Bonnie's BC Blog

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Anniversaries

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 9:45 PM

Two months ago, in September, people all across the country commemorated the ten year anniversary of 9/11. A friend of mine from college died in the attacks on the World Trade Center; he and I were lab partners during my second year of university. We had fallen out of touch after graduation, as I went off to grad school and work in the oil industry, while he moved on to a successful career with IBM. By 2001, he had married the love of his life and had an office high in the north tower of the WTC. His family hoped for a long time that he was running late for work the day the planes hit; as the weeks and months passed without word from him, they realized that he was probably sitting in his office and died immediately when the first plane hit his floor.

On the ten year anniversary of the tragedies that took the lives of so many Americans and transformed the lives of all of the rest of us, I went online and searched for Peter Klein’s name. I found several digital memorials to him and cried as I read notes from people who had known him, had worked with him, and had loved him. I cried even more as I read the notes of people who had never known him; people from Europe and other parts of the world who just wanted to express their sympathy for the loss of his life on that dark day. He was only 35 years old.

In the weeks that followed in September, I was reminded of other anniversaries. An orchid in my kitchen window shot out a flower stalk and then a second. Flowers buds formed and gradually, the blooms opened.

I was excited and humbled – excited, because I’d never had an orchid perform a repeat bloom for me, and humbled because I realized this orchid was blooming nearly exactly one year after it came into my home in the hands of a dear friend, Nicole, who brought it to me just prior to my mastectomy surgery.

So every day, as I watched each of the buds turn into blooms, I was reminded of my own anniversaries. My last chemo on September 3, 2010. My surgery on October 1, 2010. Each of them one year in the past. And as I thought on each of those dates, I realized how much the memories of them have faded. A browse through my own blog brings them right into sharp focus, but otherwise they truly have faded away into distant memories. I have been so blessed to move on with my life in the last year!

At the end of 2010, I was a bit scared – worried about not being able to participate in the experimental ixabepilone chemo trial; worried if and when my cancer would come back. But, as the months passed, my skin healed, my hair grew back, my nails grew back, and I only had to go back to M.D. Anderson for an appointment once every 1-3 months. My job is now back to a “normal” level of insanity and pressure. I know I have another surgery scheduled in the future, but much of my cancer now feels firmly in the past.

It is a good feeling to look at those orchid blooms and smile as the anniversaries fly by, one after the other.

Anniversaries

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 9:29 PM

Two months ago, in September, people all across the country commemorated the ten year anniversary of 9/11. A friend of mine from college died in the attacks on the World Trade Center; he and I were lab partners during my second year of university. We had fallen out of touch after graduation, as I went off to grad school and work in the oil industry, while he moved on to a successful career with IBM. By 2001, he had married the love of his life and had an office high in the north tower of the WTC. His family hoped for a long time that he was running late for work the day the planes hit; as the weeks and months passed without word from him, they realized that he was probably sitting in his office and died immediately when the first plane hit his floor.

On the ten year anniversary of the tragedies that took the lives of so many Americans and transformed the lives of all of the rest of us, I went online and searched for Peter Klein’s name. I found several digital memorials to him and cried as I read notes from people who had known him, had worked with him, and had loved him. I cried even more as I read the notes of people who had never known him; people from Europe and other parts of the world who just wanted to express their sympathy for the loss of his life on that dark day. He was only 35 years old.

In the weeks that followed in September, I was reminded of other anniversaries. An orchid in my kitchen window shot out a flower stalk and then a second. Flowers buds formed and gradually, the blooms opened.

I was excited and humbled – excited, because I’d never had an orchid perform a repeat bloom for me, and humbled because I realized this orchid was blooming nearly exactly one year after it came into my home in the hands of a dear friend, Nicole, who brought it to me just prior to my mastectomy surgery.

So every day, as I watched each of the buds turn into blooms, I was reminded of my own anniversaries. My last chemo on September 3, 2010. My surgery on October 1, 2010. Each of them one year in the past. And as I thought on each of those dates, I realized how much the memories of them have faded. A browse through my own blog brings them right into sharp focus, but otherwise they truly have faded away into distant memories. I have been so blessed to move on with my life in the last year!

At the end of 2010, I was a bit scared – worried about not being able to participate in the experimental ixabepilone chemo trial; worried if and when my cancer would come back. But, as the months passed, my skin healed, my hair grew back, my nails grew back, and I only had to go back to M.D. Anderson for an appointment once every 1-3 months. My job is now back to a “normal” level of insanity and pressure. I know I have another surgery scheduled in the future, but much of my cancer now feels firmly in the past.

It is a good feeling to look at those orchid blooms and smile as the anniversaries fly by, one after the other.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Avon Walks for Breast Cancer!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 8:00 AM

As I’ve alluded to in a couple of earlier posts, I’m really excited to be participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer again this year! I will be walking a total of 78.6 miles in two cities – first, 39.3 miles over two days in mid-April in Houston, TX, then another 39.3 miles at the end of April in Washington, D.C. (where I am originally from, and where many of my family still reside.)

I have pledged to raise at least $1800 as part of my participation in EACH of the two walks. I’ve made excellent progress toward my goal of $5000 in the Houston walk AND toward my goal of $2500 in D.C. However, I would still be very happy to receive any support that you might want to contribute. (Many, many, MANY thanks to you who have already contributed!)

To see my “walker page” for either of the two walks, just click anywhere in one of the pink boxes below. I share my story – why I am doing this and what I hope to accomplish.


Status of Washington, D.C. walk (April 30-May 1, 2011):


Status of Houston, TX walk (April 16-17, 2011):



Those of you who have read this blog over the last 11 months are very familiar with this story, of course. However, I’ve had interesting feedback from my coworkers who have gone to the page to make donations and read that story there.

One coworker came to accuse me of making his wife cry when she read it. Another told me that his daughter laughed. (She’s a physical therapist. You’ll get why she laughed if you read it.) A third made her donation and told me later that day, with tears in her eyes, that she was so impressed by my story. A few days later, she came to me again and asked whether I had had any training in writing. I was a little puzzled at first, but gradually she explained that she was just struck by how effectively I communicated my experience and my motivation for the walks.

I thought about it and realized that this blog, and the feedback that I have received from so many of you, has been incredibly formative for me as a writer. I still don’t think of myself as a REAL writer, but I’ve learned from you all how to express myself. I really enjoy writing these posts, but I have benefited immensely from the feedback that I get. When I write something boring, it is pretty obvious – I get no responses at all. If I’m funny, you tell me. If I make you cry, you tell me. So by your responses (or lack of them!), you’ve steered and guided me toward what I hope is better writing.

In any event, I’m also actively training now. Walking 39.3 miles isn’t terribly hard, but it is LONG! Mostly, I find that I just need to get my feet in shape. The rest of me handles the walking quite well. My first training walk (5 miles) was December 31 of last year. I did one 10 mile walk in January, and then I have walked at least 10 miles for each of the last three weekends. I join some of my neighbors now in walking 6 miles on Sunday mornings before church. I also need to walk 10-15 miles every Saturday from here until the first walk. If anyone here in Houston wants to come out and walk with me on Saturdays, please let me know! I really welcome the company – and you do NOT have to walk the whole distance ;-) (I walk a loop on Saturdays, so it is easy to break it into smaller chunks.) This is an absolutely beautiful time of year to be out-of-doors in Houston! The blue bonnets were just starting to come out two weeks ago – each week you can see more trees and flowers bursting into bloom. Such a delight!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Real hair

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 7:59 AM

Last week, when I saw my in-laws for the first time since Christmas, they were all initially surprised by my appearance. They quickly smiled and hugged me and said they liked seeing my real hair again.

However, this made me realize that I had been silent about this milestone here. They were very regular readers of my blog and were always up-to-date on the things going on in my cancer-life: tests and treatments and wigs and surgeries and so on. Which means that the rest of you, my Faithful Readers, were also in the dark.

I officially/completely/totally stopped wearing my wig on February 11. It was a Friday, and I just decided that morning that I was done. My wig was always very natural-looking and very comfortable to wear – in fact it really helped keep my head warm during the coldest part of our winter here. However, my real hair was growing (albeit very slowly) and by January, it was peeking out from under the edges of the wig. If you look VERY carefully at the left side of the picture below (or click on it to get a larger image), you can see my real hair in front of my ears – it is clearly a little darker than the wig hair.

January 16 - One of the Last Days of Allison

I actually colored my hair again (first time since April 2010) on January 31, just so that it wasn’t so obvious, peeking out. Plus, I really didn’t like all that gray…!

January 30 - Before the coloring

All through January and the beginning of February, I toyed daily with the idea of going completely wig-free. I almost never wore it at home (except to use it like a hat on those unusually cold mornings!) I started leaving it off for select outings, like going to the opera with a friend, or going to the eye doctor. The latter was an awkward and strange experience. I’ve been going to this eye doctor since the mid-90′s. She owns a Texas State Optical store, located originally in a strip mall near a Krogers off Shepherd, but currently in a more upscale location in the Heights. The doctor is a really nice woman, originally from Puerto Rico, and her beleaguered staff has been with her FOREVER. (Seriously, they only leave her employ if they develop life-threatening illnesses or die.) For some reason, they all seem to love me – their only complaint is that I keep changing my surname (I’ve had three since I started going there.) Aaron was astonished the one time he stopped by there to pick up some contacts for me. They exclaimed over him and even dragged the doctor out of the back exam room to meet Bonnie’s new husband.

On the morning of my appointment, I walked in, and Veronica at the desk asked me if I had an appointment. I said “yes”, she said “what time”, I said “10″, and she said, “Oh, hi Bonnie. Take a seat over there.” Hmmm. Not the usual greeting. The second lady at the desk (the “new” one, who’s only been there for three years) says, “Oh, I love your haircut. I wish I was brave enough to cut it that short. blah. blah. blah.” Five minutes later, the doctor comes out of the exam room, walks to the desk, RIGHT PAST ME, and says to her staff, “Isn’t Bonnie coming in this morning?” I mean, I’m four feet away from her when she asks this. The desk ladies did the little head jerk thing in my direction, so she looked over at me. “Oh. I didn’t know you’d been sick.” Well, thank goodness. Someone who actually figures it out at first glance and doesn’t think I’ve suddenly decided to cut off all my hair to be “funky”, after 16 (no, 44) years of non-funkyness.

My coworkers – not so quick. Bless their hearts, even some of them who KNEW I had cancer still didn’t really grasp that I’d been wearing a wig for the last 10 months. The great majority of them had no clue about my little disease, and so they would mostly say things like, “Oh! You got your hair cut.” Then, depending on how quickly they could process an appropriate response, their next comment would either be – “It looks really nice/good/cute.” (Not true, but thanks for the effort.) or “You look like a boy.” (Ok, true that, but NO! people, you do not SAY that to a woman! Sheesh.)

So, yeah, the first week at work without the wig was pretty uncomfortable; full of awkward double-takes and awkward comments and awkward responses. I’ll admit that I wanted more than once to run home and put Allison back on before a meeting or something, just to avoid the comments and the glances. But I pushed my way through it and now it is the new normal.

And my hair is continuing to grow (of course – but you don’t take these things for granted any more!) Even this morning, I can see how much longer it is than the picture I posted above. It’s comforting to see that every day I move a little closer back to the OLD normal.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pornography?!?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 11:00 PM

Back in January, I suddenly could no longer access my blog site at work. Cheryl’s sister reported the same thing. My domain was blocked by Shell’s expert IT staff and software. However, it was not simply falling into the category of “time-wasters” like Facebook or “bandwidth-wasters” like streaming music sites or YouTube. No, it was blocked for “pornography“.

I was baffled. To my knowledge, there was no pornography on either my old backyard webcam or on my blog site. (One of you would have told me if you’d seen any, right? Right?!?)

I finally decided that it must have been that I said BREAST too many times. Stupid Shell IT.

Anyway, between the denial of access at the office (as it turns out, I often would start composing blog posts during periods of downtime at the office, while I waited for a job to run or a file to download) and finishing my treatment in December, I haven’t had much to say. However, I’ve developed a bit of a backlog, and will put out a few posts over the next few days.

I know you’ll all be waiting! ;-)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

By The Numbers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 10:00 PM

I guess there are still a few blog posts left in me. I was filing bills tonight and decided to put together a summary of my Year 2010:

  • $231,223.13…………….Total billed to my insurance by MDAnderson, the Rose, the initial pathologists, etc. between Feb 1, 2010 and Dec 29, 2010.
  • $161,729.59…………….Total actually “allowed” and paid by my insurance.
  • $ 1,920.33…………….Total paid by Aaron and me – we are so blessed!
  • 66…………..Number of visits made by me to MD Anderson in 2010, beginning in March.
  • 16…………..Greatest number of visits in one month – December, 2010.
  • 2………….Least number of visits in one month – September, 2010.
  • 87…………..Number of blog posts I wrote in 2010.
  • October 13, 2009……The date I first noticed a physical symptom of what I later would learn was my cancer.
  • February 1, 2010……The date of my annual mammogram and ultrasound; the date I first suspected I might have cancer, and gradually put it together – my earliest physical symptoms, the pain in my breast, and the reactions of the medical staff performing my ultrasound.
  • February 19, 2010……The date of my diagnosis. Neither Aaron nor I can forget this date. I think nearly ever cancer patient I’ve met KNOWS this date in their life. I was very fortunate to have a caring, compassionate, experienced doctor who carefully broke the news to us and patiently detailed the likely road ahead of us.
  • April 9, 2010……My first chemo.
  • October 1, 2010……Surgery.
  • December 21, 2010……My last radiation treatment.

A number for 2011:

  • 78.6…………The number of miles I am going to walk in the Houston and Washington, D.C. Avon Walks for Breast Cancer this year. Stay tuned for more details!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year / Pix

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 4:43 PM

Happy New Year, friends and family!

I don’t have anything to say today, but thought I would put out some pictures that Aaron took just before Christmas, December 22, the morning after my last radiation treatment. (Click on any thumbnail below to see a larger image.) The first picture provides some documentary evidence that my hair really is growing back – nice and thick and dark. The black and white photo hides the gray hairs and the fact that I wasn’t wearing any makeup. ;-)

Hair is growing back!

My hair is obviously still very short; however it is long enough that in the last few days, I’ve actually had to comb it after toweling it dry. Took me a while to find my comb, because I had not used a comb or brush since we’d moved into our new-old house! The picture doesn’t really do my eyebrows justice though – I am quite happy that they appear back to normal now.

I also have a couple of pictures of the exit path radiation burns on my back. It was hard for me to really get a good look at my back on my own, so it was interesting to look at the pictures and see how very clearly delineated the mark was.

Nice burn, huh?
Pretty red color for the holidays!


I like the nice regular, rectangular shape of my exit path radiation pattern!


No one gets to see the front except all of my doctors and Aaron. Just pretend it’s a lot redder and burned looking than this part.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ixabepilone trial

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 10:39 AM

As I mentioned last week, I gave my consent to participate in a clinical trial, where they are going to investigate the use of the chemo drug ixabepilone in women with significant residual cancer burden after neoadjuvant chemo and surgery (like me) to see if it can delay or prevent recurrence and increase survival rates. My oncologist had suggested it, my radiation oncologist had recommended it, and most of you had weighed in in favor as well. Even after I had announced my intent to participate and was waiting in an exam room to sign the consent, my oncologist’s nurse came in to the room to tell me how glad she was that I had decided to participate, because she really thought it could benefit me.

Aaron and I braced ourselves for 4.5 more months of chemo, losing hair, missing work, avoiding travel, feeling sick. They even put a placeholder in my MDAnderson schedule for next Friday (1/7) for my first chemo. So soon? Ugh… Then I got a call from the research nurse this morning and held my breath. She said they had randomized me and I was placed in the observation-only arm of the trial.

I felt sad.

I should feel happy, right? I’m actually DONE treatment. Now. Today. In 2010. Just like we originally thought. I can grow out my hair and my fingernails and toenails. I can watch my radiation burns fade away. I can get a real project at work again. I can plan to do the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in the spring. I can plan to travel. (I can stop blogging!?)

Still I’m sad. I think they finally scared me. When this whole process started so many months ago in February, I wasn’t really scared. I knew I had cancer, but somehow I was very confident that it had not spread and I could be treated and cured. This confidence was so solid that I wasn’t surprised – I felt validated – when my initial staging in March showed that indeed the cancer had only spread to my lymph nodes but had not metastasized. I think it kept me strong through all of my chemo, and only wavered as I was heading into my surgery.

But now I’ve seen the attitudes of the doctors and the nurses. The attitude that this study, this drug, might be necessary for me. That it might keep me from getting cancer again. The hidden implication being that – without taking this drug, it’s likely to come back.

The tumors have been removed. They were cut out in October. The radiation zapped the neighborhoods where they had lived, to make them not come back there again. Like the cancer cells were tiny little gang members, and we’ve painted over the graffiti and tore down the vacant buildings where they used to hang out and plot their misdeeds.

And yet, the medical staff have introduced me to the concept of “mini-metastases”, and the thought that some of these gang members are still cruising around in my blood, looking for a new neighborhood. The additional chemo was my chance to fire-bomb the place. Kill the remaining gang members.

Aaron reminds me that I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve done all the treatment that at this time is known to fight this disease. I am still participating in this trial, such that I will be monitored more closely than usual for the next half year. And I should be so happy to be finally done.

Still, as the cloudy skies pour down rain on my house this morning, I feel also that I am myself now under a cloud. Waiting. Watching. Hoping that I will notice and react quickly if the gang members come back. Wondering if and when they will.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Rad!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 2:09 PM

In a completely unforeseen turn of events, I had my last radiation treatment today!

My original treatment plan was supposed to be five weeks of radiation (photon and electron beams), followed by an optional one week “boost” of electron beams only to the mastectomy flap region. (Basically, just the part I had surgery on, rather than the whole left side of my torso). Somewhere along the way, I forgot it was optional, and I think my radiation oncologist did as well.

Last week, when I saw her, she set up the plan for the boost. When I saw her for my weekly visit yesterday, I asked her just a simple question about what the boost would entail. She stopped and looked at me and said basically, we should have talked about this last week but I had forgotten, your boost is optional. So we talked about it for a little while. The boost is a proven standard for lumpectomy patients, but it has not been shown to provide any benefit (above the normal 5 week/25 day treatment) to mastectomy patients. She just does it “to be safe”. She commented specifically that if I was a candidate for an implant-only reconstruction, then I almost certainly should not do the boost.

I left the hospital with that phrase ringing in my head, because I was fairly certain that my plastic surgeon was considering implant-only as a possibility for me. By mid-afternoon, I had decided to go forward with the boost. Then I got home and talked to Aaron, and we decided I shouldn’t do it. By morning, I was back decided on doing it.

I went in for my final “normal” radiation treatment today, then stopped to see if I could talk to my radiation oncologist again. We chatted on the phone and she reiterated that there was no demonstrated proof that the boost would benefit me. (She and her nurse both made it clear that if she felt even slightly that it would benefit me, it would NOT be optional.) I then checked with my plastic surgeon, and confirmed that he did indeed consider the implant-only path an option for me. Aaron and I talked again at lunchtime, and we decided to forego the boost. I called this afternoon and let them all know not to expect me tomorrow morning!

It is very weird. I should be so happy to be done, and yet I feel like I’m dropping out of a class right before the final exam!!! I think it is the right thing to do, because why do an optional treatment that isn’t proven or even theorized to add benefit? Especially balanced with the possibly huge upside of the implant-only option for reconstruction (vs. my other option, which involves surgery at a donor site on my thighs, followed by 4-6 weeks of recovery).

Then, to update everyone, maybe I’m not excited yet because I’m NOT done. I did decide to participate in the ixabepilone trial (thanks to all of you for UNANIMOUSLY agreeing that I should do it!) I will have a special lab test run on my blood next week. When the results are in from that test, they will then randomize me and let me know whether I’m in the chemo arm or the observation-only arm of the trial. If I’m in the chemo arm, I believe my treatment will begin in early January.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Decisions / Pathology Revisited

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bonnie @ 12:22 AM

Back in October I wrote a blog entitled “Ten day follow-up” about my post-mastectomy pathology results. I had just met with my surgeon and her staff, and my impression at the time was that my results were pretty favorable. I was pleased:

In the end, despite my many ultrasounds which indicated four different masses, the pathology found TWO. One measured 1.7×1.2×1.1 cm and still had 90% viable cancer cells in it. The other measured 1.0×0.8×0.6 cm and had 60% viable cancer cells. Both of the tumors had clean margins of 0.4 cm. Where did the other two go? Good question – they could have been misinterpretations of the ultrasound images, they could have been shrunk/killed by the chemo, or they could have been healed by prayer! The viability of the cancer cells in the tumors that were found indicate that my treatment was indeed effective – though not 100%- at killing off some significant portions of the cancer cells. Praise God! Twenty lymph nodes were removed in total – of those, two were malignant. At the time of my staging, I knew that I had cancer in at least one lymph node. In a perfect world, the chemo would have killed off the cancer in any/all lymph nodes. However, I’m really very happy that cancer was found in just two (10%) of those lymph nodes that were removed.

The following week, I met with my medical oncologist – the doctor who I started with at MD Anderson and who prescribed my six-month neoadjuvant chemotherapy plan. In that appointment, we again reviewed my pathology results. While nothing in the pathology had changed, the tone of the discussion was quite different, and Aaron and I left feeling far less happy than when we’d met with the surgeon. To be honest, I have been processing in my head and heart that discussion and its ramifications for the last three months.

While I had been happy that there were only two tumors found instead of four, and that those tumors were smaller than all of the ultrasounds had indicated, and that I only had two malignant lymph nodes out of twenty removed, my oncologist had quite a different take. After six months of chemotherapy, he would have liked to find zero malignant lymph nodes. Furthermore, he was definitely not pleased that one of my tumors had 90% viable cells; the number of viable cells should have been far lower after chemotherapy. Lastly, there was a marker test that was run on my tumors called “Ki-67″. Ki-67 is a cancer antigen that is found in growing, dividing cells but is absent in the resting phase of cell growth. This characteristic makes Ki-67 a good tumor marker. Research agrees that high levels of Ki-67 indicate an aggressive tumor and predict a poor prognosis. From what I understand, the Ki-67 score is basically the percentage of cells that are actively dividing. The Ki-67 score ranges are:

  • Low Positive <17%
  • Moderate Positive 17-35%
  • High Positive >35%

My score was 80%.

Dr. Ibrahim suggested that I might be eligible for a clinical trial underway for patients with high residual cancer burden (RCB) after neoadjuvant chemotherapy and surgery. He referred me to a research nurse who computed my RCB – I was a 3 on a scale from 1-3 – and who said I was therefore eligible to participate in this study. The study is evaluating the use of the chemotherapy drug ixabepilone in breast cancer patients with high RCB at the time of surgery to see whether the drug will reduce the rate of recurrence (or lengthen the time before recurrence) and increase survival. 50% of the participants in the trial will undergo 4.5 months of chemotherapy with ixabepilone. The remaining 50% will receive no chemo but will be monitored just as closely, as a control group. Ixabepilone was approved by the FDA in 2007 for the treatment of metastatic or locally-advanced breast cancer, so this is not a trial to determine its efficacy as a cancer drug, but instead how successful it might be at preventing or delaying the return of cancer. It is a “meaner” chemo drug than the four I’ve already had – the main side effects are apparently nausea and neuropathy. Because it is a funded research trial, there would be no financial cost to me (or my insurance company) to participate.

When I first was told about this trial, my reaction was, “No way. No more chemo. Nope. I’m DONE. And definitely no more neuropathy.” Aaron’s reaction was, “Let’s throw everything we can at this disease.” We talked about it. We prayed. We verified that there was no Proverb which clearly says, “A woman is wise who participates in ixabepilone trials when they are offered.” I was told I didn’t have to decide until about two weeks from the end of my radiation therapy, so I put it out of my head and decided I would sleep on it (for a few months).

In the last few weeks, though, I’ve had to start thinking about it again. I asked my radiation oncologist for her thoughts on my participating in the trial, and she shocked me by recommending it strongly. She felt that there was not a down side (chemo side-effects don’t seem to concern her – I guess because most of them are temporary) to the study – if I would get chosen to get the chemo, I might possibly receive a treatment that could lower my risk of getting cancer again. And if I don’t get the chemo, I would still be monitored closely, and this is certainly beneficial as well. She pointed out that I am young, and she also reminded me that while her radiation plan is likely to be very successful at preventing local recurrence (in my left breast area), this clinical trial is intended to prevent cancer from occurring elsewhere, in the places that aren’t being radiated.

Then, last week, I met a young woman named Lisa G. while I was waiting for my radiation treatment. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and underwent treatment for it. All seemed well, and she went on with her life. In 2009, she had some pain in her chest; doctors told her nothing was wrong, but she pushed them until she finally got a scan. Which showed that she now had cancer in her sternum (bone). They told her she was stage 4. She travelled to Texas to get another opinion at MD Anderson, where they felt differently and have been treating her as if it was a local recurrence (i.e. the cancer moved from breast tissue to the sternum vs. the cancer moving from the breast to the lymph nodes to the blood to the bone). For some reason, I mentioned to Lisa that I was debating participating in this chemo study. She listened to my situation and then commented that although I hadn’t asked her opinion, she was going to give it to me anyway. She said that she’d sat in that chair and been told that her cancer was back, it was metastatic, and she was going to die. And she said, when you sit in that chair, you want to know that you’ve done everything you possibly could to prevent the cancer from coming back. Basically, you don’t want to say, “well I could have taken this drug or this chemo, but I chose not to.” She reminded me that while chemo sucks and can be really miserable, being told you are stage 4 is a lot worse.

I have a follow-up appointment with my medical oncologist scheduled for this Friday. I plan to ask him a few more questions about this drug and this trial and then make my decision. I guess that at this point, I am now leaning toward participating in this trial. Did God send me Lisa G. (like Debbie O. all those months ago) to help me make this decision? (in lieu of clear guidance from Proverbs!) I have to say that I think so. I have to keep reminding myself that even if I participate, there is only a 50/50 chance that I will be picked to receive the chemo.

I’m trying not to be glum about the prospect of 4.5 more months of treatment when I felt like I might be done at the end of the year. Or the prospect of losing my hair again, when it is finally thickening up and beginning to grow out. Or the scary prospect of my neuropathy coming back. I wanted to take vacations and work in my garden and do the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer next spring – what would chemo mean for all of those things? I’m trying to remind myself of that 50/50 probability. And to remind myself that it’s just 4.5 months and just six treatments (vs. the 18 I had before) and that I want there to be lots more springs ahead of me.

I’ll let you all know what I decide…and I do count on hearing your thoughts and advice on the decision I have to make.

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