Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chemo #4

Today was the day for chemo battle #4 -- the last treatment of the nasty (but, hopefully, effective) adriamyiacin and cytoxan. These are the drugs I can never have again, as at least one of them would prove to be fatal. I was a bit emotional as I sat in the blue recliner waiting for the poisons...and then, as I worked through it and calmed myself, I came back to the "it is what it is, and this is what it takes to make it different".

Dr. Segal was not happy with me when he learned that I had informed the research people at the clinical trial that I would sign up for the trial but would not stay in it if I was assigned to receive just the new drug. Shouldn't have told them that because they will think Dr. Segal is in "collusion" with me. So far from the truth -- he thinks I should do the study no matter which part I am assigned. Oh well.

I have continued to impress Dr. Segal in so many ways (other than the one mentioned above..) I know big words, my bone marrow is amazing (repeated today), AND I have continued to work. "That is impressive. So impressive. Hardly anyone works through this treatment." Perhaps I should reconsider and stop working? NO! It helps me to take my mind off of cancer. Besides, there are still those pesky bills to pay, darn them.

I have an echocardiogram (again) on February 6th, and a chest xray the same day. This is in preparation for the next steps in the treatment. I start weekly chemo with Taxol on February 12th. Taxol can cause an allergic reaction...so pray that I will be immune from that. There is an alternative, chemically related drug, but from what I've heard of the alternative, it is harder to handle. Taxol rarely causes nausea (!), but can cause loss of finger and toe nails. Can also cause neuropathy (numbness?) in fingers and toes. In conjunction with the Taxol, I will start the her2-neu inhibitors. Depending on the clinical trial, those drugs could be started at the same time. If I am on herceptin, I'll have injections weekly for one year. So I am glad that it will start with the beginning of Taxol and not wait until Taxol is done. That saves me 12 weeks. I should know more about the trial next week.

I have been reading in the book of James from the Bible. In verse of 2 of the first chapter, James tells us to "consider it pure joy when you encounter trials of various kinds..." Pure joy? Yes, because trials test my faith, and testing produces endurance and lets me grow as a whole person, to develop spiritual maturity, and stability of character. It is through confronting what I don't want that I am thrown back on to God. James does not promise that God will take away the trial/problem, or make it any easier, only that, if I let Him, God will give me what I need to get through. The trial might test me to the limit, but I will be the better for it. Hard advice, but liberating. Accept the cancer, trust God, and grow. In the end, that will bring peace.

Philip Yancey wrote "Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse".

My faith has already been strengthened by looking in reverse...finding the lump through pain ("early stage breast cancer is painless" --not mine, apparently!), the fast trip to surgery, oncology, etc. The complete removal of the cancerous tissue, the cancer-free lymph-node, the availability of excellent health insurance. The wonderful support of family and friends.

I am convinced that God is at work here -- even through my tremendous weakness, His strength is evident to me. I hope He is evident, at least through my cancer journey, to you as well. There are no coincidences with God. None. And there are no surprises to Him. None. He is not just my God. He is THE God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, of you and of me. You can bet I have asked Him lots of hard questions...most beginning with the word "why". But every day that I can read His word, He answers me. With Scripture that speaks directly to me. Like this morning's passage in James -- every trial pure joy? And, how exactly, Lord, do I do that? But then He tells me! Just ask Him for the strength and wisdom, and He will supply it.

I must trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. And with His help, I will be strong and courageous and make it through this battle of cancer. But it is His strength that strengthens me. Accepting. Trusting. Growing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No "Sorry Buts"...

...allowed at our house. We've tried to teach our girls that an apology cannot come with a "but". As in "I'm sorry I hurt you, BUT you made me mad". True repentance and requesting of forgiveness cannot include rationalization for your wrong.

I was all set to apologize for complaining here on fb, but the apology was going to come with a "but". So, following our house rule, I will not apologize, because I am not truly sorry. I am discouraged. Deeply discouraged.

I have completed three chemo treatments so far. And they are not fun. Almost not even tolerable. I am awake now with pretty severe stomach cramps. I know, I know, there are people much worse off than me. But it doesn't feel that way. I have been sick for 6 days. SICK. However, given my experience with hyper-emesis (acute vomiting) and hospitalization with each of my pregnancies, I am doing my best to REFUSE my over-active gag reflex and avoid throwing-up. I know I would not be able to stop, and would probably end up in the hospital. But sometimes...

So many people have encouraged me. "You're 75% done with the bad treatments!" "Only one more to go!" yikes. I CAN"T do one more. I will do one more, but let me tell you, it is not easy to willingly walk into Northwest Cancer Specialties and submit to more poison. Hard to keep my eye on the "prize", so to speak. These are the times that I recognize the enemy at work. But I am too weak to fight him. I rely on the prayers and support of family and friends.

So, we careen along this journey of breast cancer, with so many ups and even more downs. The difference between us? Some of you can choose to stop reading. I will continue to write, and live, this journey. And why, exactly, do I write? Many reasons. Probably therapy. Education. Notification. But the real reasons? My babies. Anna, Rachel, and Ellie. My sisters. Linda, Laurie, Sally, Becky, and Janette. My nieces. Audrey, Dustine, Jessica, Amanda, Denise, Abi, Marilla, Sophie, and Claire. All of whom must now answer the question "history of breast cancer in your family?" with "....yes....." I write so that they can know this journey, and not be as frightened as I have been. That we all can look back and learn from the struggles and joys we experience. That, through it all, God will be glorified and I will be a faithful and true witness to His goodness.

Now, for sleep.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Benefits of Total (almost) Baldness....Let Me Count the Ways!

So, first let me explain. I am not (yet) totally bald. The sad thing is that all of my hair that had any discernable color is out. What is left is white. As in completely. Now, who knew I had so much hair without the red? (Ok, be quiet. Not a real question I wanted an answer to. You could not have known. No way.)

This means that I have approximately 1/3 of my hair still on my head. Stubby and white, and worst of all, patchy. But I am not complaining, because:

Not having hair has its advantages!

1. Shampoo? A little dab 'll do ya
2. Conditioner? what? who needs it?
3. Drying time? done! the ultimate in towel dry.
4. Brushing through tangles? ha ha
5. Hair in your food? not a chance (not now that most of it has fallen out!)
6. Bad Hair Day? no such thing
7. Pre-Menopausal Hot Flashes? a cold bald head helps the cooling process immensely!
8. I can take a deep, hot, bubble bath without worrying about my hair getting wet and soggy. aaaahhh. that's nice.
9. Saving $$ on hair cuts/colors
10. shower time cut way down - in and swish and out and you're done

At this point, I still have my eyelashes and eyebrows...maybe they'll defy the poison and stay. I am hopeful.

On another topic, I got the information on the bill for the brain MRI today. Just under $2000. Makes me thankful we waited for the insurance to pre-authorize (the second MRI order -- they're still denying the first). We had considered going ahead with the MRI and paying for it ourselves, but that is ALOT of money.

My next treatment is Thursday morning. If you think about me on Thursday or the next 8 days after that, please pray for me -- pray that I'll be able to get through with the least amount of nausea and cramping. Pray that I'll remain encouraged and hopeful about the outcome of these treatments, and most of all, please pray that the treatment is successful and I will be declared cancer free at the end of chemo and radiation (end of June/early July).


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Claustrophobia....worse than I thought

Brain MRI on Monday. In anticipation, I did take a sedative...but it did not sedate nearly enough. My Mother-in-law graciously gave up her morning to drive me to the appointment, and after filling out more paperwork, I was sent right in for the test. I learned from a friend at work that if you wear clothes without any metal, you don't have to change for the MRI. Good information!

This MRI exam was worse than the one I had of my chest because this time I was on my back (with back and hip pain, it is no fun to have to lie flat on your back for 40 minutes). The "tube" that they put me in for the MRI is so narrow that my arms cannot be at my sides...they have to be on my stomach. Because this test was of my brain, they had a contraption over my head that only made the "tube" seem more shallow and narrow. On top of the head gear, they attached a mirror so that I could see out of the enclosure. But looking in the mirror only confirmed how small the space was, so I did my best to keep my eyes closed. I did have ear plugs, but the noise is so loud that the plugs don't give much relief. But I came to appreciate the loud noises..."count the clunks, Drenda" "Breathe, Drenda, breathe. don't move. don't move". Every time I opened my eyes, the panic of claustrophobia started to set in. "Keep your eyes closed, Drenda, breathe." I did have a "panic" button that, if squeezed, would stop the test and rescue me. But then, I would just have to start over. So I REFUSED to squeeze, even though I desperately wanted to.

After 25 minutes, I was brought out, and the contrast was injected into my hand. The injection was very slow, almost 5 minutes, during which time I was instructed to lay perfectly still...can't move my head. Problem is that when one can't move one's head, somehow, one's nose starts to itch tremendously. I managed to lay still, and then I was taken back inside the "enclosure" for more images...15 more minutes of silently talking to myself, calming my itches and my panic. yikes. Brain MRI is not something I'd be too excited about doing again, I must say.

The MRI tech told me that they were able to get some great images. Cool. I go to the doctor tomorrow for blood count checks, so I am hoping to hear about the results then.