Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sad, Pathetic, Little Eyebrows

I've never had much brow to speak of, but over the last two days, my eyebrows have fallen out significantly. Has anyone ever seen "Delirious" with John Candy. If not, go out and rent it immediately. It's hilarious.

There is a moment in that movie when one of the characters (due to a prescription drug he's been given) is rubbing his eyebrow and it falls off entirely....that's how I feel over the last few days.

It's a whole new face to look at all over again. The reason losing the hair on your head is so traumatic is that you don't recognize the person in the mirror. Well, this isn't nearly as much hair and isn't quite so dramatic a change, but as the eyelashes and eyebrows fall out, I just look less and less like myself. Fortunately for me, the blond wig has bangs that cover the eyebrows and giant sunglasses are in! Looks like I'm going for this look from now until my eyebrows grow back-->
Well, maybe not the weird 1920s-esque headband or the extensive use of blue, but you know what I mean.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Days...Slippin' Away

Monday, June 22, 2009

So, call me lazy...and you'd likely be justified in doing so...but I'm reducing my postings to once each week on Mondays. I'm simply not interesting enough to post more than that. At first, as news was coming in day by day, every day, I could keep up with it, but this is simply no longer the case. As I truck along, chipping away at chemo treatments one by one, the action is really only on a weekly basis.

The latest:

On Thursday, I had my first follow-up surgery consultation. This is very exciting. It is a follow-up because my initial consultation was back at the end of March when all of this started, but it's really my first surgery appointment leading up to the actual surgical event.

My surgeon has been getting updates from my oncologist all this time, so he was up to speed and "very excited" about my response to the chemo. Guess what!!! He couldn't find it on a physical exam!!! I have no doubt that my oncologist will be able to find it--he apparently has an uncanny ability to track down cancer lumps, no matter how small or difficult to find--but my surgeon couldn't find it. This is awesome news!

The surgical schedule:

So, we discussed date and surgery plan. They like to wait three weeks after a chemo treatment to do surgery. This lets your body recover--your body is better able to fight infection (i.e. white blood cell counts go back up) and you stop bleeding and bruising so easily (i.e. red blood cell counts and platelet counts go back up). Three weeks after my last chemo (July 20) puts us at the week of August 10th. For any of you who have spoken to me about this, I'm REALLY ready to have this thing out of my body, so if we're looking at the week of August 10, I'm hoping it will be scheduled for Monday, August 10, first surgery of the day.

The surgery itself:

My surgeon agrees with my oncologist--I am a good candidate for a lumpectomy. So, barring some crazy occurrence like more cancer showing up in the same breast between now and August 10 in the midst of my undergoing chemo treatment, then lumpectomy it is. While I am under anesthetic, they will also take that opportunity to biopsy the sentinel lymph nodes. Sentinel nodes are the lymph nodes in the closest armpit that most commonly the cancer would spread to first. They will biopsy nodes to determine whether any nasty little cancer cells have moved in to your closest nodes--if yes, then they will biopsy and remove as many as they need to until they get clean and healthy ones only. They do all this--biopsy, run pathology, and remove if necessary--while you are under anesthetic so you only have to do under once. Obviously, the more lymph nodes they have to remove (if any), the more serious the surgery and the longer recovery time.

Best case scenario: Lumpectomy and node biopsy only.
Recovery time: Outpatient surgery, back at work 48 hours later.

Keep your fingers crossed that we land on best case scenario!!! Keep those prayers and well-wishes coming!

Between now and then:

I will be having a consultation with a radiation oncologist in two weeks to discuss how radiation works and what the after surgery plan will be and I will be getting an MRI scheduled for a week or two after my final chemo just to see where we stand. That will give my surgeon a clear picture of what we're dealing with going in to the surgery. There will also be a radiologist present during surgery with an ultrasound machine so they know what they're looking at. They need to be able to see what's going on so they're sure to get all of the cancer and enough of the surrounding tissue. There is some amount of guess work involved in it--unfortunate but true. In short, July is the month when stuff will start to happen. My last two chemos will be in July, my second MRI, my radiation oncologist appointment, another surgical consultation and getting my surgery on the schedule.

We're nearly there! I'm hanging in there, but getting antsy to be cancer-free!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Rain in Maine Falls Mainly....Everywhere

Monday, June 15, 2009

As Joe said in his previous guest post, I spent all last week (June 6-June 14) in Maine staying in a the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. Yes, I really did stay in a working lighthouse. While this was a very cool experience, internet and cell phone service were not readily available. Therefore, no posts. Let me also go ahead and inform you that there will be a lull in posts at the end of this month as well. So...if there's a week later on this month in which I go post-less...no one worry...I'm fine...in fact, I'll be more than fine. I'll be on vacation again on the beaches of Mexico.

As for the cancer updates. Yes indeedy folks, today I had my 6th...count 'em...SIXTH...chemo treatment. That means there are only two to go. It went off without a hitch, but of course there are many more days for me to develop problems and side effects. I say this because while on vacation in Maine last week, I developed some unfortunate side effects as a result of chemo treatment number five which took place on June 1.

It has been a trend throughout the treatment cycles that I have treatment on a Monday (every other one to be exact) and by the following Thursday or Friday, I have developed some odd side effect or problem (recall the tales of elbow incidents, odd infections, flu-like symptoms, and now...rashes). Yes, it's true, I developed a rash just a day and a half before I left for Maine. Being the vacation party animal that I am, I made it a point to go running into the doctor on Friday to make sure I could get it taken care of before leaving for Maine on Saturday morning. I did NOT want my first vacation since my honeymoon to be ruined by red blotches and feeling itchy all over my arms, legs, hands, feet, stomach, and chest. It was a pretty mild rash...kind of sporatic...so I wasn't too worried about getting it taken care of with a quick steroid. Sure enough...Doc prescribed me a steroid pack (one of those where you take 7 pills the first day, 6 the second, 5 the third...and so on until they're gone) and I was on my way.

Skip forward to day 7 of the steroid pack when you're supposed to take only 1 pill.

On day 7, also known as Wednesday while in Maine on vacation, I broke out in the rash again, except this time it was way worse, truly covering my whole body in ugly, LARGE, red blotches. Additionally, my hands and feet swelled up and on my hands and feet, the bumps kind of merged together into huge red blotches and started to raise up. This is not good.

Me being resourceful as I am, I called the cancer center from the one corner in the lighthouse where I could find cell phone service and awaited a call back. I described in detail what I was experiencing and according to the Doc, I was having an allergic reaction to the Taxol (yes, that is the same drug I went on and on about because it was SO MUCH better than my A/C treatments). Sad for me...I am allergic to that particular chemo drug. He prescribed another 7 day steroid pack to be started same day. They called in the prescription to the closest RiteAide in Maine for me and I began the pack same day...if you're following along on my day counts, that means it was Day 7 of pack 1 and Day 1 of pack 2, which means I took 8 steroids in one day and several Benedryl tabs to stop the itching.

By day 6 of pack 2, my rash was finally gone. It was gone from my chest, back, head, face, and stomach by Day 2, gone from my legs by day 4, and finally left my hands by day 5. My feet were the hold outs. Day 6 (also known as yesterday)...the rash was finally gone from my feet.

Today was Day 7 of the second steroid pack and Day 2 of my pre/post chemo steroid prescription. Yes, more steroids. Doc prescribed steroids for the day before, the day of, and the day after chemo as well, just as added precaution. One tablet, twice daily, the day before, day of, and day after. On top of all those steroids taken by mouth, they administered a bag of steroids intervenously at chemo today as well. I should be able to hit like Manny Ramirez by this point.

Note: My husband just asked me (in all seriousness) if I knew I was getting a different kind of steroid. Yes. I am aware. It was a joke...clearly lost on some people. Sheesh...tough crowd.

Okay, on to the actual chemo from today.

So, after all those drug reactions, the doc decided Taxol is not the drug for me. Therefore, I am now on a different chemo drug very much like Taxol, but about 10 times the cost. Fortunately for me, I have met my annual health insurance maximum, so it is my insurance company, not me, who will be disappointed by this news.

Here's the breakdown. New drug called Taxotere (or Docetaxel). All the same potential side effects as Taxol, though they are less likely with this one. I can only assume the difference is something comparable to drinking moonshine versus top shelf vodka. Both mean you'll have a rough morning, but you might make it out of bed with the top shelf. The usual will occur...decrease in white blood cell, platelet, and red blood cell counts, bone pain, flu-like symptoms, fluid retention, tingling in the hands and feet, mouth ulcers, and hair loss--as always. The more uncommon side effects are allergic reaction, nausea, and other such stomach and skin problems. This is all very good news. The bad stuff is unlikely and I'm supposed to be much less tired on this one!!!! Yippee!

Also on a note of good news, I don't have to get my Neulasta injections anymore. For all 5 treatments prior to today (treatment #6), I had to go in the day after chemo and get a Neulasta injection, which would help rebuild bone marrow and restore white blood cell counts. Well, when I went in today and they did my bloodwork, my WBC level was about 29. For reference, your WBC is normal between about 4 and 10. This means, mine was about 3-7 times what it should be. I usually run at about a 7...so mine was about 4 times what I normally am. Result? No more Neulasta for me. No wonder I spent about 2 full days after treatment number 5 crying on my couch in agonizing bone pain. Sheesh!

Basically, another chemo down, another doctor visit resulting in positive news, and Thursday I look forward to finally meeting again with my surgeon. I haven't seen him since April 1, so it will be nice to get back in there and get a surgery date set. We also will discuss whether a lumpectomy or a mastectomy is the way to go for me and he may order some tests so we can get a clear picture of what we're dealing with. No one has actually SEEN the tumor since April, so it will be nice to see the progress. Keep your fingers crossed for a PET, MRI, ultrasound, or mammogram being ordered!

Well, I think that's it. That's the news as it stands and I leave you with my favorite couple of pictures from my 9 days in Maine. If ever you find yourself in a mentally draining period of your life, consider going there. It was rejuvenating to say the least. I took close to 300 pictures, but I'm going to share just a few of my favorites with you.

The flowers are called Lupines. They are wildflowers that grow all over Maine. I saw pink, purple, and white ones and I'm absolutely obsessed with them. I wonder if I can get them to grow here.

The building is the lighthouse where we stayed and the ocean is off behind it in the picture. It was unarguably quaint and had a flawless view of the Atlantic. At night, it was pitch black except for the moon reflecting off the water when there was no cloud cover. The only other source of light was the one rotating beacon of light about 50 feet from my window, which shone in at about 5 second intervals.

The final picture is of the view up one coast from the lighthouse, which is where we spent a great deal of our time. I would sit and drink my coffee each morning, looking out at the sun splashed water, and at the lobster fisherman collecting their traps just off the coast. The seagulls would swarm around them in hopes of catching a bite, and the cool, crisp, ocean breeze would flow in the open windows and doors. Flawless.

The Chronicles of the Spouse - The Mainening

I just wanted to let everyone know that Megan is doing fine. She hasn't updated her blog in like, forever, because she didn't have access to the internet all last week. We took a little vacation up to Maine and apparently the Intertoobs haven't reached all the way up there yet. I'm sure she's got something in the works for everyone, probably a few words about a weird rash that she got from the new chemo drugs, but I'll let her tell that (I know, I know, cliffhangers suck) story on her own.

I think I've said this to everyone, but while I wouldn't ever wish cancer on anyone, I would certainly hope that any cancer experience is a lot like ours. We have been extremely fortunate to have great doctors and awesome friends to take care of us. Cancer isn't fun, ever, but the situation has been made exponentially easier because of the people who surround us.

Anyway, she has her 6th chemo today (6/8), so we're getting close to the end of the First Act. Surgery (Second Act) will be in August and then 30 more days of radiation (Third Act) will follow that. We're not done yet, but there is a pinprick of light at the end of this tunnel.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Progress for Everyone, Progress for Me

Monday, June 1, 2009

I have mentioned Susan G. Komen for the Cure on here before and I have mentioned American Cancer Society as well. These are by no means the only quality organizations out there raising money for cancer research, but they are two of the best. Susan G. Komen for breast cancer specifically, and ACS for cancer in general, are causes that ANYONE could get behind and really who of us couldn't use another tax write off?

So...if knowing someone with cancer and your wanting to do good and give something back isn't enough of a reason for you to donate to such a cause, read this article that I found today on my Google news feed.

This is the kind of research that your money goes to when you give to these types of organizations. Please read the whole article because this is a truly exciting breakthrough.

For those of you who don't really have a clear understanding of what chemo does, let me break it down. Chemotherapy attacks rapidly reproducing cells, which basically means it attacks your DNA and destroys the cells that aren't supposed to be there (i.e. cancer cells). This has been shown to be very effective obviously. Radiation works in much the same way, it's just more targeted. But Megan, you may ask...why does cancer come back if chemo and radiation kills all the cells? Cancer is very agressive because it's basically a mutation...it has evolved. Enzymes called PARP enzymes allow cancer to remain because they repair the damage done to the DNA by chemo and radiation. Damn those PARPs!

The drug discussed in this article is the first effective one of its kind, designed to block those PARP enzymes. Thus...chemo and radiation kill the cells and damages the DNA (On purpose! It's a good thing!), this drug blocks the enzymes that WOULD be there to repair the DNA, and ideally prevents the cancer from ever coming back. It basically ensures that the chemo and radiaiton can do their job and do it for good!

Anyway, read the article. It's enlightening and exciting. And...the research was specifically done on breast cancer patients so it all ties in! Enjoy! For now, I'm off to chemo treatment #5.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

If you're confused at all by the double post, don't be. I started that one yesterday, went to chemo, promptly fell asleep and stayed that way for the remainder of the day and night. Therefore, I never finished yesterday's post. Now, we've moved on to the bi-weekly post-chemo report so...you get two posts combined into one today.

Yesterday was chemo #5, which for those keeping track means that I am MORE than halfway done with only 3 treatments to go. I saw the doctor yesterday, which is always an enlightening experience! Yesterday I learned the following:

Originally, my tumor measured 1.9cm x 2.0cm x 2.1cm on an MRI and ultrasound, but in physical exam measurement, it measured 8cm x 8cm for a 64cm tumor. It measures larger on a physical exam for a couple of reasons: scarring, tissue inflammation, thickening, etc. The actual cancer is reflected in the 2cm measurement, whereas, the affected area is reflected in the physical exam measurement. Yesterday, my affected area measured just 3cm x 3cm! We have not yet seen another MRI or ultrasound measurement for the actual size of the cancer, but it's reasonable to believe that the cancer has also been reduced in size by well over half!

My oncologist has also encouraged me to go ahead and make a follow-up appointment with my surgeon and get on the schedule for my surgery right after my 8th chemo treatment. Looks like chemo will be over and this thing will be out of me by the end of July! I was starting to worry that I may have to re-title my blog to six or seven month journey, but it looks like we're potentially sticking to five!

I've also discovered that this chemo drug, Taxol, is SOOOOO much better than the last two I was getting. I have no nausea, food sounds and tastes just fine to me, and I don't have my killer headaches. Mind you, my worst day was never the day after. It has also been 2 days after, so I'm holding out my final verdict until tomorrow, but so far I feel much better on this one--much less sick. Here's hoping that keeps up!

All around, more good news and we're truckin' toward the home stretch! Courage...I've got. Serenity...I'm working to maintain. Wisdom...I never feel like I have, but people tell me I'm succeeding with that one. Prayer for the rest...an ongoing thing, so keep 'em coming!!

Love to you all, as always!