Good Day, Sunshine

I got the results of my biopsy today. For those of you just tuning in, I have been having some pain in my groin and it was determined that the lymph nodes there were swollen and enlarged. It appeared that the cancer had spread to them; however to make sure, I got a biopsy of the nodes.

They’re NOT cancerous!

Can you believe it?! Everyone was happily surprised (cue the above song in my head). It had really seemed as though the biopsy was a formality and that they must be cancerous, but they’re not!

So what does this mean?

A few things:

  1. The cancer has not spread. I already have the mass in my pancreas and significant lymph node involvement. These have responded dramatically to the chemotherapy. If the lymph nodes in my groin had turned out to be cancer, then the chemo drug I’m on wouldn’t have worked as well as we thought, and we would have to worry about continuous spreading of the disease.
  2. I don’t have to alter or add anything to my chemotherapy regimen. Since they’re not cancer, it means that my chemo drug IS working as well as we want it to, and I don’t need to change a thing about my routine. Adding another chemotherapy drug could have meant additional side effects like losing my hair, lower blood counts, more pain, etc.
  3. I get to stay in my chemo routine. I mentioned this above, but to explain in more detail, we chemo patients learn our routines once we get into a chemo regimen. We learn what days are good, what days are bad, and what side effects to expect. If a new chemo drug is added, it’s like starting over again. We have new good and bad days to adjust to and new side effects to learn and to navigate. Being able to stay in my current routine is much easier on me.
  4. Going forward, I will continue the Gemzar (chemo drug) schedule — three weeks on, one week off. Scans (PET and CT) will be every three months. This will continue until a) the Gemzar stops working, or b) the Gemzar becomes toxic to my body. The end date of this chemo cannot be predicted; we just watch and see what happens.
  5. As far as what caused the lymph nodes to be painful and swollen, we don’t know. And quite honestly, we don’t care because it’s NOT CANCER.

But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NWT)

I am so grateful that God knows our limitations and provides us with what we need to endure different trials. I’m so thankful for this news. It feels like someone just added more time to my timer — took one big spin backwards on the dial.

This is the most optimistic I’ve felt since my re-diagnosis. It’s the first time I’ve breathed a sigh of relief, that I’ve thought of my expiration date as possibly being years away instead of months away. Researching and planning our big trip in June fills me with excitement instead of trepidation.

Today is a Good Day, Sunshine.

xoxo

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Newsy Post: Scan Results

I saw my Oncologist this morning for my scan results. As you know, I’ve been nervous, especially because I’ve been experiencing a new pain in my groin area, where there are lymph nodes.

The bad news is that it does look like the lymph nodes in my groin are cancerous. We will confirm with a biopsy (waiting for it to be scheduled). In case it is simply an infection, I will start antibiotics tomorrow. If it is cancerous, there are chemotherapies that can target it that can be added to my regimen.

The good news is that the tumor in my pancreas and the surrounding lymph nodes are responding beautifully. In fact, my oncologist said they are “dramatically better.” I cannot tell you the sense of relief I feel at this news. I am so happy about this, and I feel “cautiously optimistic” for the first time in this journey.

Today my family, friends, and I are celebrating this small victory.

Also today, we mourn the loss of our sweet friend and fellow cancer fighter. She fought hard against cancer for around the last two years. She maintained amazing strength, faith, and optimism throughout her journey. We are thinking of her family — husband, daughters, sisters (brothers?), parents, nieces, nephews, aunts, cousins, and more. She will be so missed, but we know that we will see her again soon!

xoxo

This Time Around

Even though this is my second time with breast cancer, so many things are different about this experience. Aside from the obvious things — different parts of my body, a more serious stage, a different prognosis — I’m finding other differences as well.

I’m already experiencing low blood counts. I believe this is typical of Gemzar, but I have already had to postpone my third treatment because my blood counts are off. I’ve only had two treatments. I’m on a preventive antibiotic. Last time, it was months of chemo before my blood was affected.

My energy level is lower. This may be because of the Fentanyl patch I’m on, or it may be that this cancer is taking more out of me than last time. Most nights I am in bed before 9:00 and I’m asleep until around 7 or 8 the next morning. Some days I nap through the whole day.

I’m on pain medication. My original breast cancer had no pain associated with it. None. The pain of the mass in my pancreas was excruciating. Bad enough that I wear a Fentanyl patch 24 hours a day. Granted, I’ve come down to a lower dose, but the doctor isn’t in any hurry to wean me off of it.

My emotional state/outlook have changed. With an unclear and unsure prognosis, remaining positive is more difficult for me. I feel like I’m in limbo and I’m not sure what to do with myself. As a planner I prefer structure to my days, but with the gravity of this diagnosis my only job is to “take care of myself.” This leaves me kind of lost as to how to spend my time. My sense of humor has gotten darker, and I’ve become more reserved.

Not surprisingly, this last one has been most difficult to me. Last time I took on the role of fighter — I had something to beat, to get rid of. I had a concrete task. This time, it isn’t so clear, not so black and white. Instead of beating or getting rid of something, we’re trying to control the progression of it. It makes for a much more difficult fight song or cheer. Instead of “fight, fight, fight” it’s “control, control, control.” It doesn’t flow as easily.

I’m sure as time goes on, I will get used to my new normal. Taking it day by day. Appreciating the little things. Accepting that “taking care of myself” is my new full-time job. Already, I feel myself slipping into a bit of a routine, and that makes me feel a little more stable.

As with any life-changing event, this will take a period of adjustment. I know that; I just need to accept it. I need to remember that I have an abundance of support in my family and friends. I need to remember to rely on God and remind myself that He is holding onto my hand (Isa. 43:10, 13). That He will help me get through every step of this, no matter how difficult the steps might be.

Today was a rough day for me. But I talked to my husband and my mom and received reassurance, strengthening, and commiseration. Having someone acknowledge and assure me that my feelings are valid is extremely comforting. Having someone offer to help me in tangible ways is strengthening — both spiritually and emotionally. The amazing thing is that I get support like this on a daily basis from so many people. Some friends text me encouraging words. Some send cards. Some I get to speak to and/or see daily. And I thank God for all these ways that he’s giving me support. I may have a life-altering diagnosis, but I am blessed to have my support team standing with me.

xoxo

 

The Chemo Aftermath

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I got through my first chemo. Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with the side effect mentioned above (side note: these cards are from the amazingly talented Emily McDowell. She created a line of Empathy cards specifically for cancer patients. Please check her out). In fact, I made out pretty well the first couple days. Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty good, thanks to Steroids in my pre-meds (pre-meds are medications given before the chemo that help to eliminate and/or reduce side effects of the chemo).

Thursday was a different story. I had the flu-like symptoms I was warned I might have. My fever topped out at somewhere 103.4, staying in the high 102s Thursday and most of Friday. By Saturday morning, my fever had broken, and while I was still experiencing chills, sweats, and body aches, I was able to attend a very special meeting via live stream.  I’m hugely relieved about that.

Hopefully this flu-type side effect will improve with each dose of chemo, but for this week, I expect Monday-Wednesday to be pretty good, and then to be down for the count from Thursday through Saturday. Knowing what to expect is more than half the battle. It helps me to schedule chores around the house early in the week with the Steroids kicked in, and then to be able to rest without feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing.

It may seem silly to read that I would be worried about chores or about accomplishing things, but trust me. Chemo makes a patient feel useless enough — she doesn’t need her self-imposed guilt to get out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not steam cleaning my curtains or scrubbing my floors each week, but making sure the bathrooms get cleaned gives me some control over my out-of-control life.

I’d like to give a shout-out to one of my dearest friends — I’ve known her since I was about my son’s age. Our relationship grew out of writing and we now each have a blog. Stop on over at her blog Stand Up and Live Your Life. I am honored to be the subject of her most recent post, and I encourage you to read more.

I don’t know what this week will bring along with it, but if I can find humor in it, it will be shared. Thank you so much for the prayers, cards, flowers, texts, messages, and posts. I read each and every one, even if I don’t respond. I am making every effort to respond to each of you, so please bear with me.

xoxo

Life is What Happens to You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans

I’ve been busy these last weeks … planning for my reconstructive surgery, revamping a section of our shop, generally feeling good about my new meds and how they were making me feel.

Things have really been coming together, and I’ve been feeling somewhat optimistic. Other than some digestive and intestinal issues, life has been feeling pretty great.

Until they weren’t. I went to the ER last Tuesday afternoon with stomach pain. Thinking I was constipated and that it was just gas, you can imagine my surprise when the nurse told me that the doctor was admitting me.

It turned out that my liver enzymes were high, as were some things having to do with my pancreas. I was jaundiced, and was going to have a procedure put a stent into a duct in my liver.

While pathology wasn’t completed before I was released from the hospital, we did know that I had a malignant mass in my pancreas. There was also discussion of lymph nodes being involved.

Yesterday, I met with my oncologist. He walked in and put his arm around me. I leaned my head on his shoulder, and he rested his head on mine. We sat like that for a few moments before he told me my complete diagnosis.

My breast cancer has metastasized and gone to my pancreas, where there is a mass. It has also spread to lymph nodes, but we don’t know how many yet. We also do not know if it has spread to other parts of my body yet. I get my scan done tomorrow, so I should know more by next week. It is considered stage 4.

Chemotherapy is the treatment I will be receiving beginning next week.It is a three week on, one week off schedule. I’m not sure how long it will continue. As of right now, I will be receiving Gemzar. Other chemos may be added depending on where else the cancer is located.

That is all we know as of right now.

The Road Ahead

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I apologize for the absence. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a little down lately, and I haven’t known how to properly recognize/express my feelings until recently. Let me back up …

During my recovery through May and June my Oncologist informed me that he wanted me to start on an oral chemo medication in conjunction with my radiation. Needless to say that was disappointing to me. Actually, it was more than disappointing. I was pretty upset and depressed about it. I won’t bore you with the details of the reasoning behind this, but it’s a pretty much a “better safe than sorry” precaution.

I began feeling like myself again by the middle of June (as far as surgery), and we even went away at the end of the month (to Atlanta to see my favorite band, The Cure.) However, now that I was off pain meds, my arthritis pain has consistently been getting worse. For those of you living with chronic pain, I know you understand how exhausting that is.

Chronic pain hasn’t helped the depression. But I’m able to take some pain meds as needed, and I am getting ready to start a non-drug therapy to help block pain signals. Add to that the start of Chemo and Radiation, and, well, I am one exhausted chickie!

I am happy to report, though, that I am mostly tolerating the chemo well (as in the past). I’m experiencing some nausea/food aversion and it disrupts my sleep, but things could be much worse. Radiation is purely a nuisance to me at this point, for which I’m grateful. I need a little bit of time to readjust my self-expectations and schedule before the pain/irritation sets in.

Once again, I am struggling with whether my lack of interest/motivation is from chemo/radiation fatigue or depression or both. Tonight I plan on an early bedtime with a little extra Trazadone to help me stay asleep longer (I typically only take one because I sleep really late when I take two; but at this point I’m feeling like a walking dishrag, so I probably need to catch up a bit).

My plastic surgeon told me/warned me that all I’d feel like doing in the first weeks after surgery was watching TV/Netflix and shopping online. Much to hubs’ chagrin, I’m still shopping online. Mostly filling my carts and abandoning them, but occasionally I take on all the way through, a brief wave of excitement washes over me upon arrival, and then I’m once again paralyzed by both mental an physical fatigue.

I do feel confident, though, that my mood is nothing that can’t be fixed by some sleep, some prayer, and some realistic exceptions of myself. In the meantime, I remind myself that I could be having more severe side effects; and all of this is better than being dead.

Over the next few weeks, I will try to update more regularly. In the meantime, I would love your tips on getting out of this mood!

xo

 

Last Chemo

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Yesterday was my last chemo. We celebrated big time. With boob cupcakes and Wonder Woman attire. With my Batman by my side. And some of the most important people in my life in my corner.

I was greeted at the front desk with a special delivery from my kindred spirit, J. Her card made me choke up. Once I got hooked up, I handed out gifts to my amazing chemo nurses. They kept saying that I didn’t need to give them anything. My response, voice cracking, “You kinda helped save my life, so yeah I do.” I didn’t realize how emotional I would feel.

Once I finished up, the family and friends arrived so we could celebrate properly — with cupcakes decorated like boobs and Prosecco. We posed with the cupcakes and laughed with my nursing staff and my Oncology Nurse Practitioner. My Oncologist stopped in (he loved my Wonder Woman costume).

It was a great day. But it was more emotional than I thought it would be. While I will still see my social worker and Oncologist and Oncology Nurse Practitioner pretty regularly, I won’t see the amazing chemo nursing staff as much. These women took the scariest time in my life and made me feel safe. They made me laugh. They tolerated me as I rambled on weekly in a steroid-induced frenzy. They listened to my stories, and patiently answered my random questions. They made me feel brave by asking me to talk to a new chemo patient. They complimented my makeup and fashion hits (and probably some misses too). Several times they stayed and let me talk or joke with them when I’m sure they were ready to go home. They were educators, caregivers, therapists, and they became my friends. I will miss them. I am already coming up with “reasons” to visit.

Chemo has been an interesting road. The last five months have been filled with fatigue, random food cravings and aversions, some of the worst heartburn and indigestion I’ve ever faced, sleepless nights, steroid-mania, and increasing forgetfulness and inability to pay attention. But overall, I came through it mostly unscathed (shingles and cellulitis aside). My youngish and mostly healthy body withstood chemo with tremendous strength. I’m proud of this chubby body that absorbed this medicine without vomiting, high fevers, or illnesses.

I look forward to a few weeks of feeling less fatigued. But I am ready for the next phase of this journey. I hope to get my surgery scheduled next week when I meet with my surgeons. I’d like for it to be scheduled for the last week of this month, but we will see. In the meantime, I hope to enjoy the next few weeks being chemo free!

Thanks for reading, and being patient as the frequency of my posts has slowed. I appreciate all the comments, likes, and follows. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

xo