Wednesday, November 28, 2012

5th Round of Chemo

I can't believe I am already on my 5th round of chemotherapy.  On Monday, I received my 3rd infusion of Taxol.  

In my chemo chair, awaiting my 3rd infusion of Taxol.
My 2nd week of Taxol went pretty well.  It was similar to my first week, in that I had most of my energy for the day during the morning.  By the time noon rolled around, I was pretty much wiped out.  However, by Saturday and Sunday (days 6 & 7 of the week) I nearly felt like my old self.   I knew my neutrophil count had to be up based upon how I was feeling.   And, I was correct:

My neutrophil count (ANC) needs to be at least 1.5 for me to receive treatment.  Last Monday, it was 1.6---just under the radar, so I was able to receive treatment.  Since I started the treatment with such a low number, I was concerned that my counts would not be high enough this week.  However, my ANC was 2.7!  Hooray!

Also, Dr. H. (my oncologist) was extremely pleased with how the cancer was feeling in my left breast and axillary lymph nodes.  The size of it continues to diminish.  This made me very happy.  Monday was a fabulous day!  Thank you Lord for your continual healing!  

Monday, November 26, 2012

On Thankfulness

Thanksgiving has expired and I failed to write a post as I desired.  But, it is better late than never.  I have been feeling so thankful since I received my cancer diagnosis.  I know that this sounds SO strange.  If you would have told me four months ago that I would be receiving an aggressive, advanced cancer diagnosis soon and would suddenly begin feeling even more thankful than ever in my life, I think I would have said you may be a little crazy in the head.  Here is why I believe I have been feeling more thankful than ever in my life.

First, receiving a cancer diagnosis as I did really changes your perspective on life. Things that mattered before do not matter any longer.  And, the things that you took for granted in your life become even more important.  It is the latter of the two that I believe has increased my thankfulness a hundred fold.  You see, it is this re-focus on my life and what truly matters that has put me in this extremely thankful state.

I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about the things that no longer matter---simply because they don't matter.  For example, this is a HUGE category, but material things don't matter to me any longer.   This is sort of a bad time of year for material things not to matter to me at all, since family members have asked me numerous times for gift ideas for myself for Christmas.  My list is empty.  All I want is to be cancer free so I can help my wonderful husband raise these precious kiddos with whom God has blessed us.

My thankfulness list is extremely long. The list below is not conclusive of all of the things for which I am thankful and that are important to me. But, here are some of them:
  • Our family.  This includes our immediate little family (each other and children), as well as our parents, siblings (and siblings-in law), aunts and uncles, cousins and other extended family.  I am thankful for them for so many reasons (as many blog posts have documented, so I won't go into it here--could write a book).  They also continually remind me of their constant prayers for me during this time, which is extremely encouraging to me.
My precious kiddos!  So thankful for them!
My precious son, Luke!  So thankful for him and the  sweet words God gives him to speak to me each day!
  • My friends and my church community group family.  My friends have been continually sending me messages about their prayers and thoughts for me, they have sent me special gifts (care packages, gift cards, food) and I know more than ever by going through this how many people truly care about me.  My church community group family is just amazing.  They love me, they take care of me (or our kiddos if we are in a bind and both Drew and I need to go somewhere), they pray constantly, send me words of encouragement, and bring us meals.  (In addition to the nursing mothers who gifted us with a one-time, generous donation of their breast milk in our time of need, our sweet friend, Sarah, even continually brought over extra pumped breast milk over the past couple of months while Abbey was weaning to formula.)  Our church community group shows us so much sacrificial love and how important it is to live in community with other believers.  
  • Health.  I don't think you ever appreciate health more than when you are ill.  My goal is to be healthier (even with cancer) than I was before.  I am more careful about what foods and beverages go into my body.  My focus is on eating and drinking things that actually nourish my body.  If it doesn't do the body good, then it really shouldn't be going in.  Sweets are my weakness, so I am trying to keep sweets only around for that occasional splurge that actually does a body good.  These include smoothies, and new recipes that are deceivingly healthy.  I found one for healthy brownies, which look and sound delicious, that I am really excited to try!  Again, as I get more and more into this, I plan on writing a blog post of the changes, nutritionally I have made.  I am not totally there yet, as it is a major learning process (and self-control lesson). 
  • Precious moments. They happen all day, every day.  The special things people (especially our children) do or say, have never meant so much as they do now.  I notice these special moments more often and don't take them for granted.  I live in the moment and smile and laugh often.  I give (and accept) lots of hugs (and kisses for my husband and children). 
  • The physical place God has placed us for the current time.  He has a reason for placing us here.  We are recently meeting more neighbors and building new relationships (even though we have lived here for several years).  We have many beautiful parks nearby that we can walk to and which we enjoy regularly.  
  • Drew's job.  I have said this in other posts as well, so I won't go into details.  But, basically, he loves what he does, has great co-workers and management team to work with, and they have been flexible to let him work at home when needed and around important appointments during my treatment.
  • Our church.  It is so strange (or as we believe, part of God's plan), but the sermons have specific messages that seem to speak directly to us each week.  We watch them on youtube each week since we have to avoid large crowds indoors (germ havens) during chemotherapy.
  • Our Salvation.  Drew and I are thankful that God has chosen to save us through his son, Jesus Christ.  Having a relationship with Jesus Christ as our personal savior has been SO important during this time.  He continues to give me peace, shows me what is important, has orchestrated EVERYTHING through this treatment, and shows us how much He loves us.   Honestly, without my relationship with Him, I would be in a completely different place right now.  It is Christ who lives in me who is giving me strength, peace, hope, love, joy, self control and all of the other fruits of the spirit.  I have several Bible reading plans through my Bible app on my phone that I read each day.  God gives me the exact words I need to read that day. And, the funny thing is, even though the different plans give me three completely different Bible passages, they are each exactly what I need to read for that particular day based on what I go through that day.  It is just yet another reminder of His presence.  Click here to read my new "What I Believe" page for my life testimony and information on why I believe what I believe (or click the "What I Believe" tab at the top the blog page). 
  • Our Freedom:  We have so many freedoms in this country.  We have the freedom to worship God how we choose.  We have the freedom to talk about it.  Many countries don't have this freedom.  Honestly, I would probably be imprisoned for documenting my thoughts, beliefs and feelings on this blog if I were in one of these countries that don't allow this freedom.  
  • Friends and family of friends, new friends, and strangers who constantly pray for me, send me gifts of encouragement, and provide to me words of encouragement.  I believe each of these folks were sent directly by God.  I have a couple of examples to share, but I am telling you, there are MANY examples.  Drew, Luke, Abbey and I were taking a walk one night and, at the end of our street, were approached by an adorable little boy who reminded me of Luke.  He came over and the sweet, outgoing little boy began talking to us.  We walked to his driveway, where his mom and baby brother were.  Long story short-we have new friends, who also happen to be from Oklahoma, live extremely close to us and have kids who are each a month apart from Luke and Abbey.  Audra, the sweet boys' momma, also has been so sweet in praying for me, giving me some extra formula she had, sending me encouraging emails and checked on soccer for us (we are thinking of putting Luke in soccer for the Spring).  Luke and her oldest son could be on the same team since they are the same age.  I call them friends already even though we have only spoken on their driveway twice and emailed back and forth a few times.  But, I am already calling them friends, because that is the way I already feel about them.  We haven't gotten to schedule a play date yet, since my white blood count has been too low, but we are really looking forward to it!  Audra told me that she believed God put me in her life for a very specific reason.  I also feel God brought us together in His perfect timing for a reason.   Another example to share: the day before my first round of Taxol, Drew and I stopped in for a quick trip to Lowes to pick up some needed items.  I had just run inside with Abbey and grabbed some hand sanitizer wipes (as I always do when I go out).  A sweet, pregnant lady, who had a son that appeared to be around Luke's age was looking at me and smiling.  I didn't think I knew her, but for some reason, something seemed nice and familiar about her.  Erica introduced herself to me as someone who has been reading my blog.  We have never met, but she was sent the link from someone else who goes to our church (our church is very large---about 8,000 people attending at all of the campuses and services (4 at each campus)). She spoke to me some wonderful, kind, encouraging words about my blog and my experiences and told me that she was praying for me.  This brought tears to my eyes! A complete stranger felt she knew me through my blog and was praying for me and I didn't know it.  She is also expecting a girl, so has a family that is similar in composition to ours and thus could relate on several levels.  Another meeting that was designed by God to provide me encouragement!   I am also receiving anonymous, encouraging little gifts and cards at my doorstep periodically.  Thank you Lord for sending me words or encouragement from all of these folks--friends, new friends and strangers!  I have many other examples as well, but this blog post is getting long!
  • Honestly, this list could just go on and on and on.  I am thankful for even the smaller things in life that we, Americans, often take for granted.  I go through my day thinking, "wow--I am so thankful for this...I am so thankful for that."   For example, in the morning, I think, "wow--I have so many clothes to pick from.  I am so blessed that I can actually donate tons of clothes to those in need and still have enough for myself."  And I haven't even bought clothes for myself in forever. Or, sometimes, I have to drive Drew's car (since our car seats are in our other car and he may need them while I am away).  I have to bring along a pillow to allow me to sit closer to the steering wheel and make lots of adjustments since his seat motor is broken and won't move from his seat setting and he's a foot taller than me.  But, I always think, "I am so thankful that we have two cars to drive--many folks don't even have one!"  
Thank you Lord for all of the many blessings you continually bestow upon us!  Happy belated Thanksgiving, everyone!

We enjoyed an absolutely delicious early-Thanksgiving meal (prepared by Drew's mom, Kathleen) with Drew's parents when they were in town last week to help during my chemo.  All of Luke's favorites were on one plate!  He said it was his favorite meal ever.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Update: my first week of Taxol treatment.

It has been a week since I have created a blog post.  Exactly a week ago today I was typing about my first round of Taxol from my chemo chair.  We are here again today getting my 2nd round of Taxol.

I am determined to have a different hair look for each chemo treatment.   It's the simple things in life, that are so much fun, right?
How the first week went:
I thought the first round of chemo went WAY better than the first two rounds of AC chemo. In fact, I felt almost like my old self every morning.  Then, right around lunchtime each day I feel like I have been hit by a freight train.  Symptoms come on suddenly and it just feels like I have early stage influenza.  I feel extremely tired, achy and like all I want to do is sit down/lay down. So, we are learning to work around my symptoms.  I do every possible thing I need to get done during the first half of my day.  During the second half, I try to do more activities with the kids that involve sitting.  Then, I just pray they both take a great afternoon nap--at the same time.  A coordinated afternoon nap is key!!!  Otherwise, I don't get afternoon "rest" time.  I am SO THANKFUL that I did not experience any of the potential serious side effects of Taxol.  I am also thankful that Drew's parents were here for the first few days of my treatment to help out since this a new unknown for us.

I was really curious how my neutrophil count would be effected this round, since the AC really hit it hard.  Most patients don't need immune system assistance (in the form of a Neulasta shot or a Neupogen shot).  But, then again, I haven't really been like most patients during all of this.  The number we shoot for before every chemo session is an absolute neutrophil count (ANC) of 1.5 or higher.  Of course, the higher the better (normal range is 1.5-6.5).  I started with my ANC in the 4's last Monday.  Today, my count was 1.6.  It's on the lower end, but still, hooray! They are injecting the drugs via my port right now!  I really pray though that the ANC takes a big leap up this week though.  Since I started in the 4's last Monday, and I started at 1.6 this Monday, I am wondering what next Monday will be like.  I need to stay on a weekly schedule with this!  Again, I will continuing praying for a strong immune system.

My labs from today
Abbey's croup update:
The Lord continues to answers prayers.  No one in our family appears to have caught Abbey's highly contagious croup.  Thank you Lord!  We have all washed our hands so frequently that our hands are beginning to crack.  We are remembering to wash Abbey's hands more frequently also.   Trying not to catch the croup from Abbey has been quite an effort.  Especially considering she crawls and moves all over the place, touching, playing (and putting in her mouth) all sorts of things (mostly toys).  But, I think we are in the all clear zone now with that.  Abbey is doing so much better as well.  She only coughs during sleep, and it is less frequently than before.  Also, it just sounds like a regular cough (not a croupy-cough).

Abbey and Luke have been such a light through all of this. They make me smile so frequently and I really am so happy.  Here is a funny photo of Abbey that Drew took with his phone this weekend.  She didn't like the feeling of the grass on her feet or hands, so she had them all off the ground:

Health Nuts:
Not only have we all become germaphobes through all of this, but we are also becoming health nuts.  But, we are realizing that eating healthfully can be very expensive.  It can be especially difficult to make the decision to eat completely organic (and mostly local) when expenses are high.  I am not currently working and chemo is crazy-expensive.  We made a trip to Whole Foods one morning this weekend and bought a lot of good things (thank you Ron and Linda and Jerry and Ann for the whole foods gift cards!)  We have always loved that store, but limited our shopping there simply because of the cost.  But, really, it is not too expensive when you consider what you are replacing (healthy, organic, plant-based foods versus box snacks, meats, and other things).  Also, we are now looking at eating this way as an investment--one of the most important investments.  If you are going to increase your spending in any area of your life, it should be in good, quality food.   After all, the old cliche', "you are what you eat", didn't become a commonly used phrase for nothing.  Here's a quote from a recent recipe book I purchased (Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen): "when you invest in clean, quality food, you're investing in your health.  Without good health, life is a tough rode.  Your investment will, however, pay itself off many times over in terms of health, well-being and saved visits (and payments!) to the doctor.  However, eating well and conserving your bank account don't have to be mutually exclusive.  According to Annette and Kendall (authors of Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen and both young cancer survivors and nutrition experts) here are ways to keep the cost down when eating a health, plant-based diet:
  • Buy whole foods and skip processed, boxed, packaged foods.
  • Purchase nutritionally dense foods, and avoid those that don't offer much nutritional value.
  • Eat grains, beans and legumes rather than expensive animal products.
  • Buy in bulk and skip individually packaged items.
  • Look for sales on items.
I wish I would have done this years ago!  After Abbey was born, I didn't treat my body very well.  My nutritional focus was 99% on my kids and 1% on myself.  I often wouldn't eat lunch until after they went down for naps in the afternoon.  I would snack on cereal (although somewhat healthful) all throughout the day just so my blood sugar wouldn't dip down too low.  I ate veggies infrequently (except for salads).  Before Abbey was born, we thought we were eating well.  We purchased "all-natural" foods and tried to incorporate as many fruits and veggies as possible.  But, when I look back after what I know now (I have done a lot of research on this stuff), it really wasn't all that!  Our diet was heavier on meats, cereals, and grains than anything else. Also, I had WAY too much sugar in my diet.

Things are changing.  I will never eat the same way!  Not only is eating healthfully extremely smart, but it is very biblical as well.

1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 says, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

Romans 12:1-2 says, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

I could go on and on (and maybe I will in a separate post).  The point is, I am healthy.  That is what I am telling myself constantly.  I am a healthy woman.  I am putting good things into my body.  I am being healed. I am seeking God and following his desire for my life:  to be healthy and raise these kids to glorify God in all they do (including with their body and everything that goes into their mouths).  We are trying to establish good habits into our children.  I snacked WAY too much on junk (starchy, non-body-edifying foods) in front of them.  Now, at my snack-time, I grab a clementine, a salad, fruit, a homemade smoothie or juice, or peanuts. We try to have only healthy-snack options at home.  I really don't leave the house to go to the store since it has so many germs.  So, if I can't just leave the house to buy junk, then I will likely not eat it.  I can only incorporate this healthy lifestyle with God's help though because I am so, so weak in this area.  I have an amazing husband though that is of a like-mind and supports me in so many ways through this.  Flying solo doesn't work.  I have to be in constant prayer.  Thank you to all of you that have been supporting me in so many ways through this (including through prayer).

I will end with a couple of cute pictures of Luke and a recipe he helped me with.  I used Bob's Red Mill Flaxseed meal (and a bunch of other organic ingredients) to make some delicious, extremely healthful Bran Flax Muffins.  The muffins are just packed with nutrients and fiber and are an excellent option for breakfast (which is the meal I struggle with the most--I used to eat honey-nut cheerios or frosted shredded wheat).  I didn't get any photos of Luke "helping" me mix it all together.  But, can you tell from the photos below how excited he was for them to be done and to eat them?

watching the muffins cook in the oven.  wishing time would speed up.

trying to eat every last bite!  He may have eaten a little muffin-paper. along with the muffin.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Here we go...Taxol Round 1 and Abbey has Croup

So, here we go again. It is chemo day--our new chemo day, Monday.  On Thursday, my white blood counts were not high enough to proceed with chemo.  So, we moved our day to Monday, and switched to a new chemo drug (Taxol)  that hopefully won't make my immune system dip too low like the previous treatment did (AC).   My labs looked great today (apparently, my ANC count (neutrophils) is in the 4's today (it needed to be 1.5), so we were able to cautiously start with Taxol.   Praise the Lord--an answer to prayer, as I am able to start this new treatment with a strong immune system.  Thank you prayer warriors!

Since I have seemed to make a habit of taking photos during my chemo sessions, here you go.  Taxol Round 1--Chemo round 3. 

They gave me a lot of pre-medication to try to prevent an allergic reaction to Taxol.  I received benadryl, multiple steroids, and pepsid (acting as a H2 inhibitor, since the benedryl and steroids acts as H1 inhibitors).  They just started the Taxol.  Please pray for no negative reactions to the drug.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly about Taxol:

The Good: Apparently, it shouldn't hurt my immune system as much as the first treatment.  It is also shown to be very effective against breast cancers.  The dosage is smaller because it is divided into 12 weekly treatments.

The Bad:  The dosage is divided into 12 weekly treatments.  I know, this is also good since my dosage is smaller, but I am not a fan of needing to be at the oncologist office for this treatment for 4.5 hours weekly.  Oh well, I am sure the 12 weeks will really fly by.  One more negative thing about receiving 12 weekly treatments is that it will make it harder for us to visit family around the Holidays.  Apparently, there are different side effects with this drug as opposed to the last one.  It seems from what I have read, some added potential side effects include bone/joint pain, hives, diahrrea, and burning and tingling sensations.  These are in addition to the side effects from the last drug I took (nausea, fatigue, neutropenia, etc.).  Neutropenia shouldn't last as long though.

The Ugly:  Ok, this maybe isn't really ugly, but the doctor said my hair may begin to grow back on this drug. However, since I am going to go back to the two rounds of AC (that I am skipping currently) after these 12 weeks, what hair growth I have will likely be lost.  It will be a little sad to watch my hair fall out again after watching it grow back. Oh well--this is small stuff in the big picture of things.

How have I been feeling lately?
I have been feeling ok for the past few weeks, except for the extreme fatigue.  I just have no energy.  We finally decided to leave the house for a bit (to go somewhere other than doctors' appointments) on Saturday morning and on Sunday morning to run short errands. I feel my most energetic when I wake up in the morning, so I always try to take advantage of this time of day to get things done.  I was EXTREMELY careful at both places, didn't touch anything, kept a distance from others, used multiple sanitizing wipes, etc.  This has just become a norm when I leave the house now that I am chemo.  At both places we visited this weekend, I felt really exhausted and had to sit down halfway through our short strolls through the store.  But, I can handle this fine.  I keep reminding myself that this is only for a short time when I look at the big picture of my lifetime.  I crave the ability to leave the house. I am someone who always like to be on the go.  God is really developing and changing me into one who can appreciate being at home, as well as away.  So, this isn't necessarily a bad thing that I can't leave the home much.

What's going on at home?
Like I said in a previous post, now that Abbey is on the move a lot, she likes to play with whatever Luke is playing with at the time.  This means that she crawls or rolls right on over to him and attempts to take it away.  This has been a fun lesson for Luke to learn.  But, he is such a good big brother.  He usually just finds her another toy and does the smart swap.  Only a couple of times has she figured out what he was trying to do and was unhappy about it.  This is a funny picture of the opposite happening though.  Abbey was reading her favorite Sesame Street flap book.  Luke was trying to "share" the experience with her.  Look at her face--do you think she approved?

Abbey says, "Please take your hands off the book and we will have no problems here."

Abbey and Luke are doing really well.  Abbey and Luke really have not even left the house much this past week either.  Luke did go to school on Tuesday, but we chose not to send him on Thursday since my counts were low--we didn't want to risk him bringing something home to us from school (and I am not talking about craft projects, but rather, germs).  Abbey really didn't leave the house for about a week--until Saturday.  On Friday afternoon, strangely, Abbey developed a cough that only occurred when she slept in her crib.  It was only happening a few times per night, and she would return to sleep right after each episode.  During her awake time she seemed completely fine.  Then, yesterday morning she awoke with a hoarse-sounding voice.  She was happy all day long though, but just wanted to be held more frequently.  I just held her a lot more than usual, thinking she must have just missed some mommy time.  Then, at 11pm last night, she awoke with a terrible sounding seal-like barking cough, as well as she had extreme difficulty breathing.  Time to go to the hospital.  Drew and Abbey headed to the hospital around 11:15pm and then came home around 1:45am with a croup diagnosis.  It was so difficult to stay behind at home and not be with my baby, but Drew really didn't want me to go and be around all of the germs there since I was due to start treament today and we didn't know what my counts would be like.  The hospital gave her a nebulized steroid (breathing treatment), a steroid injection (which happens to be the same one I am taking with chemo), and made sure via chest X-ray that nothing else was going on in her longs.  Then, they sent her home.  Our poor little girl has croup.  It will likely last up to a week, and apparently she is contagious for three days since the time it began.  Croup is usually viral and very contagious--this is not a good mix for our household since I have difficultly fighting illnesses during chemo.  Please pray that Abbey heals quickly and no one else in our family gets this (I will add these requests to our prayer list).  As germaphobic as we are, I still have no idea how she got this.  We don't even wear our shoes in the house.  My only thought is that perhaps someone (maybe Luke) walked in their shoes on the rug and then Abbey crawled over that area and put her hands in the mouth.  I know Drew, Luke and I have been washing our hands like crazy.  We will now make sure we wash Abbey's little hands more frequently.   

We are eating extremely well at home--lots of fruits, vegetable, lean unprocessed meats, quality proteins (like  cage-free eggs), and whole grains.  It seems with each round I have craving changes.  During the first round, soups worked really well.  Last round, I craved eggs all the time and soup a lot less (perhaps because I ate them first round a lot--not sure?).  So, I am wondering what I will be craving this round.  Will what I eat this round make me want not to eat it next round?  One thing I have craved during both rounds--Pad Thai.  I could practically eat some sort of Thai food every day.  Weird, huh?  It is like I am pregnant all over again.

Drew is being the awesome husband that he has always been.  He does a great job of balancing work, family, taking care of us, and picking up a bigger load around the house.  He does so much and is such a compassionate, caring husband!  He is also our house's official "juicer" and smoothie maker.  Below is a picture of him and Luke (helping) juicing this morning.  We all enjoyed a carrot, ginger root, strawberry and blueberry juice.  Of all of us, Luke enjoyed this most and asked for more.  That kid eats super healthfully--his favorite foods are fruits and vegetables.  I almost gave Luke the rest of my juice, as it wasn't setting well with me.  (Cue the "Life Cereal" commercial phrase--"Give it to Mikey, he'll eat it!"--right?)  Our little boy HAS to have a super-immune system.   But, I plugged my nose and down the hatch it went.  

We are again, so thankful for our friends and family who continue to pray for us, care for us, bring us meals, and everything else you do for us.  Thank you all!  We have so much to be thankful for and feel so blessed to have you all in our lives.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Change of Plans

Drew and I met with our awesome Oncologist, Dr. Hellerstedt, yesterday morning.  (Have I ever said how much I love our doctor, the office (Texas Oncology), and the staff there?  They really are awesome and take such good care of me.)  We discussed several new options for my treatment plan during the visit.  Since my immune system is taking too big of a hit with each round of this chemo treatment drug (AC, adriamycin cytoxan), our current protocol is just not working.  My white blood count is just being hit too hard and I am unable to safely take the immune boosting drugs that are normally given with the chemo, since I have had allergic reactions with the first round.  This is the bad news.

The good news is, however, that the AC chemo seems to be working pretty well.  Yesterday, at my appointment, Dr. H palpated the areas of cancer and thought they felt significantly better--smaller and more mobile.  However, Drew and I had recently felt a new area of concern in my right breast.  Dr. H also felt this area of concern and thought we should get it looked at via ultrasound.  Since it was about time for me to see the breast surgeon again anyway and because she has an ultrasound machine that she can use to look at areas of concern in her office, Dr. H. texted her to see if we could get an appointment.  I received a call from the surgeon's office within 5 minutes while I was sitting in the exam room.  They happened to have a cancellation for yesterday afternoon, which was awesome because the doctor was going to be going out of town the following day.

Back to the a.m. visit with Dr. H:  After the oncologist's office drew labs from my port, we found my neutrophil count (ANC) was still too low to get chemo (it was at 1.0 and needs to be at least 1.5).  So, after discussion, we developed a new plan for me.  We decided I would move on to the next chemo drug I was planning to receive after completing the AC treatment. This drug, Taxol, will be administered weekly, and the hope is that my immune system will not be weakened too much during this treatment.  Most people undergoing this treatment do not need assistance in increasing their white blood counts.  Of course, I will still have the hit every week, where my immune system dips down into the low numbers.  But, it should pick back up in time to receive another round of treatment the following week.  I will receive this weekly treatment for 12 weeks, beginning on Monday, and then we hope to pick up the last two rounds of AC treatment after that.  I was originally scheduled to receive 4 rounds of AC, every three weeks, and the 12 weekly infusions of Taxol.  I felt at peace with this change in my treatment plan.  The other option was to move my AC regimen to every 4 weeks.  However, this extra week would give the cancer time to regroup and grow between treatments.  I really don't want that.  So, we made a plan, scheduled the Taxol chemo for Monday, and left the office.  I will tell you all about the Taxol treatment on Monday from my chemo chair as I am receiving the infusion.  But, please pray that I do not have any type of allergic reaction to the Taxol.  During this treatment, they load you up with Benadryl and steroids before administering it.  Then, once they give it to you, they administer it extremely slowly.  Some people have very scary allergic reactions to Taxol. So, if they take this cautious measure, the hope is they can catch it soon if you are going to have an allergic reaction and administer some life-saving drugs.  Since I have had some allergic reactions to several of the drugs they have given me in the past, Dr. H. is going to have me load up on steroids and benedryl the day before as well. They are being extra-cautious with me.  Again, please pray that my body handles the Taxol with no issues.  :-)

We visited the surgeon yesterday afternoon. It was a wonderful visit, filled with great news.  She also felt that the AC treatment was definitely working.  She noticed the original ultrasound report documented at least 5 lymph nodes in my left arm pit area (axillary) that were enlarged.  It was from one of these lymph nodes that I had the lymph node biopsy and found out the cancer was, in fact, in my lymph nodes.  With her ultrasound machine, she could only see 2 enlarged lymph nodes in that area.  Also, the cancer in my left breast definitely looked reduced.   Lastly, the area of concern in the right breast looked like just dense breast tissue--benign.  Great news---praise the Lord again!  It was also perfect that we were able to get the appointment yesterday afternoon, since I am starting Taxol on Monday.  We now have a baseline ultrasound so we can determine whether the Taxol treatment seems effective.  Again, God's timing and orchestration is just perfect!  (In case you are wondering, the plan is to start the surgery process following chemo. Chemo is administered first to try to get the cancer under control, since it is in my lymph system and can spread to other organs).

Thank you everyone for your continued prayers!  I will provide more updates on Monday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lessons in Control

I have always been someone that loves to be in total control.  For example, I always do a lot of research before I buy something to make sure that it is exactly what we want/need.  I never want to risk an outcome for which I didn't plan.    In a work situation, I always did a lot of research and planning before jumping into a new project to make sure the outcome would be exactly as desired.  Basically, what I am saying is that by working hard and doing plenty of planning, I was able to somewhat control my situation and achieve the desired outcome.  And then our children came along.

God has been developing me over the past several years into someone who is more reliant on Him.  He has taught me SO MANY lessons.  With children, new, unexpected things happen that you are completely unprepared for and are completely out of your control.  It has been during these times that I learned very quickly that I needed to give these things to God to control.  In order to get direction, understanding, and peace, I had to go to him.  God has prepared me over the past few years for this current time in my life.  As I am fighting this cancer, I realize that the outcome is completely out of my control.  Yes, I can do some things like eat well, get some exercise, stay away from sick people, wash my hands constantly.  However, whether the cancer drugs work on me--this is out of my control.  Whether I have an allergic reaction to a drug--this is out of my control.  Whether my neutrophil count comes up so I can stay on schedule for treatment--again, out of my control.  God is in control, and many prayer warriors have been begging for healing.  He hears these prayers and is answering them.  ("The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." James 5:16)

Today, I visited my oncologist's office for more labwork.  My neutrophils need to be up to 1.5 (normal range is 1.5-6.5) in order to get my 3rd round of chemotherapy tomorrow.  On Monday, my absolute neutrophil count (ANC) was .3.  Today, my ANC was .6.  I was glad it came up, but unfortunately it didn't come up enough.  The nurse, who spoke to our oncologist about the situation, said that they would not give me the neupogen injection, because they do not believe one injection would be enough to get my counts up.  Also, they do not want to risk an allergic reaction.  The doctor decided it would be best to delay receiving the third round of chemo by one week.  She also wants to skip the 4th round altogether and move straight on to the 12 weeks of weekly Taxol.  When we questioned this, the nurse said that you have to weight the risks and benefits.   They said that being neutropenic for this duration of time (like during a 3rd and 4th treatment) could be life threatening (in case of infection, which I would be at extremely high risk for acquiring).  We are keeping our 9:15am appointment tomorrow morning with the oncologist regardless, so we can discuss this in more detail with her.  We want to make sure this is the very best decision for me.  We have read that delaying and skipping treatments in the schedule can negatively affect the chemotherapy's success.

In the past, perhaps this news would bring me down. Maybe I would spend hours on the internet, attempting to find some way to control the situation.  But, this time, with the years the Lord has prepared me for this, I decided to give it up to Him.  He already knows the outcome of all of this. Could this delay in treatment and even the skipping of cycle 4 even be part of his divine plan?  Likely.  Drew and I are still going to ask lots of questions tomorrow at my appointment so we can feel at complete peace with the situation.  This brings me to prayer requests.

Again, prayer warriors, we are so thankful for you.  I have decided to create a new page on this site, especially for you, for prayer requests and answered prayers.  The hope is that it will be much easier for you to find the prayer requests and to rejoice with us in the answered prayers.  This way, you will not have to scroll through blog posts to find these things.  You can find the link to the page at the top of the site, to the right of the tabs, "Home" and "About Me" or by clicking here.    

I will leave you with some Bible verses that I am dwelling on to help remind me of God's sovereignty and control:

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Isaiah 45:6-7 

That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Matthew 19:26 

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 6:34 

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Ephesians 1:11 

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Jeremiah 29:11 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Proverbs 16:4 

The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Romans 9:21

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Isaiah 55:8-11 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Revelation 4:11 

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Psalm 3:1-8 

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son. O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. Selah But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. ...

Matthew 10:29 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

Revelation 21:22-24 

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,

James 1:13 

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

John 14:6 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

1 John 1:5

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

John 10:10 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Frightening Halloween

On Tuesday night (October 30), I began feeling extremely tired.  I could barely move across the room without feeling like I was going to fall.  So, on Halloween morning (Wednesday), I decided to call my doctor's office and let them know.  They had me stop by the office for some labwork.  Unfortunately, I found out that nearly all of the important tests came out showing I was low.  For example, my white blood count was once again in the "critical low" state at around 1 (should be 4).  Also, my neutrophils, which seem to be the most important number we pay attention to these days, was .2 (should be 1.5).  Perhaps I took advantage of the excellent lab results from my one-week follow up appointment in round two and did too much.  I was thinking that day 7 was the low point of the chemo cycle for my immune system (the nadir), but perhaps it was later.   I was really looking forward to spending some time with our neighbor friends that night for a little block party before trick-or-treating, but that was now out of the question.  But, we still managed to do some walking around the neighborhood for trick-or-treating.  We had SO much fun.  I was pretty tired after walking down our street, so I stopped back by the house to hand out candy and get Abbey down for bed while Drew and Luke went out for some more trick-or-treating.  Luke LOVED trick-or-treating.  He practically ran from house to house.  Here are some photos of this year's costumes.  These were taken before we went out trick-or-treating.

Little Robin, scoping our his trick-or-treat route.

Batman (aka Daddy) with his little fairy and sidekick, Robin.

Two fairies, Abbey and me

They liked riding in the wagon together.  Abbey dropped something in the wagon, here, and was trying to retrieve it.

I contacted the Oncology office again this morning and had some more labs drawn, because I am still feeling extremely tired.  We think it is due to the severe neutropenia, because my ANC (neutrophil count) is still only .3 (again, needs to be 1.5 before I am able to get chemo again) and my WBC is still critically low at 1.15.  So, the plan is to check again on Wednesday morning (my chemo round 3 is scheduled to begin on Thursday morning).  If I am still low on Wednesday, they may try Neupogen very cautiously (due to my allergic reaction to Neulasta, which is in the same class of drugs).  The hope is to be able to stay on my chemotherapy schedule.  I have read that if I get off schedule, the success of the chemotherapy can be negatively affected.  Also, the severe neutropenia puts me at extremely high risk for acquiring illness and infection.  As I have said in another post, if I get sick while I am neutropenic, it could be EXTREMELY serious.  This is why I have to stay away from anyone sick and wash my hands constantly.

So, prayer warriors, you have been so good to us.  We have some more prayer requests today:

  • Please pray that all of my white blood counts (including neutrophils) go up dramatically by Wednesday morning.  I would love to avoid the Neupogen injection! 
  • Please pray that I do not get sick while on chemotherapy.  Getting sick with my counts this low could be very bad and would mean hospitalization, and likely a delay in treatment.
  • Please pray that I am able to stay on schedule with my chemotherapy and that it is extremely effective in ridding my body of this cancer.  
As always, thank you so much for your continued prayers!  I pray that I will be writing my next post in the chemo chair on Thursday, letting you know my numbers are great, I feel well and I am able to stay on schedule.