Fox and Broom

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

Archive for the tag “Cancer”

Recovery From The Blackhole

I escaped from the Black Hole. Now is the hard part. Picking myself back up.

I look like a potato. It’s due to steroids and probably other meds.

Part of me was healing. Part of me deteriorated. I allowed my muscles to atrophy. Don’t do that. It hurts.

Getting out of bed or a chair has been hard. I have needed help.

I have been exercising. The muscle pain has been excruciating. The muscle pain has been worth it.

I have chair exercises and I have been walking around my living room. I had a day of shin hurt. A day of knee agony. Days of aches.

I have finally started to get up on my own.
Mostly.

I have my family and friends to thank for the progress that has happened. It is so easy to just want to give up. I needed my cheerleaders. Thanks everyone.

The Blackhole

I am back in the hospital. I was home for a whole day on Friday, February 12. Saturday… started downhill and didn’t stop.

I had to ask Gabe to help me to the restroom. On the way, which is not far, I told him I needed to sit down. He reached for a chair and I fell. Backwards. As if i were a trinket a cat knocked off the table.

I landed on my poor dog. He’s a pretty big guy, about 100 pounds. He squeaked like a mouse. He was not injured. My head hurt for two days.

Gabe called our eldest to help get me up. They got me to where I needed to be and we made the decision to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital safely. The roads were snowy and icy.

I was not able to was not able to walk upstairs. I couldn’t breathe. My travel oxygen machine was hooked up.

The EMTs checked me out, then put me on this stairclimber. Max was jealous and scared. The thing had tank wheels on it. I miss my kids.

I felt like we were in the ER for forever. If I had realized how long I would be staying, that thought would never have crossed my mind.

My new stay did not start well. Does any hospital stay start well? I’m not here for the five star rating.

I was told that if my breathing kept failing, I would be in ICU on intubation. I would be asleep most of the time and woken up about once a day. Or was it every couple of days?

I was sobbing after the doctor left. I worked on exercising my lungs.

I had four masks within two days. All for different reasons.

Normal Nose Leash
Can’t eat with this one.
The Frog
Really can’t eat.
Airflow and can eat.

Within the first few days, I went up and down with my breathing. It has been almost a week and we are still working on the proper oxygen flow. The goal is to have it as low as possible. This machine was meant for extra oxygen flow. I was to try to keep it in the low 90%.

I have been using the lung exerciser. I need to go up. I want to go up line by line. It has been helping. I do have trouble standing up. I have trouble sitting in a chair.

I have started to improve. I have things to do. It has been over a week. I was able to sit in a chair to eat lunch on Thursday, February 18. I use a walker and require help in getting up.

The doctor was more hopeful. He said he couldn’t be totally positive. He was pleased that I was displaying progress. I have been here longer than I thought. I hope to go home before another week passes.

I went into the hospital on February 13 and left on March 3. I do not like being in the hospital that long. The best feeling in the world is a shower at home afterwards.

It’s Just So Much

I needed time to process everything. In a way, I was forced to as Jesse required my iPad for his schoolwork. It was really the best thing for me.

An unimaginably awful amount of happenings came about within two months. My family is hurting. We will hurt for a long time.

Cathy died on January 26. She was an amazing and beautiful person. I have known her for more than half of my life.

She read books faster than most people eat dinner. She created the most magical things out of yarn. That is a witchery beyond me. Cathy was not afraid to try new crafts. She was inspiring.

Her catch phrase was “oh, well shit.” It’s classier than my “fuck, or fuckity fuck.” Not that I will stop.

Cathy & Gary

I hurt for myself. I hurt more for Gary, her sister, children, grands, the people that will always be part of our family. So many people loved her.

This is where I am indebted to the school board for depriving me of technology.

I am thankful.

With the crap that happened in December, I am still here. I was told I would need to contact palliative care. I did not need them nor did I go to hospice.

My father-in-law, John, and I were hospitalized with Covid-19. We are still recovering. We are getting better. Recovering from something like this is hard. Our lungs and muscles are still weak. The fatigue is pretty awful. We are slowly overcoming the bastard.

I will always be thankful to have a mother-in-law like Cathy. I truly have the best in-laws. All four of them.

I am grateful for my mom. She has been helping with my boys when I can not do the laundry or wash the dishes. Covid zaps the energy out of you.

(L to R) Papa John, Nana Bobi, Nana Jan, Me, Dad, Grandpa Gary, Grandma Cathy
Boys: (L to R) Jes, Sam, Max, Sol

My heart will continue to mourn.

I will continue to savor the small things and celebrate the big things.

I love all of you.

Nonsense

For about 2 or 3 weeks, I have been waking up at a stupid time. It’s usually 4:30 am. Today was 2:30 am.

I have had pressure in my head every morning. Ibuprofen will calm it down, but it really isn’t a normal headache. I spoke about the fucking tumors in my previous post. I think they are talking to me. It’s very rude. I would like to sleep. I am just exhausted.

I have enough going through my mind . I don’t need the fucking tumors to decide to converse with me at an unreasonably early hour of the day. So damned rude.

The perk is starting my coffee early. I don’t start it as soon as the fuckers wake me up. I do try to get back to sleep and will just lay in bed for two or more hours. Ugh.

Today’s coffee cup has Shakespearien insults on it. It felt like the cup I needed this morning.

I do see my doctor in a few days. I don’t know if this is something that can be fixed, but I am hoping.

Fuck Cancer

I Lost Tuesday

I guess December 8, 2020 will be memorable to everyone but me. I have no recollection of that day existing. It was Monday, then Wednesday.

I have been told about the events that occurred. I have been told of the events after. I have had to ask people to speak with my husband. He knew what happened. I don’t.

The day started with a text I had the good sense to send, but I don’t recall sending.

I sent the text to my husband. He was at work. He tried to call me back and I wasn’t making sense. We live with his parents, so he called his mom to have her check on me.

I don’t know what happened. I have been told that an ambulance was called and Gabriel came home from work. I scared my family. I would probably be more upset. I think I should be more upset.

The EMTs helped me up the stairs and into my car. On the passenger side. Gabriel drove me to the ER.

I know that I had tests. Blood work, MRI, probably a CT. I had new tumors growing in my brain. My blood pressure was low. My heart function would show as lower from an echocardiogram the next day.

I have used up my brain radiation. I am not allowed another whole brain, which would be the treatment for all those little fuckers. I think I am still allowed targeted, but there are too many.

The chemo was working really well for the rest of my lesions and tumors. It is just making my heart not so good.

I was suffering from a seizure in my brain. This would be why I was having so much trouble talking and can not remember Tuesday. I am now taking anti-seizure medication.

The very low blood pressure would be the cause of not being able to stand up.

I was taking heart medication with the intent of keeping my heart function above 50%. I am not taking that any longer and my chemo has been lowered in hopes of helping my heart get back into the 50’s. There is also some hope that it will break the brain barrier and get the brain tumors.

With the possible seizures, I am no longer allowed to drive. I just got a new car. I love my car. At least this gives me a chance to give my oldest hours for his driving class. In my new (used) Rogue.

Palliative care has been brought up. I had a team when I was first diagnosed. I was very sick at that time. I am so mad. I have plans. I need to prepare things for my family.

Fuck Cancer

It has now been a few weeks. I have been the recipient of the generous side of humans. We have had food delivered. People went a little crazy with gifting my kids. Someone picks up my kids clothes, washes them, then returns them.

The Warrior Sisterhood left a gift in my yard. I cried.

I can’t think of how to properly express my gratitude. I wake up most mornings with a headache or a back ache bad enough for pain meds. I have trouble walking a good portion of the time and I now have a loathing for stairs.

Having help with food and clothes is fantastic. If any of you read this, please know your actions have been absolutely appreciated.

I don’t know what my future will bring. December 8 scared all of us. My doctors and care team are working hard to keep me going. My family and friends are working hard to keep me going. I love all of you.

Fuck cancer.

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.

When Treatments Fail

In the year and half since my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, I have been on three treatments. As my cancer has invaded my skeleton, it is really hard to track it properly. We use nuclear bone scans, CT scans, and tumor markers aka cancer antigens or, for me, CA 27.29. Tumor markers are an imprecise way to keep track of spreading cancer. However, if they continue to go up, there is usually something going on, even if the scans are showing stability.

Tamoxifen and radiation were my first line of attack. My scans remained stable and my markers went down. For seven months. Then my markers suddenly shot up and continued going up. In April 2017, I started my second line of treatment, Ibrance w/ Letrozole. Once again, my scans were mostly stable and my markers dropped, but just a small amount. By February 2018, it was clear that this treatment wasn’t working well for me. We replaced the Letrozole with Faslodex injections. This combination did not work at all for me.

I am going to take an intermission here to explain nuclear bone scans. These scans are really fascinating. At least to me. About 6 hours before the actual scan, I am injected with a dose of radioactive tracer. I believe it is technetium 99 (Tc99). The techs always tell me that I am safe around people, but I do give off radiation. My husband has measured it in the past. After this injection, I need to drink a lot of water and pee as much as I can. This helps to get rid of the radiation that did not stick to my bones.
During the scan, I can see my skeleton appear on a screen as the scanner passes over me. Or I could if I was able to wear my glasses. People who come with me to the scan can watch my skeleton. The scanner itself reminds me of an iron and the surface I lay on looks a lot like and ironing board. The scan gets really up close to my face to start with. I usually close my eyes, which usually leads to me falling asleep for most of the scan. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I get in a nice power nap.

Back to treatment failures.

My last bone scan was on March 23. It showed progression of cancer in my left leg and slight progression on my skull. My CT scan on March 26 showed cancer lesions are now on my liver. I had really high hopes for Ibrance. It, and other 4/6 inhibitors, have been almost like a miracle treatment for many people living with MBC. My disappointment is indescribable. I had expected to be on Ibrance for at least 3 years. I got in 12 cycles/12 months.

I am now preparing to start IV chemotherapy for the first time. The chemo combination I have agreed to go with is Adriamycin with Carboplatin. My sessions will be one day every three weeks for four sessions. I hope that makes sense. It looks like each session will take at least two and a half hours.
I will be losing my hair again, but I don’t mind. Actually, I will also lose my eyelashes and eyebrows. I did lose half of my lashes and brows on the left side from radiation on my outer left eye orbital. That was hard. I am not a vain person, but I hated seeing my lashes look so ragged. It was also painful getting lashes in my eye. I might start working on drawing eyebrows. I have failed miserably in the past when I have tried to do this.
I will also be getting Granix injections for about 5 days in a row after my sessions. My white blood cells will completely tank on me. Granix will help them to come back faster. These are shots in the belly, which I do kind of mind.

Before starting chemo, I will be getting an echocardiogram to make sure my heart can handle this. I will also be getting a brain MRI due to dizzy spells. I am not normally an anxious person, but this on top of the changes has got me on edge. I guess my anxiety coping mechanism is cleaning. My upstairs living room is almost spotless. As spotless as four kids and two dogs will allow it to be. My basement living room is almost as clean. My kitchen is still a mess, but my dishes are as caught up as they can be. Those who know me know how miraculous this is. I will be mopping my kitchen tomorrow and setting up an Easter themed table cloth on the table.

Emotionally, I am feeling furious right now. It’s kind of like having a furnace in the pit of my stomach. And I don’t want it to get low or go away. I was angry like this after my diagnosis and I thought it was the right thing to try to ease that anger. I have a right to my fury. There is nothing about this that is ok. Cancer fucking sucks. It sucks for me, for my family, and for my friends.

If you wish to help me as I get used to my new path, I am currently accepting all forms of good vibes, positive energy, prayer, and good thoughts. I will also accept silly things that make me laugh and distract me.

The Day

I have been working on blogs about my Paris adventure, but I wanted to put up a quick post for today.

A year ago today, I found out that my pain was definitely not caused by a pulled muscle. A year ago today, my life turned upside-down. A year ago today, Dr. C told me that I had metastatic breast cancer that had spread to my bones. Stage IV. No cure. A death sentence.

It isn’t an anniversary that I want to remember. I was in agony and losing weight. I had gotten to the point where I was having trouble walking. I was exhausted. I was angry.

My first thoughts were for my kids. I couldn’t leave them. Not yet. I very much want to see them grow up. I very much want to see what kind of humans they become. I also, maybe selfishly, very much want them all to remember me. Really remember me. Not just hear about me from other family members or friends.

After my diagnosis, I went downhill fast. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it to my birthday in October. I believe my children and my anger brought me through that time. The radiation treatments helped with my pain and my hormone treatments helped to get my cancer somewhat under control, but it was my children who got me through the other things. I thought of them as I forced food down my throat. I thought of them as I forced myself to reclaim my muscles and start walking again. I thought of them as the worst of my symptoms started to fade and now, a year later, I am not the skeletal, sickly, creature that cancer wants to make me.

Now, I enjoy eating again. I have been working on taming my garden that went out of control. I walked miles and miles in Paris. I took my oldest son to Disney World and Universal Studios. I walked a 5K, which I didn’t think I would be able to do again. I have hope that I now have years instead of months. I have met a lot of the goals that I set for myself last year at this time. Every time I cross one off, I get a feeling of vindication. Fuck you cancer.

Living with cancer means fighting everyday. I am a warrior.

Goals

I have two slightly different sets of goals. “Local goals” and “worldly goals.” The local goals are things that I need to either do to myself or can do in my area. The worldly goals are bigger or more expensive to achieve. In the past three weeks, I hit two local goals and one worldly goal.

I was able to finally walk around my block now that the weather has gotten friendlier. My block is pretty big. It is about the size of three blocks all together. In October, I was barely able to walk to the corner and back. This small feat was a big deal for me. April 2, I walked to the top of Garfield Hill. Garfield Hill is a part of the road that goes from 19th (at the base) to 27th (at the top), so it is a decent few blocks to walk. Especially if you are walking up a 17% grade.

Garfield Hill

The view from the top is really nice. I always forget how pretty it is up here. On a really nice day, you can see mountains in that direction.

The view from the top of Garfield Hill.

I had a lot of trouble trying to get a good picture of just what this hill looks like. It is daunting no matter if you are at the top of it or at the bottom. My kids always do the roller coaster “wheeeeeee” when we drive down it. I didn’t drive up or down it at all while we had snow and ice.

Garfield Hill from the top.

Garfield Hill from the bottom.

My walk ended with me looking goofy while admiring this willow tree’s flowers. They were so lovely.


The Worldly Goal that I hit was seeing the Pacific. I hiked so much that I could probably say that I hiked Badger Mountain, but I want to actually do that before I cross it out. It was a pretty amazing trip and I will be forever thankful to Abigail for setting it up. We saw a ton of sea lions, a mama gray whale and her calf, weird tentacles on the beach, sunset over the ocean, and a few really neat geological formations.

My first view of the Pacific. We were still driving to our cabin.

It was misty like this for almost our entire drive to the Oregon coast.

The Shelley Cabin. Our little home for a few days. It has a path down to the beach.

We had an amazing, sunny day. We took the Hobbit Trail to the beach.

There were a few of the tentacle-like things on the beach. I suspect they are actually some form of sea weed.

Picture from a viewpoint. This is the same viewpoint from which we saw hundreds of sea lions and a gray whale with her baby.

Hundreds of sea lions.

A couple of sunset pictures. That day was so beautiful and perfect.

These are pictures taken from our private beach access.

Sunset.

Sea lions inside of the Sea Lion Caves.

A view from inside of the Sea Lion Caves.

My final picture of the Pacific before we drove away from the cabin.

We stayed in a lovely little cabin between Yachats, OR and Florence, OR. If you ever need to rent a cabin in this area, I highly recommend searching for The Shelley Cabin. The Pacific was everything I thought it would be and more. It is definitely more powerful than the gentler (sort of) Atlantic where I grew up in Florida. It was very chilly out, so I did not even try to dip a toe into the water. I just can’t handle cold the way that I used to. All in all, a wonderful trip.

Oh – on our one sunny day, Abigail made me dress up and we had a photo shoot:

A Last Unicorn theme

Unfortunately, the horn broke.

Six Months

Well, here I am. I am still around. Six months ago, on August 25, 2016, my life completely changed. I had a really rough patch after that and have been working on getting my body back. Cancer takes a lot from a person. Strength, health, daily routines. My family has been amazing in supporting me while I was really down for the count. I honestly can not imagine surviving as long as I have without them. It makes me want to find the people with no support system and show them the same love.

I have now been able to tentatively plan trips. I have two upcoming trips that I am very excited about. I will be going to the Oregon coast with my sister and my other trip is a secret. I am seriously looking forward to posting all about it once we are back. Both of these vacations are something that I have been trying to plan and save for for at least 15 years.

My hair is starting to grow again. I have to laugh at it. It started with about six little hairs poking out of my head. Just six. It took weeks for more hair to start showing up. Now it is coming in with patches of blonde and patches of light brown. I guess I am a calico.

I am still having some issues with food. I really miss enjoying food. I eat because I need to, but there is no pleasure in it. I used to love the taste of a good rare steak, sushi, falafel gyro… Now it is just mundane. I choke on the weirdest things. I can’t eat lasagna anymore. Well, I can’t eat most pastas. I just start to gag. What is really strange with all of this, is that I have started to crave fish. I don’t even like fish. I have been cooking or buying fish 1 – 3 times per week. I don’t know what to make of this. Broccoli is another food that I can’t seem to get enough of. I guess it is good that I am craving healthy things, but I still don’t enjoy eating them.

In all, I am keeping mostly steady. My hemoglobin has been low, but above the danger zone since December. My white blood cells are still dangerously low, which means I try to stay away from large groups of people. With my immune system so compromised, a common cold could do a lot of damage to me. My tumor markers had dropped drastically, but are trying to climb again. I am not sure what that means, but if it keeps going up, there will be more scans done to see if I need to change or add to my current treatment.

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Mom and Max

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