Sunday, October 16, 2016

i learned something from this one

This article explains why some of us get so annoyed when cancer "awareness" campaigns focus on saving the "girls" or the "tatas" or - well you know what I mean.

Lots of food for thought here and I learned some things about cisgender privilege and breast cancer.

From "Every day feminism, It's a longish read but very well done.

"4 Ways Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns Can Be Sexist and Oppressive"

Saturday, October 15, 2016

time is running out

This is one of the very best and most powerful adds I have seen on breast cancer. And that is saying something.

It's about living with metastatic breast cancer, less than 3 minutes long and very, very worth it.

Friday, October 14, 2016

update: stable

I have now had 17 intrathecal (injected into my brain) treatments of the Herceptin. I'm getting used to it.

I had an brain MRI on September 15.

It showed all visible tumours to be stable. There were no new visible tumours. As I said, in an email to family:
"The brain MRI shows things to be stable. This is so much better than the alternative that we celebrated with gelato and a meal out.

It would have been nice to see some progress but this is still good. What's difficult to know is if I am just staying stable right now on my own or if the treatment is working. What is certain is that we will not be stopping for a little while - even if it is a grind, we have to assume that it's helping. Things are certainly not nearly as bad after 14 treatments as they could be by now."
The oncologist treating me said that it's likely that I am stable because of some treatment but we don't know if that's the Herceptin or the CyberKnife radiation I had in March. I do wish it were more obvious but I am happy to be here and to be feeling OK, all things considered.

I also had a spinal MRI on September 16. The report clearly stated that there was no visible sign of metastasis in my spine. This is good news. I'm still in a lot of pain but I don't need to worry that its caused by a new tumour.
"I have degenerative disc disease (which is a misnomer because it is not a disease and not bound to get worse). I will not hurt it by walking through pain or swimming. I'm going to see a physiotherapist and I have acquired a stability ball. My back pain has been a serious impediment to my quality of life so I want to make it better."
I also have neuropathy in my right foot and a lot of discomfort from headaches and all the weight I have gained. I miss my old body and the things it could do. I haven't given up hope that I will get some of that back but it's frustrating. 

On the other hand, I feel lighter these days. I spent much of the summer feeling like I was about to die and just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing has changed really except that I seem to have decided to enjoy living. It's so much easier to exist this way.

At one of my treatments this summer, Tim said to me "I feel an obligation to have more fun." It's an odd way to put things but I really got it. We have, since that day, put in a concerted effort to have a better time. And I think we've been doing a pretty good job.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

grieving and treatment

My father passed away a couple of weeks ago (the night before I started IT Herceptin, in fact). His service was last week. It was small and private. I was very impressed with the priest who had never met my father but listened to my mom and my sister and said some very thoughtful things.

The end of my father's life was not an easy one and, in his last days, I was unable to get to the hospital. I didn't (we didn't) want to put my treatment in jeopardy by exposing myself to hospital germs. 

It was the right call but it was hard and it made everything seem less real and further away. 

I have realized that grieving, or working through, a death is perhaps not so compatible with intense cancer treatment. I need to stay focused, informed, strong and clear as we go forward.

I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and get to treatment every single week. I need to build a relationship with a new oncologist (who I had never met before starting the IT Herceptin). I need to figure out what I wish to do when it comes to increasing doses and deciding how to proceed (my new oncologist is very thoughtful but also consultative. He acknowledges that we are smart and well informed - and that there is a paucity of information out there). 

I need to walk that line between getting stuff done, having some fun, staying vigilant and getting enough rest.

It turns out that my regular oncologist, who has followed me since 2006, is unlikely to return for several months (I do not know the details as to why and don't feel that I am entitled to them. Something very hard must have happened and I hope that he is getting what he needs). What I didn't realize is that the other doctor, who convinced my oncologist to go the route of IT Herceptin, is finished at our hospital and is now in Boston. At least he is reachable via email by my medical staff but he's not here to question and to reassure.

All that to say that I want to grieve. I want to hold up my emotions to the light and and think about what this recent loss means. I don't cry easily and it has yet to really happen.

The service helped. And I have been thinking of the things that were important to my father that he passed on to me: intellect, honesty, respect for privacy, a love of literature and a curiosity about the world and it's differences. 

And despite all that he went through at the end, I know that he would want me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Two of my boys out for our meal after the service.

Friday, July 01, 2016


There was a bit of a rocky start but I seem to be moving forward with treatment. Every Wednesday, for the rest of the summer, I will be getting Herceptin, injected through my Ommaya Reservoir. I'm not the first in Ottawa to have an Ommaya but I am the first to have Herceptin injected in this fashion. I'm hoping hard that it's working.

There was some confusion on my first week. First I was told that treatment would be delayed by a day and administered by an oncologist other than Dr. G., who has treated me for for 10 years.

Then, on the day of treatment, I found out that Dr. N., his replacement, had thought I had been through this a few times and was taken aback that it was my first treatment. I also learned that it will be weeks before my own oncologist returns.

I want to be clear about the fact that there is no way that Dr. G. would disappear like this, unless it was a personal emergency. I am missing him like crazy and upset that he's gone but I believe that he had no choice and I am want things to be better for him soon.

That fact didn't stop me from freaking out a little.

Dr. N. was incredibly adept with the Ommaya and I really liked his manner. He was thoughtful, gentle and clear. He was unsure how we were going to proceed, given his own schedule and that of other staff. However, when I said "It's disconcerting, when you've been told that you might only have months to live, to learn that there is no plan for treatment for the next several weeks."

He left, got it sorted and came back with a schedule: I'm to be at the hospital every Wednesday morning until my MRI in August.

By my second appointment, things had become even clearer. Dr. N. had spoken to a third doctor who works with Dr. G., and who has worked on trials of this treatment and really supports it. He was getting married on the Saturday after my first treatment and was probably on his honeymoon during my second). Dr. N. knew the plan and had been reviewing the literature and was ready to share that with me.We will do the same dose for three weeks and then double it for 3 more weeks. 

After that? I don't know but knowing this much is very reassuring. Next week, yet another oncologist will administer the treatment. Like Dr. N, he is not a breast doctor but hopefully he knows his way around an Ommaya. 

I didn't react to the Herceptin either time. This is good but perhaps also bad, since I reacted before the Herceptin worked on the rest of my body.

I have to trust (and do my own research). I'm trying. What other choice do I have?

It's been a rough couple of weeks, for reasons unrelated to cancer. My father passed away the night before my first treatment. It was not entirely unexpected but it was still painful for everyone and something that I think we are all still processing.

Today is Canada Day in Ottawa. I'm not crazy about crowds and it is currently pouring. I am sitting on my couch as I type this. I think it's exactly where I need to be.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

limbo and dreams (updated)

I am still in limbo. My head is healed and I feel more like myself, except for some odd symptoms (my jaw is still freezing shut intermittently for a minute or so. It's so annoying. And embarrassing. It's not really something I can hide and it happens at the most awkward times).

I had my surgery on May 9. Everything said to me leading up to that implied that moving ahead was urgent. And yet here we are. I have a lot of faith in my medical team but this time information is not forthcoming and it's making me crazy. I can't plan a thing and I would just like some kind of information. I know I haven't fallen through the cracks. I would just like someone to explain to me where things are at.

I like information. It makes me feel in control.

So don't ask me when I will be having treatment because I don't know.

On another note, I had some strange dreams last week.

I dreamed that the area in which I lived was being flooded and I had to rush back and get a few things before all was washed away. When I arrived at home, though, the rain stopped, the sun came out and there was a brilliant blue sky. I didn't have to leave after all.

In another dream, a small furry mammal was hit somehow and fell to the ground, dead. In my dream it was a "possum" but it looked more like a groundhog. The body lay in the same spot throughout the dream and I would check on it periodically to see if it was still there. The last time I looked before waking, the animal jumped to its feet and bolted up a tree. After several days of lying still, it wasn't dead at all.

Deconstruct that. No so hard.

Now let's get some news, so I can follow my dreams.

Update: I finally have dates. I don't start for a couple of weeks. I asked why and was told that my oncologist said that it's "not urgent". I asked if this was because of the decent MRI and the nurse said she thought so. After the first date in June, I will go in weekly for a few weeks and then I guess we will re-visit the schedule.

I feel mostly relieved because I can plan my life a little. I just wish I didn't have these annoying symptoms that remind me what's happening.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

may you live in interesting times

It's been two weeks since my surgery and for some reason, I thought this would be the easy part. I don't really know why I thought that, except that both my surgeon a and my medical oncologist seemed to the think that putting the Ommaya in could have been like day surgery and I would be feeling like myself again in a week or so.

Not so much.

The nurses were much more cautious and they said to take it easy, be consistent in my activity and increase it very slowly. Ultimately, this is what makes sense. I just wish I weren't so damned impatient.

My surgery was on May 9th. I was in the recovery room for much longer than planned because there was no bed for me in the neurology ward. I ended up being moved in the middle of the night and sent home by noon the next day. And I was just kept in as long as that, so that I could get my three doses of IV antibiotics.

I had a good first couple of days at home (and it was such a relief to be there) but later in the week, after a fast taper on the Decadron (the steroid with which I have a hate-hate-like relationship), I started to notice that my eyes were getting swollen, as though the lids were filling with water. By Saturday afternoon, they were swollen to slits.

They got worse.
No one told me this could happen.

The next day, Sunday, my eyes were starting to improve but my head was hurting. In the beginning, all the pain had been around my incision. By the following weekend, the top and back of my head hurt and it felt just like my brain was swelling. Or a new tumour was cutting off the flow of liquid. It hurt and was very, very scary.

I debated going to Emergency (I hate the ER but the stuff I was reading online pretty much said it could either be a nuisance or kill me) but in the end, decided to take it very easy and call my surgeon the next morning (Monday).

My doctor's secretary made me an appointment and had me come in. My surgeon ended being called away to an emergency and we spent 5 hours at the hospital. It was worth the wait. A CT scan showed that there was no bleed and no obvious new tumour. My doctor put me back on the steroids (a drag but good for the swelling), shared a pretty decent MRI with me and a very hopeful story of a patient with leptomeningeal disease who he knows and has treated, who is still alive and active, two years after her diagnosis.

I told him that I'm collecting hopeful stories.

I went home in a much better mood but woke up in the night with a killer urinary tract infection, my second in a month and almost definitely contracted at the hospital. I have finished my course of antibiotics to treat that and am trying to consume as much probiotic as I can, to avoid a resistance to antibiotics. 

It's totally a case of two steps forward, one step back. On Saturday I felt pretty good and .possibly overdid it. Today, my head hurts again and I am tired from the steroid induced insomnia. I'm also feeling irritable and impatient. I am not supposed to bend down or lift anything. And I hate having to ask for each thing that I need to be done for me.

Today is my regular Herceptin treatment. I still don't have a date for IT Herceptin

At least I'm sitting in the sunshine as I type this. I just need to chose to be in better mood.

Or not.

p.s.: This totally reads like writing on speed. The steroids make my heart pound and my fingers fly!