Fox and Broom

A mom's adventures in keeping healthy, keeping her sanity, and making stuff.

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A View On Chemo

I am starting a new treatment today. This was on my own request, which is a first for me. I usually have to switch to a new treatment because the current one has failed me. In this case, Paclitaxol (Taxol), was working perfectly. However, the side effects were too much for me. I have neuropathy in my fingers and feet, and my fingernails are trying to leave my fingers.

Yeah. It’s gross.

My new chemo is Gemcitabine (Gemzar). It is a not so harsh treatment that will allow my feet and fingers to recover. I would actually like to go back to Taxol at sometime in the future.

While I am sitting here, I realized that I have never once mentioned what my little chemo room looks like. The rooms are not very private, unless you get an actual room with a door. Most of the spaces just have curtains. I have a TV and a small table. Most of them have big windows and a view of two crop circles art pieces with an inspirational quote.

Today’s quote is “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Mother Theresa

I like this quote. I feel this way when I write about my journey. I’m not trying to shove my illness in everyone’s faces. I am trying to educate people using my experiences. I am hoping that my little ripples might result in more MBC research. I have more to say on this subject, but am holding it for my Pinktober post.

And, as always, fuck cancer.

Third Cancerversary

I have made three years. Fuck you cancer. I feel like this is a big ‘versary for me. I don’t know the exact statistics, but a large number of MBCers are only given about 3 years. Fuck you again cancer.

It has been a bittersweet year. I am thankful to still be here, but I have lost a large number of friends to this damned disease.

Marg was working on having two books published. Both of them were about Ann Lowe. One was to be a children’s book, the other was an adult book. If you don’t know who Ann Lowe was, please look her up.

Beth had planned on a girl’s day out horseback trip. I will do one in her honor with my kids.

Gloria had brain cancer. It took her from her family and friends way too quickly.

Mike had leukemia. He was a survivor. He was never supposed to leave before me. He was my personal trainer, mentor, and friend.

So many more.

I would love to give you the statistics on MBC, but I wouldn’t be able to give the correct numbers. Supposedly, I have a 27% chance of making it to the five year mark. However, metastatic breast cancer numbers are off. They only include the people diagnosed initially with MBC. These numbers do not include people who were diagnosed with an earlier stage of breast cancer who were then diagnosed later with Stage IV.

I feel like this post is more harsh than my previous cancerversary posts. I am dealing with pain at the moment and I am sure that is making me pretty snippy. Funny enough, the pain is not actually cancer-related. It’s a little ball of fluid (edema) that has decided to live in my ribs. If you look up edema, you will mostly find articles about legs and arms. There isn’t much info about abdominal edema. I get to have the weird one.

As per my usual, I went through a few different treatments this year. My current one is working really well for me. My biggest issue is that is a once a week chemo which then requires two days of going back in to get Granix shots. The Granix keeps my white bloods cell numbers up. My treatment is Paclitaxol or Taxol for short. Having to plan around three days of appointments has been difficult, bu it is keeping my cancer tame and I am genuinely thankful for that.

The year has not been full of just loss. Grief can just feel bigger than the good things at times.

I met my biological mom and brother last August and my sister and a niece just a few months ago in May. I have also met a cousin and have come into contact with numerous aunts, other cousins, nieces, and nephews. My family nearly doubled by coming into contact with my birth family and that is saying a lot. I have a ton of cousins and now I have a ton more. My heart is fuller.

We sold our wonderful little house and bought a bigger house with my in-laws so we could keep an eye on my in-laws. It was a good move, but it was also hard to leave my house.

Gabriel took me to Greece. It was amazing and magical. I really need to write about it and post pictures.

I took Samedi on a surprise trip to Orlando. I told him he had a doctor’s appointment and was going to have shots. Then we wound up at the airport. I had spent two years saving up for this trip and it was absolutely worth it. He had a blast at DisneyWorld and, even with rain, he loved Universal Studios.

Here’s to another year of staring cancer down, savoring the small things, and celebrating the big things. As always, Fuck Cancer.

Having fun with a new wig.

Obligatory Pinktober Post Year 2

Yesterday was my 42nd birthday. I didn’t think I had a big chance of making it to my 40th, but here I am. Suck it cancer. Now on to my more serious thoughts about Pinktober.

Even before I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, Pinktober put a bitter taste in my mouth. It isn’t awareness that is needed. Buying pink items will not usually help fund what is really needed. We have the world at our fingertips. You can do quick research on any company/nonprofit that is claiming to donate funds for breast cancer cures before purchasing pink items.

Unless you have been under a rock for thousands of years, I am sure you have heard about breast cancer. “Breast Cancer Awareness” is not needed. What is needed? Support. Research. More research. Proper statistics for Stage IV.

In the two years since my diagnosis, I have come to realize that I am one of the lucky ones to have an amazing support system. I have family, friends, and a great local support group. I have come across people with MBC who have only Facebook support groups. No family. Few friends. No local support groups. This means they have to depend on taxis or public transportation to get to appointments. Some cities have special transport for cancer patients, but this is not a service available everywhere. They go through doctors appointments, treatments, all the exhausting and overwhelming information on their own. These people are stronger than I am. I’m not sure how to fix this. Local support groups are so important, but they also take a lot of work to get going and keep going. If you know someone who might not have much support, let them know that you are cheering them on. Have a box sent to them from one of the many breast cancer foundations out there. One of my favorites was the gift box from The Gracie Foundation. Ford Warriors In Pink has also given me some things that have helped. They funded a free year of meditation from Headspace and I have also received two weeks of free food from Green Chef (probably my absolute favorite box meal company, but oh so very expensive).

These are only two companies. There are many more out there that will send out small gifts to patients. Some nonprofits offer experiences rather than gifts. Send Me On Vacation is one that I can think of right off the top of my head. In any case, receiving an unexpected gift is always a spirit-lifting experience.

Research. Probably one of the most overlooked, kind of important things regarding metastatic breast cancer. MBC kills 100% of the people who have it. When it will get you is kind of up in the air. Some people go quickly and some metsters last for 20 years. It depends on how each person reacts to the available treatments.

I am not asking for research to stop on other types of cancer. All research is important. I just want more. I’m greedy like that. The hard part about this request is that every single person with cancer has a slightly different cancer. We can identify cancers due to where they start and how they behave. After that, it seems to be a guessing game. A person’s genetics can affect how treatments work. So can the makeup of the cancer. For breast cancer, that can be hormone (estrogen or progesterone) positive or negative. Some people are only positive on estrogen but not on progesterone and vice versa. The HER2 protein can play a role. About 1 in 5 cancer patients are HER2 positive.

With all these factors and more to consider, I understand why cancer research is hard. In the past few decades, we have drastically expanded our understanding of cancer. And it just isn’t enough. There is still so much more that we really don’t understand. There are studies going on that are really exciting and could lead to new treatments. If they are funded enough to continue their research. Organizations like Metavivor help to fund research. This is why I choose to donate my birthday to them every year. You can also give on their site or purchase something from their store with the proceeds going to help people like me.

The MBC Project is also working on research. In fact, if any mets sisters or brothers are reading this, get your butts in gear and sign up. They will ask for information as well as genetic material (spit and blood). Even if we will not benefit from it, this type of research could help future generations.

Statistics….

Metastatic breast cancer counts are off. The numbers should show as higher, but the majority of people who had been diagnosed with early stage BC are not counted in the MBC stats. Why? I have no idea. I can tell you that approximately 1 in 3 people diagnosed at an early stage will wind up battling for their lives later on with stage IV. Only about 5% of people originally diagnosed with BC are metastatic at the get go. By not counting the people who were diagnosed at early stages, this makes MBC seem insignificant. Rare, almost. Like a unicorn. Except it isn’t really a unicorn. It is a goat in disguise. More common than one would expect.

So, if you like pink, then buy it. I just ask that you consider where your “donation” is really going. It takes just a few screen presses to make sure your money really is making a difference. If you want the item anyway, go for it. All I ask is that you also consider helping in some way. Support. Research. Statistics.

On To New Treatments

I am at my cancer center awaiting my final session of the Adriamycin/Cytotoxen chemo combo. I was so nervous about starting chemo… and now I am rather sad to end it. This combo was aggressive and really helped control my (also aggressive) cancer. My last scans were showing me as stable. However, my bone scan is still scary as hell. I had a lesion on my liver that has shrunk considerably. The three tiny mets in my brain were totally blasted away by radiation therapy as was the tumor behind my eyeball. There are still traces of the tumor in my eye, but I was assured it was most likely dead and my bodily systems will eventually dispose of it.

Not only is this my last A/C treatment for now, it is my last A/C treatment for life. I have reached my lifetime limit of this particular poison. I found out that the same applies to radiation near eyes. I think I still have a small amount allowed.

Now, I will move on to either Taxol or Xeloda. These are both oral chemos. I believe they are a little less aggressive than A/C. Which will be kind of nice. A/C is hard on my white blood cells and hemoglobin. I am actually scheduled for a blood transfusion tomorrow night. I will be all sorts of pumped up on Friday. New blood + steroids = crazy active. My house will be spotless for a few days.

On other subjects, I have started to make jewelry again, and because of a neighbor’s cosplay, I am also getting back into my sewing. I love these hobbies and I had quit both of them due to the pain I was in before I was diagnosed two years ago. It feels really good to create things again. I am even making a creating space just for me. If you want to see a small sample of my jewelry, I have some of my pieces displayed in my Etsy shop. I am also currently working on a necklace. I am pretty excited about this necklace. It is really becoming beautiful. I believe that my jewelry kind of creates itself. I am just here to put the pieces together.

This summer has been a very good summer. I completely surprised my husband with a Violent Femmes concert in Portland. My two oldest boys had a fantastic time at Camp Kesem. My littler boys have been learning to swim and have become very good at that. I have connected with new people who are quickly becoming important to me. I will be ending my summer with a family camping trip, visits with a couple of new friends, and a new deck on the front of my house. I am hoping that a huckleberry-picking trip and another fishing expedition might fit in there somewhere.

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 25

Fox & Broom|30 Days of Thankfulness

Day 25: Luxury

I have a lot of luxuries to be thankful for. So, I think I will choose pedicures. That is a few hours of bliss right there. I don’t get to have them very often, but I love them when I do get them.

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 24

You are all lucky I am still cognizant enough to write something up. Our feast was amazing. You can check out my Facebook Page or Instagram @FoxandBroom for food photos. I am too lazy to download them and upload them tonight.

Fox & Broom|30 Days of Thankfulness

Day 24: Photo

Oh boy. A photo I am thankful for… In today’s age, I have thousands of photos on my computer alone. And now to choose one.

Fox & Broom|Thankful Picture

I love this picture so much. I felt well enough to take my boys to the pumpkin patch. Our way was paid by The Warrior Sisterhood. They all had so much fun. They played hard, picked out pumpkins, and we had hot chocolates afterwards. It was such an amazing day. We did get really chilly, but the hot chocolate fixed that. So, for the moment, this is the picture I am most thankful for.

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 20

Fox & Broom|30 Days of Thankfulness

Day 20: Keepsake

Oh boy. I have moved so many times that I have either lost or gotten rid of a lot of things that would be keepsakes.

So, I guess it is another tie. I have a July 1998 edition of National Geographic. This particular edition has a small article with a picture of my Grandma Irene. The article was on natural disasters. Her house had been buried under over 30 feet of snow. She was a really neat lady. You can read my own memorium to her here.

My second treasure is a treasure box created by the ever so lovely and talented Abigail Swire. That little box has held some of my weird little treasures around the US for over 20 years.

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 16

Fox & Broom|30 Days of Thankfulness

Day 16: Recipe

Only one? I really love a lot of recipes. Just check out the page links at the top of my blog. I guess I would be thankful for my Curried Pumpkin Soup recipe. That was the recipe that broke me out into trying newer things. Up until that time, pumpkin had been just a sweet food that was eaten as pie. It had never occurred to me that it could be savory.

I do prefer the recipe with other squashes: acorn is a favorite, but also butternut. The soup is amazing when made with Hubbard squash. And all of the squashes have these wonderful seeds that can be roasted and added to the soup as a garnish.

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day 15

Fox & Broom|30 Days of Thankfulness

Day 15: Experience

What experience am I thankful for? All of the ones I actually learned something from were painful.

I guess I would have to say I am most thankful for experiencing giving birth to my Dragon at home in water. I learned that I could think through my pain and that childbirth could be peaceful. I also fully experienced the whole range of the pain scale and am now able to understand it.

My Obligatory “Pinktober” Post

I’ve mostly been ignoring the swashes of pink that are everywhere in October. I’m still feeling enough anger that I am kind of hating the constant barrage of reminders that my life has been taken over by my cancer.

I figured I would use my obligatory “Pinktober” post to remind people to check for cancer and check oftenAND be your own advocate if you think something is wrong. I found a lump in my breast around May of 2015. I had just stopped breastfeeding my third boy in March and I thought it was a build-up of leftover milk. I had also just found out around that time that I was pregnant with baby #4. It seemed like a lot of things could have added to the lump. So I ignored it.

I saw my midwife at 12 weeks pregnant and I mentioned it to her. The lump had also grown by this time. She had me come in for a thermography test. This test measures your body’s temperature in certain areas. It is pretty fascinating, though not super thorough. I also decided at that time to set an appointment with an Ob Gyn.

My Ob gave me a referral to have an ultrasound done on my breast. Because I was pregnant, I was not able to have a mammogram or any sort of scan that contained radiation or harmful rays. The results came back as a “fluid filled cyst.” I was told by the Ob to have it rechecked after my pregnancy, but she was sending me to the surgeon to have him look at it. She was pretty sure it would just go away on its own.

The surgeon took a look at my ultrasound and the actual lump. He said he didn’t think a biopsy was necessary. “The lump is a fluid filled cyst and will go away on its own.” His wife got them and they always went away.

My midwife was not so sure it was a fluid filled cyst, but she didn’t push the issue.

My pregnancy continued and the lump stayed put. My pregnancy became increasingly difficult and resulted in a pretty traumatic birth.  I completely forgot to get that “fluid filled cyst” checked out with my recovery. It DID seem to shrink after I started breastfeeding Max. At least it became softer. I put thoughts of it on the back burner. During March and April I was feeling great and even jogging 2 miles once or twice a week. I had hired a trainer and was feeling pretty healthy.

Then May came. And everything started falling apart. I thought it was a pulled muscle in my back. Except it didn’t get better. And it kept hurting for three months. I started losing weight.

 

I actually freaking documented how my cancer started with my own blog.

 

In any case. Get checked. If you think something is not quite right, ASK for a biopsy. At worst, your suspicions will be right. At best, it will be negative. And you can sigh a breath of relief. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for me.

Don't be me. Get a mammogram before you are 40.

Don’t be me. Get a mammogram before you are 40.

Even if you do not have a lump, ask about getting a mammogram before you are 40. Yeah, they suck (well, they squish). However, I have gotten to know more and more women under the age of 40 who are being diagnosed with breast cancer. A lot of them have been blown off by their doctors who can’t believe they have cancer. “You are too young and healthy.” Even after my diagnosis, the doctor who did my breast biopsy* told me that everything looked really good and he was sure that I did not have cancer. I looked at him and told him that I had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread to my bones. He gave me what I have started to think of as the “doctor grief” look. Every doctor who has worked with me has given me that look at some point. It turns out that my case had been presented to a local cancer meeting and he had read about me that morning. He just didn’t realize that case and me were connected.

*I had a breast biopsy done after my diagnosis to determine if I had the HER2 cancer marker. I do not have the HER2 marker.

So, now I am on a shitload of medications all in an attempt to keep my cancer in check and my pain at a minimum. I even have some medications that help me to want to eat (I include marijuana edibles in this category). My goals in life have become more important than ever to me. I have them separated into two groups. “Local goals” that I can easily work toward and “Longer Goals” that I either have to save up for or work on keeping my cancer under control to see those goals happen. I have already met one of my local goals and can change it slightly: I gained weight to a goal weight. Now my goal is to maintain that weight.

A little about my picture: I had radiation therapy on my skull. The dose finally affected portions of my hair and it started to come out in clumps. Rather than dealing with hair shedding all over the house, I shaved it off. This picture was taken on October 7, the day after I shaved it all off. Due to the amount of radiation dose I received, my head still looks like this. 20 days later. My husband (who is a physicist) has told me that it could take a few months for my hair to start growing again. In the meantime, I do get to wear some fun hats and fun earrings.

Cat hat!

Cat hat!

For the moment, I am still doing good with my current treatment plan. I am working on getting off of a few of my meds, which would be very nice. Some of the side effects are doozies. My blood also seems to be holding its own for a bit longer. I did have a transfusion yesterday, but it had been a few weeks since my last one. It is an improvement over getting blood every other week. I had my bone-strengthening treatment on Monday and did not have the extreme reaction that I had the first time. I was a little achy, but was able to walk on my own.

I am going to the gym once a week to work on my legs and core with the cycles and my arms with the arm pedals. I am starting slow with the exercise. If my appointments allow for it, I hope to start going to the gym twice a week. It is nice to feel like I can live an almost normal life.

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