Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cinco de Chemo

Yesterday we finally got the results of the CT Scan comparison and the report was....the lesions/tumors in the liver have decreased in both quantity and size, and the enlarged lymph nodes are also noticeably smaller!!! I don't have a copy of the most recent scan to post (nor have I seen it), but here is a picture for your viewing pleasure of the first scan I received back in July. I've debated whether to ever post this picture...reasons being its a bit depressing to see my swiss cheese liver, I still don't feel like that is inside of me, and in a way it forces me to confront how serious my diagnosis is.

If you need a little help distinguishing what is what, this is a very thin slice of my mid abdomen. The liver is the large organ on the left. A healthy liver would show up a solid grey...each of the spots on mine is a tumor or what they call lesion. The white circles towards the bottom of the image are my kidneys on either side of my spinal column. The thin white slits around the perimeter are ribs. There is a spleen and a pancreas in there as well. My epidermis and dermis are showing!!


But the news we received yesterday is very encouraging...there was always the chance that my tumors would not respond to chemo at all, and having to wait so long for the results was torture! As you can see, while this is great news, we still have many a tumor to get rid of before I am a candidate for the liver resection surgery. I have no doubt that these results are a combination of the chemo and all the prayers and faith from each of you. I don't know how to thank you enough! Our prayers are being answered.

Now that you've seen my insides, I can't help but share one more bit of good news from my appointment yesterday. In my Round 4 post I mentioned the tumor marker measured through my blood draws, CEA. Two weeks ago it was at around 8, and my blood work from Monday shows another downward trend, it's now at 5.5!

We talked more seriously about when Dr. Bachrach thinks I should have the colon resection, and his recommendation was in the next month. So, I'll be setting up some consultation appointments with different surgeons, and making that decision very soon. We have some very good recommendations of surgeons who specialize in laproscopic colon resection, so I'm anxious to see if I am a candidate for that, or if I'll be sporting a scar right down me whole middle! I referred to this as the standard 'fillet' method to my mom the other day, I don't think she liked the reference much....but its more or less what happens! I actually think it could be a pretty cool battle wound, think of the great stories I could make up to tell my kids or nieces/nephews about how it happened...a sword and box magic trick gone very bad... but then I come back to reality and the longer recovery time, and higher potential of complications quickly reminds me why its not at all worth wanting it if I'm a laproscopic candidate.

I've always loved watching the surgeries on Discovery Health, but the closer my own gets, I've found them very scary and steered clear while channel surfing. This isn't really a surprise, and I'm sure quite normal, but I thought I was being a little bit of a baby, so the other day I forced myself to watch a gastric bypass and can report I'm feeling much less anxious. People have surgery everyday, many times elective and have very few complications. The less I fear, I think the better off I am!

I guess thats all the updating I have for now! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for your prayers!!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Soapbox

The pink ribbon is synonymous with Breast Cancer... I don't know about you, but I assumed that if there was a ribbon for Colon Cancer, it would be brown, but it's not... it's royal blue. :)



Often times when people experience a particular disease, or some unfortunate event they develop a conviction or desire to reach out to others who can relate, to organize fundraisers, or spread awareness or education about the topic. Its where organizations and foundations are born like Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

I'll admit right now that I have that little desire to in some small way 'educate people' in the hopes that they can take preventative measures to avoid ending up in a similar situation to the one I've found myself in. So if you'll humor me for just one post on this blog, I promise it will be the only one. And it will be short and sweet!

Here are a few statistics (from a credible source, American Cancer Society)
  • Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US. Approximately 147,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and almost 57,000 will die from the disease.
  • Colorectal cancer is a highly preventable and treatable cancer when caught in the early stages. Tens of thousands of lives could be saved every year through proper screening. Almost all colorectal cancers begin as polyps in the colon that can be removed during a colonoscopy. When polyps are removed, colorectal cancer can be stopped before it even starts.
  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer, certain other cancers, colon polyps, or other bowel diseases increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Anyone can help prevent colorectal cancer by exercising regularly, eating a low-fat high-fiber diet (whole grains, fruits & veggies), maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking.

Click here for information on Colon Cancer screening recommendations from the ACS.

As I'm sure you're well aware, Colon Cancer is not the only cancer that has available screening for early detection and prevention. With that being said... allow me to nag you :)

Have you had your annual...
Mammogram?
PAP Smear?
Colonoscopy?
Prostate exam?
Blood work?


The 'standard' for starting colon screening is age 50...although there are many groups who are pushing to lower that age to 40. I know many of the people who read this blog are quite a few years away from needing to start thinking about their first colonoscopy, but we all have parents, grandparents, friends, aunts and uncles who are 'of age'. Encourage them to schedule a screening....the good news is that if it comes back in the clear and no polyps are found the general thought is that you do not need to be screened again for another 10 years!! That is some good piece of mind!

No one likes to be preached to, and I hope you know that is not my intent with this post. I just feel like my eyes have been opened and I have a whole new perspective on becoming an advocate for one's own health. There wasn't much I could have done by way of screening to help my own situation, but there are tests available to us that could catch something early (God forbid) for you or one of your loved ones.

Happy screening :)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Round 4

Happy 22nd Birthday to my little brother, David, today!

Hard to believe, but I am again hooked up to the chemo ball for round 4! The time between treatments goes by pretty quickly.

We were able to get away for the long weekend for a much needed escape; my aunt and uncle were not heading up to their cabin and offered to let us use it. It was great to have a change of scenery for me, and be able to sit outside and enjoy the cool mountain weather…fun for Justin to do one of his favorite hobbies, quading with friends! Normally I’d be along for the ride, but I had to be honest with myself, I'm a weakling right now, so I opted out except for a few leisurely trips when there were kiddos in tow, and I could be a passenger. We had a great time, thank you Kent and Gail!!

Justin, Kevin and Jackie got a little muddy after a rainstorm!


Sam and Rachel...that's my helmet she is wearing, does this mean I have the same sized noggin as a 5 year old? At least it got used :)

I had a few exciting events over the last two weeks that I could have blogged about, but I admittedly wasn’t feeling too well. Two weekends ago on Saturday morning I woke up unusually late and strolled out to the family room and sat down on the couch. I was gearing up to eat breakfast when I started to feel a bit nauseous, and stood up to make my way to the bathroom. The last thing I remember is feeling a little ‘weird’ as I walked in and sliding down with my back to the vanity…then I remember Justin over me talking on the phone telling someone in a slightly panicked tone that I just finished a chemo treatment on Thursday, and wondering who the heck he was talking to. Then I realized I was lying on the bathroom floor, and being the germ-a-phobe I am knew I was not their by choice! Justin helped me sit up, and by this time I deduced that I had passed out. Justin had been in the family room with me when I got up to go to the bathroom, and heard a commotion, something being knocked over. He went in to check on me, and I was unconscious, white eyes, and stiff. He tried to wake me up with no success, and that’s when he called 911. After what he said was about a minute is when I came to. The fire department was at our door within a minute of when Justin hung up the phone, I was very impressed. He helped me out of the bathroom and back into the living room where there was a buzz of activity with about 7 fire fighters and 2 EMTs. They checked my blood pressure, sugar, heart rate and everything seemed within the normal range, however they were worried that I had had a seizure based on what Justin described to them, and they wanted to take me to the ER. We live only about 2 miles from the hospital, and being the cheapskate I am I decided that since them taking me wouldn't get me in any faster if I absolutely had to go that I’d rather drive myself, rather, Justin drive (I do still have some common sense!) One of the nice fire fighters told me that he was worried that the cancer had spread to my brain, I just smiled and thought, or... maybe I just stood up to fast : ) No reason to jump to awful conclusions right away!

We signed the paper work that said we declined to be transferred to the hospital by them and gave the on call Oncologist from my office a call to see if we needed to actually go to the ER or not. We waited about 30 minutes to hear back and we weren’t too surprised to hear him say "yes", so we packed a few things up and headed over. I must say that one positive of being on Chemo is that you get the royal treatment at the ER! They don’t want you sitting around people who could get you sick, so they took me right back to a private room. It’s funny the looks you get from people when you’re wearing a mask in public…I used to think I needed to avoid people with masks, but now I know people with masks were more than likely trying to avoid me and my germs : ) Even though I didn’t have to sit in the waiting room long, we spent the rest of the day at the ER, of course you have to go through their protocol of tests, but we really just were looking to have a CT Scan of my brain and abdomen to rule out blood clots, or internal bleeding.

At 9:00 or so that night we got the okay to be discharged, and this is what they concluded (directly from my discharge paperwork):

“Today it has been decided that you had Syncope (Fainting Spell).”

Well I figured that much….but I guess its better to be safe than sorry! We were glad that it wasn't something more serious.

I took it easy for the next few days, and then had another what I will call ‘episode’, this time I had a significant amount of blood in my stool again. So again I called my Oncologist as I’d been instructed to do. As part of the chemo cocktail, I am on a drug called Avastin, which is designed to slow blood vessel growth. The hope is that this will not only target the tumor in my colon, but the main focus as I understand it is for the liver tumors since the tumor in my colon can ‘easily’ be removed with surgery at this point. The drug by nature is making me more susceptible to bleeding, particularly from the colon tumor so I’m supposed to be on high alert for any blood that may be passed. My doctor wanted me to come in ASAP that day, so in we went. The first thing he said when he walked in to the exam room was, “You’re scaring me.” I had to laugh, it had been an eventful past few days between the ER visit and now this. I told him that seeing him every other week just wasn’t enough! We talked about the bloody stool, and how many more doses of Avastin he was planning to administer. He was only planning to give me one more dose (round 4) before giving my body a break, and ceasing far enough in advance to get it out of my system in preparation for the colon resection surgery. He decided that I should have my blood drawn every day for the rest of the week to be sure that I wasn’t bleeding internally and to monitor my other numbers.

The rest of last week was pretty unremarkable, I am conquering my fear of needles after 5 consecutive blood draws. Back when I posted about the port-a-cath, I had no idea how great it would be. As long as it keeps working properly I’m able to get blood drawn from it as well as the chemo administered through it. IT IS GREAT! Just one poke every time, guaranteed!

We had some good news yesterday at my pre-chemo appointment with the Oncologist, but before I go into detail about that, I'll mention that we decided not to do Avastin this round. We elected to do this to prepare for surgery, which will be no sooner than 6 weeks from the last Avastin treatment two weeks ago. I'll continue on the other Chemo drugs in the meantime, and at some point in the future, after surgery on the colon tumor I may or may not be put back on the Avastin. Now, onto this good news!


There is a tumor marker that they monitor through my blood work called Carcinoembryonic antigen, or CEA. A normal person has a number somewhere around 2.5, and someone with cancer like me has a number off the charts. Back in the middle of July, my number was 66. Two weeks ago it was at 35, and as of last Friday, 8.8! This number will probably still fluctuate from week to week, so it could go back up…and the Dr. warned that it can be an unpredictable indicator of how chemo is working….but with such a significant drop, we’ll take it for now! : ) I should also be getting an update on the liver tumors this week after the Dr. has a chance to compare my initial CT scan from back in July to the one taken in the ER. So stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed that there will be some more good news from that : )

A few weeks ago we had some requests for pictures (this one is for you Jody!). I've avoided posting pictures of myself because I'm not lookin my best these days....but I agree that a blog without pictures is a little ho-hum, and Justin has taken on the role of cancer historian…here are some of the latest (and ones I'm willing to publish!)….even a video he took so you can see all the exciting action live from round 3.



Above - The infamous "Ball-o-Chemo"




My new best friend, Port-a-Cath





video




I'll be sure to post any news we get this week about the CT Scan comparison. Hope you all had a great Labor Day weekend. Thank you for your prayers and support!