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: