Today Has Been Brought to you by the Letter ‘I’

April 19, 2011 at 2:11 PM (after chemo, Energy, Family, Help) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

‘I’ for “insane”. “Incredible.” “Inconceivable.” “Ican’tbelievethisishappening.”

Last Monday was completely off-the-charts crazy. Let me tell you all about it.

No, wait, it’s way too much. Lemme give you the highlights:

  • Awoke at 5:15AM to make 7:00 phlebotomy appointment (say that ten times fast) at The Cancer Factory.
  • Finally allowed myself to be wheeled around TCF in a chair, since I had trouble catching my breath after walking up three steps and across a lobby on Saturday night, even with 3 L/min of O2
  • Didn’t think to attach nose hose to air tank on wheelchair; stayed connected (for 3+-hour tour) to portable liquid canister that I’d been breathing on since 6:15am. Usually I hook onto a wall nozzle for most of my visit. [NOTE: this is foreshadowing.]
  • Navelbine not living up to expectations; i.e., breathing continues to worsen. Please go to radiology for immediate CT scan.
  • “Immediate” is a relative term; arrive promptly, but sit-and-wait for two hours. Scan, then return to NP’s office for further instructions.
  • A mere 45 minutes later(!), NP finds me to say that scan shows further, millimeters-larger growth of tumors in all areas. No point in continuing Navelbine infusions as they are clearly not working. Please make appointment for Thursday to come back and talk with oncologist about other potential treatments, their side effects and efficacy rates.
  • Wheel downstairs, return to parking garage, check out. Turn onto Brookline Avenue to realize my port is still accessed.
  • Around block, park at old building drive-up entrance, persuade door guard that Mom can live-park there for five minutes while I dash down to Radiology to have my port de-accessed (remove needle from chest port, left there for cancelled infusion).
  • Find available phlebotomist, convince her I don’t need access anymore today, have needle removed. Start to climb (slowly, slowly) spiral staircase from basement to street level. Get winded, stop to rest multiple times. Reach lobby, resting elbows on knees to catch breath in chair; approached by stranger who asks if I’m okay. Tell him I’m just headed to car, and stagger out front door just to realize that my portable tank, on which I’ve been breathing for over 4 hours, is completely empty.
  • Collapse in front seat as panic sets in; huffingly tell SuperMom to return to valet in other building and find wheelchair with O2 tank so I can breathe while we go back to clinic to have portable tank refilled for drive home. Total panic; feel tingly all over, nauseated.
  • Ticket-gate attendant finishing long chat-up with driver in front of us (as I continue feeling more nauseated and frantic) finally gives us our turn; SuperMom, holding it together nicely while explaining what we need, gets ticket, whips around to valet and tells him to get a chair with a tank NOW (see “Shirley MacLaine, Oscar-winning speech”), while finding me a plastic bag into which I yak my blueberry yogurt (fuchsia pink; poor dude with rescue chair must have thought I was exploding or something) twice. Finally chair dude hooks hose to tank and I’m back on three liters. Mom hands off the keys and we go back up to 10th floor. Emergency passes, and I’m pleased to notice that I’ve not only managed to keep fuchsia barf off floor and out of hair but also off pristine white tee-shirt. ::Rockstar.::
  • On 10th floor, Receptionist pages Respiratory Therapy to come help; Super-tech David gets me hooked up with a higher-caliber portable liquid tank and a complimentary refill that will get me home safely.
  • FINALLY leave hospital around 1:30 and get my post-hospital-visit chocolate milkshake by 2:10. Nap by 2:30, feeling like I’ve been run over, backed-up-on, then re-run-over by a sizeable piece of construction equipment. .
And that’s only the half of it. More to come this week. Don’t you wish you were me?

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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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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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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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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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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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Finally.

July 17, 2010 at 10:29 AM (Energy, Mood, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

For those who aren’t on facebook (I understand, really), you might have missed my jubilant post-blog update on Monday: THE TRIAL DRUGS ARE WORKING. Those nasty little grey capsules that make my mouth taste like a dirty ashtray are actually worth the loss of my taste for chocolate. (Sad but true.)

I climbed out of the PET scanner on Monday and (after a brief trip to the cafeteria for my first food in over twelve hours) went straight to the Phase I doctor’s office. His preliminary read of the scan thirty minutes later showed a “marked decrease” in the metabolism* of the cells in my calcified tumors and lymph nodes, the ones that we had pegged as stable. While he offered no opinion of the new mets in my lungs, and I’ll have to wait for a full radiologist’s report on the scan for that, he was very excited about the “dramatic” change in my tumors. He said that the trial had shown the best results for ovarian patients, and that they were thinking about designing a Phase II trial for ovarian patients based on the good results. Including mine!

I’m beyond thrilled to get some good news for the first time in eighteen months, and REALLY glad that all of this rigamarole that they (Big Pharma) are putting me through for this drug might actually have an impact on other patients of this crappy, insidious, sneaky-ass disease.

Next week: further results of the PET scan; CT scan and results, and a week off the drug. Rash? No rash? Increased energy? We’ll see.

But you can quit mentally divvying up my couture for the near future. Vultures.

*PET scans work by reading the rate that your cells metabolize an injected radioactive sugar solution. Cancer cells metabolize sugar at a much higher rate than healthy cells, so after sitting with the solution in your bloodstream for an hour, they run you through a scanner and read the “hot spots” that have metabolized the most radioactive solution. These are measured by the amount of radioactivity they emit, and the rates are compared from scan to scan.

Photo courtesy images.

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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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Erosion

May 12, 2010 at 12:09 PM (Energy, Mood, Sleep) (, , , , , , , )

Some days I feel like a regular person. Aside from my daily nap, I run errands, walk the dog, cook dinner, sort the junk mail, fold the laundry. Except for my goofy haircut, you’d never know I am sick.

Today is not one of those days. I’m completely drained. I’m not sure if it’s the allergies (Massachusetts is covered in green pollen) or what, but in my Pilates class yesterday I had trouble completing any of the exercises (that usually make me sweat, but not collapse). It was as if someone was squeezing handfuls of the bottoms of both my lungs. We had a dozen errands to run in the afternoon, and by the time I’d dropped #1 Son off at soccer practice, I could hardly bring myself to heave my body out of the car and climb the stairs.

This morning seems to be little better. At the gym, I had to dumb-down my not-so-strenuous treadmill workout, and still hopped off every five minutes for a water break. At the park, I felt so fatigued I wondered if I’d make it back to the car. Even the dog seemed to know not to make me work too hard, and behaved himself.

At the risk of sounding like Pitiful Pearl, I’m flat. My feet are killing me. My sinuses feel like there’s been a knife fight. And I’m noticing that despite my ability to stand up to the flood of finite treatments and surgeries and to keep on truckin’ in the battle of Me vs. Ovarian Cancer, I’m wearing away, little by little, in the face of a slow trickle of endless chemo and side effects. Is it the Cytoxan? Is it the tumors? My lungs feel funny – is it the metastases? I can’t say, at least not until my next scan (5/19). But it’s getting harder to pretend I can do it all in the four hours a day I seem to be able to stay out of bed.

Gee, I might have to add a morning nap. That’d be terrible.

Photo courtesy http://www.reallynatural.com


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