Cancer vs. The Common Cold

January 15, 2009

(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo (here and here))

It occurred to me that having a cold might affect my ability to receive chemo tomorrow.

I emailed my oncologist, who wrote back: “come and we will decide tomorrow–sounds like you will get a little break”

What does that mean?

Do I have the nurses open my port as usual?

I am scheduled to receive both Taxol and Herceptin. If “we” (and by “we,” I mean “he”) decide to postpone treatments, do we postpone both medications? By how long? A few days? A week? What is a “little break?” (To me, a “break” would be at least a month! We know that is not happening, as we have already established (here) that we can not postpone the Herceptin by more than a week)

Last week, my doctor told me that we would evaluate the efficacy of my treatments in the next two weeks. How does postponing treatment affect our ability to evaluate if the drugs are working?

All these questions, just because of a stupid cold, from which, we agreed last year (see here), cancer patients should be exempt!

It seems that when push comes to shove, the common cold trumps the cancer card!

——————————————————————————————————–

Apparently, a “little break” is one week.

I received Herceptin today, but no Taxol. My next Taxol treatment will be next Thursday.

I was a little nervous about skipping the treatment, but my oncologist was pretty insistent. When I pressed him about it, he offered to give it to me if I was willing to sign a waver, taking full responsibility for any possible complications. I politely declined, to which he responded “I thought that’s what you’d say.”

So, I will focus on kicking this cold, which is pretty much taking up all my energy and then some.

I felt a bit better this morning, but by the time I got home I was wiped. I went straight to bed and slept for three hours!


The Power of Appreciation

December 31, 2008
(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo)
Last week, I was due to receive all three of my treatments on Hanukah: Herceptin, Taxol (plus four premedications), and Zomera/Denosumab. Though I let everyone know that I did not want to come for chemo two days running during Hanukah, I knew that possibility existed.

When I found out that I also needed to do a full body X-ray (which is done every 25 weeks for the Zomera/Denosumab study and takes around 20-minutes) my hopes for one chemo day flickered, then waned.

But, it was Hanukah, after all.

My hope flickered again, then got stronger, as I noticed that everyone was doing their best to try and help me finish all my treatments in time.

In the end, I finished all of my treatments in one day!

When I got home and hugged my kids, I was overwhelmed by gratitude.

I wanted to do something to show my appreciation to the oncology staff.

I decided to make a “Certificate of Appreciation.” It was a bit challenging for me to make it in Hebrew, especially since I wanted the wording to be an accurate reflection of how I felt. But I did it.

Then, I left it at home this Tuesday, when I went in for my next treatment (just Taxol).

I thought I would at least say thank you to the staff, but I got caught up in the details of the day and did not remember until I was finished and on my way out. I realized that I could not leave without expressing my thanks.

By this point, I know that things don’t happen on their own in the chemo ward. There is so much that goes on “behind the scenes.” The nurses work especially hard to make sure that we receive our treatments and the care that we need.

So I went back, and found the four nurses who helped me so much the week before. One by one, I told each nurse how much I appreciated the efforts that she made to ensure that I finished in one day.

Two of the nurses were clearly moved, much more than I expected. Their reaction made me realize how powerful appreciation can be.

I have been in chemotherapy for almost a year and a half now. Most of these nurses have been my health care providers and support team for the entire time. I was not always appreciative of their efforts or their bedside manner.

In the beginning, I was confused by often contradictory behavior. I could not understand why the same nurse could be so kind one moment and so impatient the next.

Over time, I learned to recognize when the nurses were busy, rushed or pulled in a thousand different directions. I learned to ask questions during the quieter moments, like when the nurse is opening my port (and only the two of us are in the room), or at the end of the day, when most of the patients have already left, and the ward is calmer and quieter.

I also learned that the nurses know all about us. They do their homework, they talk to the doctors, and they make sure that we get what we need, even when they are understaffed, overworked, and underpaid.

And they are a tremendous source of knowledge and support.

Most days, I just take it for granted that they will do what they need to do. But, last Tuesday, I could not help but notice that every one of them was really trying to accommodate my needs. I felt like I had an entire support staff taking care of me.

One of the nurses, when I thanked her, looked at me blankly at first. “For what?” she asked. When I told her, she laughed and said, “That’s history; it’s already forgotten.” After all, they have done so much more since then.

“Well, I did not forget,” I answered back, laughing along with her, “For me, it was a big deal.”


The Cost of Living

December 13, 2008

(excerpts and adaptations from previous posts  herehere, and here)

So, if there is one thing that I am learning as a cancer patient, it is to recognize that I cannot control everything.

For the past 6 months, my markers have been steadily rising and my pain has been increasing.

After months of tests, scans, deliberations, and sending me for a second opinion, my oncologist has determined that my previous drug combo is no longer working.

Both oncologists recommended continuing treatment with Herceptin and switching to Taxol.

To make life interesting, my health fund denied me further coverage of Herceptin.  Once there has been “progression of disease,” they are no longer required to provide coverage. 

In Israel, Herceptin costs 170,000 NIS per year (approx. $45,000) (At the best of times, Israeli salaries are about 1/4 of American salaries)

I am appealing the decision, but the process could take months.

Meanwhile, God has sent me an angel who is making sure that I continue to receive the Herceptin.  

Several years ago, when I had the opportunity to purchase private insurance covering medications, I decided to forego that added expense. After all, I thought, how expensive can medications be?

Little did I know….


Need Advice — Taxol

November 22, 2008

OK, here goes.

For the past 16 months I have been taking Hercepting and Navalbine (and a bone drug, but that’s not relevant right now)

For the past 6 months, my markers have been rising and my pain has been increasing.

After months of tests, scans, deliberations, and sending me for a second opinion, my oncologist has determined that this particular drug combo is no longer working.

He wants to keep me on Herceptin and replace the Navalbine with Taxol.

I know most of you have had Taxol at one time or another.

I want to know what to expect.

Tell me everything, please.

(if you don’t want to comment, please email me at coffeeandchemo@gmail.com)


Living Proof on Lifetime

October 7, 2008

Thanks Michelle for tipping me off on this!  Herceptin is saving my life and there may be a vaccine in the near future to keep from getting Her2 positive breast cancer because of this drug!

“Living Proof”  will premier on October 18th on Lifetime and is about the doctor who developed herceptin.