Coping Skills

September 17, 2010 at 12:23 PM (Family, friends, Happy, kids, Real Life, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I left a whole bunch of things at home this morning as I rushed out of the house ten minutes behind schedule, and only realized my mistake(s) as I was merging onto the Mass Pike. I called home to ask Mr. Wonderful to email me the shopping list so I could stop on my way home. Being the Mr. W that he is, and since he was coming downtown anyway for a meeting, he offered to bring the other stuff to me at The Cancer Factory. Timing was tricky, as I was running back and forth between two buildings for appointments that couldn’t seem to start on time, but someone smiled on me, and he pulled in just as I was dashing back across the street for my CT scan.

Short story long, he brought me the things I had forgotten, packed in a little reusable bag from lululemon (a store at which I hope to spend a lot on exercise clothing in the future). Printed all over one side of the bag are inspirational quotes, admonishments to carpe diem, etc. One specific line caught my eye: “Life is full of setbacks. Success is determined by how you handle setbacks.”

Particularly poignant this week. Yesterday I cornered a despondent and stomping #1 Son, grouchy because his brother hadn’t wanted to play outside with the dog with him. From somewhere deep within the storage pool of mothering instinct came the line, “You can’t let your happiness depend on the actions of other people. They all have their own thoughts, their own desires, and they can do as they please. If you can’t be happy unless they do exactly as you wish, you’ll always be disappointed. Be happy with your own actions, and let that be enough.” (I have no idea where I got that from, as I can be quite susceptible to the problem at hand myself, but it sure sounded good. I should probably needlepoint it on a pillow.)

It’s been a tough week to be me. Although both kids have been in school five days, for six hours at a stretch, by Tuesday night I had come down with the week-off-the-mystery-drug-fever again, and felt like a sodden lump of sand.  A “quick” four-hour trip down here on Wednesday for two types of blood draws and pee-in-a-cup showed no reason why I should have a fever. Nonetheless, by mid-afternoon I’ve been ready for bed, which did not accommodate yesterday’s pot of chicken-noodle soup (I had to do something with Monday’s leftovers) nor the 6-to-7:30 soccer-clinic-on-the-complete-opposite-side-of-town-in-a-downpour-wait-in-the-van nightmare. By 8PM I was fish food.

And as I slumped despondent on the couch with hot tea and layers of wool, watching The Blind Side with the hubs, I was put in mind of something my own mom used to mention (from her infinite pool of mothering instinct). When asked the eternal question, “What do you hope for your children in their lives?”, she never responded the expected, “I just hope that whatever they do, they’re happy;” she always said, “Life is full of times that won’t be happy. I want my kids to be able to cope.”

Which is, I think, what’s been going on here at Carcinista Central. Whatever the cancerverse throws at us, we find a way through it, and most of the time we are actually happy (although some days I just sob on the steering wheel). We lean on each other when we need support, take time away when we need to be alone, and take risks knowing that the family and friends who love us will be there to pick us up if we crash.

I’ve just met with Dr. A, and my CA-125 and CT scan have deteriorated a fair amount from ten days ago. While that’s never good news, at least the results are definitive: I’m going off the study and starting chemo when I get back from First Descents. I am glad that my week in Colorado will be drug-free, but I know I’ll still be a tired mess, push-ups and pull-ups notwithstanding. It’s a program for cancer survivors, after all, even if I am the oldest and illest one there – I’m sure they’ll understand. I’ll nap if I need to, bow out of activities if I must, but I’m going. If they have to shovel me onto the plane in a wheelbarrow, I’m going. Mom taught me that much.

Besides, six hours all by myself in first class? Each way? I wouldn’t pass that up for anything.

Photo courtesy First Descents.

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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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Lighten Up

August 12, 2010 at 11:25 AM (Family, friends, mommy guilt, Zen) (, , , , , , , , , )

Last week we had a mini-vacation and went to stay with friends on Martha’s Vineyard. We slept in, ate too much, had beers with lunch, napped on the beach (my favorite four-word phrase in the English language), went out one night without the kids and finished conversations. Ate s’mores. You get the idea.

I had succeeded in mentally reminding myself for three mornings not to forget to carry with us or administer my delightful meds (which must, you remember, be kept under refrigeration below 46˚). Since there were coolers all around, going to the beach, etc., I was able to dump them in and choke them down in the vacation-short space between breakfast and lunch.

Reluctantly, on Saturday we packed up our bags, double-checking under beds, nearly forgetting swimsuits and towels drying on the deck rail. I loaded my bottle of iced tea and the boys’ water bottles into the freezer to cool down before packing the cooler for the trip home.

The horde of us descended on a fish shack in Vineyard Haven to grab some lunch before catching our 2:30 ferry. As we waited with the hordes of other hungry people for our lunches, though, we realized we wouldn’t have enough time to eat and still make the boat. We grabbed our bag of sandwiches, said goodbye to the wife and kids of the family we stayed with, and the dad drove us the rest of the way to the ferry dock. Hugs all around, double-check the back of the car for our stuff, and bundle ourselves into the growing line of passengers waiting to climb aboard.

Son #2 dropped his Gatorade bottle for the seven-hundred-and-forty-third time, and I told him, “One of these times, that bottle’s going to split open, and then you won’t have anything…to…drink…but…water…until…” ::Crickets::

“Mr. W, did you grab the cooler?”

“No.”

Crap. “Left my damn drugs at the house!”

I turned and started running (wearing a 35-lb backpack, no less) out to the street where I could see our friend had just been waved into heavy Saturday August Vineyard traffic by the cop trying to keep order. Thank heaven his window was open.

“MARK! MARK!” He turned to look at me.

“I LEFT MY DRUGS AT YOUR HOUSE!!!” (In hindsight, not the best sentence to shout across a crowded intersection in front of a policeman.)

Revision: “I left my meds in your fridge!”

He pulled back into the parking lot, and my three gentlemen shuffled over and got back in the Jeep. I started in browbeating myself about my forgetfulness. “Jeez, I can’t believe I forgot it. I’m so sorry to make you have to come back. I can’t believe I didn’t remember that stuff! How many times did I remind myself that I had to get the cooler? What an eejit.”

This went on for about five minutes. Then I stopped for a second, and realized that I was the only one beating me up about it. Not even any teasing (unusual). And in a flash of maturity, I quit. No one seemed to be upset about having to miss the 2:30 but me. And on second thought, what the hell did I care? Why was I getting all jacked up?

We rode back to the restaurant to finish lunch (the best lobster roll I’ve had in years) with our friends. There was another ferry at 3:45, which meant we’d get home to pick up our dog a little later. No harm, no foul – it’s not like we had an appointment or something waiting back on the mainland.

This verbal self-flagellation is a lifetime habit for me, and I suspect for many others. Does it come from my desire to cut on myself before anyone else gets a chance to? Or am I so concerned about inconveniencing others (and possibly having them speak disparagingly about me after I leave) that I am trying to make sure they know I’m not really that inconsiderate?  Whatever the reason, it’s stupid, and a waste of energy.

It’s time to adopt the Dr. Seuss quote I heard recently and have come to adore: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” I’m a good person, my friends know it, and my life is way too short to spend time browbeating myself for mistakes. Everyone makes ’em, and we’re all doing the best we can. Move on.

Photo credit here.

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Cancercoaster

July 28, 2010 at 11:51 AM (Faith, Family, Mood, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , )

Last night my husband and I were watching that new Tony Robbins series on NBC. The episode featured Tony helping a couple break out of their ruts: at their wedding reception in Mexico, the exuberant groom had dived into the shallow pool to swim over to where his wife and her friends were dancing, and broken his neck. Quadriplegic since that day, they had ceased to be newlywed husband-and-wife, and become nurse-and-patient. During the course of the show, Tony had the excited husband and terrified wife skydiving over Fiji to show them that there’s no limit to what a paraplegic can accomplish but his imagination. (It was a pretty great show, and I’m a cynic. But I dig transformations. Jillian’s my homegal.)

At one point Mr. Wonderful and I were talking about the wife and the role she’d settled into, and how she was paralyzed herself by her fear of losing her husband altogether, her sense of injustice at having to suffer through a life so different than the one she’d imagined. In mid-sentence, Mr. W started to well up, and as I grabbed his hand, he broke down. He said he was remembering the night of my first surgery, and how he’d been feeling all the same things: angry with the doctors; helpless at my illness; terrified of our new future and what it would bring; sad for me and what I would have to go through.

After a long hug, we moved on, but I realized that in addition to cementing our dedication to each other, the moment represented just another stop on the wild ride we’ve been on since 2006. Cancer diagnosis? Down. Find the right oncologist and a plan of attack? Up. IP chemotherapy? Way down. Finish treatment? Up. Nine months of remission and a big thank-you party? WAY up. Recurrence? Doooooown. You get the picture. Cancer patients and those who love them learn an incredible amount in the simple task of waiting: waiting for test results; waiting for scan results; waiting for the surgery date.

I’d love to say that a zen-like patient peacefulness is the result of all of this unpredictable change. But our reactions to the ups and downs have yawed wildly as well. Sometimes I’m able to accept a recurrence notice with resigned determination, while my mother bursts into (prohibited!) tears. Sometimes I come home from a simple office visit and a blood draw and snap at everyone in the house and Mr. Wonderful calms me down and gives me needed space. Other times he rages against his lack of control and we argue about something stupid like taking the last cold Diet Coke out of the fridge (a hanging offense).

I’ve had a busy month in the up-and-down department. From the down of intractable lung mets and decreased physical activity, I sprang back up with the great PET scan results, confirmed by CT last week. But not all the way up, because my left leg swelling kept increasing, and everyone (including me, in tears on Monday) feared it was another blood clot, which would mean blood thinners, which would make me ineligible for the trial that was saving my life (way down). Yesterday I had an ultrasound that showed no trace of a clot, meaning I am cleared to receive lymphedema massage and continue the trial (up Up UP!)

Which brings me back to my post on Friday about good support. By talking openly and honestly, and patiently listening without judgement, Mr. W and I have been able to weather the vagaries of this unpredictable odyssey. It’s definitely been a long learning process, with exemplary moments and embarrassing blow-ups. Often, the patient-listening-without-judgement has had to come in the form of an outside party, namely our therapist, who I maintain is a priceless aid in my recovery. But the result has been the smoothing out of the rough places that used to trip us and send us (and by “us” I mean our whole support team) spiraling off in different directions – now we hold each other up and ride on together.

Certainly the clichéd “fullness of time” has lessened the height of the peaks and the depth of the valleys. I prefer to think of it as a mosaic, or a Seurat painting: up close, each tile or spot of paint seems powerful, distinct; but with distance, the whole image becomes easier to see, the emotional shapes easier to recognize, the cohesion and strength of our family more visible.

I’ve never liked roller coasters. Too fast, too scary, too much stomach-in-the-throat. Since I have to be on this one, I’m glad I have reliable hands to hold onto. Who are yours?

Photo link.

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Back Seat Driver

July 12, 2010 at 11:28 AM (Faith, Hair, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , )

A friend and I were talking this weekend about her upcoming vacation. She and her family are flying to Wyoming and renting an RV for a week of sightseeing – mom, dad, six- and eight-year-old sons. She was joking about her outrageous organizing tendencies, and her pre-vacation lists of what to pack, what to do, what to buy. We both decided, though, that the way to go about a traveling trip like this was not to adhere stringently to an agenda (“Come on, kids, eat quickly! We’ve gotta get going if we’re going to make the World’s Largest Ball of Tinfoil before 3 PM!) but to follow the planned route easily, staying relaxed and making allowances for spontaneity and unforeseen events (like ice cream stands). There are far fewer temper tantrums, from children or parents, if everyone’s going with the flow.

I thought about how this is the best way to parent, too. We all have preconceived notions about what parenting will be like (toddlers cheerfully playing house; our elementary school kids racing off the bus to give us a hug and tell us about their day; family dinners with animated conversations, in-jokes, and clean plates), and one of the hardest parts of growing up into our roles is realizing how far reality diverts from those notions (toddlers throwing poop; elementary school kids sulking into the house without a word; family dinners where everyone refuses to eat, speaks only potty talk, and is sent from the table in tears straight to bed).

Cancer has been like that. As I digested my diagnosis, back in May of 2006, I put together my idea of what treatment would be like: lose hair, spend summer in bed, fight like hell, receive clean CT scan, move on with my life. But as I struggled through treatments, trying to maintain some semblance of my former self, feeling horrible, I realized cancer had other ideas.

Boy, does it ever. My vision of a complete remission was marred by not one recurrence but two, the second of which refuses to let go of my innards. My vision of flowing locks has been replaced by persistent brown Nancy-Reagan-head and the cruel fact that no one checks me out any more, because I look like their mom. My early forceful, driving thought that I’d kick ovarian cancer to the curb and live a long, grateful, loving life has taken a back seat to the slow but steady drip of the odds stacked against me.

I’m not throwing in the towel. Not by a long shot. I’m still in it to win it, whatever road I have to drive down to get there. If this trial doesn’t work (I’ll know more by this afternoon) I’ll start another one. I might bitch about side effects, but I’m damn glad to still be here to experience them. I’m learning that the more I roll with the punches, accommodate changes in schedule, drugs, doctors, scan results, pull back my long-view to three months instead of three years, the fewer temper tantrums I need to throw. My expectations of life as a cancer babe might be growing up.

My hair looks a disturbingly lot like this.

photo courtesy http://www.dcrw.org

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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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Low Simmer

June 14, 2010 at 1:30 PM (Energy, Hair, Mood, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , )

Lying around and growing tumors is hard work – I’d forgotten how much it takes out of you. I’ve been drug-free for two and a half weeks now, and I can feel the evil creeping up. Which gets a girl to thinking: thank heaven for modern medicine. How much time would I have without the upcoming trial? Six months? Four? What would my quality of life be? Yeesh.

Fatigue is a constant companion now – I feel like I’m wearing a diving weight belt around my waist. Going to the gym is a bit of a farce, and if someone hadn’t invented the Chuckit!, I think my dog wouldn’t be speaking to me anymore. The cat, on the other hand, is so glad to have me back on the lazy side of the fence.

My trial coordinator said that they are getting “encouraging” results from GDC-0941, and my oncologist is “very excited” to get me on board. I have a full day of tests (EKG, CT, blood tests, urine culture, etc. etc.) set up for today, and then I start the trial on the 21st. I’m feeling optimistic, but wondering how much progress the tumors will make by then. I hate to give up any ground from my chemo of last summer – it feels like I’m betraying the hair loss, fatigue, and all the side effects I went through to “let” the tumors grow back. Especially since I currently resemble Mike Brady. Yea, hats!

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