Tuesday, 6 November 2012

I Spoke Too Soon

Uh-oh!  I spoke too soon about having minor side-effects of Round 16 of chemo.  Nausea just started.  I'm feeling pretty terrible, walking around with my shoulders slumped -- like my dramatic neice who is turning three.  I'm dragging myself to cook supper, only because my Sweetheart has come down with a bug.  I don't really want him infecting my food.  I can't risk catching his cold.  Plus he's exhausted.  He hadn't yet fallen asleep last night when the earthquake hit at 4am.  Mercifully, I was sound asleep.

So for my nausea, I have taken a dose of my Stematil tablets.  I can feel that it's starting to work; I only feel crappy, not lousy.  Or is it the other way around?

Oh, and I have a sore toe.  I forgot to ask the nurse for the iced booties during the Taxol infusion.  Darn.  That's going to make it more difficult to find new shoes for the wedding.  I hope I don't have to wear my granny shoes.

Enough typing.  Supper is in the oven.  I have 15 minutes to lay down before I have to check on it and turn on the potatoes.  TTFN!

Power Outages, Post-script

When I posted my "Power Outages, Cancer-Style" blog on Facebook, my friend Pearl brought the Spoon Theory to my attention.

If you have ever struggled to explain or understand the limits of living with a chronic illness, like cancer, colitis, endometriosis or fibromyalgia, you need to read this post about the Spoon Theory.  The Coles Notes version is that when you live with a chronic illness, your daily energy is limited, like a handful of spoons.  Each activity you undertake is broken down into a number of strenuous tasks that cost you spoons.  Getting to work in the morning isn't one step, it's at least five.  By the end of they day, you don't have any energy (spoons) left.  And if you do too much, as I sometimes do, you use up tomorrow's spoons.  It is a terrific analogy.

Oh, how I can relate!  I remember last fall the time that braiding Lena's hair took so much out of me that I had to sit down and throw up.  All last winter, after taking a shower, I would have to lay down for twenty minutes.  Recently, my pain nurse advised me to take my pain medication before trying to cook supper, to get ahead of the pain.  I have to think about whether I can handle the Gentle Yoga class.  I enjoyed it yesterday, but laying down on the mat was even tougher than getting up off it.  I didn't expect that.

The point I really want to make is that living with a chronic illness is different from being healthy in ways that I'm still coming to understand.  Whether you are struggling to understand someone with a chronic illness, or you are the one:  be patient.  It takes some time to get the hang of it.

Power Outages, Cancer-Style

Yesterday, I heard cancer fatigue described as a "power outage."  The term hit me. That is exactly how it feels.  The fatigue hits out of the blue.  You can be quite active, and have plans to do more, when all of a sudden you just NEED to lay down, and then you're out of commission for a few hours.

I had a power outage last week, before chemo. I had had lunch with a good friend and picked up groceries on the way home.  Then I puttered for a bit.  Just when I was about to lay down for a rest, my Sweetheart asked if I could make supper early, so he and the Bean could carve the rest of the jack-o-lanterns. Uh, sure, I said. Big mistake. By the time supper was ready (and all I had to do was reheat a couple of things), I was drooping at my plate. I laid down on the couch as soon as I finished eating. I tried to read some blogs on the laptop, but my eyes kept closing. Next thing I knew, I had slept for two hours! That is a cancer power outage.

Last round, I had a mental power outage. It was the day after chemo and I had to pick the Bean up after school to take her to an appointment. I screwed things up from start to finish. I went over to a neighbour's and got into my mind that I just needed to pick Lena up at the bus stop. Sweetie called me in time to make it to the school as planned. We were to pick up a vegetable for supper on our way home. Well, we poked around the mall longer than we should have, got caught in traffic and ended up at a different grocery store than where I aimed to go. In short, we came home with a vegetable after Sweetie had finished making... and started eating supper. Neither of us was happy with the way things turned out. Bad night.

Power outages like this, mental and physical, make me worry about my ability to work in the future.  The Bean pointed out that the power outages come out of the blue, making it difficult to stick to a work schedule.  What will the future hold?

Round 16

Amazing.  On Friday, I had my 16th round of chemo.  Again, I had a dose of Taxol, with Herceptin and Pamidronate (for my bones).

I haven't posted much about my chemo in a while for two reasons.  One is that, for a number of reasons (not readily apparent to me), I wasn't scheduled for chemo at the end of September.  Then my next chemo was delayed to a Monday due to a mixup about when we returned from Disney.  I had just more than a five week gap between treatments.  The up-side of it was that I'm on a new three-week schedule that doesn't have me getting chemo the day before my nephew's wedding in Calgary.  I am very glad that I can go with my family to the wedding.  In addition to a family reunion on my husband's side, it will also turn into a high school reunion with the same BFFs who came to visit me last November for my birthday. 

The other reason I haven't blogged for a while about my chemo is that it's going quite well.  Knock wood.  This round, I had very little in the way of side effects.  There was no nausea.  I had less fatigue than usual.  The only real problem is that Taxol can give you diarrhea, while the stomach medicine Zofran can cause constipation (as can my pain medication).  This round, I was able to experience both. 

Also, sometime in the last couple of weeks, my swelling went down.  I could wear my wedding rings for the first time in nearly a year!  My watch is now spinning around my wrist in a very annoying fashion.

So the chemo itself isn't hitting me too hard, but I realize that what has depleted my batteries is the fact that I've been on chemo for a year and had cancer for a year.  I am coming to realize that I'll ever be the same. 

More on this, in my next installment, "Power Outages, Chemo-Style."

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

It's Not Something to Celebrate

For the last week, I've been avoiding something: looking at last year's calendar.  I broke down today and confirmed the anniversary I had been trying to forget.

Last year, on Tuesday, October 18, a doctor told me and Geoff that I have Stage IV Invasive Ductal Breast Cancer.  Later that day, I told my parents, my boss and our little girl.  It wasn't as hard as you would think.  We knew it was coming, most of the crying was done.  The meeting with the doctor just made it real. He had the biopsy results. 

To this day, I still have trouble believing it.  I keep thinking there must have been some kind of mistake or misunderstanding.  I can't have cancer.  I can't be dying.  Then I remind myself that they did the biopsy... on my breast... and it was cancerous.  I have breast cancer.

I suppose the upside of living a year with advanced breast cancer is that you lived for a year.

But it's still not an anniversary I celebrate.

P.S.  I can't close without taking a moment to recognize all the support we have received in the last year from friends, family, neighbours, Transport Canada, Lena's school, Mom and Dad's church, and of course the hospital and community care workers.  Last October 18, I was very sick and very scared, and by the time chemo started at the end of the month, very overwhelmed.  I don't know what Geoff and I would have done without that support.  I just don't know.  Thank you.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Dear Pandora: Think Before You Pink

This being October, we seem inundated with corporations and sports teams acknowledging Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Just before our trip down to Disney World, I received this email from the company that makes Pandora jewellery with a special offer of a free pink bracelet with a $100 purchase and a note that "a percentage of proceeds from the retail price of select charms, necklaces and pendants benefits the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation..."

Of course, I'm not asking you to rush down to Pandora. I'm not advertizing, I'm asking you to think, before you pink. As you know, I too support the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and I encouraged you to support it through my participation in the Run for the Cure. My concern about Pandora's support is that the company doesn't tell us how much it is donating for each purchase. Some companies give a set amount and our individual pink purchases don't raise the amount. Pandora gives an amount per purchase. However, it isn't specific about which products trigger a donation, nor what is the percentage of proceeds donated. That bothered me.

Farther down, you will see my email to Pandora asking the company to take this opportunity to provide more information for those of us who think before we pink.

As I mention in my email, for my birthday last fall, just after my diagnosis, Sweetie and the Bean bought me a Pandora bracelet with a pink ribbon charm. The bracelet has become a special way for our family to commemorate our life together -- my favourites are the soccer ball and the teapot. I like the Pandora products. But wouldn't it be nice if Pandora took an extra step towards transparency in its support for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation by providing details on how much it gives from which purchases. I've asked them to do it.

And I ask you to think, before you pink.

PANDORA Club <pandora@club.pandora.net>
To: xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: Monday, October 1, 2012 4:18:03 PM
Subject: Receive a Pink PANDORA Bracelet during October

My jewelleryMy wishlistMY DESIGNSMY STORES

Show Your Support Against Breast Cancer with PANDORA
Dear Katherine,

There are many ways to show your support in the fight against Breast Cancer, and none are as beautiful as our charms. For the entire month of October, when you purchase $100 or more of PANDORA jewellery, you’ll receive one of our pink leather bracelets* (a $50 retail value).
A percentage of proceeds from the retail price of select charms, necklaces and pendants benefits the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s vision of creating a future without breast cancer. Visit cbcf.org for more information.

* See participating stores for details. Good while supplies last. Limit one per customer. Find your nearest PANDORA retailer by clicking here.
Kind regards,
Pandora Club

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
To: "CAConsumer@PANDORA.net" <CAConsumer@PANDORA.net>

Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 11:40:19 AM
Subject: Re: Receive a Pink PANDORA Bracelet during October

I appreciate the support Pandora is offering to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation through this offer, however your company could be more transparent about it's actual level of support. More and more, women like myself with breast cancer are encouraging our friends and family to "think before they pink." 

What I mean is that before purchasing the obiquitous pink merchandise, we should inform ourselves about what exactly our purchase is supporting. It is helpful that you have been clear that you are supporting the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Consumers can easily confirm that this is a legitimate charity which publishes information about its administrative and fundraising costs, as well as it's major areas of spending. But how much is Pandora providing? From your email, I don't know if Pandora is giving five cents per charm or something more significant. I don't know if your donation is capped or if when I spend more, you really give more.

If you take a look at recent postings in social media, you can learn about the growing concern about the "pinkification" of breast cancer. From there, Pandora has an opportunity to improve the nature of its support. It would be very much appreciated by the breast cancer community, and particularly by me. Pinkification has given many North Americans the impression that a breast cancer diagnosis is the entrée to a happy club. Don't let your company be fooled. There is no cure for advanced breast cancer. I too support the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation because it supports research that may find the cure that will save my life.

Last October, I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. A month later, on my birthday, my husband and young daughter bought me my first Pandora bracelet, with a pink ribbon charm. If Pandora would take this opportunity to be more transparent about what it is donating, or has donated, to the Foundation, I would wear my bracelet with even more pride.

Thank you for considering my request.

Katherine Moynihan
(see my Kate Has Cancer blog at http://katebreastcancer.blogspot.ca/)

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Metatastic Breast Cancer Day

Yay! Today is the official day to, um, celebrate, or perhaps to recognize, metastasized breast cancer.  Hooray!

If you really want to do something about metastasized breast cancer, find a way to contribute to finding a cure.  Don't wear pink for me, though I do appreciate the thought.  If I am to live to see my grandchildren, what I need is a cure.  Please consider giving to an organization like the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation which contributes a significant amount of its fundraising to research.

To all of you who pledged your financial support for my participation in last month's Run for the Cure, thank you.  You have made a difference that just might save my life.

Please think before you pink.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Having a Rough Day?

Last January, I wrote about the Reiki principles that had caught my attention (click here to read that post).  I called them my positive attitude exercise regime.  As I go through each day, I try to remind myself to consider these principles, especially on the tough days.

Are you having a rough day?  Try these, just for today, just for this moment, try:

Just for today, I will not be angry.

Just for today, I will not worry.

Just for today, I will be grateful.

Just for today, I will do my best.

Just for today, I will be kind to every living thing.

I hope it helps you.

Monday, 1 October 2012

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A year ago today, I wasn't worried about the lump my gynaecologist had found on my breast.  It felt like one I'd had five years before on the other breast -- a fullness that went away after it had been determined to be benign. 

A year ago today I didn't know that the lump was invasive ductal breast cancer.

I didn't know that my weird blood test results were a reflection of the tumours that riddled my liver.

I didn't know that my aching back wasn't "out" but broken in several places.

I didn't know that most women who get breast cancer don't actually have it in their families.

And I didn't know that men get breast cancer.

I didn't know that in about 10% of the cases, breast cancer has already spread to distant organs before it's found. 

Nor did I know that metastasised breast cancer cannot be cured.

A year ago, all I know was that October = pink  = breast cancer.  I thought that breast cancer was an easy cancer.

Well, it wasn't easy telling my little girl I have Stage IV breast cancer.  No, this year hasn't been easy at all.

In the last year, I have had 14 rounds of chemotherapy, 10 radiation sessions, 4 CT scans, 3 MRIs, 2 echocardiograms and a MUGA scan.  I couldn't count the blood tests, appointments with doctors, nurses, and social workers.  Also, my freezer has been filled twice and I`ve been given at least a half dozen hats and two wigs.

Yesterday I power-walked 5km and raised $1295.00 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.  It will use that money (most of which was generously given by you, my readers) for awareness, support and research.

Because a year later, there is still no cure for breast cancer.  And I need a cure.

The Bean tells me that anything is possible.  Smart girl.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Check Your Boobs! or not...

I know, I'm late.  I didn't remind you in August, and I'm late this month.  Sorry, but I think I'm going to move away from the monthly reminders.  You need to get into the habit of checking yourself, and I don't want to just automate a standard reminder.  Plus there is a lot of debate in the medical community about the value of monthly self-examination and regular mammograms.  The argument goes that too many women are being subjected to tests like mammograms and biopsies for benign breast lumps, plus some tumours are not detectable through touch or even mammogram.  Did you know that mammograms have limited usefulness on dense breasts?  And most young women have dense breasts, some not so young women too.

There are different views.  Is the invasive nature of a biopsy too high a price to pay for a negative test result?  Is it a waste of your worry and your doctor's time to investigate a lump that is just a cyst and not a tumour?  Or would you rather take every measure possible to identify a cancerous tumour as early as possible?  The scientists seem to be leaning on the side of less testing.  But it's not their breasts.  What do you think? 

I Don't Just Feel Old, I Look It Too

I've been grumbling lately about the weight I have gained since my diagnosis with Stage IV breast cancer.  The research I did tells me my experience is not unique. 

There are several reasons for the weight gain that is common to breast cancer.  Part of it is water weight and swelling due to steroids.  It was so bad last winter that I needed to buy men's size 10 boots and wear compression stockings.  Much of that weight came off when my oncologist changed the steroid dose I get with my chemo, but it's not all gone.  You should see my ankles when I take my socks off at night.  Put it this way:  they are shapely in a bad way.  While I was able to wear my sandals this summer, my size 8 closed shoes no longer fit.  I had to buy two new pair of size 9 shoes.

And then there's my belly.  I will admit that part of my weight gain comes from overindulging in sweets last Christmas.  You, my friends, gave us a lot of really delicious cookies!  Not that I'm trying to shift the blame.  Well maybe just a little. 

Chemo put me straight into menopause.  According to an article on WebMD, menopause causes changes in metabolism and body composition.  It is typical to lose muscle weight and gain fat.  Guess where?  Right in the belly.  Yesterday, I had to buy a new rain jacket, because my old one would barely zip up past my belly.  I had to buy a man's extra large to fit me.  That's depressing... and the sleeves are outrageously long!

I had hoped with my training for the five kilometre Run for the Cure that I would shed some of the weight I had gained.  It isn't happening.  I will try to keep walking regularly.  I'll try to be better about the sweets.  But I think this belly is here to stay.

In addition, my hair colour has changed.  My gray hair came back white, and my brown hair has come back a washed out steel-grey colour.  I have been feeling like I aged 10 years since I got sick.  Guess what?  To my disappointment, but not surprise, WebMD says, "a woman having chemotherapy ages the equivalent of 10 years over the course of just one year." Tell me about it!

Friday, 21 September 2012

What the Future Holds

I may have mentioned in previous posts that I understood that if my tumours continued to shrink, I might get a break from chemo this fall, while I would continue with the drugs Herceptin and Pamidronate (the cancer-stopper and bone-builder, respectively). I knew that because I have advanced breast cancer that I'd be on and off chemotherapy for the rest of my life.  Apparently it will be more "on" than "on and off."

Last Friday, Geoff and I met with my wonderful oncologist to get the results of my latest CT scan.  We got good news. The tumours in my liver continue to shrink. They are still numerous, but under 1cm in size, except for one. That last large tumour has continued to shrink and is now about the size of the end of my pinkie finger. By the way, my blood tests for some time have shown that my liver is functioning well despite the tumours.  I figure that if my liver can live with cancer, so can I.  The tumours in my bones appear to be stable; no better, no worse.  Contrary to what I was expecting, there were no new fractures. I believe the CT looked at my breasts too. The results didn't give any measurement of the original breast tumour. I don't know if that means it's completely gone or if they just didn't measure it.  It doesn't really matter.

My oncologist reminded me that Stage IV breast cancer is a chronic disease. Like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and even depression, medical treatment doesn't take a break. He also explained that the unfortunate reality of breast cancer is that, eventually, each chemo medicine stops working. He hopes to get as much benefit as possible from each chemo treatment.  So, I will continue to get Taxol every three weeks, "as long as it is working and it is well-tolerated."

I have to be honest, I was disappointed to get the news. Somehow, I'd dreamed up a chemo-free future where, for one thing, it might be easier to return to work. I have to rethink things. I have to accept that the chemo will continue. So every three weeks I will have a few days where I feel tired and nauseous, and have sore fingers and toes (my weird side-effect).  I don't know how well my hair will continue to grow.  My chemo-brain syndrome will continue to interfere with my speaking.

I get a tiny break though.  No chemo on September 28; I start again October 12.  That means I won't be recovering from chemo when I do the Run for the Cure on the 30th, that I can attend a retirement party on the 28th, and that my nephew's wedding won't be on a chemo weekend.  See?  All good.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

CIBC Run for the Cure, September 30, 2012 -- I'm Running for My Life

On Sunday, September 30, in Ottawa, I will be walking the five kilometre CIBC Run for the Cure with my loving husband and daughter.  Over the last several weeks, the Bean and I have been training, quickly working our way up to a 5k walk through our lovely neighbourhood.

At the Run for the Cure, we look forward to joining the St. Bernard Bosom Buddies Team.  This team, captained by Mrs. Rhonda Gillam of the Bean's school, has been the city's top elementary school fund raising team for six years running.

When I was so sick last fall and beginning chemotherapy, the St. Bernard School family gave us more support than I could have imagined.  They looked out for the Bean as she dealt with having such a sick mommy.  They prayed for us.  They filled out freezer with lovingly prepared food.  And they were there with the smiles and hugs whenever they saw us.  Joining the St. Bernard Bosom Buddies Team is a small way of giving back to our school family.

The CIBC Run for the Cure, which has runs going in cities across the country, is raising money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.  In 2011, over $30 million was raised by the Run, with funds go to support "groundbreaking research, education, awareness and advocacy initiatives."   To learn more about the Foundation and its work, visit www.cbcf.org.

As you know, my breast cancer has already spread to my liver and bones.  At this point, metastasized breast cancer has no cure.  CIBC asks, "who are you running for?"  Well, I'm running for my life, for a cure for me and prevention of this disease hitting my little girl.

I am humbled by the generosity of friends and family who have already donated more than I expected.  But as of this afternoon, the St. Bernard Bosom Buddies Team is only a third of the way to it's goal.  Your online donations would also be most welcome to the St. Bernard Bosom Buddies Team at this link. You can donate directly to my run here, to my Sweetie here, or to the Bean here.

Thank you for your continuing support, and please consider participating in your local CIBC Run for the Cure.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

A Bit of a Change is Good

I felt that my original blog title, "Kate's Breast Cancer Awareness Blog," was a bit of a mouthful.  When I set up my Twitter account, I came up with the tag "Kate Has Cancer" and thought that might make for a better blog title.  Hope you agree.

Am I a Cancer Survivor?

I don't know, am I?

I'm not completely comfortable with the word.  So many people seem to restrict the term to mean those who have completed cancer treatment and are in remission.  I would love to live to the day where I can say "I have survived cancer."  Pray that day comes.

As for today, I am surviving cancer.

Yes, I am a survivor.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Openning Our Eyes about Metastatic Breast Cancer

I know I give you a monthly reminder to "check your boobs" and I frequently remind you to get regular mammograms.  The truth is that self-examination and mammograms won't prevent breast cancer and they won't prevent cancer from returning or spreading.  I keep up my reminders because they just might catch this damnable disease early.  Truth is, I keep up my reminders because I'm still struggling with my guilt, my feeling that surely if I had been taking good care of myself I would have caught my cancer before it spread.  I need to work on that.  And you need the truth.

No one says it better than Ginny at the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network in this post from last month.  You should read it.

And I guess I should let myself off the hook.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Check Your Boobs! July Reminder

OK folks, this is your July reminder to check your boobs for breast cancer.  For more information on what you're looking for when you check, have a look at my June reminder or any of the following excellent sites:
And don't forget that regular physicals and mammograms are an important part of keeping you healthy. 

Like it or not, October won't be the only month we think about breast cancer... if I have anything to say about it!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Check Your Boobs! June Reminder

I know I've been on your case for six months to do monthly breast self-examinations, but I want to be honest with you, some breast cancer can't be found through self-examination.  A friend of mine told me hers was found during a scan for something else.  The lump was located in a spot where it couldn't be felt from the outside of the breast.  This is why regular mammograms are important.  Discuss with your doctor when you should begin these mammograms.  It could be at fifty.  It could be earlier, if you have a family history of breast cancer.

Another friend asked me what to look for when examining her breasts.  You'll find more information at the links below, but here are some of the signs that bear further investigation with your doctor:

  • of course, any lump or area of "fullness" in the breast or in the underarm area.-- my tumour was a large one that, when first found, felt just like a benign fullness I had on the other breast five years before.
  • any change in the size, shape or colour of the breast.
  • a change in the skin on the breast or nipple, including puckering, or rashes.
  • a change in the direction of the nipple.
  • new nipple discharge.
  • new pain that doesn't go away.

You might want to do the exam in the shower, and finish up in front of the mirror.  Lying down may also help you examine yourself effectively.  For more information on what your looking for, read the information from the American Cancer Society and National Breast Cancer Foundation below.  The links take you directly to the information on self-examination.

Please consult the following excellent sites:

Thursday, 14 June 2012

"Don't Count Spots!" and Other Friendly Advice from my Oncologist

I saw my oncologist yesterday and he took the hammer out to get it through my head to stop worrying.  And I have been worried.  I have a lot of tumours in my liver and bones.  Unlike some Stage IV women with a single spot here or there, mine are "numerous."  The radiologists can't even count them all.  And what if they move into my lungs or heart or brain?  Dr. G said, "Don't count spots!"  Stage IV is Stage IV as soon as there is one tumour outside the breasts or lymph nodes.  There is no Stage IV and a half.  No Stage V.  It's Stage IV and the treatment is the same whether it's one spot or "numerous" ones.  I need to relax...

He also clued me in to some more of the side-effects I've been suffering.  My runny nose and constantly tearing eyes?  Chemo.  I thought it was my allergies but no... which means it's not going to stop anytime soon.  I can try artificial tears, or if necessary, the doctor can give me steroid eye drops.  And the swelling I feel on my back, near the latest fracture, is just swelling.  That's common after radiation.  By the way, my back is still "tanned" and itchy from the radiation I got in November.  I had no idea it would last so long.

I asked my doctor if it was OK to try to lose some weight.  He was ambiguous, to be honest.  It sounds like it's not necessary for me to keep on extra weight as an insurance policy -- because if I stopped eating suddenly, he would treat it right away.  On the other hand, women gain weight with breast cancer, and in truth I had lost weight since December, back when I was at the worst of the ankle and leg swelling.  I think the bottom line is that I can do what I want.  Next question is for me:  do I want to work at losing weight?  Hmm.

Next, the big question:  could I have a drink?  Because of my abnormal liver results and "numerous" tumours, I haven't had a drink since the early Fall.  And some days I really would like one.  Dr. G said "absolutely!"  My liver results are now normal, despite the tumours.  I can have one to two drinks a day if I want.  That would be more than I need, but now that the sun is shining, I am thinking of sitting in the yard with a cold glass of hard apple cider.  Mmm.

About that new chemotherapy treatment that has been in the news, TDM1, he says it's available in Ottawa.  Clinical trials are continuing; approval should come relatively soon.  He'll look into whether and when I might get it.  That said, he did agree that it makes sense to continue the Taxol, Herceptin, and Pamidronate combo as it is still working.  He says all good doctors have Plan B and Plan C at the ready.  And he's taking good care of me.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Tuesday, Pill Day

This is my routine every Tuesday morning, I take an hour to organize my pills.  OK, it doesn't take that long, it just feels that way.  And when I started on this cancer journey, it probably did take a full hour to get a handle on all these pills.  Now, I actually know what they are for (pretty much).

I have two pill organizers on the go.  One is a seven-day organizer for the pills I take before getting out of bed.  These include Dilaudid, both the long-acting and the fast-acting, to ease the pain of having been still, asleep for eight hours.  You wouldn't believe how long it can take me to get my hands and knees working.  I also take a Lyrica pill, the first of three I take during the day.  The last "first thing" pill is Prevacid, an anti-acid pill to be taken a half hour before eating.  There's not much more I could fit in this little container.

The second pill organizer has a pull-out section for each day and four compartments, for morning, noon, evening and bedtime.  In the morning, I take a water pill for my still swollen feet.  By the way, I can usually get into three or four pairs of my shoes now.  I take some Vitamin D for my bones, which need all the help they can get.  Then there is the first of four Naprosyn (Aleve) pills for the day.  They help quite a bit with the pain from my spinal fractures.  I also take one Maxerand, also for my stomach.  I should take it a little before I eat, but that never quite works out.  What else?  Oh, for my chemo day and the following day, I take a Zofran in the morning.  It helps to prevent chemo-related stomach trouble, but is terribly constipating.  I recently stopped taking Metoprolol in the mornings.  I was given it in the fall when my blood pressure was high, back when I was in the hospital.  My blood pressure seems to have returned to it's normal low, so I was able to stop that pill.

My afternoon pills used to be lighter.  The second Lyrica comes at two o'clock.  But now I'm taking a Naprosyn with lunch.  And, because of the constipating effects of the Dilaudid and Zofran, I take two stool softener and one senna laxative.  Everyday.  I don't like taking these pills everyday, but I have to admit that my body just doesn't function properly on its own anymore.  This is one of the things you don't realize about cancer, and it probably happens with other chronic, life-threatening diseases:  half the pills you take are to deal with the side effects of the other pills you take.  Argh.

At suppertime, there is another Naprosyn, plus the long-acting Dilaudid.
Finally at bedtime, another Naprosyn (with a snack to protect my tummy), another Lyrica, and an Ativan to help me sleep.  When I first started treatment, the steroids they were giving me were causing me to wake up every hour or so through the night.  While I'm off them, I now have trouble falling asleep without the Ativan.  That was never a problem before I got sick.

In addition to these, I take a Tums morning and evening as a calcium supplement.  And I take the fast-acting Dilaudid as necessary during the day for pain.  The dose I now take doesn't seem to affect me, beyond handling the pain.  Nevertheless, I don't take the full dose if I'll be driving, just in case I might get a little loopy.
So that's my pill regimen these days.  At first, I needed a complex spreadsheet to sort it out.  Now, sadly, it's easy for me.

You know, they tell you to drink a lot of water when you're in chemo.  You pretty much have to, with all the pills to take!

P.S.  Sweetie, if I suddenly get sick, you can use this blog post to make up my pills for me.  Oh, I forgot that I've started talking like the nurses and referring to all these damn things by brand name though they usually come from the pharmacy with the generic name.  I better do up another spreadsheet...

P.P.S.  I find it odd that the blog software's spellcheck doesn't recognize the word "blog."

Saturday, 2 June 2012

How I Wish a Good Attitude Was Enough

Today I was reading a blog post by Donna Peach about the importance of words.  Please read her post, titled "when words are most important."  It's a perspective you need to consider if you care about anyone with advanced cancer and you want to say the right thing.

Friends, you know I have Stage IV breast cancer.  That means that it has spread from my breast to other parts of my body, in my case my liver and bones.  All my bones.  It is a chronic disease and life-threatening.  The bottom line is that cancer that has metastasized is not curable. At least not yet.

As my oncologist said last week, even lethal levels of chemotherapy won't rid by body of cancer.  Obviously, keeping a good attitude won't cure my cancer either.

But it does make my life much easier to live. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Check your Boobs -- a late May reminder

Oops!  I just realized that in May I forgot to send my monthly reminder to you all to "Check Your Boobs!"

I was on Caroline's Breast Cancer Blog.  Please read her recent post on sharing our cancer experience here.  It got me thinking and prompted me to comment about what motivated me to blog about my life with breast cancer.  All that reminded me that I'm here to give you that monthly reminder to check your breasts -- or your loved one's as the case may be.  If there's a lump or any other unusual sign, I want you to notice it and have your doctor check it out. 

My doctor's first sign was me complaining of abdominal pain.  The first test showed my liver riddled with tumours.  It freaked my doctors out, to be honest, which is unsettling to see.  I don't know if I'd still be here today if my GP, my gynecologist and my oncologist hadn't taken the steps they did to get me tested, seen and treated as quickly as possible.  I thank God for what they did.

Wouldn't it be better if you could catch this damn disease a little earlier?

If you don't know how to examine your breasts or what to look for -- 'cause it's not just lumps-- you can find useful information at the following sites:

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Losing Your Hair Hurts

When my hair started to fall out again on Saturday it hurt emotionally.  Since my hair had started to regrow this winter, I was close to going wigless.  Saturday's discovery meant that one piece of normalcy in my life had been snatched from my grasp.

By Sunday, I experienced a new pain, on my scalp.  Various parts of my scalp were sore when hair moved or touched a pillow.  Today, before showering (and plugging the drain), I pulled off as much of my hair as I could.  It took a long time, about my limit for standing. And it hurt, particularly on the top of my head.  Washing my hair was awful.  I stood under the shower wincing, nearly whimpering, as the water hit my tender scalp.  And even more hair fell out, short little bits that I could tell were from the new growth -- little guys that were just getting their start in life.

Maybe by the fall, I'll be off chemo and my hair will grow back for good.  Until the next round of Taxol.

P.S.  We saw my oncologist today and in response to the hair loss and aches and pains (which I hadn't realized were Taxol related), he is going to reduce my dose for Friday's chemo.  He's always trying to balance my quality of life against getting the cancer under control.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

I Guess I Should Have Known

Warning:  this is definitely a TMI (too much information) post.

I guess I should have noticed that when I shaved my armpits the other day there wasn't much to shave.  I can hardly see without my glasses, but I should have known.  And this morning I should have noticed that my leg hair stubble wasn't very long considering I hadn't shaved in a couple of days.  But I just figured it hadn't been so many days.  And yet, when I washed my hair this morning I was shocked that it fell out in my hands. 

I was actually planning to go to out for breakfast without a wig for the first time since the fall.  I thought that my hair was growing back really well.  I almost went for a trim when Geoff went to get his hair cut yesterday.  But I should have known.

I thought I wasn't having any side-effects from the switch in my chemo dose.  Remember, the doctor combined my Taxol into one "serving" rather than splitting it over the course of two weeks.  At first I thought that doubling up might give me greater side-effects like nausea or fatigue.  But nothing happened after chemo, so I thought I got off lucky.  I should have known.

I wonder how comfortable my wigs will be now that the warm weather is here?  I wish I wasn't going to find out.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

New Treatment Approaches for May

I went to the Pain Clinic on Tuesday, where they were able to check out my MRI results and let me know about the new compression fracture, which explained the pain in my back.  The Clinic gave me a new prescription. This time, for Naprosyn, aka Aleve, three times a day, with meals. I had stopped the Celebrex last month after it, paradoxically, made my joints feel swollen. The last straw was when my knees felt weak going down the stairs -- if I fall down the stairs now, I'll end up in a million pieces! I went back to ibuprofen until last week's appointment at the Clinic switched me over to Aleve. It took a couple of days to make a noticeable difference, but it's working now. It makes it much easier to get up of the couch to get another cup of tea!

Further to the April test results, on Wednesday, my oncologist has switched me to chemo once every three weeks. They had previously been splitting my dose of Taxol over two weeks. As of last Friday, I was given the full Taxol dose in one sitting.   I was a little concerned that my side-effects would be greater, but so far they have been minimal.  On Saturday, I had the standard moon face with hot, red cheeks.  My stomach felt a little iffy Friday night and Saturday night, so last night I took my Stematil.  I was expecting to feel quite tired today, more from Lena's marathon birthday party yesterday than from chemo, but I feel well.  I'm moving around well, without pain.  Feeling steady on my feet. 

I'm having one of those moments when I feel "like myself" and it feels good.

Test Results from April

I finally met with my oncologist last week to get the results of the tests I did in April:  CT scan, echocardiogram and MRI of the axial skeleton.  Good news all 'round.

The CT scan showed further shrinkage of the liver metastases and no new ones in other areas of the abdomen.  The shrinkage wasn't as dramatic as between the October and January CT scans, but it's still shrinkage and the doctor was happy with that.  It seems there are only two tumours larger than 1cm.  That's a huge improvement.  I'm just looking forward to a day when the liver tumours are countable rather than "numerous."

The echocardiogram was great again.  My results were high enough that I can continue to be treated with Herceptin.

The MRI of the bones had a little good, a little bad news.  It showed a great deal of healing of the bones in my lower spine and pelvis, which was attributed to the radiation treatment I had in late November, early December.  Unfortunately there is a new compression fracture in my spine.  The surprise is that it was not due to a cancerous tumour but to osteoporosis.  I have a strong family history of osteoporosis, and given my history of non-exercise and only medium consumption of dairy, I figured I would get it eventually.  It looks like the chemo treatment has actually brought the disease on early.  Like the other fractures, it should heal over time. 

So, good news for all of us that have been waiting.  Thank you all for your concern and good wishes.  They mean a lot to me.  See my next post for treatment changes.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Check Your Boobs!

It's the 20th of the month again, and time to remind you all to "Check Your Boobs!"

It is also the third anniversary of my grandmother's death.  Luisa Bertolo (nee Mattioli) died April 20, 2009, just days short of her 99th birthday.  She thought God had forgotten her down hear here, and by the time she passed away, she had forgotten much of her own life.  Nevertheless, until she was hospitalized days before her death, she continued to be the best grandmother that we could every ask for.  Her own mother died in her nineties as well, and the family joke was that the women in this family just don't die -- you have to shoot them.

I was counting on that.  I just plain old believed that if my grandmother lived so long, so would I.  And I didn't check my boobs.  I took my life for granted.  But I don't want you to.  Please do a monthly examination of your breasts.  It could make the difference between life and death.

You can find information on how to examine your breasts at the following sites:

My PICC Line Made a Break for It

As I have explained in a previous post, I have a nurse come in every week to change the dressing on my PICC line.  Over time, I have noticed that the length of the line sticking out of my arm has gradually increased from 6 cm to about 7.5.  Yesterday, as the nurse was removing the old dressing, we both saw the PICC line jump out a bit.  When she measured the line, it was at 11 cm!  Time to call the hospital's PICC Team.

This morning the PICC Team called back and scheduled me for a 9:30 chest X-ray.  It showed that the line had indeed moved.  It was good enough to be used for my 10:30 chemotherapy today, but not good enough to keep using.  Once my chemo finished this afternoon, the nurse just pulled the line out.  My Sweetiepie had to move away for this -- it wasn't something he wanted to see.  I thought it was kinda cool.

Now I'm waiting for the hospital to schedule me for a reinsertion of the PICC line, since I still have a fair bit of chemo ahead of me.  In the meantime, I will enjoy the luxury of showering without a plastic sleeve.  That left arm is going to get a good, long scrubbing!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Approaching Normal, One Step at a Time

Geoff and I look back at last fall and are amazed at the progress I've made.  Frankly, I didn't realize how sick I was -- well maybe once I was admitted to hospital in November.  I was more than a little scared I wouldn't make it out of there.  Today is a different story.

I'm driving again, in the minivan.  The low seats of the old Civic are too hard on my lower back.  It is great to be able to head out when I want to and do some shopping.  It's also nice for Lena that I can take her to Brownies.  I'm feeling like I'm doing my Mom job again.

I'm walking much better too.  Most mornings, I take Lena to her bus stop a few houses away.  The other day, I even forgot to bring my cane with me.  Lena noticed; I didn't.  I generally don't use the cane in the house, except for the first few steps in the morning, when I'm always pretty stiff.  I need the cane when I go out, for extra support.  When I walk a long ways or have to stand, my lower back gets pretty sore.  The cane helps a lot.  If I go grocery shopping, I lay the cane in the shopping cart and use the cart to support myself.  For a shopping trip to the mall, I'm still best to use the walker, at least in part because it can hold coats and packages for me.  I now have the strength to get the walker in and out of the minivan.  I couldn't have done that a couple of months ago.

Hair is growing again.  My eyelashes, which disappeared very suddenly earlier in the year, came back just as quickly.  My eyebrows are still thin in spots.  I've been using eyeliner to fill them in some days.  On top, I actually had to head back to the hairdresser's before Easter to trim things up, particularly around the hairline, where I was worried the longer strands would be visible under my wigs.  The haircut helped a lot.  I think it will grow in much better, having had the trim.  Unfortunately, the hair isn't growing in evenly.  It's quite thin in the front at this point.  I hope that changes pretty soon.

Being able to stand a little longer has allowed me to make supper here and there, to take the load off Geoff.  I'm finding that I'm a little rusty.  My stew the other night was a huge disappointment.  I'm sure I'll get better with a bit of practice.  I come from a long line of very good cooks -- on the Italian side anyway.

I've got a ways to go to get back to normal.  The doctor wouldn't even talk about when I can go back to work.. And they've told me that because of the fractures in my spine, I'll never be as agile as I used to be, not that "agile" is a word that was ever used to describe me.  But day by day, step by step, I'm getting better.  And your support and good wishes, soups and cookies, hats and blankets, have helped me make this progress.  Thank you.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Oncology Update: April 12, 2012

Yesterday, I had an appointment with my oncologist.  I was hoping to get the results of last week's CT scan.  Unfortunately, given the Easter holiday, the results were not yet ready.  I have an appointment with my GP next week where I should be able to get my results.

In the meantime, oncology is sending me for an echocardiogram to make sure my heart is bearing the chemotherapy well, and a bone MRI to see the status of the bone tumours across my body.  We had an interesting chat with the doctor about the tests.  She said that in the fall, because I was so sick (see Geoff's blog on that), I got the Cadillac of Cadillac of tests.  Now, it's important to repeat those tests to be able to adequately compare the results.  She also explained that the CT scan is their best tool for assessing the tumours on my liver.  She's conscious of the risks involved in the CTs use of radiation.  Once my liver tumours are more stable, they may transition to using ultrasounds, which do not use radiation.  For the bone tumours, the CT isn't as effective and the doctor will use and MRI, which they will compare to the ones done in November.  MRIs do not use radiation, neither does the echocardiogram, which is essentially an ultrasound of the heart.

We also talked to the doctor about going back to work (actually she wouldn't talk about that) and vacations.  She was concerned about my hope to go to Ireland this summer.  She suggested we start with some shorter, closer vacations and reminded me of the potential stress of unfamiliar beds and uncomfortable restaurant chairs.  I think a trip to Montreal is long overdue.  We'll try to go once our lovely niece there finishes school for the year.  Perhaps we'll head to Oakville in June to see my brand new lovely niece, once she arrives.  After I told her I expected I shouldn't go on roller coasters or ride a bike at this point, she looked at Geoff and said something to the effect of, "I can see what you're going through."  I guess she thinks I'm pushing too hard to return to a normal life.  Geoff cracked up after we left when I complained about the two of them ganging up on me.  But really, if I want to get back to normal, I have to start doing normal things!  I don't want to spend the rest of life on the couch watching daytime television.  I've had enough of that.

Back to chemo on Friday.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Update: March 31, 2012

This last round of chemo (yesterday and the previous Friday) has gone quite well, with few side-effects.  Today, the only thing I can complain about is red, hot cheeks.  Yesterday's chemo went by so fast that I didn't even have time to sleep!

I forgot to tell you that a couple of weeks back I finally got into the Ottawa Hospital's Pain Clinic.  My wonderful pain nurse had referred me some time ago, I think back when I was having so much trouble with drowsiness.  I found it interesting that before being seen at the Pain Clinic you have to sign a fairly lengthy agreement to ensure your pain medication isn't abused or shared.

First we met with a nurse there, and then a doctor.  She told me that the NSAIDs are the preferred drug class for pain from bone metastases and prescribed Celebrex.  Quite quickly, I noticed it relieved the pain I've had in my mid-back since a disappointing trip to Red Lobster with the folks (a one-hour wait, mostly leaning against a window ledge, hence the mid-back pain).  Since I've been on the Celebrex, I guess for about 10 days now, I have noticed other pains.  One affects my arms and sometimes legs.  It's a weird pain, mostly like I need to move around.  It kept me up the other night.  I've also been feeling the liver tumours and the pain formerly known as my endometriosis pain.  Mysterious.  At the Pain Clinic, they see patients every week or two, so I'm back there pretty soon for a check-up and maybe and adjustment of my pain medications. 

Coming Up Next: CT Scan April 5, 10:30 am

Next week, I have my next CT scan of the chest and abdomen.

It will get a good look at the liver tumours as well as some of the bone metastases. After several more rounds of chemo (than between the previous two CT scans), I expect to see greater reduction in the size of my liver tumours. Unfortunately they are, to quote the last scan's report, "numerous." I am also hoping that this scan will show actual healing of some of the bone mets.

Postitive energy and prayers would be welcome on April 5th, the day of the scan.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Check Your Boobs!

Friends, here's your monthly reminder:  CHECK YOUR BOOBS!

You probably remember the drill from high school health class, but in case you don't, here's a link or two to help you out:
Here's hoping you don't find anything.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Update: March 18, 2012

I never did give you an update on my March 9 chemo session.  Lena's March Break got in the way.  Short story anyway; it was fine.

I had an appointment with the oncologist on the 14th.  He was away, so one of the GPs saw and examined me.  She was very pleased with my progress since the last time she had seen me, several months back.  She even said I made her day.

We went over my prescriptions. She is in favour of weaning me off as many drugs as we can. We're starting with the blood pressure medication and one of the stomach medications. So far so good. I'll need to monitor my blood pressure. It had gotten to the point that it was even lower than me usual LOW blood pressure. Cutting the medication back by half should bring my blood pressure a little closer to normal -- and farther from "you better be careful standing up."

We also talked to her about when I could start driving again.  I feel pretty ready already, but figured I would spend some time in a parking lot practicing before hitting the road.  She disagreed.  In fact she was more conservative than Geoff.  She suggested a full month in the parking lot, including lots of practice getting in and out of the car.  She implied it could be a long time before I would be ready to drive the minivan.  I haven't driven it since we bought it, just a five minute test drive in October.  This doesn't make me happy.  I'm feeling stir crazy enough and look forward to more independence.

A CT scan has been scheduled for me for early April, so I expect I'll go over the results with the oncologist in a month's time.  I sure hope the scan will show further shrinkage in the liver tumours and stronger bones.  I'd appreciate your prayers and positive thoughts in advance of the CT. 

With Stage 4 breast cancer, I know the doctors can't cure me (yet).  So I'm looking for a miracle.  Your prayers and energy may make the difference for me.  Many thanks to you all.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Chemo Update: March 7, 2012

As you can tell by this late post, last Friday's chemo didn't go as well as some.  The actual session was normal.  This time, there were no delays in getting the medications.  As usual, I slept through half the session due to the Benedryl.

Saturday wasn't great though.  Around lunch time, I developed chills.  Serious, teeth-chattering chills, plus nausea.  One blanket wasn't working.  A second blanket didn't help.  Lena brought me a thermometer, but my temperature was normal. Geoff brought me a cup of hot apple cider and my Stematil (anti-nausea pills) and then I started to recover.

Sunday would have been a fine day, I expect, if I hadn't goofed.  I picked up my pill box the wrong way, so instead of taking my afternoon pills, I took my night time pills. Yeah, including my sleeping pill (Atavan).  So much for me making supper!  I didn't come too until 6:30.

Monday, the nausea returned as supper was cooking.  I took two Stematil and took to my bed!  Lena joined me at 8:00 for a cuddle.  Then, I got up at 9:00, just in time to watch my favourite mystery and make Lena's lunch before heading back to bed.

I'm hoping that's it for my reactions to Friday's chemo.  Remember, the doctor reduced the amount of Taxol and changed the steroid dosage too, all to improve my quality of life.  Well, compared to the weeks when I couldn't stomach anything, I am doing better.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Check Your Boobs!

I know I said I'd give monthly reminders to do breast self-exams but I forgot to in January -- part of that awful drowsiness I was experiencing.  No excuse this month.


You probably remember the drill from high school health class, but in case you don't, here's a link or two to help you out:

Try doing it in the shower, or laying down in bed.  Get your arm way up out of the way.  Check your pits too.

My breast lump was something like 5 cm x 4 cm x 2.5 cm.  I believe the adjective my GP used was "huge."  I love him; he was right.  It was huge and by the time we had found it, it had metastasised extensively to my liver and bones.  You've got to think that, if I'd done monthly breast exams, I would have found it when it was smaller and maybe before it had metastasised. 

So, my question to you, dear readers, is "When do you want to find your breast lump?"

Poke around.  See what you find.  Get to know your boobs.  I'll be bugging you again next month.

P.S.  I'll be reminding you on the 20th of each month because that's my birthday.  When you're diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, your birthday starts to take on new meaning.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Chemo Update: February 19, 2012

I had my chemo treatment again last Friday.  As promised, the doctor reduced the Taxol dose by 20% and I believe he changed the dose of steroids given before the Taxol.

The session went as normal.  What was new was that my mom and dad came to visit, to see what the chemo was like.  They left as the Benedryl drip was ending.  At that point, Geoff came in and watched me sleep through the rest of the session.

Early in session, I noticed a dietitian speaking to some of the other patients.  Given the lost appetite I've been suffering after chemo, I may ask to meet with her myself.

That said, I haven't yet noticed any loss of appetite since Friday's chemo.  From the previous week's chemo session, my appetite left on Saturday and returned on Thursday.  I expected it to be gone by now, but it's not.  In fact, I really enjoyed my cereal for breakfast this morning.

The other thing that is new is that I noticed this morning that the swelling in my feet was virtually gone.  You wouldn't have believed the swelling I had on the tops of my feet.  But now I have a normally shaped foot.  You can almost see my ankle bone too!  This is incredible.  In fact, I went over to the scale and was amazed to see that my weight had dropped about 12 pounds since I was at the doctor on Wednesday.  That's really something!  A lot of water gone.

I have one non-chemo update for you as well.  I've virtually stopped using the walker in the house.  And I've been forgetting my cane here and there, which means I can walk short distances without either cane or pain!  To be truthful, I can't get very far without some pain in my lower back, but I feel like I have regained the strength I had in November before the pelvic fracture and my hospitalization.  Again, this is great progress.

Pretty much all good news.  Hope that pleases you as much as it does me!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Update: February 15, 2012

I'm overdue to update you on last Friday's chemo session.  Plus, I met with my oncologist this morning and got some unexpected news.

First, chemo.  It went pretty much the same way the last couple of sessions have gone.  The chemo itself is fine.  Afterwards, though, I end up tired and lose my appetite.  I haven't eaten much since Friday.  Even my favourite things, like Saint Hubert chicken and cream of wheat, I could only eat a bite or two of them.  My cousin Sam mailed me some of my grandmother's best cookies, genetti.  Even the genetti I have to eat slowly to get them down.  It's a shame.  Still, considering how difficult chemo is for so many patients, I know I'm getting off easy.  I can't really complain.  And that is why my appointment with my oncologist was somewhat surprising.

His focus is on maximizing my quality of life while controlling my disease.  He wanted to get my liver metastases under control and then reduce my chemotherapy.  The last CT scan showed that the liver mets have shrunk significantly, but it appeared that the bone mets had grown.  My oncologist pointed out that it takes months for bone mets to heal, and for the healing to be visible on a scan.  His interpretation of the CT results is that the bone mets may have grown while my chemo was interrupted in November/December, but they are probably responding as well as the liver mets are -- we just can't see it yet.  He's now going to reduce the amount of Taxol I'm getting by 20% to improve my quality of life (that is reduce the extent of tiredness and lost appetite I'm experiencing).  On another note, he will be reducing the amount of steroids I'm getting with the Taxol, which should reduce my swelling.

In a couple of months, he'll repeat the CT scan and if the results are good, he expects to cut my Taxol to once every three weeks, rather than twice.  Eventually, if my results remain good, after another couple of months, he'll cut the Taxol entirely and stick with the Herceptin for "maintenance."

He also mentioned that the liver is the most important organ in my treatment, the one he was most concerned with controlling.  This makes me feel much better, given the dramatic results I had on the liver mets.  I had been worried about the bone mets, but his comments this morning made me less concerned.  I just have to be more patient with the bone mets.  The fact that my pain levels are greatly reduced is probably a more accurate reading on my bone health than the CT scan was.  That's good.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Now that I'm awake, I Can Fill You In

Over the last month, I have certainly reduced any sleep defecit I had!  Honestly, I have had days where I napped for hours in the afternoon, slept on the couch all evening, had a normal night's sleep, and then fell asleep reading the newspaper at breakfast.  You have to agree, it's a bit much!

Finding a solution hasn't been easy.  Our working theory has been that my pain level has reduced enough that the level of hydromorphone I was getting in the pump was causing me to get drowsy.  It seems that you can tolerate high levels of this drug withough side-effects if you have high pain levels too.  But once they drop, weird things can happen.  In fact, when they first put me on the pump in the hospital, the levels were so high that I was sleepy and hallucinating.  Truly loopy.  Lately, just sleepy.

Realizing that my pump was set at a pretty low continuous dose, my pain nurse suggested we remove the pump and replace it with the right doses of both continuous and breakthrough levels of oral hydromorphone. We've spent the last couple of weeks adjusting the oral medications. The trouble is, I'm still drowsy.  And I've had more pain, especially in the morning.

My pain nurse, who is fabulous, has referred me to the Complex Cancer Pain Clinic in the hope that it will offer new alternatives that will help me.  Here's hoping. 

Geoff's Take on the Folks at the Ottawa Hospital

On Geoff's own blogsite, he recently posted on the type of people he has met at the Ottawa Hospital.  I encourage you to have a look at the post.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

What Breast Cancer Looks Like: Lucia Alloggia

Geoff and I have often mentioned how wonderful our neighbours are.  We've focused on how kind and generous they are, but one, in particular, is also very talented. 
Let me introduce you to Lucia Alloggia.  In 2010, Lucia was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery, chemo and radiation.  On her website, her 2010 gallery is made up of four paintings chronicling her experience with breast cancer:  The Mastectomy; The PICC; Chemo; and Radiation.  They are fantastic paintings. 

Chemo is particularly touching.  With Lucia's permission, I will reproduce it here:

If you have had chemotherapy, even if it's gone well, you will recognize yourself in this picture.  To me, the slumped shoulders say it all.  Like they say, a picture tells a thousand words.

I encourage you to visit Lucia's website here.  In addition to the cancer series are many portraits, and paintings modelling the styles of the masters.  And did I mention that Lucia is as generous as she is talented?  You'll also see paintings she has donated to the restoration of an earthquake-damaged church in the Italian town of Camarda, where she is from.

I hope you enjoy her paintings as much as I do.  Lucia can be reached by email through the contact form on her website.

My Interview with Local CBC Radio

This morning, our local CBC radio morning show broadcast a story about the local Cancer Society's wig fitting shop which operates out of the Cancer Centre at the General Campus of the Ottawa Hospital.  I was interviewed as a client and Geoff gave his perspective too.

The shop lends used wigs to cancer patients.  If you're concerned about spending a lot of money on a new wig (and it is a lot of money), when you're unsure if a wig would be comfortable, this is the way to go.  If you're in the Ottawa area, you'll be in good hands with wig fitter, Ginette Messier.  She is passionate about helping women, and the occasional man, find a wig that suits them. 

If you'd like to listen to the broadcast, you can find it at this link.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Tomorrow Morning on Ottawa's CBC Radio 91.5

This morning, I was interviewed by Robyn Bresnahan at the Canadian Cancer Society Wig Office at the Cancer Unit at the General Hospital.  The segment will be broadcast tomorrow morning, Wednesday, January 25, 2012 between 7:00 am and 8:00 am on the local CBC Radio at 91.5.

Later, I will post the link to allow you to listen to the interview if you missed it the first time.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Chemo Update: January 20, 2012

After having a chemo break on Friday the 13th of January, I started up again last Friday.  As usual, my first chemo session gives me all three drugs:  taxol, herceptin and pamidrinate.

This was a very usual chemo session.  Just me and Geoff and a few things to read.  And as usual, after the benedryl drip, which always precedes the taxol, I fell asleep.  Of course, I've been sleepy for a week or more.  We're not sure if it has to do with the levels on my pain pump.  In any case, the drowsiness has continued through the weekend.

I took zafron Friday and Saturday to prevent nausea, which it has, but it's usual side-effect of constipation has also been the result.  Let's hope that doesn't last too long.

I realize this isn't a very interesting post, but let me tell you, a chemo session with little to report is a good thing!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Oncology Results: January 18, 2012

First, thank you for all of your good wishes and prayers since my last post.  I am sure they helped.  And I am sorry to keep you waiting with this post, but I have been terribly drowsy for the last several weeks, to the point that I couldn't stay awake reading the morning newspaper or wait for the doctor's appointment.  During that point in time, my Sweetie posted for me.  You can see his summary on the Geoff Takes On blog, here.  Despite today being a chemo day, and me having slept most of the day, I'm feeling more energy this evening.  So, without further ado, here's my take on the oncology results we got on Wednesday:

The previous week, I had had two tests, an echocardiogram and an CT scan of my chest, abdomen and pelvis.  I was worried that in the month or so when I didn't have chemo that my cancer might have spread.

First, the echocardiogram, nothing had changed since the one I had in the Spring for unrelated reasons.  My heart is good.  I have mild regurgitation in my mitral valve, but that doesn't seem enough to call it mitral valve prolapse.

And then there's the CT scan.  Geoff and I were holding our breath.  I don't know if I'd really given you a sense of the liver tumours I had.  This CT scan described them as "innumerable."  That's not great on its own, but the rest of the news is.  There were a couple of large tumours that had been measured last time.  One of them went from 4" by 3.6" down to 3" by 1".  That is a major change!  Another went from 1" down to 0.35".  In the words of the CT report, there is, "marked interval [since last test] improvement in hepatic [liver] metastases  consistent with partial response [to the chemo treatment]. No new metastatic disease is seen inter-abdominal [No mets in other abdominal organs]."

They also said that the fractured pubic bones are healing on both sides of the body.  And I had been told the break was only on one side.  I also learned there are fractured ribs; I can feel them, now that I know they are there.  That explains the shortness of breath.

I have to laugh at they way they write the report.  It's by body part or organ.  For example:

"Lungs:There is no interval development of bilateral subsegmental atelectasis [collapse of the lungs] with no consolidation or suspicious pulmonary nodules." In my own words: blah, blah, blah, no cancer in the lungs, yay!

"Heart: Grossly unremarkable. ..."  Hmm, I suspect some of you would disagree.  On the plus side, what it means is that there is no cancer in my heart, which is very good news.

I won't go into detail about the bone metastases, since the CT scan isn't the best test to measure them.  We know they're there and there are a lot of them.  'nuf said.

This is very good news for us.  Geoff was visibly relieved during the appointment, thank goodness.  Personally, I thank God for the good news.  I know the doctors did an awful lot: choosing the right chemo is important, as is radiating the right spots.  After that, prayer makes the difference in the end.  So thank you all for your prayers and good wishes.

My oncologist says there's good reason to be optimistic this disease can be managed for many, many years.  That's what we're looking for.  Many, many years.

p.s. Strangely, this CT didn't measure the breast lump.  Could it not see it?  We can't feel it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Wish Me Luck: Oncology Appointment & Test Results

Tomorrow I'm meeting with my oncologist.  At least, I hope it's my oncologist; often it's one of the GPs that assists him.  They are very good, but I want to see the big guy.  Particularly this time.  Last week I had an echocardiogram and a CT scan and I will have blood tests done just before the oncology appointment.  I really want my oncologist to give me the results, particularly if it means he's going to change my treatment plan.  As his nurse suggested at my last appointment, I will call her and remind her that I'd like to see the big guy; she'll do her best.

The echocardiogram was to check my heart health, because herceptin treatment is tough on the heart.  I know that the chemo treatment caused me to have high blood pressure, which is being treated effectively with metoprolol.  The CT scan looked at my breasts, abdomen and pelvis.  It should tell me the size of the breast and liver tumours.  I hope the CT scan will also tell us how well my broken pelvis is healing.  It's feeling better every day, as far as I can tell.  But I'd like a second opinion.  The blood tests, together with the others will decide whether I have chemo on Friday or not.  I need to have sufficiently good results in a number of areas, such as my blood count and calcium levels.

Like I said, my pelvis seems much improved, and I've told you that the breast tumour has shrunk quite a bit.  But I am worried about the one-month break from chemo as a result of my hospitalization in November.  I know that radiation was working on killing cancers in my lower spine and pelvis at that time, but how much was cancer growing in other areas over that period of time.  What will the CT results tell us?  Do I have less cancer or more?  Are my tumours bigger or smaller?  Are there new ones or did some disappear?

How much has chemo and radiation helped?  How much has prayer helped.  We'll never know, but there's time enough for a little more prayer before the appointment Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.  Wish me luck, pray for me, whatever you're comfortable with.  And I'll let you know how it went as soon as I wrap my mind around it!