Quick Update

September 7, 2010 at 10:40 PM (Research, Treatment) (, , , , , )

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?

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Too Many Chiefs

September 3, 2010 at 4:31 PM (Research, Treatment, WTF) (, , , , , , , )

I’m getting tired just thinking about explaining all of this, but I know you all wanna hear it.

Last week… no, wait, back up.

Two weeks ago, when I had my last CT scan (and waited FOUR HOURS for the results), Phase I oncologist (we’ll call him Dr. B) said that I should set up an appointment with my medical oncologist, the one who’s overseeing my case (we’ll call her Dr. A) as soon as possible, since she’d probably want me to stop taking the Magical Mystery Drug (the one that was no longer suppressing my lung metastases) and go back on chemo. So, like a good little girl, I ran home and made the appointment.

This Tuesday, when I met with Dr. A, the first words out of her mouth were, “So… what can I do for you?”

I was a little surprised that she wasn’t already aware of what Dr. B had thought, so I said, “Dr. B said that since the trial isn’t keeping down my lung mets, you’d probably want to pull me off it and put me on chemo.”

“Oh… from the email he sent me I thought he wanted you to keep going with the trial?”

::crickets::

“No, he told me you’d want me to do something more aggressive about my lungs.”

After a little back-and-forth, and telling her how crappy I’d been feeling for the previous ten days, she got on board with the chemo idea and came to the conclusion that since I hadn’t done carboplatin for a year, we could do that in combination with Alimta, and start on Tuesday (because I will NOT reschedule another First Descents trip!). Dr. A told me her scheduling coordinator would call me about appointment times for Tuesday, and shook my hand. I left her office pleased to be ending the nasty pills that have started giving me day-long nausea and still taste like dirty ashtrays, ready to switch tactics and get back to the business of kicking cancer’s ass.

Once I got home (of course), I realized I hadn’t asked whether to keep taking the Magical Mystery Drug for the rest of the week until starting chemo on the seventh. I called first thing (at the crack of 9:00) Wednesday, then airily skipped through my day waiting for a callback, without the pills, loving the taste of a glass of water and my freedom from being close to indoor plumbing.

Wednesday night at 8 I discovered a message on my answering machine from about 4:30 in the afternoon that said, “Please keep taking your study drug indefinitely.” Uh, what? I thought I was starting chemo.

Yesterday as I was waiting at school pickup for the boys, I got a phone call from the Phase I nurse practitioner, I’ll call him Angel, who asked how I was doing. I told him I felt lousy, and explained the mixed messages I was getting from the two different departments, and that no one seemed to know quite what the heck was going on with my plan. I told him, “There are too many chiefs here.”

He said, “Well, this little Indian is going to get to the bottom of things and I’ll call you as soon as I know.” Sweetie, you’re the best.

This morning, I left a message for Angel, just to check in and remind him he was working on something for me, since I could totally see the holiday weekend creeping up and not hearing from anyone until I just showed up on Tuesday at the crack of dawn. By the time I got home from the dog park, I had a message from the Phase I trial coordinator with my schedule for Tuesday’s appointments, which sounded a whole lot like my regular trial schedule. Grrrr… I waited for a call back from Angel.

At 12:45 he called and told me that we’ll check my CA-125 on Tuesday morning, and if it’s dramatically higher again (from 74 to 90-something at the last check) they’ll pull me off the trial and start chemo that morning. But if the CA-125 is stable, I’ll stay on the study drug. At least I knew what was going on, and that everyone was now on the same page.

Does anyone else think that with all the money being generated by and donated to The Cancer Factory on an annual basis, they might be able to spare the time for slightly more thorough inter-departmental communication? As opposed to, say, f*cking around with my life and my schedule like government employees?

God, I hate waiting. Have I mentioned that before?

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Fresh Horses

August 31, 2010 at 8:37 PM (after chemo, Energy, Research, Sleep, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately. The Magical Mystery Drug has been doing a number on my stomach, and between napping to kill the heartburn and napping to kill the grouchies, I’ve been a little hard to engage in conversation.

Last week’s Monday visit was a bit of a surprise. Although in hindsight, I sorta knew there was some news coming down the pike, seeing as how I waited FOUR AND A HALF HOURS for the results of my CT scan. The news is: lung mets don’t like the Magical Mystery Drug anymore, and they don’t want to play. They’re going to keep on growing the way they want to, and pfphthbpbhpt to anyone who says different. Pelvic tumors are following orders, shrinking and softening and being little Trial’s Pets, but noooooooo, not my lungs.

Thus I’ve spent the past six days waiting for an appointment with my other oncologist, who the Phase I doc said would probably want to take me off the trial and start chemo again (but I should keep taking the nine delicious pills a day just in case she didn’t want me to stop, because once I stop I can’t start again, etc. etc.). Today I met with her, and once we’d worked out that no, Phase I doc didn’t want me to continue the trial even once I’d met with her; he said SHE’d probably want me to stop it and go on chemo (you’d think the inter-office communications over there at that world-class Cancer Factory would be a little clearer), there’s a new plan in place.

Starting next Tuesday, I’ll be hopping back on the chemo train: carboplatin and Alimta. Supposedly not too debilitating, and I’ll get to keep my hair. (Good news/bad news: while I like having hair, mine is really pissing me off, and I miss my perfect, ten-second-toilette wig.) And the schedule will allow for me to still make my First Descents climbing trip on the 19th.

I was pretty discouraged, feeling like, “how many more damn things do I have to throw at this disease?”, but now I realize I have lots of options still open to me. Once chemo has stabilized my lung disease, we can start looking once again at the over 300 clinical trials that are available to platinum-resistant ovarian patients. So many choices… think I can find one in Miami for the winter?

Photo here.

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I Got The Fever

August 22, 2010 at 8:30 PM (Energy, Mood) (, , , , , , , , )

Jeez, just when you think life is getting a little predictable.

Week 4 of Cycle 2 snuck up on me. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, at my Monday appointment last week, that it was my week off of the Magical Mystery Drug. Skipping home an hour earlier than expected, with food in my tummy and a song in my heart, I anticipated a light and relatively carefree week of getting back into shape, tasting my food and drinking cool fresh water, spending time with my boys, and a long-anticipated family reunion weekend on the beach full of champagne, good company, and steamed fresh lobster.

Ha ha, said the universe, guess again.

Monday night at around 9:30, I started feeling like I was getting a fever. That’s weird, I thought, I don’t get sick. (Well, apart from the obvious.) Checked with the thermometer: yep, 101. Tylenol PM, bed. Tossed and turned all night, but by morning, it was gone. Felt better Tuesday morning, although not well enough to make it to yoga. No sign of fever, until about 5pm. After checking in with the team, they said if the fever went away that evening with two Advil, I was okay, but if not I should come in to see them Wednesday. Which of course I wanted to avoid like the plague.

Wednesday dawned sunny and fever-free. The boys and the dog and I spent the better part of an hour and a half in the woods hiking, feeling pretty smug. Until I lay down for my nap, and felt the fingers of fever starting to creep up my neck. I ignored them and tried to go to sleep, but I knew it was futile. Called the team and they said, “Come on in.”

Which is always fun with two kids. But they were fed copious amounts of bagged snacks and watched the Cartoon Network while I saw everyone, peed in a cup, gave blood cultures from port and periphery. I stumped everyone with my lack of symptoms, but that night the fever was back again.

And Thursday night. Good news: Mr. W makes dinner and cleans up from it. Bad news: Friday morning I get a call that I have a UTI. A UTI? With no symptoms? Oh, yippee, back on high-grade systemic antibiotics again. And they do nothing to kill the fever.

So I muscled through Friday and Saturday with nightly fevers, the usual fallout from antibiotics, and no energy. It was great to be on the beach and see family members from far and wide, but I wish I’d felt well enough to enjoy it.

And when I’m sick-sick, not just chronic-sick, nothing else gets done. No reading, no exercise, and as you might have noticed, no writing.

Let’s hope this… whatever is gone by tomorrow, so I can deal with a day at the hospital, the fallout from CT contrast, and more Magical Mystery Drug. And write about something a little more interesting than boring crap like my internal temperature.

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Give Me a Break

July 7, 2010 at 4:14 PM (Energy, Mood, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

The trial continues. Week Two of taking the fabulous drug daily, all nine capsules of it, and I’m beat. Possibly from the effort required to swallow nine capsules at once. I’ve never had a problem taking pills in the past, but this really frosts the cupcake. Why, in our era of superb medical advancement and death-defying technology, is this pharma company incapable of cramming 450 mg of my mystery drug into five capsules? Or three?

Aside from increasing my snark quotient, said mystery substance is wearing me out. Maybe it’s all the peristalsis, or maybe I’m just getting old. Or possibly since I’ve been actively fighting this beast for over eighteen months now without a break, I’m losing my elite-athlete-like (ha) endurance. I’m a lover, not a fighter. And I don’t think four weeks off to wash the Avastin out of my system counts as a break. Every time I stop to examine my alternatives, though, I realize: they suck. So back at it I go. But I’m really sick of:

  • Flirting with nurses to make sure I’m the favorite
  • Peeing in a cup
  • Repeating my last name and date of birth to prove I’m really me (who the hell would pose as a cancer patient?)
  • Sleeping with my support stocking on
  • Having the inside of my mouth taste like an ashtray and not getting to smoke first
  • Being too tired to play tennis, swim, ride a bike, walk up the stairs, cook dinner, host a playdate
  • Short hair

On the bright side, I am not bald, throwing up, peeling, recovering from an abdominal incision, or dead. I can still drive, give directions, boss my kids around, surf the internet, and laugh at a dirty joke.

I think I need an attitude adjustment. Possibly an expensive spa treatment. Fortunately, I have one scheduled for Thursday morning. Hope I can drag my sad old carcass in there.

Thanks for listening. We now return you to your previously scheduled Eastern Seaboard Inferno of a day.

At least I can still nap.

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Caller ID

May 20, 2010 at 11:37 AM (after chemo, Faith, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

“Private Caller” is seldom a good sign. It’s usually some telemarketer totally flouting the FCC regulations that specify that our number is on the do-not-call list and making my marketer husband hot under the collar.

Or it’s The Cancer Factory. Which is was this morning. And not only just the hospital, but my actual oncologist. The day after a scan.

::cue ominous music: dum Dum DUMMMMM…::

Right. Pelvis and abdomen stable, she began. (Always lead with the good news.) Lung tumors progressing. (Ah, there it is.) Slowly, but progressing. Which, frankly, I’ve known for about three weeks. Ever since the allergy season started, I could tell.

Cancel the cytoxan. Bring on the PI3-Kinase inhibitor trial. They’re holding a spot open for me (let’s say it again: thank heaven I’m in Boston!), so as soon as my cytoxan wash-out (4 weeks) is over, I’m in like Flynn. Unless my tumor tests positive for the B-RAF genetic marker, in which case I would be eligible for that trial. And we all know how I love making important decisions. (Or maybe you don’t: when I used to have to choose between A and B, my mother would write each option on a piece of paper and mix them up behind her back, then I’d choose a hand. And invariably want the other option more. Pathetic.)

So we wait. Again. Lovely.

Maybe without the cytoxan I’ll have a little more energy for OMG! this weekend.

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Still Looking For The Perfect Genes

April 18, 2010 at 11:05 AM (Energy, Treatment) (, , , , , , )

Got a letter from the Cancer Factory yesterday – my tumors are not genetically eligible for the EGRF or HER2 receptor studies now underway at that esteemed institution. So I keep on with the Avastin and Cytoxan and see what other groovy trials are available next month.

Kinda feel left out, though, you know? Like a rejection letter from my first-choice college. Damn, now I have to go peel the sticker off my car window.

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Cynics Don’t Do Laughter Yoga

April 12, 2010 at 7:39 PM (Energy, Mood, WTF) (, , , , , , , , )

Went to a great conference at The Cancer Factory on Saturday, for survivors and patients under 40. The vibe was good, the kids were hip, and the morning session I went to, on Mindfulness, was fabulous. Bagged lunch eaten and new friends made, we shuffled back into the main meeting room for the first session of the afternoon. Laughter Yoga. Now, I’m all about laughter, as you can probably guess from various posts herein, but I’m afraid I’m better at laughing at people than laughing with them.

Our enthusiastic moderator started us off with a quick description of the restorative and oxygenating power of laughter, and the history of Laughter Yoga, which started at a clinic in India and has now spread to Laughter Clubs all over the world. (Look for one in a neighborhood near you!) Apparently, even fake laughter can raise your mood and improve your breathing and outlook on the day. And lord knows I tried. But she had us getting up and walking around the big open chair-circle (never my first choice) and running up to each other, pretending to shake hands with an electric clown-buzzer while making eye contact, and laughing uproariously. Sort of fake-it-’til-you-make-it laughter.

I’ll admit it was sort of goofy at first, and the bizarreness of it all got me to laugh a few times. She let it go for three or four minutes, then we returned to our chairs for a breathing exercise and wind-down. Aaaaaaaand then she explained the next mock-hilarious encounter for us to enact in random pairs. And on it went. The second exercise I definitely wasn’t trying as hard. By the third, I was out. Sat in my chair and felt the eighth-grade-wow-this-is-so-lame vibe creeping up over the back of my neck.

I was a leeeetle bit jealous of the folks (a smaller and smaller selection of the whole for each subsequent farce) who were still participating, as their personal insecurities/strange-o-meters were low enough that they could whoop it up. But the longer I sat there watching, the less I felt like laughing, and the more I felt like leaving. I was comforted by the sight that I was not alone in my unease.

Am I immature? Or was it just naptime and I had run out of cancer-fighting pep for the day? Probably both. All I can tell you is that I could practically feel my blood pressure inching upward, until the leader finally congratulated us all on our spectacular job and we closed our eyes for a few more deep breaths.

It certainly wouldn’t be a club I’d run out to join to help me relieve stress. Color me snide.

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Mid-Disease Crisis

March 29, 2010 at 4:52 PM (after chemo, Energy, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

It’s so weird how my life has become dictated by cancer. Even in this relatively healthy place, where I’m going to the gym and buying my own groceries and riding herd over my own kids, there is no aspect of my life that hasn’t changed since my diagnosis. Side effects, neuropathy, crunchy skin, fatigue, etc. etc. And lately, I’ve been feeling a bit put-upon because of it.

 Have I reached the end of my sunshine-y outlook? Am I really sick and tired of being sick and tired, or am I just not able to maintain my optimism anymore? I’m probably going to start a cutting-edge targeted genetic therapy trial by early May (I find out on Thursday) – why isn’t my oncologist’s enthusiasm for emerging treatments rubbing off on me?

 Not only that, but I find myself extra-nervous about changing protocols.  I know, that’s not unreasonable. But not just because of the potential side effects and change in my lifestyle; what if they work? No, seriously. I’ve been grooving along in this mindset of fighting-cancer-fighting-cancer for so long but ultimately assuming that I’ll be checking out before my retirement planning becomes an issue. 

I certainly have plenty of reasons to stick around – two of which are currently listening to Captain Underpants and destroying their bedroom at the end of the hall. But the whole concept of winning this battle and returning to life as a human being, not a cancer patient, seems a little unnerving to me. I’m getting quite good at the fight – what will I do with myself if I’m not doing that anymore? Is that it? Survivor guilt? Mid-life crisis? Mid-disease crisis?

Is this like being an empty-nester – when the kids move out, who are you anymore? There are certainly plenty of things I’d rather be doing with my time than running down to D-F every couple of weeks for another dose of x-rays and IV toxins. I’m sure I can figure out a career option or two that could keep me occupied. Is this like the uncertainty that all cancer patients go through during remission – feeling adrift and depressed without that regular touch-base appointment with the supportive medical team, sitting around waiting for the next three-month appointment and blood test and hoping they don’t show a recurrence this time? Seems like I’m sorta putting the cart before the horse.

 Whatever it is, I’m grouchy for sure. Sounds like I could use a vacation.

Hey, yeah: some time in my happy place. That’ll certainly help.

wow, looka that hair.

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Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

February 19, 2010 at 11:08 AM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Have you ever had that dream where you’re running, something’s chasing you and you’re running as fast as you can, but no matter how fast you move your legs you don’t go anywhere? Yeah.

Got the results of the CT yesterday. (You see where this is going, don’t you.) The Avastin is successfully holding down the pelvic tumors – they’re even smaller than they were in November. The lungs, however, don’t seem to be getting the message. Old (tiny, glacially progressing) nodules have grown a millimeter or two; new subcentimeter nodules are appearing. No lymph node increases, nothing in the abdomen or bones. But those lung guys, off by themselves, clearly on their own program, making trouble.

I’m working on my optimism, but today it feels like my balloon is a little deflated. I know all the things I’m doing to take care of myself, exercise, diet, good attitude, and all the things my medical team are doing to take care of me, scans, great medicines, oodles of treatment options, are the best in the business. Seems the glacier’s gonna carve that canyon anyway.

The Avastin will continue; I’m meeting March 1 with the head of the clinical trial department to see if there are any open studies looking for a guinea pig who’s totally healthy except for the damn cancer. Let’s hope the nasty make-your-hair-fall-out-again studies are all full.

One thing’s for sure, I’m going shopping with my usual post-tax-return IRA deposit this year.

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