Metastasis … and a second clinical trial

April 18, 2011

Two things. 

1.  The cancer has spread to my bones.  This is called bone metastasis, and it’s not a particularly good sign.

2.  The cancer in the lymph nodes in my chest now shows “near-complete resolution” with “minimal hypermetabolic activity.”  This is GREAT NEWS and as far as I’m concerned, it’s at least a minor miracle.  Not to use the word lightly around my friends the nuns or anything, but really?  Near complete resolution?  Awesome.

We just have to work on the cancer in my bones now, adding Zometa infusions once every four or twelve weeks to strengthen the bones and (hopefully) slow the cancer’s growth as the Femara continues to block the estrogen that feeds it.  I say once every four OR twelve weeks because we don’t know yet.  I’ve agreed to join another clinical trial and recieve whichever treatment the randomizer assigns me to receive. 

As you guys know, experimental research is important.  Just because the last clinical trial was so hard on me doesn’t mean this one will be – and every little piece of knowledge helps the researchers plan treatment not only for me but for the women and men who come after me.  Bone mets happen to 70% of breast cancer patients, they say, and we need to find ways to control their growth until they can be stopped.  So I’m off to start another clinical trial.  I had my first infusion on Thursday, with side effects (fever, aches, pains, flu-like symptoms), this weekend.  I’m hopeful that this treatment will work too.


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.”