Tuesday, September 30, 2008

As Promised - the Stray Cat Strut Mandala

Gosh, has it already been two months? I think I posted at the end of July or beginning of August that I wanted to create a mandala entitled the Stray Cat Strut. I drafted out a design shortly thereafter, but I haven't taken the time to create the final version. (Partly, I lost the compass I'd bought in early July; I can't find it anywhere. Finally bought a new one last week.)

I finally took the time to create it last Sunday afternoon. Voila!

This is an abstract skeleton - there's the main blue t-shape that represents my arms, spines, and the beginnings of my legs at the bottom. Blue represents calmness, serenity, healing, and strength to me. There is a cat (looking at it from above) about mid-way down my spine. This cat is cruising through my bones, swishing out cancer with its tail. The cancer is represented by red - which is related to the anger that I was trying to release after I colored "Slow Burn". As you can see, the arms and top part of the spine have no red in them. There is red that's been knocked out of the arms and the spine, floating outside my body in a pool of healing blue. The cat has just flicked its tail to knock out another red cancer area. The bottom part of my spine and my legs are more purplish in color - this represents a mixing of healing blue and red cancer. Healing blue is already there since I've been on anti-tumor meds since February, but it hasn't quite conquered the red cancer - since my CT scan still showed calcium deposits in my bone marrow. My body and the knocked-out cancer cells are surrounded by a yellow, healing light, which then begins to radiate outward in the orange.

I'll be the first to admit that I can't draw well, but I think that the colors work very well, overall, even if I do say so myself. I plan to post this somewhere in my house and a copy in my office so that I can remember to take a few minutes to visualize this Stray Cat knocking out the cancer in my bones. (Remember, I first got the idea of using the song, Stray Cat Strut, to visualize knocking out cancer when I heard the song while laying on the radiation table.)

There you have it, folks. Enjoy!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Booblessness and Reconstruction

As my faithful readers, friends, family, and colleagues know, I lost the tissue expander on the right, radiated side about six or seven weeks ago. It was somewhat traumatic, but I got through it. Now, however, I am completely flat on the right side and "flat" may be a optimistic at best - sunken in is more like it.

I'm still getting used to it and I feel it's pretty noticeable. After all, before that, I had at least the semblance of breasts. There was a small mound on the right side with the tissue expander and an even bigger mound on the left side (between an A and a B cup there). However, being "boobless", I've found myself buying blousy, loose shirts these past few weeks to disguise the flatness. (Granted, it was partly an excuse to buy new clothes!) Finding these styles of shirts is hard, you know, because a lot of the styles now are tight, form-fitting, low-cut, tailored kinds of shirts. Luckily, the stores are selling peasant-style blouses, too.

This morning, though, I decided (after putting on another new shirt that wasn't as loose as I thought) that I was spending too much mental energy (not to mention money) into disguising the flatness. Everyone I know and care about knows that I am flat. I decided that I needed not to care what strangers think anymore. (Which goes to show you just how fixated our society is on image - I was buying into the whole thing, but that's a post for another time.) Soooo . . . I'm going to stop worrying about it.

I do plan to have reconstruction at some time in the future. . . I just want to feel and look normal in my clothes. But until then? Who cares what people think, right?

Hey, is "booblessness" a word? : )

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Nice Personal Touch

I want to preface this post with saying that something certainly needs to be done about the health care system in this country. My youngest brother does not have health insurance, is unemployed and before that, he only had health care services because he was in school at a local university. He hasn't seen a dentist in years and has just been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. For that diagnosis, he had to get care through the Indian Health Service, about an hour's drive away. My folks are both retired and drawing Social Security - mom will finally be eligible for Medicare this month. She has hearing problems and needs hearing aids, but can't afford them. She's still paying on a hospital and clinic bill incurred from a hospitalization several years ago. My partner has been going round and round with his insurance about another bill. In other words, I am very aware of the challenges that my own family and friends have to face when dealing with insurance and paying for health care.

I know how very fortunate I am because I have had hardly any problems with my insurance (Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield) regarding my care. A few months ago, I was paying as much as $200/month on dressings, gauze pads, and tape for the open wound, but my wound care nurse gave me a durable medical supplies catalog and I started ordering through them and they bill my insurance first. For the past three months, I've only had about $75 or maybe $100 in out of pocket expenses. My insurance also pays for 70% of my acupuncture treatments - I still have to pay for the herbal supplements though. That's okay.

When I mentioned to my counselor that I have had good luck with my insurance - and although my partner has the same insurance company, his policy is not as good as mine - she observed that my policy may be better than most because I work for the state and also because I am a professor (a well educated consumer). I had to concede that my profession may indeed have played a part in having a good insurance policy.

This is all a prelude to something that occurred with my insurance last week. I received a form from Regence that asked me to report any injuries or accidents that might involve billing another party for any services that I received. (Granted, they were trying to find someone else to pay for my services.) The dates of service coincided with the removal of the tissue expander (see that post here). So, I called the Regence number and talked to someone named Robin. After explaining to her that the services were related to my cancer treatment, not any kind of accident, I then asked why I had received the form. She said that certain diagnosis codes flag the computer to send out the form. In my case, the diagnosis was "open chest wound", which was true enough. I then told her about everything that happened and she said that I do not need to fill out the form stating that there was no accident and that she would file the report via the telephone herself. Cool. I just had to talk to her for a few minutes - I was saved from having to write out the explanation on the form.

Well, yesterday, in the mail, I received a nice hand-written card from her. Among other things, she stated that she wanted to send me encouragement, that she was encouraged by my cheerfulness, and that my great attitude will play a big part in my recovery, and finally, she reminded me that their website does have tips and other resources for handling side effects or other aspects of my cancer treatment.

How often does one ever get a hand-written card of encouragement from one's insurance company? If anyone else ever has, I would love to hear about it.

I would wager that it's very rare. So, let's all give a big round of applause to Robin for taking the initiative and giving me her personal touch. And, Regence, she deserves a raise. Patients with chronic or life-threatening illnesses all deserve more Robins in their lives, especially from insurance providers and other people giving health services! Thank you, Robin!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Plans

So, what are all you folks doin' for the weekend?

I head up to Portland tonight, to hang out with Scott and one of his friends.

Tomorrow, after lunch, I will head back home, pick up my son, and then I believe my folks, Eddie, and I will go to our town's Fall Festival. Dad said that there's an African group that's supposed to be performing. Should be fun! Then, I'm going to play cards at my friend's house on Saturday night - the usual Sat night activity, except that I haven't gone much this summer. They've been starting the games late (around 8:30 or 9pm) and for much of the summer, I felt too tired. I was also hanging out with Scott a lot. But now that I'm feeling more energetic and will be home Sat night without Scott, I think I will head up there and get reacquainted with that group of friends - they are like a second family to me.

Sunday -maybe the Fall Festival again. But also stuff to do around the house. Maybe work on the mosaic, clean the garage, get plastic up around my windows to try to help stem the influx of cold, winter air. I'm in the mood to do that kind of thing. Got to take advantage of those moods!!!

Happy Week-end!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Healing Nicely

I saw the wound care nurse today and she was pleased at how well the wound is healing! I now have a "peninsula" of good tissue, starting from the top and extending down to almost the bottom part of the wound. This peninsula kinda cuts the whole wound in half. The total area is about 8 cm by 2 to 2.5cm, but the edges are encroaching on both sides and then there's a 2x2cm peninsula right in the middle. Yay, oompa loompas!

This makes me realize the extent to which the cancer in the skin was keeping the original wound from healing. By the time I started radiation, I'd had the wound for about 2 1/2 months with no real improvement. Then, radiation kept the wound from healing. Then, there was the whole episode with the loss of the tissue expander and the open cavity (the Bat Cave). The wound pump came off on Aug 22. Now, about five weeks later, there is already much improvement. Maybe in another month or six weeks, I won't have to wear a dressing anymore.

How cool would that be?

I bumped into another survivor today and she is undergoing reconstruction. She mentioned that she just started the tattooing process (on the nipple area) and she reported just how different it was making her feel. She spent some time a few weeks ago wondering why she was undergoing this whole process - all the appointments taking time out of her day. Now, she knows. She says it's totally worth it.

Now, I'm more determined than ever to do all of that myself. Soon enough. Time to think about that later. For now, I'm happy just healing and regaining my strength and energy.

Please send some of that healing energy to my friend and fellow blogger, Teri, the Cheeky Librarian. She's doing what she calls the "scan dance" and may soon have a biopsy on her liver. Another fellow blogger, Liz Kreger, has just finished radiation for a tumor on her brain stem. She seems in good spirits. NYC Jeanne, at "Rock the Bald", will soon start radiation and I believe her hair is growing back post-chemo. She needs some healing energy, too.

Thank you to everyone who is helping me. I do appreciate it. I am buoyed by all of your support!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Finishing Up Three Glorious Days With No Medical Appointments

Today was the first week day in I-don't-know-how-long in which I didn't have any appointments and then it was the third week-day in a row in which I didn't have a medical appointment. I've been able to spend my whole work day at work these past few days and it feels great! I've been working on several different projects - some writing, getting the ball going on new projects and trying to tie up loose ends, too. I actually started to reorganize my piles yesterday and I put away books I no longer needed and today, I was able to file away my two-foot-high pile of paperwork.

How cool is that?

Tomorrow, I see the wound care nurse - the wound seems to be healing nicely. I am now able to wait three days between changing dressings - yay!

Can you tell I'm feeling well?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Torn Feelings about Fall

Yesterday was the first day of fall. When it first starts, I find myself dreading the cooler nights and days. Summer really is my favorite time of year, especially in the area where I live. It's rarely too hot and then when it does get hot, it tends to cool down at night. I like the free time that I associate with summer - a flexible schedule, the freedom to do what you want when you want. When school starts, it just gets so scheduled, both for me and my son. Fall also represents a prelude to winter to me, when it is chillier and there's not a lot of daylight.

But, today, my colleague mentioned that he enjoys this time of year and the reason was because of the energy that one feels on campus. The students are returning and they are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (we're on a trimester system here, which means we start about a month later than colleagues on a semester system) and our colleagues are coming in to their office to get started on a new academic year. I had to admit that he was right and I certainly feel that anticipation of something new.

My own energy seems to be mirroring the energy of campus: I find myself looking forward to work, trying to finish up old projects and starting to work on new ones. I find myself being really silly with Eddie in the mornings, talking in funny voices and chuckling a lot. Volleyball starts next week and our whole team is happy to start up again. I'm sleeping a lot better than I did last winter/spring. I am feeling a bit like my own self. My office manager, Karen, told me today that I look good and energetic. One of Scott's friends said that I seemed lighter when I saw him a couple of weeks ago than I did when I first met him about 18 months ago. I am just so glad to get back to work and have energy to begin thinking about new projects and to be able to have fun with my son. Just a few months ago, I was saying no to new projects - or being cautious about my ability to carry them off - because I just wasn't sure of my energy. I'm so relieved to know that it's back. It's nice to feel positive and happy.

It feels good. I feel good. Bodes well, doesn't it?

Happy fall everyone!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Wonderful Week-end Bookended with Me Getting Pissy

For the past three years, members of our department have spent two nights at the Oregon Coast for a departmental retreat. We spend a few hours in a meeting on Saturday, but other than that, we hang out, eat, drink in the evenings, visit, play, and walk on the beach. It's been fun and something I look forward to. I do think we get a chance to bond and then have informal conversations about some of our departmental policies. Not that we always agree, but we're usually too busy to take the time to do that when we're at school.

We divide up the meals and my colleagues are great cooks. We had homemade veggie lasagna on Friday night, pancakes/sausage/bacon/eggs/fruit salad for Sat breakfast, chicken curry/spinach paneer/rice pilaf for Sat lunch, fettucini with a homemade tomato sauce/caesar salad for Sat dinner, and scrambled eggs with all sorts of veggies/mushrooms/hashbrowns for Sun breakfast. I love this part because I don't cook and it's nice to eat lots of really good homecooked meals for a change. (Half of my evenings, I am by myself because my son is with his dad; when my son is with me, he does have a limited diet and I don't, so it makes it harder to cook; I've gotten out of the habit of having anything other than snacks at my house.) I did break veggies for a tossed salad for Sat lunch and also some really good locally made breads. One of our colleagues was the "happy hour guy" and he did mix a good drink.

I stay in the "kid house" because I do have Eddie with me and two of my colleagues and their families were in that house, too, since they have kids ranging in age from 1 to 4 years of age. Eddie was the good older kid - fairly patient with the younger ones and they liked following him around (just one accident involving a shut hand in a door).

But, unfortunately, I ended up getting upset at Scott on Friday night when we talked on the phone (he was still in Portland) - I misunderstood when he was going to be home after hanging out with some friends of his. So, I got upset, but we talked it out. Then, this afternoon, after I got home, I got upset again when Scott was here in town visiting me. It had to do with me feeling pulled in two directions (between doing something with my son and talking with Scott) and not feeling like Scott understood why. It was too bad because he was only here for a few hours. Both also had something to do with old insecurities that I'm trying to work through and was part of the reason why Scott and I broke up; I'm trying to change the way I react to things like this. So, I'm disappointed with myself. Fortunately, Scott didn't get mad. He understood.

Still trying to work through it all I guess - I need to forgive myself and just move on. Easy to say and hard to do. Trying to change old patterns is hard. I've improved a lot these past several months. Just tells me that I still need to work on them.

To end on a more positive note, I want to give a big thank you to my colleagues for the wonderful food: David and Joan, Bryan and Jenna, Sunil and Suman, Missy and Andy, and Nancy and Clint. And, thanks to Loren for the wonderful drinks! And, finally, a big thanks to Scott for coming down to visit me for a few hours - I appreciate it!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tackling the Calcium Spots in the Bone Marrow

I chatted with my acupuncturist today about what I could do about the spots in the bones. After explaining that the body was trying to contain the colonies of cancer cells by surrounding them with calcium, she then characterized my disease as a "latency", according to Chinese Medicine.

In other words, we have contained the disease and that is an accomplishment. It means that my body is starting to turn the tide. Cancer had the upper hand, but given all the tools I'm using (western medicine, Chinese medicine and acupuncture, meditation, visualization, some other spiritual kinds of activities), we're/I'm finally getting ahead.

But, it has taken a lot of my "wei chi" or righteous chi to get to this point. She said that there are things that Chinese medicine could do to try to get that toxin out of my system (even if it's dead cancer cells), but my righteous chi might not be strong enough now to contain it. We could cause the cancer to gain the upper hand again if we went that route right now.

She advised me to just keep healing, take care of the wound, take care of my body, get adequate nutrition, good sleep at night, don't overload myself at work or stress out with other issues. In other words, keep doing everything I can to heal by resting and taking it as easy as possible. (Note to self: time to start saying no to stuff at work!)

After several months (or however long it takes), we'll revisit the issue when she feels my righteous chi is strong again.

Fair enough. I think that means no major procedures or anything else at this time.

Like Mary said, just keep on keeping on. I may need some help from my loved ones to "just say no!" Can someone tell that to my boss? : )

Actually, I am my own worst enemy there. Since I've been feeling better and more energetic, work-related projects are starting to move forward again. And some colleagues asked me to get involved in a resubmit for one proposal and another one asked me to sign on to a new project. The first is needed and the second sounds interesting and relates to something that I've been asking for from hard scientists for awhile, so I said yes to both (and I don't have to do the major part of the proposal - just add in my two cents). I need to get a handle on them and the other projects I have before signing on to anything else. Especially since classes start soon. Darnit! I wish my sabbatical could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on . . . you get the picture, eh?

Why couldn't that little bugger pick on someone who's healthy?

On Monday morning, about 8:30am, it was a bit cool (maybe 60 or 65). I was walking across the quad to my office when I saw something flit by me about knee level. Some bug, I thought. Then, the damn thing stung me. Ouch!

When I got to my office, I'd already developed a welt about an inch and a half in diameter. I am not allergic to bees, but I do get these rather big welts and swelling. They itch like crazy, usually. Great . . .

But I left it alone, got involved in a conference call, and later that afternoon, I showed it to my friend who was over here cutting down my cherry tree. Lo and behold, there wasn't a welt any longer. There was just a little red bump, so I forgot about it.

Later that evening, I wanted to scratch it, but I left it alone. I congratulated myself because I usually give in to the urge.

But the next morning, I did scratch it, but only around the edge. I had this topical analgesic for insect bites and I rubbed it on the area hoping to numb it.

By lunch, the area of the sting, right below my knee, was swollen. When I got up from my office chair, my knee was stiff. Cripes. I must've released the venom when I used the slight pressure to put on the topical analgesic. I walked to lunch with a colleague, then walked to my car to go to my appointment with the oncologist.

Later that afternoon, the whole area was swollen and red - about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. But even worse, there was some swelling that went down my shin, to just about 3 inches above my ankles. All told, an area of about 10 inches long (including the red area) and maybe 3 inches wide was swollen. That was Tuesday night.

I put my foot up and the swelling didn't really go down. By the time I went to bed, I was worried and decided to go to Immediate Care the next day if it wasn't better.

Wednesday morning, I headed to Immediate Care after dropping Eddie off at school. The whole area was swollen and the muscles along my shin ached with movement. And, it was itchy.

The doctor there said that he didn't think it was necessarily just a venom reaction. He thought that there just might be an infection. Luckily, I didn't have a fever or any other sign of an infection (a slight sore throat, but that might not be related). So, he's put me on a 7-day course of antibiotics. (He also took out the stinger, which I wasn't sure was there or not.)

I took the first dose with lunch yesterday and I also took Benadryl to help the swelling. But yesterday afternoon, the swelling was still there - it didn't go away - and all I felt was sleepy.

So, just before taking the second dose, I finally figured out something else I could do. I still had some turmeric paste and as I mentioned several months ago, turmeric has antibiotic, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties and is good for skin conditions, generally. I think it may even help remove toxins. So, I put some on with my leg elevated and let it soak like that, like a poultice, for about 20 minutes. Then I cleaned it all off.

By the time I went to sleep an hour or so later, most of the swelling was gone. I used it again this morning and the whole area felt better, although there were times when I could still feel some stiffness.

This morning, my acupunturist put in a needle to help remove toxins along that meridian. She also gave me another topical ointment that will remove toxins.

It's much better - maybe the combo plate of taking out the stinger, antibiotics, the turmeric, the acupuncture, and the other ointment. Who cares? It's healing.

But, sheesh. Seems like the bugger could've picked on someone else. I mean, haven't I been through enough?

Then again, I want to be normal, right? Insect stings might as well get me as someone else.

Just what I need, an equal opportunity bug.

P.S. When I mentioned this to Cat, she said that sometimes bees or other insects "might get into something" that will cause an illness - like the bug may have gotten some kind of bacteria or other toxin on its stinger and transferred it to me. That's a lovely thought.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Proud of My Son II

When I picked Eddie up from school, I asked him how his day went, he usually says, "I have 2 (or 3) recesses and no fire drills." But today, he said, "Guess how many recesses I had?" I said, "3". He then asked, "Guess how many fire drills I had?" I replied, "0". He said, "No, we had one fire drill today!"

So, I asked if he was okay and how he did. He said he was fine. I told him I was really proud of him and reminded him that I told him yesterday that each time he has a fire drill, he should remember that, although it scares him, he will be okay and that he will make it through. He said, "yeah".

I then asked if anyone said he did a good job or not. He said that one of his classmates, C., said, "Good job, Eddie!" and his teacher, Mrs. M., said the same.

Great job, Eddie! I'm proud of you again!

(See my earlier post from last spring about Eddie and fire drills.)

Hmm . . . Still Pondering That Conversation

Today, I had a check-up with my oncologist. It started out fairly well - every time I see him, they ask me to fill out a form about any medical issues/side effects I may be having. I sat there and thought, hmm, I don't really have any, other than the healing wound and lymphedema. (Got a f#*@in' bee sting yesterday that's sorta making my knee stiff - it's right below my knee - and I want to scratch it!) I've been getting hot flashes, but not too badly. My sleep has been really good this past week or so - I've been sleeping at least 3-hour stretches the past few nights. I have energy. I just have a bit of pain where the lymphedema is, but it's intermittent. So, I wrote on the form, "Hey! It's nice to just have 'normal' problems!" The nurse and my onc chuckled at that.

He looked at the wound and the area that was radiated and he didn't see any signs of cancer and neither did he feel any lumps. Cool.

Then, we looked at my CT scan. I asked him what he meant by some spots being somewhat bigger and how that was related to the healing process. He said that the body is trying to seal off and contain these small colonies of cancer cells that are in my bone marrow, so it takes calcium out of the serum - the circulatory system- and surrounds it with a layer of calcium. Sometimes, cancer pokes out of the calcium shell and starts growing. It didn't look like that was happening in my body as he just saw the calcium spots. So, when a spot does get bigger, sometimes it means that the body is adding another calcium layer on top of what's there.

Zometa makes my bones themselves stronger. By making it stronger, it makes it harder for cancer to lodge in the bone itself. He likened it to a worm going through sandstone versus a worm trying to make a hole in granite. Zometa makes my bones more like granite. Cool. I have no cancer on the bone itself and we want to keep it that way.

I wondered if, in the healing, the body was leaching calcium out of my bones and that made them weaker and he said that that wasn't the case. It's taking calcium out of the serum in the bone marrow. Both cancer and cancer treatments can make bones weaker. But Zometa will take care of that.

I asked about whether or not those calcium deposits (now surrounding dead tumors- at least that's what I think) in my marrow would ever disappear. In his opinion, he feels that they are likely to never go away. Sometimes, the body dissolves those calcium deposits. But not very often.

Bummer. I'd hoped that those buggers would go away. I will continue with my visualization to get rid of them.

I then asked about when someone is considered to be in remission. He said that there are different definitions of remission. The first is when there is no progression of disease, that a plateau of sorts has been reached so that there are no new spots and whatever spots there are aren't getting bigger. That's where I'm at. The second definition is when all the tests show "no evidence of disease". He doesn't feel that I will ever be in that category.

Hmm. Guess I'll have to prove him wrong.

Then, on my way out, I asked about reconstruction surgery. His reply was, "not in your lifetime". (What? That was a surprise to me.) He just didn't think the skin and tissue there would ever be able to handle a surgery like that. At least, that's what I gathered. I told him that my plastic surgeon thought that he could do reconstruction. So, my oncologist said that he'd defer to the surgeon on this one. At the very least, we'd have to be sure that there was no disease left there in the skin before considering surgery.

Okay. That calls for another consultation with the surgeon. I will wait until this wound heals and then schedule that appointment. And give the whole area a few months to be sure that nothing returns in the skin.

Hmm. Guess I'll have to prove my oncologist wrong, again.

Overall, he did say that he was pleased that we'd achieved stable. He seems satisfied with that. But, I'm going for NED. And, reconstruction. Never say never, right?

A Day of Phone Calls

Yesterday, on top of my annual eye appointment, a teleconference call, and a meeting with my undergrad research assistant, I received the following phone calls:

- from my acupuncturist's office reminding me of Thursday's appointment
- from my oncologist's office reminding me of today's appointment
- from my wound care office asking me to switch Wednesday's appointment from the morning to the afternoon
- from the dentist's office asking to reschedule my son's appointment in November
- from my dad reminding me that he needed to borrow my car on Wednesday
- from my former grad student, Brenda, who is doing some searches of archives related to Alaskan Statehood; we made an appointment for lunch to go over some questions she has
- from the mom of one of Eddie's classmates - she has started delivering me dinners on Thursdays since school started; we need to get caught up, so we're having lunch tomorrow
- from Scott, who was home with his daughter who just had two of her wisdom teeth pulled

Then, I made a couple of phone calls - one to my brother to get his work hours, which I then called to my office manager, and then to someone I worked for years ago to get a referral.

And, oh yeah, my friend, Rick (no, not George) is chopping down the pie cherry tree in my backyard, so he was over at my neighbor's house to take care of those limbs in the neighbor's yard. I helped with some of the clean-up afterwards.


And, today, I have counseling, then another teleconference call, lunch with a colleague, and a check-up with my oncologist.

Why all the activity? Part of it is just the reality of being a metastatic breast cancer patient with several appointments each week. Then, add on top of that, "normal" appointments like the eye appointment or the dentist. And, I am back on contract at work - my sabbatical is officially over- which means more appointments there. Sigh. Actually, I should say, "darnit!"

At least, the weather's gorgeous. No complaints there! Hope everyone has a great day . . . hopefully without appointments!! LOL

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Just made a cool observation that . . .

neither of my last two posts were about cancer.

How cool is that?

A Good and Productive Week-end

I just returned a couple of hours ago from spending the week-end in Portland. All in all, a good trip! Scott and I had a chance to hang out with some of his friends - a coworker and his wife on Friday night and his best friend on Saturday. (And, yes, we are officially boyfriend/girlfriend again, for any inquiring minds out there.) I also spent several hours at Powell's on Friday and had a bit of time on Saturday and got both the reading done for the two objects for which I need to write exhibit descriptions. The two objects are ivory carvings. I had fun reading about them and then writing the descriptions was fun, too. The drafts of the two descriptions are due tomorrow . . . the first time in a long time that I was able to make a deadline! Yippee!!

And, the weather was beautiful. Sunny, blue skies, with morning temps in the low to mid 60s, getting to the mid-80s, and cooling off to the high 60s or low 70s in the evenings. Lovely lovely weather.

Powell's Books can be a financially dangerous place for an academic to hang out. I spent about $98 on 10 books. Three for Eddie and the rest for me. I am hoping to get him started on a new mystery series starring Chet Gecko. He's been through the Wayside School books, the Magic Treehouse and Magic Schoolbus series. I found an older ethnography of Canadian Inuit, several books relating to Alaska Native corporations - the subject of one of my new grant projects - and a couple of books related to the Alaska Native view of Alaska's statehood - the subject of another new grant project. So, it's money well invested - professional development and all that jazz.

Now, if I can just find the time to read them all . . . HA!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beautiful Weather - Conducive to Writing?

We are having some beautiful weather here in the Pacific Northwest. It got up to 90 yesterday, but it didn't feel like it was too too hot. Absolutely blue skies - I would say clear, but the Willamette Valley has developed a haze over the past 15-20 years, unfortunately. On my drive to Portland yesterday, I could see Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, plain as day.

The weather makes me want to play, but I do have some writing I need to get done. I finally completed a revise and resubmit yesterday and sent it off. YAY! Today, I will do some reading about ivory carvings and Happy Jack (an Eskimo ivory carver around the turn of the 20th century) and then attempt to write two 250-word descriptions of two ivory carvings for an exhibit that will be at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC in 2010. That's my chore for today. But at least I will get to maybe sit on a patio at a coffee shop while I do that. Either that or hang out in Powell's.

Have a great week-end everyone!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oompa Loompas and Others Doing Their Job

I saw the wound care nurse yesterday and there is continued improvement in the wound. For months, it had what she called a "yellow eschar" but what the radiation onc called like this pre-skin membranous tissue. The area of the yellowish/whitish membranous tissue was about 9cm x 3.5-4cm and now, it's 8cm by 3cm with an island of good tissue that seems to be growing. In the area where the yellow tissue has receded is a nice pink color.

So, yes, there is progress that can be seen on a weekly basis. Yippee! The oompa loompas, flower faeries, elves, and the Fantastic Four are doing their job! (See my earlier post about this.) I told the nurse about my visualization, so each week, she'll say something like, "Those little guys are working hard" and then chuckle.

Criminy. It'll be nice not to have to wear a dressing, ya know? I've had to wear a dressing of some sort in that area since late March. Imagine the time and money I'll save when the damn thing is healed.

Then, I might actually be able to go swimming or get wet.

I would like to go to a beach somewhere over Christmas break - I may not have boobs, but at least I could get into the water. A goal to look forward to, anyway!

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Nice Chat With My Oncologist

My oncologist called me Sunday afternoon to talk about the CT scan and how the wound was healing and, I guess, just to assess where I'm at in all of my treatments.

He asked how the wound was healing and whether or not I saw any signs of cancer in the skin. I reported that the wound was healing pretty well and I didn't see any signs of cancer (I double-checked this morning).

I then asked if he'd had a chance to compare the CT scan from Feb and the one from Aug and he said he did and there was definitely no signs of any new spots on my bones. He mentioned again that a couple of them were bigger, but that it could be because they are healing. I need to ask him more about what that means- the biological process behind it.

I told him about the Zometa side effects I experienced (only a few hours of fever/flu-like symptoms) and he said that that was typical, but shouldn't be quite as bad the next time. He said that Zometa should certainly help the bones.

I asked where the rib fractures were and he mentioned that they were in the 4th, 5th and 6th ribs.

Then, I asked his opinion on how he thought I was doing. He said that he was actually quite pleased. He admitted that he'd been afraid that while we were busy trying to eradicate the cancer in my skin, that the cancer would crop out somewhere else. So, the fact that it didn't made him happy.

So, overall, it was a good report and a good chat. I promised him that I would not dive for any more volleyballs for awhile! He chuckled at that.

I figured it's always a good thing for an oncologist to laugh.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Zometa Side Effects

I had my zometa injection on Wednesday and felt fine the rest of that day. Felt fine when I woke up Thursday morning. Now that my son's started school, I'm starting to walk regularly again - it's about a 10-12 min walk from his school to my office. We're having really nice weather - clear and sunny, so it's a nice walk especially when I get on campus, which is beautifully landscaped. I then walked to my acupuncturist's office - it takes me about 25-30 min but I took my time, strolling through neighborhood streets and enjoying the weather. I walked back to my office later and then I picked up my son. All told, I think I walked almost an hour and a half yesterday, which is more than I'm used to.

So, I felt fatigued yesterday afternoon. Figured it was all the walking. But I also wondered if I had a fever as my forehead felt warm. Had dinner at my folks' house and then got home about 5pm or so. I just felt really tired and warm again, so I took my temp and it was 99.8. Sigh!

Started to worry about that - wondered if I was getting an infection from the wound and then it hit me. Ah! Zometa does have fever as one of the most frequent side effects. So, I got out my little info packet on Zometa and there, underneath fever was the sentence "flu-like symptoms, such as malaise, fever, bone and joint aches, and fatigue, but this usually only occurs the first time".

Hmm. Okay. That explains it. I also felt some achiness and had a couple of chills.

So, I rested most of the evening. Played Trouble and Uno Spin with Eddie. Went to bed early.

And, woke up feeling normal again. When I realized that the symptoms had gone away, I started feeling a bit feisty, a bit giddy, and a bit silly. I guess I don't take feeling normal for granted much anymore.

Feeling normal makes me happy. There's something to be said for that, huh? : )

With that in mind, here's a new joke a friend sent me:

A Friend Is Like A Good Bra...

Hard to Find



Always Lifts You Up

Never Lets You Down or Leaves You Hanging

And Is Always Close To Your Heart!!!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why am I not interested in Stand Up 2 Cancer?

Twice today, tomorrow's TV event, Stand Up 2 Cancer, came up. My dad mentioned it and so did the Cheeky Librarian.

Teri (the Cheeky Librarian) made some good points in terms of why she doesn't plan to tune in and I happen to agree with her.

But for me, there's something more going on that I'm still trying to put my finger on. It has to do with the fact that I've never participated in Race for the Cure, even when I was diagnosed six years ago, or Relay for Life. Three of my friends and colleagues either participated in these two events or donated money on my behalf and I really don't mind that. Others donated directly to the American Cancer Society on my behalf. Again, more power to them. A friend of mind mentioned getting a team together for Race for the Cure in Portland later this month and I said I wasn't really interested.

Our local breast cancer coordinator recently mentioned an annual event here called Puttin' on the Pink and I told her that I'm not really interested in that either. Part of it has to do with the critique against "pink ribbon marketing". (I think Breast Cancer Action has a lot of material on that.)

But on a personal level, I don't really want to participate. I think it might have to do with the fact that I LIVE cancer all the time and I also tend to think about it more than the average person (uh, ya think?). So, when I do have leisure time, I want to have fun and live as normal a life as I possibly can, one in which cancer doesn't take center stage. I'd rather be doing different things that define my life more.

Like my son and my family.

Like my friends.

Like my work.

Does that make sense?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Some more on Zometa

I found this site about how Zometa might work. You know what I say? Cool! I think I like it already!


The way I understand it is that your bones are always being rebuilt and reformed by two kinds of cells called osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Osteoclasts take away the old bone and osteoblasts help rebuild new bone.

But when there are bone metastases from breast or prostate cancer (according to this report), it's like the osteoclasts get carried away and take away too much bone. Zometa binds to the bone and stops the osteoclasts from breaking it down too much.

Also, breastcancer.org had this to say about Zometa and bone mets in May 2008 - see the sidebar to the right. Early results of Phase I studies suggest that Zometa makes it harder for cancer cells to survive, grow, and reproduce in bone.


A news report states the following:

"Tumor cells are continually being released from the primary tumor," Dr. Rebecca Aft, of Barnes Jewish Hospital and Washington University in St. Louis, said in a statement.

"It is thought that the bone marrow harbors these cells and that these cells are likely to evolve into metastatic disease. We think that zoledronic acid changes the bone marrow so that cancer cells are unable to lodge there."

See why I think I will like this drug? Now that I think that the little cancer cell factory has been shut down (the primary tumor), that leaves those little buggers hiding out in my bone marrow. The researchers felt that Zometa changes the bone marrow so that cells cannot stay there.

Take that, you little buggers!

Zometa and Zoladex Tomorrow

It's official - I will start Zometa tomorrow. I haven't had a chance to properly discuss this with my doctor as I don't see him for two weeks, but I have done enough on-line research to know that it's probably going to help. I had already scheduled my Zoladex appointment (that's the abdomen injection that shuts down my ovary production) for tomorrow, so I called my doctor's office and asked him if he also wanted to order the Zometa at the same time.

As I understand it, Zometa helps the bone-building process since caner that's metastasized to the bones either takes out or uses some parts of your bones (not sure exactly what the process), giving you less bone mass, or else, it adds extra bone to your bones. But in any case, both tend to weaken your bones and make you more prone to fracture. This helps makes your bones stronger.

There was apparently also some research that says that Zometa helped premenopausal breast cancer patients by making it somewhat less likely that cancer would metastasize to the bone. The reports say by 36%, but it had to do with a study of 1800 patients (I think), in which half got Zometa and half didn't (all were premenopausal, early stage breast cancerpatients). 6% of those on Zometa ended up with bone metastases versus 9% of those who didn't get it. 6% of 900 is 54 patients with Zometa, versus 81 patients without Zometa.

There are side effects (fever, nausea, dizziness, bone and joint pain), but the average percentage of folks who did were relatively low. So, it seems like a good thing to do.

This brings my total western medicine drugs up to four:
Xeloda - an oral chemotherapy
Tykerb - an anti-Her-2-neu targeted therapy
Zoladex - shuts down the ovary production
Zometa - builds bone

And, for acupuncture, I am on the following herbs:
5-mushroom blend - three of which have been scientifically shown to have anti-cancer properties
Paris 7 - a variety of herbs that fight toxic heat with one that may have anti-cancer properties
Gynnostemma - a variety of herbs that helps support your blood and help one of your energy systems

I also take turmeric in pill form (which has helped against melanoma) and also melatonin which helps sleep and which has also been shown to be affective against breast cancer cells in mice.

Take that, nasty cancer!