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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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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Let’s Be Honest

October 27, 2010 at 7:30 PM (Family, Happy, Karma, Silver Lining) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for three or four weeks now because I know no one wants to read it. (No, I’m not dying. My CA-125 seems to be responding to the new chemo, although I have yet to feel any practical benefits.)

But things at the ol’ Casa Carcinista are, well, different since I got back from Colorado.

Sure, there’s the coughing and wheezing, the resting after a flight of stairs. The utter lack of an exercise routine. But I’m talking about more meta-changes.

For the past four-and-a-half years, we’ve been sailing along through open seas, scanning the horizon with our telescopes, peering from the crow’s nest at the edge of the world, looking for signs of what’s to come. For that time, there’s been no sign of anything, just flat horizon. Some days we’ve had calm seas, and picnics on the deck; other days have been stormy and I’ve stayed below decks. We’ve just kept sailing, waiting and watching.

Now, there’s land on the horizon. Distant, hazy, indistinct, but it’s there. And that’s where we’re sailing. Don’t know how long it’s going to take us to get there, nor whether we’ll change course and sail somewhere else first, but there’s no doubt of my destination.

I think what triggered this all was the realization, in Estes Park, that I was not well. For the first time, really, since forever, I was sick and not getting better. There were things that I just couldn’t do because of cancer, and the likelihood that I ever would be able to do them was small and shrinking. Even during my IP chemo routine in 2006 (the energy nadir of my life), I was able to drag myself to my best friend’s wedding as MOH and even threw down a little swing with my sweetie. Sure, I paid for it for days, but it was a hoot, and I got better. I’m still waiting to feel as well as I did before FD. (Nothing personal, FD – I still love you.)

Strangely, I’ve found these recent changes in my life almost comforting. Where the null-sum of cancer is undoubtedly the waiting, the uncertainty that comes while a surgery date approaches, or while you’re twiddling your thumbs until the scan results come back, any kind of certainty in this free-for-all can be the equivalent of a neatly solved equation, exhaling a long-held breath. As our therapist reminded us this morning, we’ve entered the last healthy step of the stages of grief: acceptance. Not that my demise is imminent, but that it’s out there, on the horizon, whether we’re sailing there directly or around the Horn first. Can you imagine setting out on a journey that will last the rest of your life and not knowing where you’re going or when you’ll get there? (And forget about knowing what to pack.) You see my point.

Even more strangely, a field of calm seems to have settled over Casa Carcinista. With this acceptance has come relinquishing of closely-held argument positions, reductions in conflicts, a willingness to compromise and see the other guy’s point of view. The little brown house is full to bursting with love. Mr. W and I are more likely than we used to be to drop what we’re doing and have a hug, or sit at the table after the boys are excused and just talk quietly about our day. We listen more closely when our kids stop us to talk. We are always available for snuggles. We are focusing on the stuff that really matters – building and maintaining healthy relationships, following family traditions, spending time together – and, for the most part, filtering out the dross.

So no, since you asked, I’m not scared. There are still plenty of things I’m pissed off about, and for damned sure I’m not anywhere near finished fighting this battle. But the cloud of acceptance and love that has descended over Casa Carcinista has made us better people, and I wouldn’t trade that for a house at the beach.

And while we are speaking of beaches... here's my favorite.

Photo courtesy Mr. Wonderful.

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