun, bring me Starbucks, visit, tell stories and make me laugh, then go home just in time for me to take my nap.

Wow, I sound like an old person. Scrabble, anyone? (With all these meds on board, I’m an easy target.)

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Hosed

March 10, 2011 at 11:26 AM (Energy, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Quickly, before it falls off the current-events list: The Carcinista’s Oscars Red Carpet Review! Who hit, and who missed? Which actor had the worst tux? And, most importantly, how many collagen injections has Nicole Kidman gotten since the Golden Globes? Stay tuned, faithful readers, for the latest…hot…umm…news…

Hmm.

It appears I have missed a few days on the calendar. Where on earth have I been?

Riiiiight, sick. Started last Monday with my crack-of-dawn PleurX catheter insertion, followed by a surprise night admitted to the hospital. They wanted to drain me for 24 hours, then get an X-ray, so I spent the WORST night of recent memory not sleeping for more than 45 minutes at a stretch (roommate fell asleep with TV on; nurse turned it off; finally fell asleep, then shift-change vitals check; took 2 nurses to untangle my hoses so I could go pee, etc. etc.). I swear, those women get paid by the depth of the shade of the dark circles under your eyes the day you leave.

Tuesday I was raring to go home, and after some false starts (and one out-of-order X-ray machine), they sprung me, and Mr. W dragged my carcass home for a nap. Pain was under control with Dilaudid, left lung had been drained; I was tired, but SuperMom was in da house and taking care of business for me. I slept well, ate little, thought I was recuperating.

Went to see my oncologist (Dr. A) for a treatment revision on Thursday morning. Cancel the clinical trial, start chemo again. This time: Navelbine (“nav-” as in “navigate”, “-bine” as in “coffee bean.” It’s Fransh). All members of the team were “go” with the chemo; we’d start on Tuesday, no waiting. Great – I love a plan. Home to rest for the weekend.

I felt so decent (i.e., not in pain) on Saturday morning that I decided it was time to quit the dilaudid. I had started to get twitchy at the end of my four-hour dosing schedule, and I hate that. I thought Tylenol would get me through, with Tylenol PM for the evenings. Ooooh, was I wrong.

I lay awake twitching most of Saturday and Sunday nights, moving from the bed to the couch and back in search of a comfortable position. (I’m a side sleeper, and once my right side gets bored, I usually rotate. Only I had this big hose hanging out, and two incisions. Ow.) I tried propping my left side on pillows; lying flat on my back; lying on my stomach with pillows propping me up. Child’s pose. Happy baby pose. Nothing was comfortable. Not to mention that I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin.

Fortunately, when my home nurse arrived on Monday morning, she chided me that it was “way too soon” to stop taking pain meds. Thank heaven. Took a big, fat Vicodin and a three-hour nap. But you can’t take narcotics and drive, so…

…When I arrived at The Cancer Factory for my new chemo on Tuesday morning, I was pain-med free and eager to talk about it. My fantastic NP was so empathetic — the first thing she did was order me a quick-acting (and quick-ending) dose of morphine so I could relax. Then she set up an appointment for next week with the pain-management and palliative-care specialist doctor to work out a plan, which will probably include a Fentanyl patch for 72 hours of continuous relief.

Stop freaking out — “palliative” doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m on the way out; it’s a specialty that focuses on the quality of life of patients with chronic illnesses, and on easing their pain issues as manageably as possible. I can work with this doctor for YEARS.

So, short story long: lung tapped and putting out about 25cc (3 Tbsp.) every other day. Tube uncomfortable, but tolerable with Oxycodone and Tylenol. New chemo is okay (side effects: constipation [woo hoo] and fatigue [oh, yes]); I’ll get it once a week provided my blood counts stay healthy. Dragging the oxygen hose around my house is like a bad Keystone Kops sketch, what with the 50 feet getting wrapped around the dog, the kids, my legs, stuck in doorways and over dresser drawer knobs. And despite advice, I have yet to Beadazzle my Casino Canister (thanks, Pateeta!). Possibly I will wrap it with feather boas. To match each outfit.

And we watch and wait. Hope you’re more patient than I am.

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This Is the Droid You’re Looking For

February 24, 2011 at 5:51 PM (Energy, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Oh, it’s been an interesting week. I know I’ve been quiet, but I really can’t bring myself to clog the ether with the neck-snapping back-and-forth that leads from one mile marker to the next. Now that the dust is settling, I’ll net it out for you.

Two lung taps; one three weeks ago, one yesterday. Not much fluid, but it made a difference in my breathing. (It sure didn’t improve my blood pressure — the first appointment, I waited over two hours; yesterday — three-and-a-half.) But as soon as I left the hospital last night I started coughing and couldn’t stop; when I called my medical team this morning, they prescribed Cipro against a possible infection, and home O2.

This is an image I’ve been avoiding since I first heard my lungs had metastases: the feeble little cancer patient, stooped and dragging her green canister around with her, unable to do anything. I knew it was out there, somewhen, but didn’t think we’d get there quite so soon.

But vanity must fall to the ability to breathe (and talk — I could barely talk!!!) And so, this afternoon, R2-D2 moved in.

37 liters of fun. And no, it's not a kegerator.

That little beige guy on the right is the portable unit, thank heaven. So I can shop without dropping. Or dragging my little-old-lady tank cart behind me.

I’m now breathing 2 liters per minute of pure oxygen. I suppose I should be grateful — don’t people pay big money for this service in nightclubs all over Scandinavia? I’ll let you know if my wrinkles disappear.

Also, on Monday I’ll be getting a pleurex catheter, a permanent installation between my left ribs with a little catheter that coils up and gets taped to my side. That way, I can drain my OWN lung when it needs it, instead of schlepping downtown and waiting all afternoon. Downside: no swimming. Ugh.

I also might be changing treatments, going back to one of the conventional chemos I haven’t tried yet: navelbiene (I know, it sounds ridiculous) or hexalen. I’m disappointed that my trial isn’t doing a better job; the first six weeks were so promising! I must have MENSA-smart tumor cells, so clever at adaptation that they can outsmart any new therapy within two months. I wish there were an application to take advantage of all this primal smartitude: discovering the key to nuclear fusion, balancing the federal budget, finding Jimmy Hoffa…

…curing cancer…

Photo credit: The Carcinista

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A Hundred Gs, Part I

January 20, 2011 at 4:44 PM (Family, friends, Hair, Happy, Research, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Alright, stop harassing me, I’m back.

A couple of items before I jump in:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

The A-man and his post-bar-fight face.

Tomorrow: Part II.

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Someone Called the Hotline

December 21, 2010 at 6:02 PM (Faith, Family, friends, Treatment, WTF) (, , , , , , , , )

Well, well, well. SOMEONE has been doing their homework, faithful supporters. When I sent out my plea for more focused energy and good wishes, prayers, karma, etc. etc., I must admit I wasn’t expecting such immediate and obvious results!

I arrived at the Brigham today fully expecting to leave with a hole in my back and a bag of pee hanging off my hip, and I wouldn’t be lying to admit that the thing I was most disappointed about is my then-inability to wear skinny jeans tucked into my fabulous new cancer-kicking boots. But I bucked up, since losing a kidney altogether wasn’t really in my game plan either, and plopped in the waiting room to finish a two-week-old People until my buzzer went off.

I was escorted down to the prep area, and asked to wait before changing (into another dynamite johnny/slipper socks ensemble) for someone from Radiology to come talk to me. This wasn’t a surprise; I was expecting just a conversation about conscious sedation or something, so I laid back and closed my eyes for a few.

The cute Radiology doctor came and shook my hand, and told me she’d been on the phone that morning with my urologist, Dr. Kenneth Branagh. It seems that sometime between my 11/19 CT scan, which showed the hydronephrosis (swollen left kidney) that required stenting, and last Wednesday (12/15)’s CT scan, the situation resolved itself. No, for real. The blockage is still in the ureter, which meant that the stent couldn’t go up, but it must not be a complete blockage. There is no swelling of the kidney at all, and my kidney function is totally normal, creatinine at 1.1.

I was so gobsmacked I thought I was being Punk’d. (And, frankly, a visit from Ashton Kutcher really would have been the icing on the cake.) I said, “So, basically, Merry Christmas to me?” And she said, “That’s what your urologist said!” Then after a nurse de-accessed my port, I wandered upstairs to tell my friend/ride that we were free to go, and came home for a Class A, stress-free nap. Bag-free, too. Everyone here at Casa Carcinista is doing a little happy dance tonight.

So what I need to know is, to whom do I send the thank-you note?

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It Just Keeps Getting Better

December 20, 2010 at 8:36 AM (Research, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , )

Thanks to everyone for your warm wishes for my procedure last Friday. I’m not sure whether you weren’t concentrating hard enough, or whether the fact that my new boots hadn’t arrived yet threw off my mojo, but the stent insertion was a no-go. Apparently, the cancer that is constricting the ureter has a death-grip on it, and no matter how my cute Dr. Kenneth Branagh tried, he couldn’t force the tube in. So when I woke up, not only was there no pain (and thus no need for interesting pharmaceuticals), but no success.

What’s next, you may ask. Well, just because I’m so very fond of pee, poop, private parts, the handling and the discussion thereof, my next step is a nephrostomy. Yes, the universe seems to think that the brief stint with the ileostomy wasn’t enough torture, so my next appendage will be a urostomy bag. Probably temporary, but who really knows. Probably done tomorrow, but I’m waiting for phone calls.

And maybe, if I’m really lucky, my next trip through a TSA checkpoint I’ll get to get a pat-down instead of a little extra radiation.

Today, though, I’m starting my new trial. I’ll be here at The Cancer Factory from 8 to 6, taking pills, peeing in cups, giving blood at regular intervals. Would you all mind focusing just a little more closely on your good wishes today? I could use a break.

The cookies, however? Are AWESOME. XOXOXOXO

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Creeping In

December 14, 2010 at 11:26 AM (Energy, Faith, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , )

Wow, this cancer is serious business. By my calculations I’ve been off of chemo for just three weeks, but I can feel things growing in there. A knot of lymph nodes in my neck that had gotten smaller during chemo is getting bigger again, and is now, literally, a pain in my neck. The pelvic tumors, which were actually responding to the chemo at first, are growing again and pushing on my left sciatic nerve. And, most disconcertingly, I’m finally understanding that classic ovarian-cancer symptom of “a feeling of fullness or inability to eat” — most of the time, it feels like my dinner consisted of six or eight large bricks. (Don’t worry; I’m compensating for the lost calories with french vanilla ice cream.)

So, is this the part where I start complaining? Maybe. I’m trying to keep my mouth shut around the house, because I know how upset it makes certain-members-of-my-family-who-shall-remain-nameless. And we’re all trying to keep our eyes on the prize: I’ll start this trial next week and the drug will do a bang-up job of knocking back the cancer’s growth and all my symptoms will fade.

I must admit, though, the cynic in me is starting to get up a good head of steam. The hope is still there, the belief in miracles, the willingness to place my life (again) in the hands of one of the most capable medical teams in the country. But combined with the respiratory stuff that’s been going on since the end of September, these new symptoms are stark reminders of just how close to the edge I’m riding these days.

In August, I asked my oncologist (one of the foremost experts in the field) to be honest with me. I said, “I know doctors don’t like to make prognoses, and I promise I won’t hold you to anything you say, but you have a lot of expertise with this disease, and I need to know. If I stopped treatment today, how long would I have?” (A part of me couldn’t believe I was asking this; I have spent so much of this illness focused on the fact that I will get better that even broaching the question of not was a shock.) She told me that I’d have about six good months, and around a year altogether. At the time, I thought, “Well, thank heaven I’m not stopping treatment. I need WAY more than a year.”

Only none of the damn treatments have worked. Do I have six good months left? The cynic figures I’d better really enjoy Christmas this month. Like, REALLY enjoy it. And then the hope side chimes in, “People have been sicker than you are now and recovered. Miracles happen every day.” Yeah, but they don’t, too. People who were diagnosed after I was are already dead. Maybe I’ve already used my miracles — IP chemo, my crazy HIPEC surgery, my previously stellar fitness level. That 35% five-year statistic wasn’t threatening to me a bit until about three weeks ago. Now I’m wondering about May. Whether I should have had a 39th birthday party. Whether it’s worth buying a new pair of flat-heeled black boots.

Though I’ve been sick for four and a half years, aside from acute times like post-surgically or during chemo, I’ve been able to live a relatively normal life. But now, I can’t ignore it anymore. Now, there’s always something.

photo credit here.

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Up In the Air

December 3, 2010 at 2:19 PM (Real Life, Research, Treatment, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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.

Hopefully Elisabetta will be out of town.

Photo credit here.

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Let The Wild Goose Chase Begin

November 30, 2010 at 11:19 AM (Research, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I'm comin' for ya, dude.

Hey! How was your Thanksgiving?

Really? That sounds nice… oh, mine? It was lovely, thanks. Yeah, everyone’s still speaking to each other… yep, kids got along and no one threw mashed potatoes. We missed the traffic by coming back Saturday night. So great to see everyone, but nice to be home.

What?

Oh, the scan results, right…

Um.

Yeah, those didn’t come out like we hoped. Like, really not like we hoped. Lungs: measurably worse. Pelvic tumors: growing. Hydronephrosis (back-up in my kidneys) worse. New lesions in sacrum and pelvic bones.

You see why I’ve been avoiding you.

On the “Action Items” side of the page, however, we have now two solid Phase I trial options (thank you, cancer research funding), one of which I’ll be starting next Wednesday. Pending my visit with the PPMD (urologist) tomorrow and scheduling my stents. Yes, lucky me, I’ll be getting ureter stents again so I can pee. (Jeez, now I’m not only like an old woman but an old man, too?) The study (Option #1) is an oral drug, taken (yea!!!) with food daily, so no fasting, no infusions (looking hard for the silver lining)…

As opposed to the study drug from last summer, this one attacks signaling proteins on multiple pathways at the same time, so there’s a higher chance of success. The study worked well for an ovarian patient (she was on it for ten months) at The Cancer Factory already, although eventually she progressed and has now moved on to another study (my Option #2). So there’s a reasonable hope that this will give me some more time.

Another bonus is that Option #2 has openings forecast for a few months yet, so if Option #1 doesn’t show results, I can slip right on to Option #2 after about three months or so.

What? Well, we don’t know what else is out there yet. That’s the problem with studies. There are new ones coming down the pike all the time, but we can’t really predict what or when.

So, yeah. That’s where we are today. No, I’m handling it okay. (Just don’t talk about the kids.) I haven’t started buying plane tickets yet, but I’ve stopped shopping for high-end, life-long couture, since I’m not sure I’ll get my money’s worth out of it. And no, I will NOT bequeath it to you new-with-tags, so quit asking.

God bless black humor.

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