Thursday, March 18, 2010


Actually, a number of my friends probably believe I should be committed, but in this instance, it means something else. I’ve signed on the dotted line (wonder where the ‘dotted line’ thing came from – lines are always solid aren’t they?) and committed to having chemo.

I still absolutely HATE the concept, and the need for it. But since I’ve come this far, I guess there’s really no alternative. Especially since they keep using the word ‘curable’.

So, to bring everything current...

First, back to my visit to the doc about 10 days ago when he siphoned off a quart of fluid from my chest (not quite that much, but it sure seemed like it!!). He ran tests on it of course, and the results came back. The medical terminology really is a giggle - my 'aerobic bacterial culture' showed positive results for 'gram negative rods', recovered from the broth only. Broth? Recovered from the broth? That shit he took from my chest is called Broth? Good grief!

After reading a bunch of stuff about 'gram negative rods', other than some neat comments about violet or pink-red in color, I still have no real understanding of what the hell they are, except that they are resistant to a lot of antibiotics. When Dr. K looked at the test results, she was surprised to find 'that kind' of bacteria in my wound, but trusted that the heavy antibiotic her associate had prescribed would take care of it.

The HER2+ path report is also in, finally. My result is "Amplified - The HER2/cen 17 ratio = 5.0"
I do wish they'd learn to speak English for us civilians trying to decipher this stuff! Probably it would sound too scary in simple terms... From what I read, this defines the method of analyzing the 'specimen', looking at chromosome 17 - "
The human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) oncogene, located on the long arm of chromosome 17 (17q12-q21), is over-expressed or amplified in approximately 20% of breast carcinoma cases." My 'value' of 5.0 is considered amplified. I show an average of HER2/neu copies per tile (the unit used for image system counting) is 11.6 and my average of cen17 copies per tile is 2.7, with amplification being anything greater than 2.2 - and the most aggressive disease stage is associated with the highest frequency of gene amplification - meaning it's gonna come back if untreated!

But this is the one that's 'curable' - Herceptin is the biological weapon of choice for these beasties. Note, they say biological rather than chemical. It's used in conjunction with the other chemo-therapy. Every three weeks for a year! But the list of side effects is just as frightening as chemo side effects - serious heart problems being the biggest. Peachy.

Then, of course, there is the regular (!!) chemo -
most commonly, chemotherapy acts by killing cells that divide rapidly, one of the main properties of cancer cells. This means that it also harms cells that divide rapidly under normal circumstances: cells in the bone marrow, digestive tract and hair follicles (hair loss). For my type and stage of cancer, we'll be using Taxotere and Carboplatin, administered by IV every 3 weeks for 6 cycles. The possible side effects are so damned frightening, I won't go into them here...but the major concerns are infection, because the immune system is trashed, and anemia, because the blood system is also trashed. Someone please remind me why I'm doing this??!! I should be committed!

There is a fairly new drug out, Neulasta (Pegfilgrastim) that helps the body make more white blood cells, to help prevent infection in people going thru cancer treatment. This stuff is injected under the skin - comes with encouraging warnings like 'do not shake this medicine', and 'refrigerate at 36-46 degrees but do not freeze'. Glad it doesn't leave the doctor's office.

Because all this shit is injected via an IV, which normally would be into a vein in the back of my hand, and would be done so often, resulting in probable collapsed veins and a very painful hand, the alternative is a 'port' inserted into my body - in my upper chest area on the 'healthy' side. Something else I'm not looking forward to, but it makes sense, so that's the plan. It's a bunch of hardware (not really hardware - plastics) that will accept the IV needle and deliver the shit straight into a vein. I'll 'wear' the damned thing for a year - supposedly will just be a 'slight bump' in my skin. But I guess I'm not going to be wearing any low cut tops for a long while anyway, so what's one more lump/bump on my once lovely chest!

Some of the potential side effects, listed on the info sheet provided on my 'consent for treatment' - allergic reactions, anemia, brief periods of forgetfulness (I've already been warned about 'chemo brain' from fellow cancer patients), blood clots, bone pain, breathing problems, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, hair loss, heart damage, low platelet count causing bleeding, low white count causing infection, mouth sores, nausea, neuropathy, numbness or tingling, life threatening complications (huh??), shortened survival (sweet!), skin and nail darkening, nail softening, light sensitivity, stroke, visual changes, other (love the 'other'). Nice. Remind me again why I'm doing this??!

So. I go in next week for an EKG to make sure I'm healthy enough for this shit and to get a base reading of my heart, and then a couple days later to get the damned port 'installed'. Then it's just a matter of waiting til the wound heals enough to let them start pouring that shit into me to make me sick, while hopefully making me well. I'm starting to get a little cranky about this whole thing. Can you tell?

On the other hand, I've received a couple incredibly supportive notes from friends and friends of friends about what an informative and helpful blog this has been. And while I have been doing this as much for my own sanity as anything, that it might prove beneficial to others as well is very gratifying.

One note I received from Hawaii said:

"... was gracious enough to share some of your blogs with me and I am writing to commend you on your stories.

I was so moved by the fluidity and compassion with which you wrote your articles. Everything seemed to flow so easily making the reader feel like he/she was present at the time(s) of the event(s). Your description of medical terminology puts many doctors to shame. They should take lessons from YOU on how to talk WITH PATIENTS not at them.

It must have been a gut-wrenching decision on your part to undergo the surgery as NO WOMAN likes to have her body desecrated. But from what I've read you've shown an enormous amount of positive attitude, true grit and a great sense of humor. I loved your comment about giving up a "boob" for Lent (well said).

In spite of the setback you've encountered you've demonstrated the attributes of a REAL TROOPER.

Good Luck and a very speedy recovery. Thanks for sharing your inner most thoughts with a stranger."

This kind of message helps me keep on keeping on!! and another girlfriend on the other side of of nation sent a note to all her friends saying:

"A dear friend from my Hawaii days (years!) was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now going through the healing, or as I prefer to view it - the CUREing process, and has included tons and tons of info, insights, understanding and positive healing into her blog. If you know anyone who is faced with a similar situation or has a family member or friend that is, I truly recommend sharing the link below with them.

My friend is, and always has been, an amazing woman - but she has outdone herself in this case. Her blog is truly an inspirational education!!!!"

Thank you to my dear friends who are standing with me in this battle, and who support me with love and chocolate and long distance hugs and words of encouragement. I'm a hard headed old broad who has to 'do it myself', but it's a tremendous feeling that so many are lending their helping hands! and if any of my readers wish to share this bump in the road with others, I'm honored. and I appreciate any comments! and might even listen to advice!! maybe!

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