Thursday, January 25, 2007

Looking Towards the Future

Time has gone by really quickly since my last post. Ryan and I went in to meet with the Breast Cancer Center doctor and talked about many things. What we realized is that we haven't really had any time to talk lately, so it made us do that. The big realization that I had in our session is that Ryan and I really don't know what a "normal" relationship is. 2 weeks after we first got together, his brain tumour started to grow again, so we've really been dealing with one of our medical situations since. The doctor reminded us that this kind of constant stress is not normal and that we need to ensure we don't get too caught up in that. The other thing I left the meeting with is hope that there are options out there for us if we wanted to have another child. Of course we have a lot to get through in the next few years, but I just needed to know that there was a door open down the road if we wanted to pursue that.

My mind has been really focused on trying to figure out what my next set of treatments will be like. As I've said before, my oncologist wants me to only focus on what's next, so the last time we talked, it was about my last treatment and not about the next new one. What I do know is that I'm scheduled for February 6th. So, I will go in to see Dr. Webster on February 5th, check that my counts are high enough (I have an extra 3 days to recover this time) and then discuss what to expect over the following weeks.

My next set of drugs are called "Paclitaxel" (taxol) and "Herceptin". Taxol is the one that I am most concerned about right now. This will be the ultimate planners biggest nightmare. Like all chemo drugs, there are many possible side effects, but this one is very unpredictable. My day at the hospital will likely be anywhere from 7 to 9 hours for the first treatment (thanks to my mom who is coming to stay with us). I will lay down in a bed and they will start the IV as they normally do. However, within 3 minutes of my body receiving Taxol, about half of patients have a fairly serious side effect. This can range from extreme vomiting to instant itchy hives on your body or extreme difficulties in breathing. As you can imagine, this makes me more than a little bit anxious!

As soon as a patient starts to get a side effect, they stop the IV and then administer a counter drug to get the side effect under control. Once you are feeling better, they will re-start the Taxol and see if your body can better accept it. Apparently in some patients, it is just too hard on them and they are not able to get Taxol and this will be decided at that time. If I am strong enough, my oncologist would like me to receive 4 treatments in 3 week cycles. The biggest side effect after day one is numbness and tingling in your hands and feet. This is closely monitored as there is a risk that you will experience permanent nerve damage. Once this occurs, the drug is stopped. Another fun thing for me to worry over.

Once the Taxol is is in your system, they then start to administer the Herceptin. This is a drug that I will be getting for the next year in 3 week cycles. There can be side effects after the first 3 treatments, but then your body gets used to this drug and does a fairly good job of accepting it. The things to watch out for usually happen when it's administered and are similar to Taxol's effects. This drug is given in the background and so my oncologist assures me that once I am recovered from my surgery, I can work and live as normal while getting this treatment.

Monday I went for my MUGA Scan. This measures my heart muscle functioning and requires that they inject radiactive substances into my bloodstream and then I sit under a camera while my heart is lit up like a firework show. I should get the results from this test when I see my doctor on Febraury 5th.

Next week I return to work and normal life as much as possible. Being done this first set of chemo treatments feels like a real milestone to me. I am getting closer to the finish line and that feels really good. The current plan is that I finish this next set of chemo treatments in 3 months, then I go for surgery as soon as my counts are strong enough (typically 6-8 weeks after), then I complete my Herceptin cycles and start a drug called Tamoxifen for the next 3-5 years. This is a whole other story that I will leave for a future blog. I want to keep the feeling that I am close to the finish line for now...

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