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.