One Year

The past few weeks have been a procession of “One year” thoughts for me.  It was one year ago on February 17th that I first noticed a lump, closely followed by my appointment with my Dr, then mammogram and ultrasound, onto breast surgeon and wrapping up with my first biopsy.

Today, 3/4/15, marks one year since receiving the call with my diagnosis.  I will forever be grateful to Dr. Heather King, my breast surgeon, for preparing me to receive this call.  I remember precisely where I was, the chair by the windows in my living room, my friend Suzanne was over and we were sharing conversation and tea, or maybe coffee.  I remember the immediate feeling of peace that I had, I didn’t feel some huge sense of loss or fear, but more a feeling of surety.  Surety that while this would be a difficult fight it would be a fight that ends in life and hope.  I’m sure that I was also in shock, our brains are amazing in their ability to portion out stress in the midst of a crisis.  Even one year on I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt the entire gravity of breast cancer at one time.  And for that I thank God!

One year on, I’m facing fatigue from ongoing treatment and some of the side effects that go with that, both physical and emotional.  I’m facing frustrations that I’ve gained as much weight as I did in my pregnancies, but I will not be delivering a tiny human to jump start weight loss.  I’m facing that big huge unknown commonly referred to as “The New Normal”, whatever that means.  I am certainly shell shocked, following months of intense treatment, decisions, Doctor appointments, physical therapy, etc.  Things seem eerily quiet now, I’ve gone from more than five appointments a week to maybe 2-3.  I’m facing the uncertainty of “could the cancer come back?”.

One year on, I’m also facing Life.  Perspective.  Joy.  Freedom.  New friends.  Hope.  And this is where I choose to dwell.  To think of all the amazing women and men that I have met and been inspired by, fellow patients, nurses, technicians, doctors, staff, volunteers, everyone that participates in even the little areas of supporting and treating cancer patients.  I feel stronger, not because I did some amazing thing; I didn’t do anything spectacular, I simply showed up to my appointments.  But I do feel stronger knowing that I made it through the year, my family made it through the year.  We’re war torn, for sure, but I’m alive, we’re alive.  We faced a death dealer and said “Not today”.  We are facing our unknown future together and with a strength that we did not have a year ago.

One year on, I have felt peace, hope, joy, love, comfort, care, strength from God in ways more tangible than I ever could have imagined.  That sense of surety that regardless of what would or can, still, happen, my fight always ends with LIFE.  The countless people that sent cards, seriously SO many amazing cards.  The delicious meals.  The random cake balls and treats.  The prayer shawls and blankets.  The house cleaning help.  The childcare and playdates.  And the list goes on, these things often occurred at times when I or we needed encouragement and lifting.  Before we began treatment my father-in-law passed along a passage from the Bible that has been a constant source of encouragement, through chemo, surgery, radiation, and all the moments in between.
“When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Isaiah 43:2

Thank you.  Thank you for the prayers, the cards, the gifts, the meals, the dusting, the childcare, the laughter, the joy, and most of all thank you for using your gifts to point us toward hope.  I could not have made it through this year alone.  We could not have made it through this year alone.  And we did not make it through this year alone, thanks for joining us for the ride.

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Chemotherapy Cycle 5 & 6 (recap)

I went into this cycle following a great time camping with the other families from our Life Group and the day after having a blast at a friend’s wedding.  I was not particularly excited to go into chemo but knowing that I only had 2 treatments left made it much easier, kind of like “It’s all downhill from here”.

At this treatment my oncologist decided that I would be receiving the full dose, remember following my first treatment they had placed my dose at 85%.  Side note: chemotherapy dosing is based on weight and height (I think one of my drugs also takes age into consideration); some people need a higher then ‘standard’ dose, some people need a lower dose; the oncologist will determine what the patient should be receiving.  So I received 100% dose for Cycle 1; I experienced pretty much every side effect that one can have, it was a very rough cycle; Cycles 2-4 were dosed at 85%; I had a lot of side effects but between the lower dose and learning how to manage my meds I was able to navigate the Cycles with the effects fairly well managed.  Needless to say when I was told that they were going to be returning my dose to 100% I was nervous, actually I was pretty scared.  But, as everyone (nurses and Docs) reminded me “we’re going for cure, so let’s throw everything at it” that got me on board with the dosage change.

Overall, the cycle wasn’t bad.  My anti-nausea med schedule was changed and that helped a bit with the increased nausea, I also began taking an oral anti-viral to try to decrease the mouth sores, while I still had pretty nasty sores it helped make the duration of them a bit shorter (Yay!).  What was challenging is that this cycle really showed the cumulative affect of the chemo.  The nausea was more intense and lasted quite a bit longer; my fatigue was much more and again lasted longer; I’m began to see changes in my nails; and my eyes have gotten a bit more watery (kinda like our eyes water on windy days).  As I said my meds really helped to manage most of these affects, though there’s not much that can be done about my nails and the watery eyes.  The previous cycles left me feeling decent and improving quickly after 7-9 days, this cycle was more like 10-14 days.  I was laughing with another chemo buddy (this woman and I are on similar cocktails and the same treatment schedule) that we come into treatment happy, laughing, and feeling good, somehow “forgetting” that we’ll feel like crap in a day or two.  How resilient are our minds?

Cycle 6 was much the same as 5 with more intense and longer side effects.  I was nervous knowing that surgery was approaching and I wanted to be as healthy as possible.  I’ve added probiotics and drank more water than I thought humanly possible (in addition to receiving hydration early in the cycle).  Thankfully the anti-nausea meds seemed to work their best and I was able to eat something during the entire cycle, it is very difficult to eat with mouth sores but I managed with some soups and eggs.  All of this seemed to work well so that three weeks after my last chemo treatment I was able to have my surgery.

The worst of the chemo is DONE!!  Thanks for following along with my treatments.  I’ll be on Herceptin, a chemo drug that carries few side effects, for another 8 months and I’ll begin Tamoxifen shortly.  Both these drugs are geared at reducing my risk of recurrence, they carry fewer side effects than ‘standard’ chemo so I can begin the long road of regaining my strength and health.

Chemotherapy Cycle 4

This cycle may have been my easiest cycle.  That is not to say that I didn’t have the side effects but they were better managed and passed by fairly quickly.  About 7 days of nausea; mouth sores come around day 4 and clear up around day 7.  Metallic taste lasts a little over 10 days and by the end of the second week I was feeling a bit more normal.  As I mentioned in an earlier post the fatigue lasts for the entire 3 weeks but it’s manageable and I can live life more easily in the last week or so of the cycle.

The Long Overdue Update (Chemo Cycle 2 & 3)

Hi all!
I am very overdue in posting an update on how things are going, I’ll try to be as concise as possible.  I’ve had 3 cycles of chemo, we began on 4/7, had our second treatment on 4/28, and today (5/19) is the third.

You may remember from a post following my first treatment that I was dealing with a LOT of side effects.  I describe it this way, “My body saw the two page list of side effects and decided to make the most out of the chemo experience and pretty much get all the side effects.  Except losing my nails, I still have my finger and toe nails.”  My body’s response led my oncologist to reduce my dose of Carboplatin and Taxotere by 15% for my second cycle, chemo has a standard dose that is determined by weight.  Different people process the chemo differently so some need a smaller dose, some need the standard amount, and some need a greater dose.

The dose reduction made a huge difference!  I still had many of the same side effects but they were less serious and passed by more quickly.  The two symptoms that seem to be compounding are the nausea and the fatigue.  This is not uncommon since the drugs do build up a bit in my system, and both symptoms are manageable.  The nausea seems to last around 7 days; the fatigue lasts almost the entire 3 weeks but I’m still able to get out and, especially by the last week, it is easy to manage.

So we showed up in the AM for my treatment.  First we meet with my oncologist so that she can evaluate how I am doing and make any changes that need to happen.  I have my port accessed so they can draw blood for testing (to see how my red and white blood cell, and platelet counts are) this preps my port to receive the medicines that I’ll be receiving.  Everything looked great so we went ahead with treatment and a mere 6 hours later I was finished.  It can be a long day but we are meeting some nice fellow patients and all the nurses are fantastic!

I am feeling very hopeful that the treatments will continue to be manageable albeit with some side effects, it is chemo after all.  It’s also hard not to be hopeful when I just finished my halfway-chemo dose and the tumor has shrunk noticeably!  This is good news!!

Please hold us in your thoughts and prayers over the next week as I face the worst of the side effects and Matt picks up the slack and juggles Carey and kid care with work and house needs.

Love, Hope, and Laughter!

An update and some FANTASTIC news

I had my ‘are-you-alive’ appointment with my oncologist yesterday and I am alive. My counts are good, so that means that my white blood cells and red blood cells are hanging in there and not dropping to scary low levels.  I received 1 liter of fluids and will receive another liter tomorrow (Weds).

I posted an update and asked for prayer for a few areas, over the weekend the mouth sores were really awful, and the migraines continued.  Sunday was a particularly hard day, I couldn’t keep food down and almost everything made me nauseous.  However, in the evening we saw things turning for the mouth sores and I woke up Monday with a significantly healed mouth!  The healing continued through the day yesterday and this morning things are much improved, not quite 100% but very close.  I still have some headache pain but we are working to get that better managed and I’m confident that the next cycle will have fewer migraines.  In short I’ve experienced pretty much all of the side effects they say might happen, except hair loss I have my hair still ;).  So this is prompting my oncologist to change my dosing next cycle.  For the first cycle I received a ‘loading’ or double dose of herceptin and perjeta and a regular dose of taxotere and carboplatin.  For the 2nd cycle I will receive a normal dose of herceptin and perjeta and a 15% reduced dose of taxotere and carboplatin.  This should help to make the chemo more tolerable for my body, but still not tolerable for the cancer cells.

Did I say something earlier about FANTASTIC news??  Why yes, I did.  And since I believe in not overusing CAPS the news we have it truly fantastic!!!  It’s two fold so the older news first.
We received the results back from the biopsy that I had on 4/4.  To recap they tested three spots, it was supposed to be two but they could get the third with the same incision.  One spot was on my left breast (my right breast has the cancer) and that came back CLEAN, no cancer. YAY!!  The other two spots were on my right breast, one in the 9/10 o’clock position and one was the axilary tail lymph node (which means its a lymph node thats really low or further away from my arm pit).  So the mass at the 9/10 position came back positive for cancer.  It is the same type as the original spot, but this doesn’t change my staging or treatment plan, it just means the chemo has a few more cells to kill off.  But the lymph node came back CLEAN!!!  This is fantastic news, it means for surgery they will do a sentinel node test (a few select nodes) to see if they are affected, if they are not then it could mean that I will not have to go through radiation.
And we have more good news, I can hardly stand it.  I’ve been feeling the initial lump for the last week and I keep telling Matt “It’s getting smaller.  It’s getting smaller.”.  When we saw the Doctor yesterday she confirmed that the mass is indeed getting smaller, so the chemo may be taking out the mucus membranes on my mouth but it’s also taking out the cancer cells.  They are dying!!!

This has been a hard week and we have 5 more cycles of treatment to go but it’s so encouraging to know that this is working, and to hear the words of encouragement from all those supporting and caring and praying for us.  I know that God heals, He healed my mouth and throat.  I know that God uses many ways and means to heal us in all areas of our lives.  And I know that He is carrying us as we walk through this process, for when we are weak He is strong and is our strength.  I want to thank each of you, for helping us to feel God’s arms in tangible ways.

Love, Hope, and Laughter!!

Chemotherapy

I’m a few days into my chemo treatment and, in my opinion, things are going well. I’m not feeling real great but, I could be feeling far worse.  I began blogging about this experience in part for a way of processing through things, in part so we could easily keep people up to date on how we are and what is happening, and in part because I believe in living authentically with a transparency that allows others into my life.  This isn’t something that comes easily, that whole being vulnerable thing is scary and risky but I’ve come to believe that it’s the best way to live.  So, I’m writing this post because chemo is crappy and I’m feeling really crappy and I know that we have so many friends, family, and strangers praying for us that I want to ask for prayer because there is power in prayer.

Chemotherapy is a pretty amazing medical development, it’s a set of drugs that targets the fast growing cancer cells in the body and it kills them (YAY!!!).  The downside comes with the fact that cancer cells are not the only fast growing cells, mucus membranes, our GI track, hair, skin all have fast growing cells.  So chemo patients often will experience hair loss, skin issues, mouth and throat sores, GI issues, etc.  I’m in the midst of experiencing several of these issues and though these are going on I need to note that overall I feel alright, I have some energy and I don’t feel like zombie (yay!).  That said I’ve been having some pretty severe headaches (migraines) these have not been particularly responsive to the meds that I’ve been taking thus far.  I have the mouth sores, these are annoying and so completely weird to me, they aren’t really painful but they are uncomfortable and totally impact my sense of taste (big sad face), I’m also realizing I need to be careful what I eat to avoid making them worse; there’s something going on with my GI track as my throat feels tighter (I can feel my swallowing more than normal) and my stomach is more easily upset, note on the throat, it’s not closing just tight.   Along with that is some general body pain, it seems to be kind of set up like an alarm clock and if I’m up past 9:30pm the pain kicks in, so I’ll be going to bed earlier.  Lastly, in a stroke of awesomeness the nausea has not been too bad, the exception being when I decide that I don’t need my anti-nausea meds, rookie mistake that I won’t make again.  We have an appointment with my oncologist on Monday, she calls it her “are-you-alive” appointment, and will be asking about all of the above things, there are some treatments that can help and some may just be part of chemo, either way I feel certain the chemo will kill the cancer and not me. 🙂

I am not sharing this because I want sympathy or a pity party, I don’t, I still hold to the thought that I’m tolerating the meds fairly well and that things could be a LOT worse.  I share this info because I know many of you are carrying us in prayer and these are specific ways you can pray for us, specific needs that we have right now.  For those that don’t pray you can hold us in your thoughts and wishes.  My Father-in-law shared a passage of the Old Testament with me that I’ve been holding to as I’m walking this, it’s from Isaiah 43
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Thank you for walking with us, for caring for us, and for supporting us!!  We have a ways to go but we’re down one treatment and almost a week closer to being done, and in the scheme of life, this is a very short period of time.  We have TONS to be grateful for and plenty to laugh about, and we are overwhelmed with HOPE.

Love, Hope, and Laughter to you all!!