Thursday, August 16, 2012

Coming up ... big baldy

It's been a crazy busy summer, as usual.  The kids all went to Camp Lone Star, Christa flew to N.O. for a week (by herself!) and went to a Lutheran high school youth gathering, we had an awesome family vacation to the Rocky Mountains, Danny & I took a nice trip to the Austin area (just the 2 of us, including a zip line adventure over Lake Travis!), The Pink Ribbon Shop Fund for Breast Cancer Research is rockin', Bethany's been playing drums with our praise team for Sunday services, and David's football season is in full swing!  Just how I like it, stressful and full!  Lol.

Lots to say today ... lotta news to share ...

Before our Colorado trip in June, Danny and I started walking the neighborhood a few nights a week.  Trying to prepare for the hiking that we usually do on our vacations.  Since being taken off of Xeloda in April, my hands and feet had gradually healed up and had been feeling MUCH better!  Good enough to walk for exercise and maybe even do some jogging.  I decided that I would try to train for a half marathon again.  I did it four years ago (part jogging, part walking) and amazed myself by completing it and really getting into shape (and yes, this was AFTER my stage IV cancer diagnosis.)  Loved that feeling!  Wanted to get that body back, and those good feelings.  I committed myself to v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y transitioning from brisk walking to jogging over the course of several weeks.  First walking the whole time, for a few weeks.  Then one minute jogging, 5 minutes walking, for 2 weeks.  Then 2 minutes jogging, 4 minutes walking, for 2 weeks.  And so forth.  Everything was going as planned.  I joined Kingwood Fit again to give me a training schedule and motivation to continue training.  Even encouraged my daughter Bethany (age 13) and my friend Ashley to join with me!  When I first restarted back at walking/jogging, I had some concern about my left femur.  I had had a stress fracture there 3 years ago, and that leg was painful for many many months afterwards, even a year later when I tried to start jogging again.  It was what eventually made me give up trying to run altogether ... then of course my cancer started acting up and my meds changed to Xeloda, and my hands and feet were too painful to exercise at all ... sigh.  But now the leg felt fine!  Great, in fact.  No pain.  From the way I saw things, I was on my way to another successful season of half-marathon training.  Kingwood Fit's Saturday morning "long" runs were just getting started.

But, alas, it was not meant to be.  After it was determined that the Xeloda I was taking was no longer effective on my cancer, Dr. Green had put me back on anti-hormone therapy in April.  Zoladex and Tamoxifen.  She said that sometimes going back to hormone therapy that's worked in the past works again.  Last Monday I had my CT scans, chest x-ray, and blood work done to see if this med change had worked or not.  Clearly it had not.  I have a moderate amount of fluid around my left lung again.  They saw a new area of metastasis on my lumbar spine.  And a 1.7cm enlarged lymph node in my abdomen, near my kidney.  With her stethoscope, Dr. Green could hear no air movement in the lower portion of my left lung.  My worst fears were realized:  my cancer was growing again and I was going to have to have chemotherapy.

And yet, I wasn't totally shocked.  A punch in the gut, yes.  But I had had some mental preparation for this news.  Before this week, I had gone on about 4 Saturday "long" runs with Kingwood Fit.  I'm in the 5-and-1 group, meaning we run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute, for the duration of however long the run is.  And our 5 minute "run" is at a really slow pace!  (hey, it's all about finishing, not speed!)  The first week's run in mid-July was 3 miles long.  I was unable to keep up.  I fell behind, pace-wise, and couldn't keep up with the 5-and-1 plan.  This was going to be rough!  I remember the first time I trained for a half-marathon, it was very very hard.  I really had to push myself, because I had never been a runner before.  Ever!  Here I am, 4 years later, 4 years older.  I can do this!  I did my during-the-week training runs (25-35 mins, 3 nights per week) and that was tough, too.  Four weeks into it, I had yet to be able to stick it out for the entire Saturday run.  I felt that I just couldn't go on running.  Had to walk some.  Needed a break.  I felt, at times, that I couldn't get a good deep breath in.  In the back of my mind, I wondered if something was going on.  Something cancer related.  Another part of me was saying, Kim, don't be so paranoid.  You always think your aches and pains are cancer related!  You've just got to do it.  Be diligent in your during-the-week runs, and run the whole 5 minutes.  Don't walk for more than 1 minute in between.  C'mon, you can do this!  Get your lazy old-lady butt in gear.  I prayed, asked God for strength.  But admittedly, it wasn't going well.  I didn't seem to be making progress on my endurance.  I wasn't seeing improvement in my stamina.  Now we know why!  Having one lung surrounded with a bunch of fluid is definitely not conducive to half-marathon training!!

This is kinda sick, but it actually feels good to know that I'm not just getting old and totally out of shape, and I'm not a pathetic loser who can't hack a little running!  I mean, plenty of people older than, rounder than, and seemingly more out of shape than I are doing just fine with Kingwood Fit's training program!  I've got me the ultimate excuse for not being able to keep up!  Yea that's pretty sick, Kim.  twisted.

Anyways ... The other clue I had that something was going on was that I've been failing my "lung test."  It's a totally subjective way that I can tell that something's going on in my lung.  Weird, I know!  In 2006, when I was initially diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, I had a moderately severe left pleural effusion.  Before I even knew what was wrong, I remember lying in bed, on my right side, and being unable to take a big deep breath in.  Seeing the CT scan pictures, it was easy to see that my left lung was being squeezed down to less than half its normal size.  After a couple of months being on hormone therapy (my first treatment for stage IV breast cancer at MD Anderson,) I was able to take that deep breath with no difficulty.  Subsequent scans showed that the pleural effusion had completely resolved.  Ever since then, often times when I lay on my right side, I take in a deep breath and sort of grade my ability to do so.  It's been fine for years ... but lately it hasn't been consistently good.  Seems to depend on my position.

And lastly, my lower back's been hurting me for the past few weeks.  Aleve has worked wonders, so I really thought it was a muscle pull or something like that.  I've been thinking that it's possibly because of my running ... and I'm not getting any younger.  So to find out that I had a new metastatic lesion on my lower spine, well, it explains my discomfort.

Dr. Green says I can continue running as long as I feel up to it.  She thinks I'll probably feel better once I get in a few doses of my new chemo drug, Abraxane.  I hope so, because that will mean that it's working, and that the lung fluid is clearing up!  I will try to continue jogging, but I'm going to give up the half marathon training for now.  I've got a lot of healing work ahead of me!

Next Thursday 8/24/12 I will get my first Abraxane infusion.  I will receive one dose per week, intravenously.  Three weeks on, one week off.  The following week, I will have a port placed in my chest, to allow IV access in a large, central vein, because chemo is very toxic to the smaller, peripheral veins in the arms and hands.  This will be an outpatient surgical procedure.  Yuck to any kind of surgery!!  But you gotta do what you gotta do.  And even though MD Anderson is less than an hour's drive from us, I am still thankful that they now have a satellite campus in The Woodlands where I can get my chemo infusions.  It's about the same distance from home, but it's a much nicer drive through country-like highways with hardly any traffic.  A trip to MDA's main campus is via a huge 70 mph freeway right through downtown Houston, usually in the early morning rush hour.  So the drive will be better and less stressful ... maybe even "nice"!

Also, Dr. Green says that Abraxane is generally "well tolerated."  It doesn't tend to make patients sick, although a small percentage of patients do get nauseated.  I am usually prone to nausea, but hopefully I will NOT be in that number!  She gave me a prescription for Zofran, just in case.  However, I will lose my hair.  It's been 12 years since I was bald from chemo!  Its not the act of losing my hair that bothers me.  It's having the big bald head that screams out "I have cancer!" everywhere I go that bothers me.  I never try to keep my cancer a secret, but I do like not having it so evident.  When you're bald, there's no keeping your cancer from casual acquaintances.  And the looks you get when you're bald.  Mostly sympathetic.  People mean well, I know that.  It's such an ABnormal look for a woman, that people can't help but look.  But I'll get over it.  In fact, I'm planning to "rock the bald look" as my daughter Shea said.  I hated my wig, and I don't even want one this time.  It was hot, itchy, and didn't look good.  Well, I never felt good in it, the few times I wore it.  I'll stick with hats and wraps this time, thank you very much.

I'll have the usual chemo-induced risk of infection while I'm on Abraxane.  Fingers crossed that I will stay infection-free!  And lastly, long term use can cause neuropathy (numbness & tingling) in the hands and feet.  Not sure how I feel about that (well yes, I do know that it sucks!) ... because if she keeps me on it for some time, it will mean that it's working, which is a good thing.

Which leads me to my last topic ...
Everyone who I've told about my latest developments inevitably asks "How long will you have to be on it?"  I know it's commonly known that cancer patients get chemo for a prescribed amount of time and then their treatment is "over."  That's how it was during my first chemo treatment 12 years ago.  After I had my mastectomy, I had 8 rounds of chemo, then 5 weeks of radiation.  Then I was DONE.  Except for moving on to 5 years of Tamoxifen (oral treatment.)  But with stage IV cancer treatment, it's different.  It's a constant battle to keep the cancer at bay, because there is no cure for cancer!  Some drugs work, and some don't.  When we find one that works, I'll stay on that until it stops working.  Then move on to another drug and see how it does.  The option of stopping treatment with stage IV cancer is simply not an option.  You stop treatment, and the cancer grows again.  It's just so discouraging that I am to the point of needing harsh chemotherapy again.  I know, I know, I have already beaten a lot of odds that I'm still here after 12 years, and 6 of those years with stage IV.  I am thankful for that.  VERY thankful!  But that doesn't make this current turn of events any easier.  It feels like it's the beginning of the end.  I could have another 5 years, who knows!  I am again reminded of my friend Eveline.  She was bald from chemo when I met her, and she stayed hairless for the remaining 5 years of her life, enduring chemo drug after chemo drug, until she finally left the earth to be with Jesus.

Planning on trudging on, continuing to do my regular things, for as long as I possibly can.  Like the Energizer bunny!  Fightin' the big C (cancer,) with an even bigger C (Jesus Christ)!

Thanks for reading!