Sunday, July 15, 2012

Catching Up

Yes, yes, I know it's been more than six months since my last post.  It's not that things haven't been happening on the cancer front - they have (but don't worry, nothing tragic) - it's more that 1) I've been busy living my life and 2) lately, in the limited free time that I have, I've found myself not wanting to really sit down and think about cancer.  But that being said, here is the Cliff Notes version of what's been happening over the last 6 months, and I really will try not to go so long without updating next time.

Now, where did we leave off? Oh yeah, my cancer markers spiked, the PET showed some new spots, and so my treatment was changed to Halaven.  The Halaven went well... once again, as seems to luckily be the pattern with me, I did not have any adverse side effects.  The worst that happened was that my nails became really brittle and split, and I had to keep them really short.  Miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

Better yet, the drug seemed to be working.  In January, Dr. Sara re-ran the CEA test and the numbers had dropped significantly.  I remember checking my phone after a meeting with a client on a Friday morning, and I had a message from Eugenie (Dr. Sara's nurse practitioner) with the favorable results.  Now that's about the best news I could've received that day.  I saved that message for awhile!

I got re-scanned again in March, and the results were mixed.  The cancer in my liver and in some of the lymph nodes by my liver had decreased; some of the other spots (like the spot on my spine) had not changed; but there were also two spots in my abdomen which had increased and a new spot in lymph nodes on the right side of my neck (in addition to the left which was discovered in December).

There is unfortunately no such thing as a test that measures all the cancer in your body to be able to tell collectively whether there are more or less cancer cells than last time, so it was hard to say if the results were better or worse, but we were encouraged by the fact that there were decreases in the more "important" areas (i.e. the liver).

So Dr. Sara decided to keep me on the Halaven, but repeat the scan soon - in May - to keep a bit of a closer eye on things.

And then in April during a clinical exam, he could feel that the lymph nodes in my neck were swollen - a sure sign that the cancer there was increasing.  So I was scheduled for another PET scan and even before I had it Dr. Sara had decided on my new course of treatment.

The PET showed that some of the existing spots - including the liver - were more "active" (though not necessarily increased) and of course the cancer in the lymph nodes by my neck had increased, which we already knew.

My new treatment - which I am still on - became the combined forces of Avastin and Abraxane.  Both drugs are 30-minute infusions, and I now go to chemo every week for three weeks, then have one week off.  On weeks 1 and 3, I get both drugs, while on week 2 I only get the Abraxane.

The first day of my new treatment was extra long since the Avastin had to be administered over 90 minutes, to ensure no adverse reactions.  I was in the infusion suite all day - it was like back to the early days of chemo.  But, of course, I did not have any adverse reactions so the next time I received Avastin it was a 60-minute infusion, and now it is down and holding at 30 minutes.

One major side effect of this new treatment is that I have lost my hair again - well, sort of.  It became very brittle and course a few weeks after treatment started - what I call "chemo hair" - and then it started falling out about a week or so before my birthday (May 29).  Even though my hair is so thick that even after week of significant hair loss you still could not tell by looking at me, it was super annoying.  I was constantly vacuuming my bathroom floor and after a week I was tired of pulling fist-sized clumps of hair out of the shower drain.

So over Memorial Day weekend, my brother-in-law Kevin once again put his shears to use and shaved my head.  What a relief!

Oddly enough, it seems like my hair is growing back - I kind of have a crew cut now - but it's still very thin in the spots just above my temples.  I look like I have male pattern baldness, so I pretty much keep it covered with my wigs or any variety of hats/scarves.  I have gone running a few times and gone swimming in the ocean with nothing on my head... it's so hot out, that I just don't care sometimes!  Luckily I haven't noticed any staring.

I've also noticed a little bit more fatigue than I'm used to.  It's manageable; I just find that I need more like 8.5-9 hours of sleep these days rather than the standard 8.  I'm trying to make an effort to go to bed a little earlier, especially during the week, but it's easier said than done.

On the bright side, my nails are no longer brittle and splitty; in fact they seem stronger than ever.  Funny how the different drugs affect things differently.

And the new treatment is working.  Almost immediately, we noticed a decrease in the lymph nodes.  As Dr. Sara said, he of course does not like the fact that I have cancer in my lymph nodes, but it does apprise him the opportunity to be able to tell right away - without a scan - if the treatment is working.

I've now completed two full cycles of the new treatment, and will start cycle 3 this week.  In the last few weeks there has not been a change in the lymph nodes, but this is not cause for alarm or reason to think the treatment is no longer working, since as long as it's not increasing it's good, and there could also be scar tissue there as well.

Pending no more unforeseen drama, my next PET scan will be after the next cycle, in August.  I am coming up on a year since the cancer was discovered to have returned, so here's hoping for a better August than last year!

As I said in the beginning of this post, one of my "excuses" for not posting in so long is that I've been busy living my life.  I am still working full-time and full-force; in fact, did a nice piece on me for doing just that, which you can check out here:

I am still traveling, both for fun and for work - so far in 2012 I have been to Seattle, Las Vegas, San Diego, Dallas, upstate New York (twice), Washington, DC (a few times), Portland (Oregon), the Jersey shore (a lot), and also have upcoming trips planned next month to Bedford, PA; Denver and Las Vegas (again).

I've also tried to stay active.  I started off the year great with a 5-mile "Hangover" run in my hometown of Hamilton.  Here is my sister - pregnant at the time - and me at the finish line:

While my commitment to staying active has kind of waned in the last few months as I've been adjusting to this new treatment, the summer has re-inspired me to get back to the gym!

And most importantly, there is a new member of our family.  My nephew Benjamin John Kirner was born June 17th.  Now Claire has a little brother!

Here's a picture of the little guy:

And here is a picture of me with both of my little munchkins:

So you can see, it's been a busy year... until next time!