Monday, May 26, 2008

Some Challenging Doses of Reality

It's been a really hard couple of weeks. The sadest thing that happened was that I lost my first cancer friend. His name was Julian and we worked together. We both got diagnosed around the same time in Fall of 2006. He unfortunately had lung cancer, so right off the top his prognosis wasn't that good. We talked every few weeks and compared treatment and side effect notes. He was mostly sunny, but definitely had a harder time than me so I tried to pick him up a bit whenever I could.

In the last couple of months though he let me know that his cancer had spread to his liver and pancreas. I knew right away that wasn't a good sign, but he stayed really positive. He even had a line on some experimental drug from Europe that he was going to get for us to help reduce our tumours.

The last time I talked to him, he was going to start another round of radiation. The doctors felt there might be a chance this could help and he was still a fighter. I begged him to let myself and someone else that we worked with take him out for lunch. But he said that his appetite wasn't much these days. He said that once he was done this round of radiation we could come and take him for a coffee and I was really looking forward to that.

Shortly after I knew his radiation would be done, I called and left him a message. This was usually how it worked with us and then he would call me a couple of days later when he was feeling up to it. But this time he didn't call back. I tried again a couple of weeks later and still nothing. It was about 2 weeks after that that we got the call from his wife telling us that he had died.

This news was more devastating to me than I could have predicted. I have known many sick people, but this was the first person that I considered a friend that had lost his battle to cancer. It of course brought up a lot of questions for me that I had been keeping pushed deep down. Could my cancer actually kill me one day like him? Was a positive attitude going to make a difference with me if it hadn't with him? If my cancer does spread, the likely place is my lungs and I now know first hand how that might end up. What about the other cancer survivors that I hold near and dear to me?

With some time passing, it is getting easier to deal with. However it does keep the reality of what I am truly dealing with close at hand.

The other big challenge that is going on in my life is Tricia's situation. Today she had her central line inserted. I'm sure she will update the details of it all on her blog, but with everything that seems to happen to her, it wasn't easy.

I also spent some time this weekend with Tricia and her parents. She gave us the "orientation" to her upcoming protocol and what to expect over the next few months. It was another hard dose of reality about someone that I care about. She will be admitted on June 3rd and then I can only hope that everyone prays to whomever or whatever they believe in that she will come out a champion again.

My health has also started wavering a bit. Although I have been handling my chemo well so far, Round 5 really kicked my ass! I felt the familiar sense of extreme fatigue from my previous chemo cycles and that was another dose of reality.

Today I also started having some chest pains and heaviness which is new. Anything "new" is always a concern. I will see Dr. Webster on Thursday and find out what he says about all of this. My plan is to still get through one more round of chemo and then have a 4 week break to recover briefly before 4 weeks of radiation. So hopefully Dr. Webster agrees!

These past weeks did have a sunny side though. We spent Tricia's birthday with her and her family for a nice dinner - celebrating 34 years of life! I continue to be blessed to have her in my life and this past couple of weeks has given me another reminder of how precious our lives are. Hopefully the next few weeks will be sunnier.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Shiny Happy People!

Nothing is ever dull in my world. In fact, I can't ever remember a feeling of being bored. The best news in my world has been that my bubbling up scar tissue has turned out to be only scar tissue - phew! As my boss at work said to me "you'll probably deal with a lot of these types of things in your future, but the important thing to note is that they got to it quickly!".

Breast Cancer may seem simple, but it's actually really complex with all of the attributes that it can have. Mine was lucky enough to have all of the ones they look for. It is accelerated by Estrogen & Progesterone in my body, giving me a positive ER/PR rating. As well, it has a strong positive HER-2 rating which means that my cancer is more agressive and has a greater likelihood of coming back...been there, done that!

What was interesting is that my recurrence came back being positive for ER/PR, but negative for HER-2. Initially, this was good news because it meant that my cancer might have been less agressive, but it also meant that it could have been a brand new cancer that grew. However, upon a second pathology review, I just found out that it was in fact HER-2 positive. They typically administer 1 year of Herceptin (via IV every 3 weeks) to fight HER-2, but when my cancer came back we stopped it short of 1 year by 4 treatments, assuming that it wasn't working. My HER-2 rating the second time was much less, so it looks like my cancer was responding to Herceptin. So, I started this up again to finish my last 4 treatments.

I also just got back my report from Best Doctors. A doctor out of an Illinois Cancer Center reviewed my case and commented on my treatment. He said that he mostly agreed with exactly what I'm doing with a couple of small suggestions. Dr. Webster and I will review them and see if we want to make any treatment modifications. This was really great to affirm. To know that I am being offered the best care for my case, regardless of our sometimes slow to react health care system.

On a personal note, Talyn had his big 3rd birthday and it was a huge hit. "Cars" the movie was the theme and that seems to still be his obsession a few weeks later. He sleeps with his favorite "Cars" characters and even had to wear his "Cars" PJ top to daycare today. When I went to pick him up and was greeted by 4 of his friends, all wearing "Cars" t-shirts, I understood. How quickly he is growing up!

We also moved into our new home last week. I am a person that needs complete order to feel moved in, but it is amazing how much we have been able to do in that short time. My mom flew in to help us out and she was an old pro, after moving my brother into his place the week before. It was perfect timing with Mothers Day to ensure she knew that we couldn't have gotten through our challenges over the past couple of years nearly as well without her support!

Unexpected niceties still continue to amaze me. Some of my friends have written me the sweetest cards lately to let me know how much I support them, which is crazy to me because they are all the true heroes in this story. I also got a sweet card from an old co-worker who lives in my area. He and his family wanted to welcome me, provide me their number for anything we needed and a gift card to a local restaurant they love. It is so comforting to know that in a world full of so much war and horrible natural disasters, that there are still such amazingly shiny people with the bright spirits that keep us uplifted. Take some time to thank all of those shiny people in your life and make sure they know how much they mean to you!