Sunday, May 30, 2010

Is This Cancer Inherited?

Questions, thousands of questions. Where does cancer come from? Why do some get it? Why do some get certain kinds? Why? Most of those questions are unanswerable. Research is discovering more and more answers to others.

Shortly after Dad died from pancreatic cancer in 2006, I was talking to my gynecologist at my yearly exam, telling her about Dad and his brothers and sisters that died from other forms of cancer. She immediately asked if I'd be willing to talk to a genetic counselor about familial cancers. I agreed. Before long I had an appointment at the West Clinic in Memphis and talked to Eric. After getting a detailed history of what I knew about the aunts and uncles he began to explain how genetic mutation works. Suffice it to say, he suspected there may have been a mutation in my family. He recommended a test on Uncle Butch, because he is a breast cancer survivor. Yes, that's right, Uncle Butch and Uncle Ray - both breast cancer survivors. Aunts Jessie and Elma both died of ovarian cancer and Uncle Tommy of liver cancer.

After bribing Uncle Butch with a free ride to Memphis and a free lunch, he agreed to accompany me and give them a tube of his blood. (He's such a pushover!) In a few days his results came back positive for BRCA2. That stands for BReast CAncer 2 - a gene mutation that can be passed down that causes breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic, melanoma, gall bladder, lymphoma types of cancers. Sound familiar? I gave my sample of blood and I was negative!! The chances of contracting any of these forms of cancer WITH the gene mutation bumps a person to 80%. Without the mutation, I was at the 10% risk of the general population. My sister, Libby, was tested and she, too, was negative.

I did not think, after this test, that I would never get cancer but I sure was floored when I did. Even the surgeon that did the biopsy on the very small tumor that showed up in an ultrasound, was surprised. My first cousin, Kathy, was diagnosed with breast cancer about three weeks before I was. She too, tested negative for BRCA2. So what's up with this? She sees the same genetic counselor as I and they are running more tests on her blood sample. This may tell both of us about another type of mutation. Research on this subject is moving full steam ahead but there are still things to be discovered.

I will write more on this in later posts but for now, I am trying to hang in there with this chemo. There are several variables in my treatments and again I will tell more about that later. This verse means a lot to me this morning: Hebrews 13:15 - 16, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of his lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bad Day Has Arrived

When I decided to write this blog, I decided it wasn't all going to be about breast cancer. I have more identity than breast cancer. However, today it will be about the side effects of chemo That is, after all, part of the title.

Taking steroid pills the day before, of, and after chemo treatment is a good thing. Until they begin to wear off. Sunday morning, I just wasn't able to get up to go to church. I sat in my chair all day. I did some embroidery, I watched the Andy Griffin marathon, I played on the computer. Mostly, I sat. And tried to get up energy to get up. But the energy was not there. Sunday night, I slept pretty good. Monday morning, I was washed out. Took a shower and put on make up, styled my hair but laid right back down and didn't get up. Not even able to embroider. Today, was just horrible. Until about 2 p.m. I was napping and when I woke up I felt a little better. Still haven't been able to eat much. And drinking fluids is so very important but trying to swallow is hard. I keep plugging away at it, but it's just not fun.

Mike brought me some popsicles and I ate part of a baked potato a few minutes ago. Cantaloupe tasted really good today. When people talked about feeling bad from chemo, I had no idea how bad that was. And I'm sure my experience is not near as bad as some others.

Friends have encouraged me to blog. And that's what I'm doing. So you get to hear all the bad things and the good things. And if I can help someone else through this somewhere down the road, I'll be glad. There may not be a lot of mind boggling revelations or high and inspired spiritual truths, but this is me. And me is what you get.

I cannot close today without telling where my strength comes from. "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isiah 41:10 Even though sometimes I may not display that confidence outwardly, deep down I know Who's in control.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

It's a Good Day

So, today was the annual Red Neck Safari at the farm. Hunter's Sunday school class/church/friends have been coming in May for about five years now. These wonderful, sweet, loving people show up with smiles, food, four wheelers and various forms of transportation designed to run through mud, over logs, and climb hills. The day is spent doing what the machines are designed to do. Then - then - they all gather back at the cabin for a fish fry!! Mike and I and others that are willing to pitch in and help cook and serve, dish up platters of fish, hush puppies, french fries, slaw, all the trimmings and we all eat till we can't move.

Today was the first time I have not been able to jump in and entertain and socialize and have the fun I usually have. Everyone was very understanding and helpful. But it was not the same experience for me. I am having to face the fact that this cancer and the treatments are going to slow me down a little. A little today. Maybe more tomorrow, or next week, or next month.

I was assured and told over and over that I was being prayed for, that I was on prayer lists at the various churches. That means so much to me and I thank every one that has approached The Throne on my behalf. Two Godly men layed hands on me and prayed for me today, standing in the backyard, unashamedly in front of God, nature and all those sitting in lawnchairs praying along.

Friends, family, food, faith. That makes a good day. Cancer or not.

I Peter 5:6-7 "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Day of Chemo

Mike, Mom, and I arrived at the clinic at 8:50 a.m. My clinical research nurse went over some things with me and then I went to the chemotherapy room to get "chemo'd", I guess you could say. I had drips that were supposed to keep me from getting nauseus. Then a drip of Taxotere, then Carboplatin, then Benadryl, then Herceptin. In addition to these drugs, I began taking the clinical trial drug, Lapatinib in pill form.

I am very pleased to report, I had no adverse reactions to any of these drugs. No itching, no chemical taste in my mouth, no drop in blood pressure or oxygen saturation. I sipped on white grape juice, ate peanut butter and crackers, even got in a few small bites of candy bars! Didn't get dizzy walking to the bathroom, enjoyed meeting all the nurses, did a little embroidery, started reading a new book, began listening to a new book on my ipod, played on the Nintendo DS Game Boy, taught Mike how to play a game on it and he took it away from me and played with it, got a cool little goody bag from the nurses, covered up with my Chemo Kalaidoscope quilt, and just got some rest.

I go back tomorrow for a shot of Neulasta that will help keep my white blood cell count from getting too low. It has side effects as do all the above drugs I took by IV today. But they might not show up until about Sunday. As for today, I am enjoying the energy I have. I am praising God for the good day I had. I am thanking God for all the medical professionals that are in my life right now. And I am thanking him constantly for all the family and friends I have that are praying for me and wishing me well and letting me know that they love me - every day. It brings to mind a scripture. Philipppians 1:3-4 "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy - -".

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It Will Begin Soon

I have opted to participate in a clinical trial while undergoing my chemotherapy. A clinical trial is a research study that tests how well new medicines work in people. The main purpose of this trial is to determine if this particular medicine is effective in preventing cancer from returning and in extending survival in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer. (That's straight from the brochure)

Let me back up. In HER2 positive (+) breast cancer, the tumor cells have too much HER2 protein on their surface. This protein makes tumors able to grow and spread quickly, and can make them less likely to respond to some cancer treatments and more likely to recur after treatment. I will be helping to determine why some drugs, alone or in conjunction with another drug, work differently in some women.

My tumor was tested to be HER2+ in addition to being positive for estrogen and progesterone. That makes a triple positive. That makes a scary kind of cancer. That makes ME determined to find out all I can about it and to treat it as aggressively as possible. The tumor was removed with negative margins (they got it all), no lymph node involvement, and no suspicion of it being anywhere else in my body. Because of the HER2+ thingy, let's just be on the safe side. Ok? Ok.

I will possibly be helping save the lives of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the near future. These women could be my sisters, daughters in law, granddaughter, nieces, or my friends. Or it could be you. Or your loved ones. Or your friends.

I realize there's a lot of scientific jargon in this post. I have learned a lot of words, phrases, and terms that, 4 months ago I would never have dreamed I would know. I am getting something akin to a "junior medical degree." Personal experience and involvement tends to make one sort of an expert. I said that, tongue in cheek, to say this: everyone's breast cancer is different. Everyone must do what is best for them, based on research, open conversation with doctors and medical professionals and people who have been through the same thing. And prayer, lots of prayer.

Chemotherapy should begin later this week. It's a scary thing. And I dread it. I really really dread it. I have decided I will spend one long, hot, bald summer going through chemotherapy in exchange for twenty more good summers. However, I must remember that "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Relay for Life

Relay for Life, the nationwide fundraiser of the American Cancer Society, is an awesome event. In the years past, it was out there, raising money for cancer research. I thought it was a good thing. But it became much more to me in 2006. My Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April. In May, he walked the survivor lap at Relay for Life. Less than six months later, he passed away. Pancreatic cancer is a bad old cancer. The next year's relay was pretty hard. We watched two of Dad's brother, both breast cancer survivors, walk the survivor lap.

This year, I walked the survivor's lap with my daughter in law, Mandy - she had melanoma, and Mike's niece, Michelle - a 5 year breast cancer survivor. Mike walked with us. He is now considered my caregiver. This year, I can be considered a survivor. As we walked, the people of the businesses and organizations that had raised money all year, were standing on the sidelines applauding us. I felt unworthy because my fight hasn't really begun yet. I was just diagnosed two months ago. The tumor is gone following surgery but my treatments haven't begun yet. Some of the people there have fought a long, hard, difficult, battle with various forms of cancer. Some are still fighting, waiting to be declared, "Cancer Free!" I'll be glad to hear those words, too, applied to me. Hopefully, I'll hear them for many more years.

Next week end I'll walk another survivor's lap, at another Relay for Life event. This time with my two uncles. And I'm sure it will be much more difficult. Dad has been gone for 3 1/2 years. I still miss him every day. We cancer patients/survivors, are fighters. We keep going. We keep running the race. There is a prize at the end of this race. First, hopefully, a cure. Second - "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenword in Christ Jesus." Phil. 3:14. Either way, it's a win/win situation.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This one is Mine!!

I finished a quilt last night! The Christmas before last I made a quilt for all five grandchildren. Even though only one was ready at Christmas. The others were done before March. Last Christmas I made quilts for Mom, two sisters, two daughters in law, one niece. I was determined to have them done on time. And they were - all wrapped up and under the Christmas tree. This Christmas quilts will be made and presented to Mike, two sons, two brothers in law and a nephew. I have one of those "guy" quilts ready to go to the quilter. I've got another half finished.

But last night, I cut the last thread on a quilt that is mine! It's only the second one I made for myself. This quilt has a special task assigned to it. It will go with me when I take my chemo treatments. It's very cold in that room and I've been told I'll want something to cover up with. Of course, the clinic has warmed blankets that would work just fine. But I want something personal to me. Thus, my own quilt. It will remind me of all I need to accomplish before Christmas this year. It will give me strength to get through this rough patch in my life. It will give me comfort as I sit for a long time in a room I hoped I'd never have to see again. Dad took some treatments in that room four years ago this month.

As I let this quilt be my comfort, it will remind me of another Comforter, the One Jesus promised. "But the Counselor (Comforter), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you," John 14:26. I can't think of anything better to ponder on.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The lifeport is supposed to be a really good thing. My friend, Cindy, said she loved hers, when she had breast cancer. I'm sorry, I just can't get too excited about it right now. I understand the purpose and the use but today it's a pain in the neck, pun intended. My right shoulder and neck are not happy. The tape on the bandage which came up almost to my ear, was very irritating. So Mike clipped some of it off for me. The tape, not my ear. I'm supposed to leave the bandage on for 48 hours. Tomorrow I return to the clinic for an EKG and some blood work. They will take the blood through the port. And that's good because I won't have to get a needle stick in my arm. The handy dandy lifeport will supply all their (medical folk) needs. My lifeport will be the "funnel" for chemicals that will destroy harmful cells in my body. I see the good, I dread the bad.

Will supply all their needs. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that? Oh yes, "And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Brief Introduction

Putting my writing career on hold just seemed the thing to do at the time. I wrote freelance for a monthly magazine published locally in my town. After nine years of articles, interviews, and research projects, I was ready for a break. It was about that time I was bitten by the quilting bug.

I have done needlework of some kind since I was ten years old - off and on. Crochet, counted cross stitch, embroidery, sewing. As passing interests would capture my attention, needlework would come and go. But I see this quilting thing being the be all/end all of my needles and thread obsession. I love it and am enjoying it more and having more fun than anything I've done in a long long time.

Now, Dear Reader, hang on as I totally switch gears and try to explain the title of my blog. On March 12, 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma. In later blogs I will go into more detail about the early part of this journey. To put the details in a nutshell for this introductory posting, I had a lumpectomy on March 29. The decision was made to proceed through chemotherapy and later radiation. Today, the lifeport was put in for the chemo to begin within the next two weeks.

For the Quiet Times - I have a strong faith in God. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. Everything I am, have, or will be is due to Him. The devotion in my daily book for this morning stated, "Do not resist or run from the difficulties in your life, These problems are not random mistakes; they are hand-tailored blessings designed for your benefit and growth. Embrace all the circumstances that I allow in your life, trusting Me to bring good out of them. View problems as opportunities to rely more fully on Me." This from a wonderful book by Sharon Young, writing as if Jesus were talking directly to me. Those words kept me very focused this morning as I was in the hospital. As I apply all my circumstances to these words - well, God is doing a good work in me. Even in the midst of cancer. So I shall continue to praise Him - always. Blessed Be the Name of the Lord.

And this is my introduction post. I may not write every day, but through this blog I will keep you, my family and friends posted on all updates of chemo treatments, progress on quilts, and spiritual growth from my Lord.