Sunday, April 10, 2011


This blog post starts off on a somber note.  On March 29th, my Uncle Bob passed away of cancer at the age of 59.  He was diagnosed with cancer of the bile ducts in late January.  A mere two months later, he was gone.  He is missed by his many friends and family.

Besides being yet another blow - the worst one yet over the last year - to my family, it was also a stark reminder of how cruel, ruthless and unforgiving this disease can be.

Besides being sad for the loss of my uncle, and for my Dad, who lost his younger brother, inevitably it also makes me think about my own cancer diagnosis.  And while there may have been a shred of comfort in the fact that my uncle had a very rare kind of cancer that I do not have; cancer is still cancer. 

And then two days later I found out that the woman who runs the community programs at my breast surgeon's office passed away of breast cancer.  So there goes that shred of comfort.

As evidenced by my last few blog posts, I've been doing fine over the last few months with no side effects to speak of.  In a lot of ways, I live my normal life, with just a few more doctor's appointments and treatments than my fellow 32-year-olds.  And while the fact that I have cancer is always with me - always there when I wake up in the morning and constantly in my thoughts - I've learned to live with it.

But then something like two cancer deaths in one week kind of throws you for a loop and reminds you that this cancer thing is SERIOUS BUSINESS.  It really sucks, to put it bluntly.

In other news, on March 23rd I had my last chemo treatment, i.e. my last Navelbine treatment.  I didn't even know until I showed up that day that it would be my last Navelbine, but Dr. Sara said that it had been six months, and so he was taking me off the chemo drug.

However, I will stay on Herceptin for another 6 months, maybe more.  As he's said before, my case does not fit into any of the "neat categories" of cancer diagnoses.  Typically, when someone is diagnosed with Her-2 positive cancer, they are on Herceptin for one year.  The reason for the "one year" is simply because that's the length of time they have research on.  It could be that less than one year provides the same effectiveness; it could be that more than 1 year provides longer-term effectiveness.  We simply don't know because the drug hasn't been around 25, 30 years to know the long-term benefits.

Now, in cases where patients have active metastatic disease (i.e. the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is still active in those other parts), their Herceptin treatment is determined by how the active tumors are responding.  If they keep shrinking on the Herceptin, they stay on it; if not, they may be taken off the drug.

Of course, MUGA scans are the other determining factor in treatment length, as someone whose heart muscle is being weakened by the drug will be taken off it, at least temporarily until heart strength is regained.

However, I don't fit into any of these categories.  Yes, I have metastatic disease, but it's not active (at least we don't think it is... more on that later).  So what to do?

Well, Dr. Sara says that there is really no reason to take me off the Herceptin.  It's a relatively quick treatment and doesn't have any side effects (except for the heart muscle thing which has not affected me), so why not keep me on it?

My response to this is:  Fine by me!  I will gladly get Herceptin for the rest of my life if there's even a shred of a chance it's keeping me from a recurrence.

So, now that my chemo is complete, this means it's time for another PET/CT scan.  Although all evidence of "active cancer" has presumably been eradicated from my body - the active cancer in my breast, lymph nodes and liver removed by surgery; the active cancer in my spine already showing as healed when it was discovered, and then also treated with some "insurance" radiation - we won't really know how things look until my next scan.

It's not my liver or spine that Dr. Sara is necessarily worried about... it's the fact that I had 8 out of 11 lymph nodes still affected after surgery.  This tells him that my cancer is a cancer that likes to move.  So the danger is not necessarily that it will start growing again in places where it's already "landed," but that it will show up in new places.

My scans are set for this Tuesday, and I will get the results the next day, on Wednesday.

I am pretty optimistic that my scans will be clear, but I also remember that last time my results suprised us all when those two little spots on my spine were discovered.  So you never know.

Now, besides getting scanned again, the end of chemo also means the beginning of radiation.  This Friday, I will be going for my radiation "planning" session, where I will be getting more tattoos and will find out more about this next stage of treatment.

As part of my "day of tests" on Tuesday, I will also be getting an MRI of my spine as a follow-up to my spine radiation last fall, so hopefully it will show what we expect - that the combination of chemo and spine radiation has fully healed those two little spots on my backbone.

On top of all of this, it's also time for my 3-month checkup with Dr. Rosenbaum Smith, which is also set for Wednesday, just before my "results show" appointment with Dr. Sara.

Whew - it will be a busy week!

OK, time for some comic relief.  First, as you may remember my friend Amanda's comment over a year ago about how many Mardi Gras beads she will need to give me thanks to all of my "boob flashes" inspired my little sidebar tallying both the boob flashes and needle sticks.

Well, true to her word, sure enough a couple weeks ago she presented me with a string of beads for every boob flash I've had over the last year - 112.  In case you're wondering, here's what 112 Mardi Gras beads look like!

Haha - thank you Amanda!

Now, secondly, while this is totally not cancer-related in the least, last Saturday, April 2nd was my niece Claire's 1st birthday!

Here is a picture of Claire and me on her big day:

And here's another picture of Claire in her party dress:

I think my sister Sara put it perfectly when she said that Claire is "our sunbeam in this cloudy, cloudy world." 

Happy Birthday to sweet Claire!


  1. So sorry to hear about your Uncle. My fingers will be crossed for you during your tests and I am sure that all the test results will have good results. I heard that Claire's birthday party was lots of fun and her outfit is just too cute. Take care.

  2. nice beads--I think everyone who enters your apartment should have to perform a party trick or drink a shot for beads! Kim...Against the wind, we were runnin' against the wind, we were young and strong, we were runnin' against the wind...bob seger is still in my head!

  3. Em, I recognize and understand your anguish with cancer taking people we care about but I think its so important to remember there are SO many people who go on to live out wonderful lives and cancer is a terrible rough time but they made it through it and learned so much about the love people have for them. We are praying for good test results. Go show them you are going to be one of them!!!! You have always been a sunbeam for me...

  4. Fingers, toes and anything else that can be crossed is for your results!!!