Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Vacation, and moving on to new treatment

Many months ago, I booked us a family vacation in the mountains of Arkansas.  At the time, I didn't know where I would be on my cancer journey, but I figured that if I didn't make the reservations, it would never happen.  So glad I did!  We took the long drive northward to Mount Magazine State Park and stayed in a mountainside cabin overlooking a beautiful valley.  I was able to walk some of the short, easy trails, which I loved!  Had this vacation been over the summer, during the peak of my severe neuropathy symptoms, I wouldn't have been able to do ANY trail walking, for sure!  The timing was great.  The elevation there was mild, and the trails we chose were relatively flat.  So I could walk and breathe and all those good things!  Danny and the kids did go out without me a couple of times, on some of the longer, higher hikes.  Plus I admit I hold them down with my slowness.  But it was all good.  I wanted them to enjoy the area's beauty as we usually do when we visit a state or national park, and not have the family cancer patient limiting their pace or trail choices.  Here are a few pictures:
Me and the kids

Wow!  Gorgeous Fall foliage in the fog.

Our cabin.  Check out the views beyond.

Picnic lunch spot
My silly girls
Christa spotted some color amid all the browns

She has a really good eye!

Don't you just love when your kids show some interest in any of your interests??  Christa took the camera for most of this trip and came up with some great shots!

We drove home the day before Thanksgiving so we wouldn't miss the family feast.  Good times with the whole extended Hellmers family!

The following week was my long-awaited (for me) scans to assess whether or not the latest treatment was working.  This is always a stressful time.  For any cancer patient!  But I think it's getting worse for me.  I start to think about it farther and farther in advance than previously.  So much is riding on these results!  And really, the results haven't been very good for some time now.  It's been a while since I've had a treatment that worked.  Even though I'm feeling pretty good, I worry.  To make matters worse, my appointment to see the doctor was six days later.  SIX days!  I swear, I think that the person who does the scheduling sometimes forgets that the "medical record number" they are working on is actually a human being whose next course of treatment depends on the results of these tests ... which means our life can turn upside down, or not!  Sorry I just think that waiting 6 days for test results is excessive.

But!  I made it through the 6 days and saw Dr. Coscio yesterday.  Danny and I both somehow knew that it would be time to move from Afinitor, Exemestane and Zolodex onto something else.  Nothing we could quite pinpoint, although my cough has been increasing slightly.  Gut feeling I guess.  Maybe because I've been feeling so good, generally without treatment side effects, that we thought that it surely is not working well on the cancer.  In any event, we were right.

My tumor marker (CA 15-3) went up again, and the sad little graph showed a steadily inclining line stretching over the last 6 months.  A lesion on my liver is larger (2.4cm) and there are multiple, new liver lesions.  The lung pleura still shows nodules, scar tissue, and expansion of metastases into the area near my heart and major blood vessels (excuse my lack of medical jargon precision here--  The doctor showed us these areas on the digital films, and I think my eyes were beginning to glaze over right about now.)  The pleural effusion is still present, though not as large as 2 months ago, which was before the thoracentesis when they removed 2 liters of fluid.  Some of the fluid is now "loculated," which means, at least how I understand it, that it's hardened and therefore is not drainable, and explains the very odd & irregular shape of my left lung.  Ironically the right lung looks beautiful!  Weird.  The bone mets are stable.  Nothing new there, except the report says I have a pathologic fracture on my T-12 vertebra and two left ribs.  This I was unaware of.  I always knew that with extensive bone metastasis, I was at risk for pathologic fracture.  Well now I have some of my very own, although it's not noted if these are new findings or just uncharted old ones.  Sigh...

I was given two options.  I want to add here that THANK GOD I still have options!  I know that there will come a day when they will have nothing more to offer me, but I'm not there yet.  The first is a chemo called Ixempra.  Given IV every three weeks over a 3-hour infusion, this would cause hair loss and make me fairly uncomfortable.  The second is a clinical trial.  The particular trial Dr. Coscio thinks I'm eligible for is a hormone therapy type of drug.  It's for patients who have JUST FAILED on Afinitor and Exemestane -- hey that's me!  And you can't have had any other treatments after failing that combo ... so if I took anything else now, I would no longer and never again be eligible for this clinical trial.  The hormone types of therapies are generally better tolerated with less side effects than chemotherapies, plus many of them have worked for me in the past.  So I am leaning toward the trial before the chemo.  I will be getting an appointment with the doc in charge of the trial to get more information and see if I qualify.  But that is where we are.  I was told that it may take a couple of weeks to get going.  Which is fine with me because I'm seeing a Christmas free of cancer treatment -- sounds good to me!