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Game on

18 Sep

We’ve had a busy past few weeks. Since I last blogged we: celebrated our first wedding anniversary, Nick decided to head back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Sustainability, and we received news my cancer has progressed.  Ugh. If you haven’t noticed already, the ride on this emotional roller coaster is still in progress. So, how did this happen?  Throughout the past few months, I have been on Avastin, an antiangiogenic drug that starves tumors from their oxygen supply by preventing them from growing new blood vessels – thus killing them (in theory).  Although this was the intended effect of the drug, my tumors proved a bit more ‘resilient’, in the tactful words of my oncologist.

After my last heavy duty round of chemo this past spring, the lesions in my lungs had completely disappeared and the lesions on my liver had significantly decreased in both size and number, marking tremendous progress.  My latest PET scan, however, showed the lesions in the lungs were back and the liver lesions had increased in both size and number.  Follow up blood tests (via measurement of a CEA level) concluded that the cancer had, in fact, progressed, however my doctor was quick to point out that while my CEA registered at a 9, last February – prior to the rigorous chemo – it had reached a level of 15.  A healthy person has a CEA of 1-3.

Obviously this was not the news we were hoping for, yet my oncologist remained very optimistic that this was all treatable and that remission was still a viable and realistic goal.  He proposed two different treatment plans – both an aggressive and a conservative approach.  The aggressive plan entails another round of a new chemo drug, while the conservative plan involves treating with an antibody that would attack the cancer cells. As of now, we are inclined to lean towards the more aggressive plan – if these tumors want to play hardball, then game on!  Before we begin the next course of treatment though, we’re in the process of seeking a second opinion; nothing wrong with confirming we are on the right track to beat this once and for all.  Stay tuned, as more updates will be forthcoming within the week.  In the mean time keep us in your thoughts and prayers…and keep your seat belts fastened at all times on this emotional roller coaster!

Polishing my chemo shoes

17 Feb

Those of you who have been following my blog since this past summer will remember that wearing cute shoes to my chemotherapy sessions was an absolute must.  Well, the results of recent CT scans have forced me to polish up my chemo shoes and landed me back in a string of chemotherapy sessions – sadly, this is not the progress I was hoping to report. The abdominal scan I had at the end of January to check the current status of my liver lesions revealed a significant increase in the number of spots.  After learning of this growth rate (going from 1 to 9), we decided to conduct a CT scan of my lungs, as this would be the next most likely destination for the cancer to progress.  Sure enough, the cancer was there and had already set up camp in 13 small nodules across both of my lungs.  Ugh.  We previously had been exploring liver-specific treatments to combat the lesions there, but now it was evident that a rigid course of chemotherapy was needed, and it needed to hit more than just my liver.  After learning all of this, my diligent and amazing husband managed to get me pre-authorization for insurance and an appointment for chemo treatment in under 18 hours, which is unheard of, at least with my insurance company. I’m still not sure how he did it, but I can only imagine ominous calls to the insurance company in true John Q fashion (compelling Denzel Washington movie, if you haven’t seen it).

So how did this happen? And isn’t this frightening? According to doctors, this seemingly aggressive growth rate of my cancer isn’t really all that rapid, considering I’ve been off chemo for a long time.  (Apparently they consider five months a long time; to me, it seems like it was just yesterday.)  As for the fear factor, yes, this recent news is daunting, however my medical team remains optimistic.  They look at cancer treatment and therapies as different ‘lines of defense’.  I kinda like this analogy because it epitomizes the mentality I have, I am at war and have a battle plan.  Because my initial cycle of chemotherapy last summer was done in conjunction with radiation treatment, they couldn’t administer a complete dosage….and despite this, I still showed a promising response to the treatment.  Now that I am no longer receiving radiation, the first line of defense will be in full effect.  And whatever isn’t killed by this first line of defense will be subject to the second line of defense, and so on.  So yes, it seems a bit scary, however it is nothing outside of the ‘norm’ for cancer progression.

Next steps are to undergo another cycle of four chemo treatments, one every three weeks.  Each round will be three times as strong as the dosage I received this past summer.  I experienced the first of these rounds last Friday and am still recovering.  The actual session wasn’t that bad, however several hours later flu-like symptoms begin to set in.  I didn’t step foot outside the house from Friday evening until Tuesday morning; I managed to work from home on Monday but even that was difficult.  In addition, because I don’t have a port (a temporary IV that is surgically implanted in your chest to allow easy access to main veins), I receive the chemo IV directly in my arm.  I always opt for my non-dominant arm because in past chemo sessions the treatment would always leave me with a tingling sensation.  Well that sensation was so much more intense this time around that I am just now beginning to regain use and movement of my arm – 7 days later.  I’m trying to look on the bright side and remind myself that I only have three more of these treatments to go, but each time I even think about another round it makes me want to hurl.

As this new update has spread down the grapevine, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for the continued and overwhelming support.  From cards to flowers to donations to frequent flier miles to being added to prayer chains, it has been amazing.  Thank you.  Keep the prayers flowing and I promise to keep the updates coming!