Second Update

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I guess I’m just slow on the update…

On February 4, I had my first visit with my oncologist, Dr KP, in Cowboy Town. She’s very knowledgeable, experienced, nice, sincere and frank, and I appreciate those qualities in a doctor.

For a while there, it looked like I wouldn’t make it to my appointment. We’ve been having a lot of snow, and it was difficult for me to coordinate a ride. And to make matters worse, the 40 miles of road between Cowboy Outpost and Cowboy Town had been closed from time to time because of blowing and drifting snow.

Winter in the Washington Outback. Sigh.

I decided to book a flight from the Outpost to C-Town, and my BFF Randi picked me up at the airport. She also took me to my doctor’s appointment and sat with me through most of it, helping to bolster my spirits — and to remember and take notes, too! I appreciate her effort so much because she has two small boys, ages one and three. Her 3 year old had an appointment around the same time as mine and she deftly coordinated getting us both to our appointments and picked up and the boys babysat (by their loving Daddy) while she came to the oncologist with me. That was no easy task.

You must be on the edge of your seat, wondering what the oncologist said. 😉

It breaks down like this:

You’ll recall that I had a 4-5 cm tumor. This is large, and it was “staged” as Stage IIIa, beginning to spread to the lymph nodes.

I don’t have to do chemo if I don’t want to…however…

  • If I do nothing else, there is nearly a 50% chance of recurrence within the next eight years.
  • If I only do tamoxifen (hormone therapy), there is a 20% chance of recurrence within eight years.
  • If I do chemo and tamoxifen, the chances of recurrence drop to below 10%.

I don’t want to go through this again, ever. That means chemo’s on my calendar.

I’ll go through two rounds of four sessions each, for a total of four months of chemo. It breaks down like this:

First round: Adriamycin and Cytoxan
Side effects: nausea; hair loss can be total and begins two weeks after treatment starts (I’ll be bald by the end of March). The Adriamycin can also be hard on weak hearts so the doctor will schedule tests before treatment starts, to make sure my heart can take it.

First session: March 11, in Lewiston. I’ll drive myself and stay overnight with Randi, coming back on the 12th. The oncologist thought this was a good idea.

Subsequent sessions, in Pullman: March 25, April 8 and April 22.

Second round: Taxol.
Side effects: can cause numbness in fingers and toes.

First session, in Lewiston, May 6. I’ll drive myself and stay overnight with Randi. The final exam for my class is May 1, so I should be able to get my grades in before I start this next round.

Subsequent sessions, in Pullman: May 20, June 3, June 17.

Next week, I’ll have my second surgery: axillary lymph node dissection. The surgeon will take out the lymph nodes under my left arm. At the same time, he’s going to install the “port” that will make it easier for the administration of chemotherapy. Dr. Incredible, my surgeon, said we can leave the port in indefinitely, but I would really rather have the damned thing taken out after my chemo is finished.

I hate the idea of having a foreign object in my body in the first place —although I also recognize the need for it and its benefits— but leave it in? Forever? Ick. I don’t think so.

So while I’m recovering from my surgery next week (possibly at LeAnn’s again), my dear students will be taking their midterm exam. I’m sure they would rather do that than what I’ll be doing.

On the emotional end of things, my original hopefulness has been having fistfights with my panic disorder and depression. I had a visit with my oncology nurse on Monday, and she said this was completely normal, and to be honest, if I hadn’t started feeling this way, she would have been worried about me. Like, that’s got to be a symptom of serious denial. DR KP gave me Lorazepam, but that just takes the edge off the anxiety. The nurse in Dr. Incredible’s office said to call if I needed anything, including something to ease the depression if it gets too bad. Today I’m feeling much less despondent, and I’m going to try to hold out without pharmaceutical assistance for as long as I can. Unfortunately, depression sneaks up on you (like frogs in a pot of boiling water who don’t know they’re in trouble until it’s too late) so I’m counting on people who see me frequently to let me know if it looks like the water is beginning to boil, so to speak.

My oncology nurse, Michelle (my surgeon’s nurse is also Michelle!), gave me a packet of information, including local resources. This packet is so helpful! The first chapter, “Your feelings: learning you have cancer,” goes through the normal feelings people have when they have cancer:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness

I managed to skip the first two, because my diagnosis was completely undeniable. My only anger was at the American health care system. The rest of them, I seem to get in waves, sometimes all at once. I also don’t have any guilt.

I’ve always said, we’re all going through this together. The booklet the nurse gave me from the National Cancer Institute has a website URL where you can go for more info on cancer, and ideas about what you can do to help me: http://www.cancer.gov. There’s also the American Cancer Society, at http://www.cancer.org.

One of the support groups I joined recommended a website called “Lotsa Helping Hands.” This is a place where we can coordinate all kinds of help, from rides to shopping to cooking meals and moral support. If you’re in need of help, I recommend you sign up. It’s completely free. And if you’d like to join mine, let me know and I’ll send you the URL.

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One response »

  1. Just found your site using the wordpress tag surfer. I’ve been here and done this! Hang in there! I was diagnosed Stage IIB (some would have staged it IIIA, but my doc said IIB) in June 2004 – 2.5 cm primary tumor, 1.5 cm cancerous lymph node and additional miro mets in the lymph nodes. I made the same choice re: chemo for the same reasons and did the same protocol. I did dose dense A/C every two weeks, then 8 weekly Taxol. It was brutal but very effective.

    If it gets to you mentally ask your onc. abt. Marinol. I swear by it! It is the synthetic version of marijuana and comes in pill form. It is WONDERFUL for the nausea of A/C and especially the mental “I can’t deal with this.”

    Your onc. team has great drugs for side effects. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of everything they can do for you if you need it. I tried not to take an anti-depressant but the uncontollable mood swings demanded it. I tried not to use a sleep aid, but couldn’t sleep with Ambien. I loved my port, even though I got a clot. It was worth it!

    You can do this! (I loved being bald, BTW! It was so comfortable and freeing! LOL) I hope you’re surrounded by good friends.

    — Danni

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