Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gittin' R' Done

It has been a while since my last post, and actually I wanted to wait a little bit to give you an accurate report of what is going on. I started my treatments last Friday December 17th. Nate and my good friend Shell came with me, it was a long day. By the time they give you everything you need plus all the drugs to help with everything, and the blood work it was almost 8 hours. On the flip side, it was nice to sit in a recliner on my laptop or dozing. I was joking that if I could just get Nate to rub my feet then it would be like a spa! See, you just have to use your imagination!

How am I feeling? Well for starters they give you so much medicine to counteract any symptom you could have from nausea to an allergic reaction that it doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room, which is good. On the other hand, those medicines and the chemo have left me feeling a bit "loopy" and tired. I also had a shot a couple days after my treatment for the white blood cells to make sure they don't drop off which gives you aches because it makes your bones produce white blood cells. I didn't have too much trouble with pain, but again, I think those drugs made me feel a bit loopy. The great news is that overall I feel pretty good! I didn't have to take any as needed nausea medicine. If I snooze here and there and get a good night sleep I feel pretty good. Some days I am more tired than others, but really, I can't complain! The nurse just told me she has Christmas songs stuck in her head, and I said that lucky for me, I don't have the attention span for that to happen! Yipee for Chemo Brain!

I am so thankful for Jan and my mom who have been a tremendous help. Jan took the kids for the weekend so I could rest and adjust, but I still hung out with them Saturday and we did church Sunday. They had so much fun and I think they had a great time sledding with Ri, Brit, Karen, Seth, and Nana. My mom has been with us during the week when she can and I can't say enough about how nice it is and just how having someone there is just so nice. My sisters and brothers have been hanging out here and there as well, making cookies, joking around, watching funny stuff, and just being there. I feel so blessed by our supoport! Meals continue to come as well, which really makes it easy on us, so thanks again!!

I am now at my second infusion of Herceptin only, which isn't as harsh as the others. I did have blood work done and a follow-up with the NP. My white blood counts were "in the basement" so they prescribed me an antibiotic being the holiday weekend so that I don't catch anything. Hopefully that shot will kick in gear this weekend and I will be feeling a bit more energetic.

Overall I am just hoping and praying that my side effects and fatigue stay under control and I know that I will not always have good days. In that case, I will be calling all of you lovely ladies from MOPS and the MOM's Club who have so generously offered to help out so I can nap and the kids can play! It has been nice to have things stay kind of normal. Having the kids be effected as little as possible is obviously a priority to us, and so far so good. I am happily taking the advice to just be with the kids, enjoy them, and try not to get too crazy about the rest. But the crazy part of me is so thrilled when I can still do the dishes and read books, and tidy up without feeling too tired. Normal is good.

Thanks for your continued prayers!! We are still hoping and praying God leaves the good meds and takes the bad side effects out of me! Prayers have been answered in amazing ways so far in this trial. We hope you all have a Merry Christmas! It is a good year to reflect on what a gift we have in this life, and not just any life, but one of peace, joy, and hope!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just a Hiccup

This week I had one more hurdle to overcome in the diagnostic process. I had a CT Scan head to toe. I also had a bone scan. These scans are to check to see if there  is any cancer anywhere else.  Once again I was confident, and pretty much still am, that they are just making sure the cancer is gone. The office called today to tell me that two of my lymph nodes were slightly enlarged, one in my chest and one in my right armpit. The oncologist thinks that it is just from the surgery, but to be sure is going to do a PET Scan, which can find cancer anywhere in your body. I really am not nervous about it because I did have a little fluid on the right side, so I am thinking that it is just my lymphatic system trying to clear out, and since I had so many nodes removed it is harder for my body to do. My treatment is not starting tomorrow as originally planned. They want to do the PET Scan first just to know for sure what we are starting with. The good news is my bone scan was negative!!

Before I heard this news I had an appointment with my breast surgeon and I asked her given my specific diagnosis, etc. how much recurrence she saw.  She said in 10 years...none! That was great to hear, especially before the other phone call. Which is another reason why I am not really worried. Still trusting in my divine physician!

Before my phone call when I was anticipating my first treatment tomorrow I was praying and just meditating on God's goodness and how much good he has brought out of this situation already. I am just so blessed to hear people say that God is inspiring them through this trial in my life. That is really all I could hope for and ask for, besides healing of course! God is so awesome, and it is so amazing to see Him at work. He works so beautifully in our lives, weaving the thread of joy, hope, peace, charity, and love between us all through the trials and joys we endure. We are so blessed and awestruck to be able to witness it and be a part of it.

As I was driving this morning I remembered back a few months ago to a night that I was praying and talking with the kids at bedtime. They had been having nightmares and were afraid to go to sleep. We had just started homeschooling and our memory verse was "Keep me as the apple of your eye, Lord. Hide me in the shadow of your wings." Ironic, that just a month later all this would start. Not, ironic, really it is God's timing. He used that verse in our lives to prime us. Anyway, I reminded the kids of that verse and then I felt the Holy Spirit lead me to think of this analogy to share with them. I told them...

"God never lets go of you. No matter how afraid you are or how real those dreams are, God has you and you are way too important to Him to let go of. You know when you are holding Mommy's hand and you slip and fall and I pull you back up? That is what God dooes with us. He is always holding our hands and when we slip or fall he says:

"Whoopsie, I got ya, are you OK? I love you and won't let you go." "

It is funny that while I was driving, that night came back to me. It is neat that God uses the words to inspire you later in your own situations. On a side note, they never have nightmares when we remember to pray at night and ask God to protect their dreams. That is such a great testimony to them that God loves them so much he protects their dreams and night, and not only that, they wake up having had the most amazingly fun dreams! I can just see our heavenly father looking down in delight, glad that we asked for help and delighting in giving them their sweet dreams.

I really think that all helped the kids to deal with this. They really aren't afraid. Actually, they are pretty excited that I might be bald soon :-) Em and Seamus can't wait to cut my hair! They also can't wait to take care of me. Em is already doting on me, telling me to sit down and let her do everything! She is also glad to volunteer Grandma as well ;-)

I will keep you posted as soon as I hear anything else. The new schedule is PET Scan Thursday morning, First chemo treatment Friday morning, and Neulasta shot (for blood cells) Sunday morning. I will be following that schedule pretty much for the next 18 weeks, but going in the off two weeks for my Herceptin shot (the targeted therapy that isn't bad on your body). Once again, thanks for your thoughts and prayers and for continuing to hope with me!

I forgot to tell everyone that my friends at MOPS got me a sign that says "Git R' Done!" Which I love! It is definitely going to motivate me and make me laugh throughout treatment! So when you hear someone say that, think of everyone out their battling cancer, and send a prayer up for them and a prayer that we'll find a cure soon!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Treatment Update...

As you all know from my previous "Treatment Plan"  post, I was hoping to be on a research trial. Unfortunately the insurance that we will have until the end of the month doesn't like research trials even though it would be better for the doctors, myself, and the insurance company. It's just one of those things! The oncgology group could appeal it, but that would add a couple of weeks to the process. I have been on the phone with the doctor's office throughout the past couple of days and we have been trying to figure out a way to make it work, including waiting until January 1 to start treatment so that I could be on trial if the new insurance would cover it. Like I have said before, I have been trusting God with these decisions and trusting that he knows what I need and when I need it and that He will work through the doctors. My doctor was back in the office today and is pulling me off trial and is going to do the "normal" treatment for this diagnosis. Which is the same IV chemo and Herceptin. The difference is that I won't be getting the experimental drug Tykerb, which I may not have gotten on trial anyway. She doesn't want to wait, I am trusting that decision.

I have scans (MUGA (heart), CT, and bone) on Friday and Monday and my first treatments will be scheduled Friday and will probably take place sometime next week. The good news is that usually at the end of your three week cycle is when you feel best, which should put me around Christmas, yay!

I know you were all just DYING to hear about my next health food tid bit, but I guess you'll have to stand the suspense for a little while :-)

I also wanted to share that I just read my Rick Warren devotional before I wrote this entry and it was so appropriate, so here is the link if you are interested...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

When I was diagnosed, I was still breast feeding Evelyn and had to stop. I have always been interested in natural remedies and healing, having applied them in the past in other various situations, so my first instinct was to go to NaturThyme, a natural food store in our area, to see what they had to say about drying up the milk supply. I visited the store and explained that I needed to stop nursing for medical reasons. They had a few great recommendations, and of course they (politely) inquired what my "medical reason" was.

When I told the kind lady about my diagnosis, she wanted me to talk to one of their wellness counselors. I did this and was given a great deal of helpful information. Now, I know that many people think of this kind of thing as "quackery." I understand the potential for interactions, which is why I keep my traditional doctors informed about EVERYTHING I am taking and doing to with respect to my natural approach. Also,  I am seeing a naturopathic doctor in addition to my wonderful and fantastic traditional doctors. The wonderful thing is that my traditional doctors are all on board with this approach!

Many people have asked me to give them the scoop on my natural approach, so I thought that I would do a little tid bit each day. Please feel free to do what you want with this information. I will do my best to post only well-backed, referenced tips (Nate is going to pitch in here), many of which apply to general health, in addition to cancer-specific information. Really, it is about wellness, something that I have strived for, but of course no one is perfect. My general rule of thumb is to try and stick to whole foods and not processed. I am a sucker for homemade sweets, bread, peanut butter and anything, and some obviously far from perfect. Now, with everything going on, I am a bit more motivated!

So, I thought I would first introduce my crazy breakfast of champions. I laugh everyday in disbelief when I make this and I suck it down, but then I feel great!
  • 1 scoop Garden of Life Raw Organic Green Super Food Powder (available in a natural foods store). Some green "super food" mixes have sugar added - this one doesn't - so this is not sweet at all!
  • 1 scoop chia gel (chia seeds mixed in water, which turn to jelly)
  • dash of lime juice
  • ground flax
  • tumeric
  • tomato juice mixed equally with water to add liquid
  • here is where it gets fun...1 clove of garlic smashed and finely chopped
  • trace mineral drops
  • lemon flavored cod liver oil
Stir and enjoy! Really, it is not that bad. I like the lime and tomato flavor. In future posts I will go into detail about each to give you the scoop on why it is there. The great thing with this drink is that I am probably getting more nutrition each morning than I'd get in a week before I started this. See, breast cancer is making me strive to be healthy! I also think that it is so neat that God gave us the tools on earth to live healthy lives and to purify and detox so why not take advantage!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Treatment Plan

So today was my visit with the oncologist to go over everything. It was nice to finally hear what the plan is so that I can prepare and just know when this is getting started (probably 10-14 days). I am officially a Stage 2B, the B has to do with the tumor size. Some people were surprised that I have to do chemo because my other lymph nodes were clear and the sentinel lymph node was removed. The reason is that the lymphatic system pumps fluid through your body to clean out invaders, so whatever is in the lymph has potential to go elsewhere in my body. Since cancer (and only a small amount) was in the lymph it could have gone elsewhere, but we are declaring that it DID NOT! IV chemo is systematic and goes throughout your body, which means that it should kill any "rouge cells." Also, even without the lymph node being positive, they would still do chemo because of my age and the aggressiveness of the cancer. Better safe than sorry kind of thing. Recurrence is not any fun, so the plan is to eliminate the possibility as much as possible.

So the chemo they choose is dependent on the cancer markers. Like we have said before, my cancer is HR/2 neu positive, which means that there is a protein in my body that feeds a cancer gene and allows it to keep growing. This is the aggressive part of my cancer and on a scale of 1-3 in severity, I am a 3. Another tumor marker is estrogen receptor positive, which means estrogen presence fuels the cancer growth. It is considered weakly estrogen positive, which is good, but they still want to stop my body from producing estrogen for a while.

One part of my treatment is IV chemo. My surgeon put a port just below my collarbone that is accessed with a needle every time I go in. This lets the drugs go right to the central part of my body, rather than through a vein in my arm which can be both uncomfortable and cumbersome (especially every three weeks). I will be going in every three weeks for 6 treatments, which will be a total of 18 weeks. I will receive two therapies. One is called Carboplatin, the other is called Taxotere. These are the typical "harsh" chemo drugs that make your hair fall out, make you feel tired, and can make you feel sick. In addition to that, I will receive what is called a targeted therapy for the HR/2 neu marker. A targeted therapy means the drugs go after the specific tumor marker and won't kill all the fast growing cells (hair, blood cells, etc). This is where the research trial comes into play.

I am eligible for a research trial specifically for my diagnosis. The only way that it differs from what the doctor would treat me with normally is the part that deals with the HR2/neu factor. Most women are treated with a drug called Herceptin which is very effective at treating this kind of cancer marker. Some research shows that younger women may do better with a drug that is called Tykerb, I have actually done my own reading about it and apparently in other trials it has been a good alternative without some of the potential cardiovascular side effects that Herceptin might have. So...I am going to sign up for this trial and they will send my pathology to the board of research for approval which takes about a week. If I am approved I will start soon after that, if not, I will start treatment using Herceptin. Being part of the research trial doesn't mean I will definitely get the new drug. 25% get just Herceptin, 25% get a combo of both, 25% get a different combo of both, and the last 25% get only the new drug. My doctor assured me that this treatment would always be just as good if not better that what I would do anyway. Another reason why I am doing this is that without research participation, they cannot make progress with research. In a way I am helping my own cause and the cause of future generations by participating, and that feels like the right thing to do. I will need either Herceptin through the IV with or without a combination of the clinical drug in pill form every three weeks for a year. Like I said before, this is much more mild than traditional chemo.

Last but not least I will be taking a drug called Tamoxifen which is a pill for 5 years. This drug stops you from producing estrogen so that any "rouge cells" will not get the fuel they need to grow. The good side is stopping cancer of course, the bad side is menopausal symptoms for that time.  Some women have no problems and others do.

Monday I was in Rochester seeing a very knowledgeable and experienced doctor who practices naturopathic and traditional medicine. She is very familiar with all of the chemo treatments and has tons of experience with cancer patients. She talked to me about nutrition during this and gave me supplements to help me stay healthy and detox some of the yucky chemo stuff. Not only that, one supplement in particular detoxes and makes the chemo more effective! This is all cool with my oncologist as well. Hopefully it will help me stay as healthy as possible. I am also looking into acupuncture which for some unknown reason is very effective in treating the fatigue and nausea that chemo patients experience. I am very excited about how these alternative therapies are going to help me to feel as good as I can for my family and myself!

The next major hurdle that we are praying about is telling the kids about all the treatment stuff. I know shaving the head has the potential of being pretty weird and scary. Thanks to the Smees for sending the amazing books! Another plan that a friend told me about is another mom had her kids cut her hair and her husband shaved her head. She told the kids to just have fun and cut different shapes. I think this will make it less scary and more fun. I am also going to buy them some fun kids fabric and let them make their own bandannas to wear with me. I am hoping this helps, but prayers are welcome!!  

Well hopefully I covered it all. It is a lot to swallow and we do have a trying time ahead of us. So once again, thanks for all of your support! Thanks to all of you who are making delicious meals for us! It is so nice and on those days that I am feeling pretty gross, it is going to be nice to just pull something out of the freezer! We really appreciate it! Thanks to everyone who have been willing to watch our kids. They are having so much fun and getting so spoiled that I think they are going to handle the chemo news well.  We are looking up and trusting God to continue to use this all of good, just as He has already!