Tag Archives: emotions

Moving On

 

The last 5 months I’ve been busy enjoying a break in harsher treatments.  I didn’t say I wasn’t treating, just doing a course of treatment that for my body, is fairly easy.  I went back on Ibrance, along with a side of my favorite buttocks enhancer, Faslodex.  I’m also still on Letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor.

My tumor markers have been slowly climbing since last September. Scans last November also showed mild progression in my bone mets. Since I wasn’t having more pain and still felt pretty good, I decided to keep going with the current meds.

April’s scan told a different story. A fair number of my bone mets had almost doubled in metabolic activity since November.  Time for a change in treatment.

Two weeks ago I started my new treatment protocol.  I’m taking 3 different drugs. CMF for short, or to be technical, cytoxan, methotrexate and 5 FU. ( I truly do love that FU.) It’s an “oldie but goody” treatment protocol.   One of the meds is an oral chemo.  I take 7 pills once a day for 14 days.  On day 1 and day 8 of my treatment cycle I go into the clinic for two chemo “pushes”.  It’s not really an IV.  Just a syringe of the meds that are pushed into my veins through my port.  I receive a nice dose of steroids and anti-nausea meds to counter side effects.   Day 15 thru 28 I have off and then it all starts again.

I was hoping side effects would be minimal.  It is daunting however, when the handout of possible side effects  is 4 plus pages.  Really.  Turns out nausea is the number one side effect for me right now despite all of the additional meds they give me to try and counteract it.  I’ve been having the dry heaves once or twice a day.  Not fun. I have anti-nausea meds I can take, but they make me sleepy and prevent me from driving and trying to get a few things done.  So, I’ve been making it work until later in the day when take them.

The last week or so before changing treatments was tough.  I’ve know for a month or more that I’d need to change treatments. The closer it got to May 1,  the harder it was.  I hate not knowing how I’m going to feel or react to a new treatment.  It messes with my business of living in a big way.   Anxiety and fear ran the show the week before my appointment date though I tried to reign it all in and stay focused in the present. I searched hard and kept missing the balance point of peace known as Now.  I fell on my face often, with some face plants lasting longer than others.  Anyway, I’ve started now and am figuring out how to live with this new one.  Because treatment is forever.

I’m still amazed and frustrated with how many people there are who don’t understand that I will continually be in treatment for my terminal illness until I die.   Yes, I look pretty good ~ usually. I’m still going to the gym twice a week and still trying to walk and get out and about. But that’s just what I let you see. You don’t see the diarrhea, the constipation, the mouth sores, the hair thinning, the low blood counts and weakened immune system. The dry heaves in the bathroom, the bruises from low platelets and the never ending fatigue.  Honestly, the fatigue.  This past “easy” stretch of treatment enabled me to run maybe three errands at once. (Yea me!!)  What you wouldn’t  hear or see while I’m out is my mental dialogue  “Ok, you can do it. Don’t fall over, just 10 more minutes and you’ll make it home.”  4 pm has become the new pajama time.  Every time I do something out at night I regret it.  Why, why, why did I say yes?  Oh yea, because I do love you all and cherish you and want to be nocturnal, but dang, I’m a wuss.  On the other hand, THANK YOU for still asking me!  For not forgetting me, for after 6 years of this crap, still asking me what you can do to help.  I am so fortunate to have the people I have in my life.  I appreciate you!

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Colors

I’ve been thinking a lot about the book ” My Many Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss.  It’s been an apt descriptor of what life has felt like recently.

“Some days are yellow, some are blue.  On Different days I’m different too. You’d be surprised how many ways I change on different colored days.”

My last scan showed some cancer growth, with new lesions on my spine and one of my left rib.  The pain in my spine has been tolerable and well controlled with pain meds and by managing what I do physically.  I have been surprised by how much I’ve felt my rib pain.  Last month after my scan results my doctor and I discussed what to do next.  Both of us felt that given the new lesions it was unlikely the Ibrance was working anymore. However, since my next treatment option was IV chemo I wanted to wait another month to see what would happen next.  Moving to the next drug would have a significant impact on my quality of life.  Unfortunately, during this last month the pain in my ribs has increased quite a bit.  I’ve learned that I really do have to stay on top of my pain meds and not try to martyr through it.

“Some days, of course feel sort of brown.  Then I feel slow and low, low down.”

I like to think I’m pretty tough, but this has taught me that sometimes I’m just not.  Pain is exhausting.  It makes me crabby and  lowers my patience.  Steve is much happier when I stay on top of the pain meds, and so am I.  I’ve learned that the importance of sleep continues to be underrated in this country and it’s tough to sleep when you can’t roll over without groaning and letting out an expletive;  tough for both of us.  I met with my doctor again last week and was truly surprised at how much the pain had increased.  This of course bought me another set of bone and CT scans to make sure nothing else has grown.  Bone and CT scans aren’t the best way to look at lobular breast cancer, but it was too soon for insurance to pay for another PET scan.  Based on these most recent scans it looks like my rib met has increased a little bit and so has one spot on my spine.  Nothing really huge, but enough to know that the treatment I’m on is no longer working.

“On purple days I’m sad.  I groan. I drag my tail.  I walk alone.”

Monday I went into Abbott and had a port placed.  I’ve been lucky and unlucky that I haven’t had this yet in 9 years of treatment.  A port is a device placed under your skin.  It is connected directly to your vein and makes it easier to have labs, chemo and contrasts for scans and other tests.  I have pretty terrible veins and sometimes it’s an event in itself to get an IV in me.  This will make things much easier, but on the not really important, but still kind of stinks side of things; it means I have another scar and another “thing” in my body that just shouldn’t be there.  Next Thursday I’ll start IV chemo.  There are no other oral chemo pills for me to take at this time.  Cancer will now get to run a little bit more of my life.  I’ll head down to the oncology office one day a week for three weeks and then have one week off.  Treatment should be fairly quick, about 2-2.5 hours.  I asked my doctor how long I’ll have to do this.  Here’s what he said ” Until this works like a charm and kicks back the active metastatic lesions, ( MY first choice), or until the cancer grows and we know it’s not working and have to switch to something else, (another IV chemo) or until we figure out you are not tolerating it well and we have to switch.”  In other words, welcome to the new reality.  It also means I’ll be “outed” as a cancer patient. I’m going to lose my hair again.  As annoying as it can be sometimes to feel really crappy and still have people say how great you look, I have enjoyed being able to be incognito as a cancer patient.  I can still wear a wig, but it won’t be the same as having hair no matter how great the wig is. So, how do I feel?  I’ve felt just like Dr. Seuss describes.  I’ve had all kinds of emotions.  Anger, fear, sadness, loneliness and then round about back to acceptance.

Green days. Deep deep in the sea.  Cool and quiet fish.  That’s me.”

People say they admire my bravery, courage and strength.  I want everyone to know that I don’t always feel that way.  Sometimes I’m not brave and I don’t have a lot of strength.  I cry, I get scared and I lose faith.  This cancer is not a gift.  It can teach me things, but I have to choose how and what I’m willing to learn.  I have to make a choice some days to get up off the floor and to act like I have faith even when I’m not feeling it.  There are nights I go to bed and will wake up with a panic attack; scared and wondering how I’m going to make it through this.  How much will it hurt?  How long will it go on?  How much can I really handle before I fall apart?  It’s then I have to remember to grab on to the tiniest of things to be grateful for and hold on for dear life.  I whisper to God that I’m losing it and need help.  I don’t always feel calm right away, but I keep remembering that I need to quit thrashing and start floating.  So I take long, slow deep breaths.  I keep telling myself it’s going to be ok until at least my heart and my body start believing the words and i can go back to sleep. And basically, that’s how I manage cancer.  One day at a time, one moment at a time.  I practice gratitude, because I know there is always someone out there going through something harder than I am.  I leap blindly with faith and hang on to the belief that somehow this will be manageable and I’ll make it through until the end.  I cry and despair and then I get up and live another day.  Some days with more grace then others.

“Then comes a Mixed-Up Day. And WHAM!  I don’t know who or what I am. But it all turns out all right you see. And I go back to being…me.”

108 Every Day

Yesterday I celebrated my 53rd birthday, my fourth birthday since being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (mbc). While I was able to celebrate another year of life, 108 others with mbc in the United States died. Today, another 108 people will be robbed of their next birthday and tomorrow 108 more.  Each and every day 108 mothers, sisters, friends, cousins, husbands, brothers and sons with metastatic breast cancer die. It has to stop.

This past weekend I attended the Living Beyond Breast Cancer conference in Philadelphia with over 300 others with mbc. The conference began by asking those in attendance to stand up according to the number of years they have been living with mbc.  First, those diagnosed 2 years and less stand, then those diagnosed 2-5 years ago and then 10 years or more.  The largest number stand for 2 years or less.  By the time we get to 10 or more years there are only a handful standing.  We clap and applaud these exceptional outliers, each of us secretly hoping that will be us some day, but knowing the reality is unlikely. From 2000-2013, 15 billion dollars was raised for breast cancer research,  but of that 15 billion less than 7% was spent on research for metastatic breast cancer.  You can read the study in its entirety on the MBC Alliance website. This year the LBBC conference trained its first group of Hear My Voice advocates, but advocacy takes time and time is one thing people with mbc don’t have, so out of frustration a die-in was organized, Why I Organized a Die-In, and Philadelphia Story.  108 of us gathered together and got down on the floor. We closed our eyes; some of us holding hands, and recognized our greatest fear. It was hard, really hard, lying there and knowing that one day I would most likely be one of the 108.  I lay there thinking about all of the things I was probably going to miss, my son’s graduation from med school, grandchildren, vacations, all of the milestones and memories that make life so precious. I thought of the increasing number of young women being diagnosed with mbc and what was going to be taken from them. The picture of us is dramatic, uncomfortable, but mbc is not pretty. It’s hard to visualize the reality of living and dying with mbc when others look at me. I don’t look sick.  There is a lack of congruence when you see me and think of the 108 who die each day.  But when I was on the floor with those other 107 the reality became evident.  My hope is that someday mbc will become a chronic illness, similar to what we’ve been able to do for AIDs.  People with mbc are starting to develop their voice, I hope the world starts listening.

Waiting

Here I sit.  Waiting for scan results.  It’s not much fun.  Somedays I handle it better than others.  I keep trying to look inward and make a guess as to what’s going on in my body.  Has it spread?  Gotten better, stayed the same?  All the while trying to live a normal life and keep things in perspective.  I seem to live out my life in 30 day increments now.  If my markers are looking good I let out a sigh of relief and push things down for another 30 days until the next doctor’s appointment and treatment.  It’s a different way to live.  I’ve been making travel plans, but my markers are going up and I start to wonder how I’m going to feel in 2 or 3 months.  I don’t know for certain.  I bought travel insurance for the first time.  Seemed like a prudent thing to do.  Yep, for me having cancer is like doing Tree Pose.  Some days my balance is better then others.  When I’m wobbly I have to just accept it and feel what there is to feel.  Emotions are ok.  There are no good or bad ones.  I can be scared, angry, sad, and irritated and it’s all right.  There is no “right way” to do cancer.  There is only “my way” and I can’t get it wrong.  When I’m ready, I’ll push myself up off the floor and choose to be grateful for the little things.  I’ll try balancing again and it may be easier, it may not.  But I’ll accept myself where I am.Pet Scan