Tag Archives: Cancer

Back From M.D. Anderson

The visit to M.D. Anderson last week was full of pluses and minuses. It is never all good or all bad.  First, the scan results: Lungs showed some progression, but it appeared to be small – from 0.7 cm to 0.9 cm. Liver appeared stable.  So did the bone metastases on the CT scan, but the bone scan showed some progression – so we’ll say the CT scan is right! The primary growth is in the right adrenal gland and right ovary.  The ovary has grown from 5 cm. to 7 cm., or from about 2″ to 2.8″ for those of us who are metrically challenged.

Doc’s main concern is the ovary and the possibility of problems since it fills almost all of my right pelvic area. So I’m meeting with an oncologic gynecologist – or is it gynecologic oncologist? – on Tuesday back in Houston. This is to discuss whether he thinks surgery is a good idea. I think the MDA onc thought so, and the more I think about it, so do I. Let’s just say I’m beginning to think some of those possible problems he mentioned are already surfacing.

We then met with the Integrative Medicine doc (we really like this guy), who, among other things, suggested considering radiation on the right hip since I’m having so much pain with it. As long as I’m off chemo for surgery, this would be a good time.

So here’s the plan (assuming the doctor Tuesday agrees): surgery as soon as they can schedule it for removal of right ovary. Then some time during recovery, 10 radiation treatments on the right hip. My local onc said as long as you can get up on the table, you can do radiation while recovering from surgery. I guess that’s reassuring. Once that’s done, I start on a new drug called Stivarga, which is a pill. Yay, no infusion and no pump!

Finally, they have started the screening process for clinical trials. This is pretty cool the way they do it. They request tissue from my initial cancer surgery (that part’s not so cool), and test for genetic biomarkers that correspond to those identified in studies that are underway.  The latest thinking in cancer treatment is to genetically match treatment to cancer cells. I’m not sure what all that means, but it sounds good. 🙂 So, hopefully, they will discover some studies I qualify for, and if/when the Stivarga stops working, try those.

Whew! That turned out to be much wordier than I planned. But let me just tack on a couple of positive/humorous moments – there are always some. First, at breakfast in the motel, a young woman came over to me, and said, “I don’t want to be too forward and tell me if this is offensive, but you’re a cancer patient?” I was wearing my headscarf, so it was pretty obvious. Anyway, she was really sweet and supportive, a breast cancer survivor herself.  She assured me everything would be fine – I only wish I could share her total optimism. I also had several positive talks with other patients at the clinic – one a young woman who couldn’t have been over 30 with Stage IV colon cancer. (That’s just wrong!) She was very matter of fact about it all, even though she’d been through more drugs that I had, and at one time was on 15 different prescription drugs to control chemo side effects. (That’s wrong too!)

Humorous note – I was determined, based on the insistence of all of you, that I would use the wheelchair if/when needed. It turned out not to be needed. The long walk between buildings I was dreading was covered by a mini-shuttle that made it all easier on me and the husband.  However, there was still an entry in the Forget Your Foolish Pride Department – can you say barium enema?!

Then a couple of downer notes once I get home.  While at the local oncologist’s office, I stopped into the infusion room.  All of my nurse friends wanted to know  the latest and when I told them – basically what I just wrote above – you would have thought I was near death.  They all hugged me and gave me these sad faces.  I’d like to think that they just didn’t understand, but they’re oncology nurses.  Do they know something I don’t?

Second, I checked the patient notes from the visit Monday. The physician’s assistant posts them online within a day or two.  She commented that “we have very limited options at this point for treatment.” She also said re: clinical trials that “her options may be a bit more limited because of the KRAS mutant status.” Maybe not a big deal, but it brought up the possibility that none of the clinical trials will match.  Then what?

Well, got to stay positive, right? …Sigh… Bring out the Armitage files!!!

Bad News, Good News, But It’s OK, I think – And Other Miscellaneous Thoughts

Can I go here?  Right Now?

                                                South Padre Island – Can I go here? Right Now?

Bad News: My chemotherapy was postponed this week. That means that this round I only got 4 instead of 6 treatments. Is that enough to find out if this concoction will work? Oncologist (onc) says yes. I hope he’s right. It also means that I’ll be going a full month with no treatment at all. Possibly have one round the first week of June, but it’s iffy. Again, the onc says it’s not a make it or break it deal. He said my CEA (tumor marker test) has been all over the place, bouncing up and down for the past 5 months, so it’s not telling us anything.  Hope he’s right there too. And that the M.D. Anderson doc that I see in early June, agrees. The proof will be in the scans that MDA does, of course.

Good News: My chemotherapy was postponed this week. There was no question. Onc says he simply will not subject me to more drugs when I haven’t fully recovered from the last round. This after looking in my mouth and apparently seeing an very unpleasant sight. Even made my husband look too. Onc is very big on quality of life and not compromising my health any further. You probably have heard of people having serious, even life-threatening, side effects from the chemo. My doc is trying to control the disease as much as possible, but still allow me to enjoy life.  This is different than the “curative” approach, when they figure you won’t mind being totally miserable for a while if it means you can get rid of the monster for good.

So this means that I get a break. Good for two reasons: Next weekend our daughter graduates from Savannah College of Art and Design. The whole family plans to be there, and I’ll be able to enjoy the event, with the main chemo holdover probably being fatigue. Second, it is nice to be able to eat, maybe sleep, and generally (kind of) forget about cancer for a while. Except for the bone pain, which is more or less controllable with opioids.

Miscellaneous thoughts for today:

  • I had to send a “sign off” email to the final client of our consulting business, telling them we would no longer be in business. After 20+ years of this, it’s hard for me to give up such a large part of my identity. In the last 5 years or so I did much of the work myself – conducting meetings (most requiring 4-5 hours of nighttime driving), talking with small town elected officials, grant applications and administration, planning, and writing, writing, writing. But it is definitely time to move on – just give me a minute to grieve………………
  • Kind of chuckling at myself: I’ve taken on the task of designing the graduation card for our daughter. Me, artistically and graphically challenged, coming up with something for our oldest who is getting her second art degree, this one in illustration. Of course, she won’t care because it will be Mom who made it specially for her.
  • Actually managed to eat something with vinegar (tuna nicoise) last night without cringing. Pain is minimal. Progress! Although lunch today demonstrated that I’m not ready for Mexican food, yet.
  • Dark and “raining like a big dog” here, as my older brother would say.  Hence, my wish to be teleported to the location above.  And while we’re at it, can this guy just happen to be on the same beach? Thanks! 🙂
ep8-4

I know this leather is too hot for the beach, but after all, it is Guyday! And I didn’t want to seem like I was inserting gratuitous shirtlessness by using you-know-which photos! Source: RichardArmitageNet.com; my edit.

  • One update not in the original post. Duh, how could I forget this?! Our youngest recently won a drawing at his college campus and made quite a haul: 47″ TV, blu-ray/3D player-sound system, XBox, games. He got to pick 4 movies, and so, sweet boy that he is, he got LOTR extended editions and The Hobbit, which I think is 3-D. I was holding out for the Hobbit EE, but, hey, I’ll settle for this. Happy Day!
  • Finally, in the “This is What I’m Talking About” department: while looking for inspiration for the grad card, I meandered through the daughter’s online portfolio/notes and found the following. Not only is it food for thought as we buzz about this Friday afternoon, but it makes me incredibly proud to be able to claim this amazing young woman.  I hope some day to tell you her name and show you how beautiful she is on the outside as well as the inside. Definitely a “purr” moment! 🙂 🙂

Runner

 

I will move over for you runner

Coming up behind me

And I would like to congratulate

You, for you’ll make better time

Than I.

 

But I bet you didn’t notice how

Clear the river is today

The way the triangular

Shapes between the branches

Of the trees morph into

New shapes as you move,

Or the great blue heron

Perfectly framed between two

Drooping branches marked

On either side by dried grasses

Caught in the limbs from the flood.

 

And I bet the heron didn’t turn

To look at you. But did you at least notice

The lady in the red top and

Black pants with big

Sunglasses and her hair pulled

Back, staring at the scenery until

She turned to give you a nod and

A faint smile?

 

Ah well, then that’s something.

Sometimes You Just Get So Low

WARNING: Downer cancer discussion to follow.  Will totally understand if you’re looking for more positive way to spend your leisure time. If you are unable to make a quick trip to a beach (I can’t either), here are some suggestions:  1. Listen to reggae – I use Spotify a lot for impromptu music listening. 2. Go get a frozen yogurt – you know – CherryBerry, Yogo Bowl, whatever your local place is called. 3. Check out the latest RA discovery from Mr. Ascroft:

RobertAscroft-21

Photograph by Robert Ascroft. From richardarmitagenet.com, 2012 Promo Gallery.

Whew, that helps.

For me, cancer is such a roller coaster. The goal is to rise above what’s happening to you physically, see yourself as a spectator in the everyday events of your life. Cancer may kill you, so do all these things to make the most out of your life now. But sometime I get so tired of hearing how I should think, what I should eat, do these exercises everyday, just have this kind of attitude. Be happy, you have an incurable disease.

Reasons for the downer attitude: I’m near the end of the two-week chemo cycle. Usually I feel really good by now, the side effects having subsided during the middle of the cycle. But this time was unusually rough, with mouth sore issues to the point where I was unable to eat solid food for a week. I guess it was nice to lose a little weight, but I don’t recommend that particular diet plan. The hip/back pain I deal with, due to a combination of the cancer and a chronic condition I’ve had for years, had been substantially better for the past two weeks. It returned two days ago, at the same intensity as before. That plus fatigue and “digestive issues” due to weird diet and/or chemo, has left me feeling very frustrated.

Here’s why: Because of the extreme side effects this time, I’m afraid my oncologist will want me to hold off on another chemo treatment until my next trip in early June to M.D. Anderson for scans and “re-staging.” That is, they see if/how much the cancer has “progressed” (That’s a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one.) and decide on what treatment to do next. First, that means going about 5 or 6 weeks with no treatment.  Second, I’m reaching the end of the officially accepted treatments for colon cancer. There may be one other chemo drug to try, but then the next step  is to get into a clinical trial, which seems like the last ditch effort to control the disease before they give up on you entirely. At least that’s what it feels like. And it’s scary. For all the talk about reaching the spiritual plane where you find peace and acceptance, when it starts to become real, it’s just damn scary.

Slowly this disease and its treatment seem to be sapping my strength, my resolve to keep fighting, and the “wow, you’ve got a great attitude, you should blog about this” attitude. My body doesn’t seem to bounce back as fast from chemo, the cancer has continued to gradually grow. I just get tired of it all.

You see there are problems we (meaning husband and I) try not to over-stress about because they’re “fixable.” Relationship issues, financial woes, career choices, children’s’ issues, and so on – these will have a end to them. Somehow they will resolve themselves. Cancer – at the stage where I am – is probably not fixable, unless some new medical discovery or a miracle comes to the rescue. Everyone, please understand I’m not trying to downgrade anyone else’s major life issues. Your life causes pain, frustration, and anxiety that you must deal with.  It is not small stuff. Things seem insurmountable and unresolvable. I’ve been there, too. But I need to rant; please indulge me.

Sorry for all the rambling. I just needed to do this – to “grouse” a bit. Do you think going into the back yard and screaming will help? What’s that? More Armitage, you say? Maybe something beachy, summery? And remember the mantra – live in the moment? Ok, I’ll try.

RobertAscroft-20

Photograph by Robert Ascroft. From richardarmitagenet.com, 2012 Promo Gallery.