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.