Many friends and family are now following my Twitter feed. If you are, let me know. My username there is adamslisa. It’s nice to see more of you there. I do update a lot there in between big posts here. Daily life is there. I don’t always catch new followers.
My meeting with my local oncologist was about an hour. Some tests are back, (still waiting on a few and Sloan Kettering will run some other tests with their own pathologists) and they indicate that the cancer is “strongly estrogen receptor positive” (not a surprise). This means there are a variety of drug agents we can start with to try to keep this under control. The two-prong goal is to actually shrink the disease that’s there and also keep it from progressing for as long as possible. In most cases, older women are more likely to have slower growing disease and younger women to have more aggressive disease. We’ll have to see if the drug therapies (starting with anti hormonals) will work. Of course I’ve been on Tamoxifen or Armidex all along and also had my ovaries out, so I am already in an estrogen-deprived state. Not sure what that will mean for likelihood of working but the science of it is complex and I’m learning as I go. There are injectable agents and IV chemo to throw into the mix too. All will have side effects, of course.
We learned that the pain I have in my shoulder and chest is actually two fractured ribs from where bones are weakened by cancer. That will not heal until the disease is reduced. If the pain gets too much before we do that I will need 2-3 weeks of targeted radiation to kill those cancer cells and allow the bone to heal. I’ll start an infusion of Zometa to help strengthen my bones in the next week. That is an IV drug given monthly to help my bones.
The actual plan of what I will start with be decided Thursday, once I see what clinical trials are available. At this point most likely will be starting with the standard combo of Aromasin and Effexor. These are oral chemo, anti hormonals. They have side effects. Mostly bone pain, joint pain, mouth sores, dry mouth. I need to do reading on them soon. This is the first line of defense. I get to keep my hair during these. PET scans will be about every 2 months. Bloodwork in the form of tumor marker tests will be monitored monthly. I was one of the 2/3 of women who have elevated numbers at time of metastasis so at least there is something useful in looking at those. This is one reason some doctors don’t like these tests routinely: one third of the time there will be a metastasis without an elevation in these tests. They also can be elevated for a reason other than metastasis, so there are false positive results.
I have disease in the fractured areas, in T12 of my spine and in a spot on my upper femur near my hip. Today I will have a brain MRI to see if there is any in my brain. The PET does not have the ability to show that. Of course we hope with all of our hearts there is not.
How long has the cancer been there? Hard to say. I mean, the reason you do chemo is because you figure that once cells have left the breast you might be missing some. Any cells that are left can start growing at any time. That’s what the anti hormonals like Tamoxifen and Arimidex (an AI, or aromatase inhibitor) are designed to keep at bay to a greater extent than doing nothing. My doctor feels there are periods of exponential growth which eventually reach critical mass. This cancer has probably been there for about six months or less. In my spine and femur the cancer is confined to the soft part of the bone, the marrow.
I’m having trouble eating, pretty much confined to liquid and soft foods like yogurt. I’ve lost a lot of weight and know I need to get my strength up for the assault that is about to hit with treatment. I’m trying. Right now I am very weak, in body and spirit. But this will change. It must change. I’m adjusting and gaining knowledge and I had better get my head around this soon. But that is hard. I am angry and sad and scared and I go through every emotion multiple times a day. I cry at everything and nothing. I snuggle with my children as much as I can. I talk with Paige about what’s going on, she wants to know everything. We do not talk about prognosis and timing, only that it’s not curable and treatment won’t ever end. We talk about advances in treatment and how new things are coming along every day. We talk about the role Herceptin has played in giving life to those with the HER2Neu form of the disease. I do not have that form, but my mother did. The infusions she received of Herceptin (at that time not yet FDA approved but she got under ‘compassionate use’ exemption) saved her life we believe.
So, brain scan Wednesday afternoon, Sloan Kettering Thursday. Then we will have a plan and will start immediately. Until then, resting and trying to eat and control the pain in the fractured areas.
I won’t lie: every moment is a nightmare. There isn’t a second I am not thinking about cancer now. I hate that part, how it eats my life as it consumer my bones. I know this is normal for now but I hope someday soon I can think about other things. I don’t know if that’s a pipe dream.
My friend Andrea sent me the most magically colored flowers yesterday. The note said, simply, “Anything is possible.” I alternate between wanting, needing to believe that and thinking that might be giving myself false hope. But then I think of how much I believe in science, and drug advances, and I want to believe that’s true.
Thanks for all of the continued love and support. These posts take a lot of time and energy so they won’t always come immediately. I am using time to rest and do tasks around the house that need to be taken care of, doctors’ appointments, etc. Thank you notes have taken a back seat and for now an email of gratitude is all you might get from me. I wish I could do more, but please understand why this is the case. And as always, the disclaimer: I am presenting my interpretation of what I am being told by my doctors. It’s not medical advice. It is sometimes simplification of complicated medical scenarios. I’m doing my best to distill it down but I’m not a doctor.