Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Oncolo Gist

Ok...I just want to make it clear that the title was Dave's, and after careful consideration, I decided to leave it, as is, so everyone would know what I have to deal with on a daily basis.

But the "gist" of our visit with my oncologist, Dr. Elyse Lower, who is fab, btw, was a mantra she told us to memorize and repeat often: "Early stage breast cancer, excellent prognosis!"

The gist of the much anticipated staging of those damn spots, was one, which didn't seem like the loneliest number that I had ever heard. In fact we really were quite delighted with the number one. Like she said, "Early stage breast cancer, excellent prognosis!" And that is our story that we're sticking with.

If you are med savvy, she said something like T1N0Mx, which meant something like stage 1 Cancer, with no lymph node involvement (Yay!), and Metastasis an unknown variable until bone/catscans to follow Tuesday next. Obviously this is our next hurdle and therefore our earnest prayer request, that the M would be followed by an 0, therefore meaning that we are not dealing with any other cancers, and can proceed to other less scary hurdles, like chemo.

The breast cancer is gone and we are done with that for good. I did ask my breast surgeon "how much weight I lost" with the mastectomy, for lack of a more delicate way of putting it, and I was actually quite delighted that it was almost Shakespearian in scope, as in just a wee bit shylock of a pound of flesh. Dr. Lower did assure us that said pound of flesh did begin in the breast, was clearly breast cancer, no question. So the lungs, liver and bones testing are just part of the drill, but there is no reason to think we will find any signs of cancer there. We are penciling in a zero after the M and would really dig tracing over it with a sharpie on Wednesday, when we hope to hear the good news.

Dr. Lower said, and I do quote, that I "get all the gold stars" for coming in right away and having done with everything in the speed and manner with which this rollercoaster has run. She did say that many women write off lumps as hormonal and decide to wait and see if things change after their period or longer. With the aggressiveness and fast growing nature of the damn spots that I found, this could have been a "You snooze, you lose" prognosis for me. So this is my desperate plea: that anyone reading this not take any damn spots lightly. The damn spot began in a duct and had already multiplied to three damn spots and spread outside the duct to the breast and...but Dr. Donna Stahl stopped it in its tracks, even removed the tracks for good measure. Thank God. Not to mention that He moved me to mention it to Dave, who made me go to the doctor, the day we found the damn spot. Not to mention His orchestration of the speed and manner in which we got past the first herculean hurdle of breast cancer. So all the gold stars really belong to Him, which is appropriate, since He made them anyway. But I do like looking at them. And wishing on them.

So here's the scoop on the next few steps we take over the next few days:

Thursday I get a Muga Scan at 8:30 a.m. (which is a test to make sure my heart is healthy enough to take the chemo, since chemo can mess with the way the heart pumps). The good news, is that it is not "one of those kinds of tests" that interfere with one's morning cup of coffee. The bad news is that Dave tells me there is some kind of radioactive chaser that they will inject me with. Which means I may end up with some cool super power or something. I already hulk out on the tennis court, minus the turning green, so I'm not sure what I should wish for. Will have to sleep on it and get back to you, maybe after I've gotten past that awkward phase where one has to fumble around trying to get adjusted to and to properly control said superpower. If you've seen Heroes, you know what I mean.

Friday I get the stiches from the Mastectomy out. It's not my favorite thing to do on a Friday night, but I will be glad to not have the Frankensteinish zipper look across my chest. It is not my favorite either.

Sunday I am doing the Race for the Cure with Team Evanshire, which my tennis bud, Celina set up for me. It is a 5K and I am hoping to be the tortoise that wins the race. Yes, I am walking, not running. My friend Celina, however, will most likely run it, lap us, and then do her warm down by walking to the finish with us. I have been "in training" this week. Walked 2 miles with Dave on Sunday, very leisurely and obviously untimed. We walked it again tonight before dinner and timed it this time, and came in at 50 minutes. A bit discouraging, when I used to be able to run a 5:50 mile in college. Yes I am painfully aware that I just had major surgery a week and a half ago. (And yes, Lisa Dupps, my decade younger tennis partner, I realize college was ancient history and you were probably potty training while I was running 5 freakin' 50 miles in college. But still. I've had a few people ask about joining our team and racing with, or just joining the team for support, and the link is here or my tennis bud, Celina Woods, the team captain, who I will be happy to put you in touch with. She is also the one who has been organizing all the lovely meals we have been receiving (Thank you, everyone, so very much, and of course, you too, Celina).

Tuesday I get the Bone/Cat Scans, beginning at 8:30 in the a.m., and the bad thing about these tests are that they are the de-caf ones, as in, no food or drink six hours prior. I am not above setting my alarm at 2 a.m. to get in my fix. Otherwise, I may have a hefty headache around noon, when I think the testing/coffee deprivation will cease.

I think we get the results on Wednesday.

We also need to schedule genetic testing, and probably a surgery to put in a port for the chemo treatments. We are praying about whether to go port or IV on this, and in a way I wish it was black and white, written on the wall, like everything else so far has been so far. This choice is not my favorite.

Here's the scoop on the Chemo Cocktail:
AC (Adriamycin and Cytoxan) every 2 weeks for 2 months
TH (Taxol with Herceptin) every 3 weeks for 3 months
H (Herceptin continues) every 3 weeks for 9 months

The Chemo Cocktails will take about 3-4 hours and we are thinking Monday afternoons after I teach my Brit Lit class are going to be the best day to schedule in order to keep that, and our life, as much as normal, up, which I intend to do. Which, btw, I had my first class on Monday and it was very scary but I have a fantastic group of students, so it wasn't the end of the world standing up in front of 16 students and filling an hour with my shaky self, like I had previously imagined. As to how it went, you'd have to ask my class because I was way too nervous to gauge that. Plus, there is another mum who is a writer who is also my helper, and so she has my back, not to mention is a delightful soul to get to rub elbows with.

On Tuesdays after my chemo cocktail I will have to go back to get a white blood cell booster shot, since the chemo can mess with that too.

That's 21ish treatments over 14 months, starting the end of this month. We are considering scheduling the first treatment to begin on September 29th. That way I will be able to enjoy the taste of the lovely coffee cake my kids always make for me on my birthday. Should be done by Christmas 2009, just in time for our 22nd anniversary and hopefully the rain check on that vacation we were going to be on even as I type this.

Yes, my hair is going to fall out. For 5 months. Even my eyebrows, which I just had waxed for the very first (and never again because why would I ever willingly let someone do that to me again?) time. And my eyelashes, which I hadn't even thought of, and was weird to think about once I did. The sweetness of the deal is that I will not have to shave my legs or armpits for 5 months. Actually I have not shaved my armpits since my mastectomy since my left armpit hurts too bad from the lymph node ectomy part of it. Therefore my right armpit would have nothing to do with the razor for symmetrical principles. And my legs joined the cause in solidarity, for which I truly appreciate, since I am so slow these days that I doubt there's enough hot water in West Chester to last through a shower like that. Not to mention, who likes shaving anyway? But I won't have to, until sometime next spring when my hair begins to grow back. I'm thinking of spray painting it green when it sprouts, just to be all festive and stuff.

Dave said in the meantime, he is going to buy me a bunch of Tootsie Roll Pops so I can walk around like Kojak. I like the brown ones best.

Cheers, and thanks for praying. Please don't stop. It's the big guns we're counting on in this battle we're in. And it's working.

Joules (this is what my tennis buds call me, and my way of spelling it so that they have to say it with a French accent, which I really like a lot, so I just thought I'd throw it out there, since that's what I go by around here.)


Anonymous said...

You & Dave are too much alike for your own goods...I hope you don't frighten your chain of docs!!
I am so glad you both can have such a sense of humor to help you through all of this! I think it must also mean God has a real sense of humor, and is passing it on through you!
As for your upcoming new "hairdo"....never fear, I am sure your mom still has tape to apply those bows to your head, as she did when you were " just a little younger" so everyone would know you were a little girl! And pink IS the official color for breast will bring back so many memories and smiles for her!
Good luck to team Evanshire!
Love You!

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Darling. I especially liked the part about the stars. And thanks for keeping the title, but what happened to the other content I suggested? Like "hair today, gone tomorrow" or "fur what it's worth, I will be tress-free, whether I locks it or not"? :-)


Angela said...

Joules (is it pronounced zhewleh or zhools?) (or with a hard J?),
You have the greatest wit and attitude - I really like reading your blogs and look forward to new ones! I'm glad for the cancer-free dx but sorry that you have to go through so many months of chemo - wow, I had no idea it would last that long. But I guess it's considered "insurance". Good luck with the cancer (walk) run - wish I could join you!

Angela said...

Joules, I forgot to mention, regarding Dave's sense of humor (". . . put up with on a daily basis") - I believe there are few things in life worse than a humorless man! We know that, you and I, that's why we picked 'em! :D

Anonymous said...


Looking forward to walking with you on Sunday. Thx for the update.

Lisa R.

"Joules" is also a measure of electricity, no? The name is apropos in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

That's right, Lisa, Joules are the units of energy, either power times time, or force times distance. So, yes, very apropos.

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,
Fourteen months sounds terribly long to me...and Cindy, Jackie, Chrissy and I are suprised at the length of the treatment program. I pray they go fast and you are carried as though on the wings of love; from Jesus, your fam, and your friends.
Re: to port or not to port, do you have to make a decision with the first treatment or two? Or can you can 'test the waters' and talk with other patients to come to that decision. Wish I could tell you what's best, but I dunno.
Love and Prayers always!
Becky and Chuck
PS Should you get a flu shot?

laura hill said...

You're so cute!