Friday, June 29, 2012

Nearly at the Finish Line

Ugghh… I’m sitting at my next-to-last chemo session, and just when I thought I could coast on through to the finish line, it’s another hurdle. The nurse accessed my port (meaning she stuck the metal hook needle through the rubber valve that’s implanted under the skin on my chest), and it hurt more than it ever had in the past. She said it was probably just scar tissue from accessing it 15 times in the same exact place. But the pain got so bad that it was going down my arm to my elbow. I started getting light headed, sweating, the color all drained out of my face, and I almost passed out. Good thing I was in a big comfy chair in the infusion room! So, the nurse talked to my oncologist and she said to start an IV to my arm, because something could have bumped my port and put it up against a nerve, or it might just be in the wrong position now, so we shouldn’t use it to give the harsh chemo drugs if it’s hurting so badly. Then of course my arm was not cooperating for the IV there, so she had to find another place for the IV in the inside of my elbow and stick me again, but having it there means I have to keep my arm straight the whole time I’m here today. Whatever it takes! The pain is starting to go away now, and of course I’ve found away to type on my laptop with my arms straight out and the computer sitting far away on my lap. But at least I’m now receiving my meds, and I can check one more chemo treatment off the list. YAY. I will also have to get another IV in my arm next week – but I do NOT care at this point – let’s do it, because that will be my LAST treatment!!! (It’s actually been quite dramatic in the infusion room today, with the lady next to me puking into a bag and not able to even sit up without moaning – they are sending her to be checked into the hospital. I guess there is always someone worse off than you, and always someone better.)

Speaking of that, it’s also a little scary to me that after next week, I will no longer be actively "fighting" anymore (i.e. receiving treatment). I’ve tried to stay positive and remember how much chemo has helped my chances that the cancer will not return. If there is one little breast cancer cell left anywhere in my body, hopefully the chemo is zapping it! But nothing is 100%. My oncologist (Dr. McIntyre) said that when this is over, I will have a 15-20% chance of recurrence. That’s almost as low as any women on the street (1 in 8). And the farther out I get from this – after 1 year, then 2 years, then 5 years especially, my chances are lower and lower that it will return – the bad cells will have most likely died. I will be put on Tamoxifin for 5 years (an estrogen blocker), which will help. I am still waiting to find out whether I’m a candidate for the vaccine trial. I am definitely a worrier and a planner, and I know that it will always be in the back of my mind, and that every little ache and pain will be a concern – is the cancer back? Has it spread to other organs? But I am going to do my best to remember that I have done everything in my power to prevent that, and I need to go forward, appreciating each and every day that I am given, and live life to the fullest. I am so grateful for my husband, daughter, family, and friends who have supported me so much during this process, I feel like I will never be able to repay you all. It is almost my turn to go back to the other side – the side where I get to feel better and help others going through difficult times, which is so much more fulfilling than being on the receiving end. I’m excited to see the finish line coming so soon, even though I know it’s just the beginning of a whole new race. Having this chapter behind me will be such a relief though!
Charlize Theron: before and after
she copied my hairdo
One last thought before I leave you: I heard through the grapevine that Charlize Theron saw my hair that's growing in, and cut hers so that she has my same hairdo! Isn't that so sweet of her? I searched online and it's true - she has copied me! Check it out.

And now for the quote of the day:
You won't realize the distance you've walked until you take a look around and realize how far you've been.
Have a good weekend everybody!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

If Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, Build A Door

Hello from chemo! Yes, I’m wearing a wig for the second time ever. (The first time was at a lunch with a friend also going through BC treatment - we both wore our wigs to try them out!) My hair is actually starting to grow back now – there’s about a half of an inch of peach fuzz on my head! I wear a scarf to cover it up, but now it’s kind of weird b/c it’s embarrassing when the new hair peeks out on the sides. So which is it? Am I embarrassed to be bald, or to have hair? Argh! Today I couldn’t even find a scarf to match my outfit, so I decided to try looking “normal” (i.e. not like a cancer patient) and have hair. If a 20-month-old’s opinion counts, it’s a winner – she looked at me funny, then said “Mama! Hair!” and petted me on the head. So sweet!

Today is #12 (out of 16) – only 4 treatments left! I feel so close to the finish line! It’s so crowded here at the hospital today – every single chair is taken in both the big room and the small room. I found one last chair back in the tiny private room. There are only 2 chairs in here and the other lady is asleep with a big breast cancer blanket over her. I kind of like it back here though – I feel like a cancer VIP, ha! It’s been a crazy week, but I’m finally getting caught up so it’s kind of nice to just sit here in the quiet. Our A/C went out at the house on Tuesday, and it got up to 85! It was so hot, we were all melting. Thank you SO much to the Hoods for letting us bring the Parkey circus over to stay the night – dogs and all! Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone (and I don’t mean health this time) – I sure am glad the A/C is fixed now and we can get back to normal. And Stella is so happy to be in the cool air at home with her Mimi right now!  
Yesterday Ben and I went to see Dr. Nemunaitis at the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center. I feel so lucky to have him at my side throughout this process (that's Ben, not Dr. Nemunaitis!). At Mary Crowley, they do clinical trials for new drugs and vaccines, working hand in hand with Texas Oncology, which is the group my oncologist is part of at Presby. I don’t want to say too much yet, until we know whether I’m qualified, but there’s a chance I might be able to be part of a clinical trial for a new vaccine. Pretty exciting!! But we have to wait about another week to find out what my HLA type is. The study is only for people who have the two most common HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) types – which covers about 55% of the population. What’s an HLA? Yeah I had no idea either. The main function of HLAs is to recognize the cells of the body and to detect foreign cells that don’t belong. Matching HLA types is important for people who need transplants, and they also play a role in certain inherited diseases. If I qualify (by having the right HLA type), I will get a series of vaccines after I finish chemo. If I’ve lost you in my rambling, the main point is this: It could help prevent the cancer from coming back for me, as well as further the research for other breast cancer patients! They are still trying to determine the right dosage for this vaccine before they release it, so with each group of participants, they increase the dose, until people complain of too many side effects. I will take whatever I can get though to fight this, for me and for everyone else going through this journey. When it comes to gambling with your life, I really feel like there is no other choice than to give it 100% effort. And hopefully a clinical trial can be added to my regular treatment plan, we’ll see!
I will try to update more often, I promise! It always amazes me that people notice when I haven’t updated in a while. I’ll leave you with my quote of the day:
Only 4 more chemos left!
Haha just kidding. Can you tell what’s on my mind? Ok, seriously:
Anything worth having is worth fighting for.
Hope you all are having a great week!