Pneumonia.

January 7, 2012

Pneumonia. Again. Still. Unable to stop the coughing, I asked the chemo nurse this week who I should see for it – my primary care doctor, who tends to overreact and send me to the ER for lung trouble, or my oncologist, who is primarily concerned with the cancer, not other worries. She responded that I did the right thing already, as she didn’t want to give me chemo if I was already sick.

The nurse popped back in a little while later, letting me know that my doctor had ordered a chest x-ray, which we could do at the hospital before we left that day (after chemo, which we could have).

My oncologist called last night with the verdict: pneumonia. My lungs still have gunk in them and I have to lay low for a little while, taking more antibiotics, using the inhaler and such to
recover. What a lovely addition to chemo this week.

I’m very tired. Slept til 1 pm yesterday, but today I was awake a little longer, if not any more productive. Just tired. and drenched from the return of the hot flashes, which reappeared when I restarted chemo this Fall.

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The gift

December 20, 2011

One of the most difficult things about being homebound with a serious illness (or two) is remembering that (most likely) things will get better.  That you will have enough energy to go up and down the stairs again.  That you will be able to play with your children again, and not just from your pillow or your chair.  That you will soon put away the oxygen, and plan days that include leaving the house.  That you will be able to do, and see, and go … and be YOU again.

The past two weeks have been terribly hard for me.  I don’t do sitting well.  I tried to fill my days with learning about my new tablet computer (love it!), with reading classics (like Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy book – did you know that the real story of Sleeping Beauty has hardly begun when she is woken with a kiss?  In fact the whole castle awakes, and they don’t live happily after – there are ogres!), and with keeping up with the latest on Slate, Salon, HuffPo, and the Daily Beast.  But those diversions were not nearly as fun as they could have been had snuggling into the soft recliner and reading been a choice.

I just wanted to get up and do things again.  Encourage my kids with games and playtime more of the afternoon instead of just homework and learning in the half hour after school.  Eat dinner with my family (I collapsed in bed at 4 or 5 p.m. most evenings, exhausted from the day, and nauseated by warm food after the chemo).  Work on my computer again, catching up on what I’ve missed, and plotting new work for the spring.  Make and address all those Christmas cards (Will they make it there by Christmas now? Who knows?).  But my body didn’t cooperate.  It wanted to sit.  Or sleep.  And the cough just wouldn’t go away.  Every time I went upstairs – or over to the fridge, even – I had to rest, lie down, and use oxygen to get my breath back.

And then, Sunday night, Marty came to visit.  The novena my church family is saying neared its close.  We continued our family time for Advent.  I finished the pill bottle of antibiotics, and I began to recover from Thursday’s chemotherapy and bone strengthening infusion.

That night we talked and talked and talked, well into the wee hours, and when I tired we went upstairs or put my oxygen on.  But Monday — I can’t explain what happened Monday, but after talking in the recliners downstairs for a while, I got up and began to fuss with my fish tank.  It had suffered during my illness too – you can barely see the little guys through all the muck on the walls!  We talked and laughed and scrubbed the walls.  We scrubbed algae off the glass, walking back and forth to the utility sink, and we laughed when Marty almost dropped the tank hood onto the Science magazines below.  We made that sucker shine, and we talked about her getting a fish tank too (before she left, I sent a dozen beautiful guppies with her, sharing new life in my house with hers).  We watched a movie together, The Help, that we’d planned to watch the day of its release in the theater.  We played with the boys, and I comforted Widget after school, when his earache flared, and Marty tried to engage them in a craft.  We addressed Christmas cards, as we do now, the week or two before Christmas, no matter how I’m feeling.  And then we went downstairs and I ate dinner with my family – and I mean ate.  After three weeks of illness, where I lost 25 pounds because I couldn’t even stand the smell of warm foods, I ate a whole dinner, including seconds.  We were up and doing things the whole. entire. day.

And today I feel like a new person.  Wait, that’s not quite right.  I feel like myself again. I woke up this morning ready to go, showering, eating, and helping the boys get ready, starting a blog post when they went to school.  I’m smiling again, and hopeful, and ready to get back on track and start again.  I went to prayer group, alive and alight with the happiness that comes of being reminded that today is a new day, full of possibilities.  Including possibilities of me getting things done again, of games to play and talks to have and maybe even taking Widget to church tonight for practice – for he is going to be in the Christmas Eve nativity with his class!  Today I feel alive again.

I’m bemused by the thought, juxtoposed with the past few weeks, and I laughed out loud as I related it to my friends this morning.  How could such a difference happen so fast?  And yet, it wasn’t fast at all, was it?  It took days of sitting and waiting and resting, weeks of praying, and treatment after treatment at the hospital.  I believe in prayer.  I believe that medicine works and that my treatments will be successful in extending my life and improving the time that I have left here.  Why, then, was I so surprised yesterday that I finally felt like myself again?

On Sunday morning, I sat quietly with my husband before they left for church.  We were grateful for the day, another day granted to us after such a scare at the hospital, and he whispered softly to me with amazement that I was still here, saying, “This Christmas is God’s gift to us.”  Yes, it is, I agreed, and sent him off with a kiss.  We will celebrate this Christmas together with joy, just as we celebrate God’s gift to the world over 2000 years ago.


Blogalicious, baby!

October 21, 2011

I’ve been looking forward to Blogalicious, the annual conference celebrating the diversity of women in social media, for months. This weekend, it finally arrived, and my husband whisked me from radiation treatment to the conference across town, arriving just in time to plot and plan the next event with American Cancer Society representatives.

Friends @Teachmama Amy and @Techsavvymama Leticia met me at the door with a wheelchair, freshly borrowed so we could navigate the huge conference center in comfort. I gratefully accepted, fighting off nausea and dabbing on makeup, and we headed over to the meeting in style.

When it was our turn, shortly after @TedRubin tried to lead the conference attendees to lunch smiling and skipping, Angela, the American Cancer Society representative, talked about the more birthdays initiative and introduced me to “tell my story”. My (personal) goal was to celebrate the work and research that had brought us this far, to teach why more research is necessary, and to ask for more research on metastatic disease. This is what I said:

I am alive today because of research funded by organizations like the American Cancer Society and the federal government.

I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in June 2007. I had a year of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation, all developed by really smart researchers funded through the efforts of men and women like you. The treatments worked, and I have *lived* for 4.5 years while my babies grew up and went to school. I am grateful, so grateful, for that.

But the cancer came back. Now, like 150,000 other women and men in America, I am living with metastatic disease. Metastatic breast cancer, as some of you know all too well, is when the cancer moves away from the breast and recurs in the lungs, the liver, and other vital organs.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret: No one dies of breast cancer confined to their breast. Some of us die from treatment, but most of us die when the cancer has moved to our vital organs and shut them down. We die of metastatic disease. There are treatments we can try, but there is no cure.

When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer this year, I was reassured that there were 20 chemotherapy drugs that we could try. We tried one. It worked, for a while. Then it stopped working. Three of the 20 drugs are in short supply right now, so I can’t have those. There are sixteen drugs left.

I will be on chemotherapy once a week, for the rest of my life. That is, until we’re out of drugs that work. That is why I believe we need more research. All of us with metastatic disease — and the 30% of women whose breast cancer will spread and become metastatic — will die without more research.

Oh, and — Research on metastatic disease is woefully underfunded, at just 3% of all breast cancer research.

Fight with me.

As I fight for my life each day at radiation or each week at chemo, join me and the American Cancer Society as we fight for more birthdays.

… After I spoke, Angela shared her testimony and encouraged everyone to sign up at cancer.org for more information about what they can do in the fight against cancer. The lights were dimmed and the two hundred bloggers in attendance lit candles perched on mini cupcakes and sang “happy birthday” in honor of the people in our lives who have celebrated more birthdays, thanks to cancer research and the treatment it enables.

Rock on, ACS, and rock on bloggers with heart. I hope you help us share the message that there is still work to be done, and we need to do the research on metastatic disease if there is to be hope for a cure.


Wishes

April 26, 2011

Dandelion, taken by Louise DockerAs we set off on our early morning walk, Little Bear scooting along on his tricycle and 6 year old Widget on his bike, the sky was blue and clear, the weekend’s rainclouds just a memory.

Four year old Little Bear stopped and plucked a dandelion in full feather, saying, “I wish for a dog!” “Me too,” cried his brother. Me three, I said, and we blew the fluff right off that dandelion so enthusiastically that a seed or two landed in Little Bear’s open mouth. Sputtering, he recovered his dignity and we continued up the hill.

At the top, Widget picked a second dandelion, asking me first what I wished for, if I could have anything in the world. As we had had a little talk about cancer that morning, preparing him for an upcoming class for kids of parents with cancer, I was honest with him, kneeling down and telling him my wish for many more years together.  “Me too!” said Widget, and he asked “What do you wish for, Bear?” “A dog!” said Bear, oblivious to the topic at hand, focused entirely on the Chow we’d passed earlier.

We blew that dandelion out fiercely, taking care to avoid Bear’s face this time, but one must have floated back our direction, because as I heard Widget explain what had just happened to Bear, I had to wipe something from my eye.  Such little bits of children they are, to deal with such big topics, but so strong.

My sadness disappeared quickly as I heard Widget explain, “We wished for many more years together, Bear. Maybe even a whole lifetime!”

The sun was shining as he pedaled away, and the birds sang happily above.


Like Mama won over cancer

April 6, 2011

Little Bear, worried about a field trip yesterday, “But Mama, I need you there in case there is something scary.”

You’ll be okay, Little Bear.  Mama can’t go today, but your teacher will be there, and she will keep you safe. 

Cuddled in my arms, he asked, “But what if there is something scary?”

Well, there will be, Little Bear, it’s the story of Passover, and Pharoah gets angry.  He’s the bad guy, remember?  But Moses wins.  It’ll be okay, because Moses wins.

From deep in my arms, came a small, confident voice:

“Like Mama won over cancer.”

That’s right, Little Bear.  And we cuddled and were strong together.

I haven’t talked about my cancer with them in months.  But of course they know, since I’m still gaining strength and taking naps in the late afternoon, when the morning just isn’t enough, or when I’ve pushed myself to get work done.  I’m stronger and stronger, but still not close to 100%.

And we have scans on Friday.  I’m nervous, I’ll admit.  But I want Little Bear’s words to be true, one more time. 

I want to win over cancer.  Again.  And yes, I know that’s a selfish hope, to beat cancer a FOURTH time, but it’s selfish in protecting my children.  They’re not ready for me to leave yet, and I am not ready to leave them to grow up in the world without their Mama.


Things are looking up!

March 3, 2011

The last two months have been crazy.  Ups and downs and downs and ups and sick and better and laid out flat in bed for weeks at a time. 

… and then better.  As it turns out, my oncologist and the nurse for my clinical trial weren’t bluffing.  I’m not dying.  Well, no faster than anyone else!  I felt like I was dying, sure, but as it turns out, that’s in large part due to the massive dose of experimental drugs I was on, the neutropenia the meds induced, the highly elevated blood pressure, and the kidney infection that I battled without even knowing it for weeks.

Let’s talk about those drugs.  Before a drug is approved for use in the treatment of cancer, it has to pass not just one but several phases of a clinical trial.  When the scan found seven new tumors the first of January, I agreed to enter a Phase I/II clinical trial testing the combination of Nexavar and Femara in breast cancer patients.  This combination has never been tried in humans before, and while there is great promise (due to Nexavar’s succesful use in liver and lung cancers, and Femara’s use in breast cancer patients), there is also no guarantee.  It could stop my cancer from spreading, it could reduce the tumor burden, or it could do nothing.  It could also have terrible side effects that make me feel like death.

Ahem.

So.  Here we are.  Two months out from the diagnosis of my fourth cancer.  90 days after starting the clinical trial (during which I’ve probably only been taking the meds half the time, as the other half I was told to stop taking them and let my body recover, not once but three times).  One month from the PET scan that will tell us whether this drug combo is working to keep the cancer at bay.  Back on the meds, at half the original dose, and pushing myself further each day.  Yesterday I was able to go out for coffee with friends in the morning, pick my kids up from school, and go to the chiropractor for treatment of the pain in my back, neck, and hip, in hopes that some of it is not caused soley by the meds, but maybe just by the general weakness that chemo left behind as a parting gift.

It worked.  I felt better.

And I walked hand-in-hand with my children down the streets of downtown Silver Spring, stopping in to introduce them to the movie theater (verdict: scary!), and then we did something that just two weeks ago I thought I’d never have the chance to do with my children.

We went ice skating. 

Double runners, hand-in-hand, very, very slowly around the ice rink.  It was magical.  If you get the chance to try the new skating rink in downtown Silver Spring before it closes for the season (March 13), do it.  It. was. awesome.

And although I still napped all morning and went to bed at 6 p.m., I did so with a smile on my face. 

I have hope.

Added for clarification, 3/4/11: 
Phase I clinical trials are designed to address the question: Is the treatment safe? These trials are the first time that the drug or drug combination have been tested in humans.  Phase II clinical trials are designed to address the question: Does the treatment work?  A combined Phase I/II trial like the one I’m in is broad-reaching, determining both what level of the drug or drug combination is safe to give patients without severe side effects (hellooooooooo, extreme weakness, feet and hands peeling off, and compromised quality of life!) and whether the drug or drug combination actually slows or stops the growth of the cancer in question.  So this is a high risk trial, in some sense, but it also holds out the promise of high reward – an increase in quality of life and/or an extension of quantity of life over the use of Femara alone.  And that, for me, is worth the risk.


Bloganthropy and Lymphedema

February 28, 2011

A little bit of good goes a long way.

A couple years ago, two women named Rachel and Robin created a new product – a compression sleeve that they and their friends would be willing to wear to control their lymphedema, swelling in the arms caused by the removal of lymph nodes during a mastectomy.  They started a company called LympheDIVAs; Rachel’s brother Josh and their parents continued to improve the product and market it to other breast cancer survivors after her death. 

Carole lost her cousin Crickett to metastatic breast cancer too, but instead of wailing at the universe, Carole and her aunt Bonnie set up a foundation to help other breast cancer survivors feel good about themselves again.  Carole sent an email offering help to survivors, and one copy landed in Sue‘s in-box. 

Sue forwarded the email to me, offering me the opportunity to be pampered a little, because she knew I was suffering from chemotherapy again, and it touched my heart.  My heart was kinda busy, though, because my physical therapist Jonelle had mentioned casually while working on the lymphedema in my arm that it was so great that I was wearing a lymphedema sleeve to control it — many of her patients couldn’t afford one.  When I arrived home and checked my in-box, there was the opportunity to make a connection and to fix this wrong that lay on my heart — to help others have what I have, the opportunity to control this medical condition at home, without weekly trips to the physical therapist.

Three phone calls later, Josh and Carole agreed to provide donated lymphedema sleeves to patients in need, and the lymphedema sleeve project was on.  The problem then was how to make people aware of the opportunity, so Sue and I sent a couple emails and a few tweets and then The DC Moms and twitter friends and blog friends and friends of friends stepped up to help, to spread the word, one tweet, one post, one update, one person at a time.

I wrote a post, Sue wrote a post, Minky wrote a post, and the news gained traction.  Over 100 people tweeted the links that week.  150 people shared a link on Facebook.  Over 40 bloggers added their posts to ours, in attempt to saturate the internet with the news, so that a woman in need, searching for help to afford lymphedema sleeves or other post-mastectomy gear, could find it. 

Kristen, Jessica, Amie, Joanne, Marty, Victoria, and Elizabeth then put their money where their voice is and donated $1/comment on their lymphedema post.  Others went to donate so that additional sleeves could be bought as needed, and before we knew it, $1518 had been sent to Crickett’s Answer for Cancer by over 20 people, and 36 new breast cancer survivors were helped in the first 40 days.  

On Friday, the project was recognized by Bloganthropy, with me named as January’s Blogger of the Month.  Thank you, Bloganthropy, but the award really belongs to all of the bloggers who helped saturate this part of the ‘net with notices that there is now help available for breast cancer survivors who need but can’t afford compression sleeves to control their lymphedema. 

Thank you, friends.  Every day, your actions remind me that there is indeed good in the world.  Here are the posts that were written in support of this effort, and tweeted ’round the world:

Aimee: http://smilingmama.blogspot.com/2011/01/surviving-in-style-free-lymphedema.html
Amie: http://www.mammaloves.com/2011/01/wanna-join-an-army/
Amy:  http://teachmama.com/2011/01/new-for-us-friday-help-for-cancer-patients.html
Ann Bibby: http://www.care2.com/causes/health-policy/blog/-blogger-reaches-out-to-breast-cancer-patients/
Becky:  http://www.morebirthdays.com/blog/featured/the-power-of-one-helping-fellow-survivors/
BlogHer (Mel): http://www.blogher.com/start-out-your-new-year-helping-great-project?wrap=blogher-topics/conditions-ailments&crumb=32399
C. Mom:  http://www.lacaramamma.com/2011/01/06/can%E2%80%99t-afford-lymphedema-sleeves/
Crunchy Chewy Mama: http://crunchychewymama.com/index.php/when-a-friend-gets-cancer/
Dr. Kathleen Ruddy: http://breastcancerbydrruddy.com/2011/01/25/recycling-information-help-for-lymphedema/
Elaine:  http://connorandhelen.blogspot.com/2011_02_01_archive.html
Elizabeth: http://halfchangedworld.com/2011/01/for-whymommy/ Florinda: http://www.3rsblog.com/2011/01/for-whymommy-help-for-cancer-survivors.html
Garza Girl: http://www.garzagirls.com/2011/01/24/f-off-cancer/ and http://www.garzagirls.com/tag/whymommy/
Ilinap: http://www.dirtandnoise.com/2011/01/breast-friends-and-a-39-mile-walk-in-the-park.html
J.J. http://caffeineandaprayer.com/2011/01/09/lymphedema-sleeves-real-help-for-breast-cancer-survivors/
Jane:  http://jane.whiteoaks.com/2011/01/08/lymphedema-sleeves-demystified/
Jessica:  http://aparentinsilverspring.com/2011/01/a-parent-in-silver-spring-on-cnn-how-the-story-changed-how-im-changing-it-again-for-cricketts-answer.html
Joanne:  http://www.punditmom.com/2011/01/princesses-fighting-cancer
Jodifur:  http://jodifur.com/2011/01/cant-afford-lymphedema-sleeves.html
Justice Stacey:  http://mamalaw.com/2011/01/cant-afford-lymphedema-sleeves/
Khara: http://babymammachronicles.blogspot.com/2011/01/help-for-breast-cancer-patients.html
Kim: http://www.sheposts.com/node/859
Kristen: http://www.motherhooduncensored.net/motherhood_uncensored/2011/01/whymommy.html
Lara: http://chickennuggetsofwisdom.com/2011/01/24/no-princess-fights-alone/
Leticia:  http://www.techsavvymama.com/2011/01/no-princess-fights-alone-join-army.html
Liz: http://www.thisfullhouse.com/reviews/2011/01/good-causes-cricketts-answer-to-cancer.html
Lynn:  http://organicmania.com/2011/01/07/helping-those-who-need-it-most/
Marty: http://canapesun.blogspot.com/2011/01/lymphedema-sleeves-for-every-survivor.html and http://canapesun.blogspot.com/2011/01/lets-all-be-copycats-raising-money-for.html
Mayberry Mom: http://mayberrymom.com/2011/02/04/on-not-fighting-alone/
Mel: http://www.stirrup-queens.com/2011/01/322nd-friday-blog-roundup/
Michele: http://scrapsofmygeeklife.com/everything-else /cant-afford-lymphedema-sleeves/
Michelle:  http://www.wifeandmommy.com/cant-afford-lymphedema-sleeves/
Minky:  http://dialmforminky.com/2011/01/need-help-affording-lymphedema-sleeves/
Mod*Mom: http://www.momblognetwork.com/%5Btermpath-raw%5D/lymph-edema-sleeve-giveaway-12000
Robin: http://noteverstill.blogspot.com/2011/01/rare-psa-lymphedema.html
Robin: http://wwwmylifeasitis.blogspot.com/2011/01/cant-afford-lymphedema-sleeves.html
Sam: http://www.momblognetwork.com/%5Btermpath-raw%5D/help-our-friends-support-crickett-s-answer
Stella: http://imstell.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/advocacy-and-lymphedema-sleeves/
Thien-Kim: http://www.imnotthenanny.com/2011/01/cant-afford-lymphedema-sleeves-new-help.html
ThisFullHouse @ Wellsphere: http://www.wellsphere.com/parenting-article/for-whymommy-give-cancer-the-virtual-bitchslap-it-deserves/1325109
UrbanMama:  http://spa.typepad.com/mamas/2011/01/index.html
Vera: http://breast4healing.amplify.com/2011/01/25/361/
Victoria: http://www.themummychronicles.com/2011/01/copy-cat-for-cancer.html
Wendy: http://wendyharpham.typepad.com/healthy_survivorship/2011/02/help-for-patients-with-lymphedema.html

This effort was recognized by writers at the American Cancer SocietyBloganthropy, BlogHer, Care2, Mom Blog Magazine, and ShePosts as being an exciting community effort.  Thank you all.  And if I missed your post or it hasn’t gone up yet?  Let me know.  I’d be thrilled to add even more!