Tuesday, July 01, 2014

When a Chemo Quits Working

So.

Here it is July, and I haven't written anything since April.  I thought it might be time to explain why.

You see, back in April when I was worrying about whether the Taxol was working - it wasn't.  After 2 months of being just under the normal limit number for my CA-125, it went up.  And the next month it went up again, so it was decided that the Taxol was no longer effective on my cancer cells.  Needless to say, I had a minor freakout about it - and I just didn't know how to write about it. First I was waiting for my youngest to graduate high school, then until we told the boys and my folks what was going on.  Then I was waiting until my new oncologist and I made a decision on what to try next.  But it's been too long since I wrote, and I'm feeling the effects.  So here it is.

My new oncologist is a gynecologic oncologist, and she is VERY up on the latest methods/chemos/etc for my type of cancer.  So she decided - even before we realized the Taxol wasn't really working anymore - to take some of the fluid that I'm draining from around my lung and send it off for testing - first to see whether or not there are cancer cells in the fluid, second to see what chemos it responds to.  By the time it was obvious that Taxol wasn't working anymore, she knew that yes - there were still cancer cells in that fluid, and more importantly, she knew which chemotherapies that those cancer cells were responsive to.

The good news is that I have several options.  There are other taxil chemo agents that I can use later, as well as several other drugs.  She started me off with Topotecan three weeks on, one week off, and Avastin on weeks one and three.  Unfortunately, after two weeks, the Topotecan kicked my blood counts into the dirt, so no chemo last week!  I see her next week and we'll decide if we're going to change to two weeks on, two weeks off or lower the dosage and stay on the three week schedule, or whatever else she thinks might work.

It's unsettling.  Coming at the end of a week that included the Oncology Advisory division of the FDA voting against fast-tracking Olaparib for ovarian cancer treatment (hmph) and a delay of an event I had been hoping to get done next month, it was not what I wanted to hear.  It did explain why I was so tired at the end of the day last week.  Anyhoo - that's where I'm at.  I am happy to say that the fluid around my lungs that had been increasing since the end of Taxol seems to be decreasing just a bit lately - so I'm hopeful the Topotecan is making some headway against the cancer.  My scans in June were still clear, so whatever is going on in there is still pretty small.  I'm not getting my chemo free summer, but having a week off every month will be heaven.

In other news - as I said, the youngest graduated high school.  My garden is growing, my flowers are so pretty and just make me smile every day:



We've had plenty of rain this summer so far, and this morning, our new cow dropped her calf!  So we officially have a herd!


(Click to see cows!  And babies!)
 
The hubs and I took a long weekend trip to Cloudcroft for our anniversary last month, and we're just taking things day by day.  I'm going to try and write more often, but to be honest - when I get home from work I'd much rather work in the garden or yard for a bit before I sit down to catch up on Facebook - or reading, much less writing.  We'll see.  

So here I am - doing my best not to just survive - but to thrive.  So far - so good.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Season of Discontent

The wind is blowing again - as it has been for the last several weeks.  Living in the West Texas Panhandle, I'm used to wind - but it sure is getting on my last nerve lately.

It may be because things are stressful at work.  One of my staff left at the end of March, and I'm having to do part of her job as well as mine.  Part of me loves it - I'm getting to advise students, and I love working with them.  That part of me is having a ball.  But the other part of me - the part that remembers that I'm fighting a sneaky type of cancer - knows that I'm putting in too many hours at work, and worrying too much about whether the students are getting the attention they deserve in a timely manner.  That side is also pretty concerned with how in the world am I going to keep up with my regular job at the same time.

So there is that.

There is also my ever-present worry about my health - when we got my blood test results back at my last treatment, I only had one result that wasn't normal.  Somehow, all of my blood work has improved over the last few weeks.  You would think this would make me happy.  As a worrywart, instead all it does is make me wonder - if it's not kicking my blood counts down, and not making my hair fall out, is it killing the cancer cells like it's supposed to?

Yeah yeah - quit looking a gift horse in the mouth, and just be grateful.  Easier said than done.

Of course, it might be that my finger tips are starting to hurt more and more the longer I receive treatment.  My nails are shot - full of ridges and blotches, and I'm pretty sure a couple of them intend to fall off in a matter of weeks.  It's really not a side effect I'm in the mood for, but it is a possibility with the Taxol.

Or maybe it's because the Dallas Stars are getting their butts kicked by those damn Ducks tonight.

I'm struggling with envy right now.  More and more I am hearing of ovarian cancer patients that were Stage IV at diagnosis as I was - that went into full remission - and there are more and more of them that stay in remission for years at a time.  And I envy them - oh how I envy them.  Remission!  That glorious state of being where you can believe that you have beaten the beast.  That you will not die in a year.  Or two.  Or three.  Instead you will be the miracle...the statistic breaker...the one who lives 10 years and beyond. 

I so wanted to go into a full remission.  When I read those stories I feel cheated.  Why didn't *I* get a full remission?  Why didn't *I* get a year - or two or ten - of remission?  Of life without chemo and constipation and nausea and steroid weight gain and no eye lashes and tubes?  Why why why???

I don't know why.  And I certainly don't know why NOW I'm fighting the green monster.  I didn't spend that first year wondering why I got ovarian cancer.  It was the luck of the draw - and bad genetics.  It is what it is.  It did no good wasting time on wondering why.  I'm not sure why I'm struggling with it now.

I wonder if it's just not my mind's way of avoiding the real issue - what comes next?  I'll be switching to a new doctor and treatment center this summer, and taking a chemo break.  Instead of looking forward to it, I'm kind of dreading it.  For two months this summer, I won't be getting treatment.  The plan is to get my last tube removed, and to get some dental work done, and to give my body a break.  It should be something to look forward to, but all I can do is think about what will happen without the chemo - the last time I had a chemo break, my numbers started going up immediately.  Is it going to happen that way again?  Is switching doctors a mistake?  Will I be as happy with the new treatment center as I was with the one I use now?  Are the chairs as comfortable?  Will they bring me drinks like they do now?  Will they pay as close attention as the nurses do at my current center?

Is all I have to look forward to is a lifetime of chemo and bloody noses in the morning and painful finger tips?

I don't want to be envious of those who celebrate their years of remission.  I want to be happy for them, and look at them as reason to hope.  But somehow these ugly envious thoughts creep into my head instead, and I don't know how to stop them.  I try to be grateful I'm still here - 18 months since my diagnosis.  I've already beaten some odds.  It's my intent to beat even more.  To be one of those that declares I'm Still Here - 5 years from diagnosis!  10 years from diagnosis!  15! 20! 

*sigh*  I hope I'm not fooling myself.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Debbie

Sara. Debbie.  Becky.  Allison.  Amy.  Dr. S.  Dr. L. Dr. G.  Nancy.  Lynn's mom.  Megan's mom.  L.  M.  The sweet lady who likes my scarves.  The man who likes to gamble.  The sweet man who reminds me of Angie's dad from hockey.  The man Monty knew from his old job. The professor from BA who's name I've forgotten.  The man who has had all the chemo.  The sweet lady with the trees.  The lady from WalMart. And myself.

When I was diagnosed, I didn't really know anyone who had ovarian cancer.  There was one lady who was a friend of a friend that I talked to on the phone once, but once I switch doctor's to a regular oncologist, I was just one of many cancer patients with a wide range of types of cancer.  While Sara had some similar symptoms to mine, there are some symptoms that are specific to ovarian cancer - and I had no idea if it was really normal or not.  It took me a long time to find any support groups online, and until I found the message board on Inspire.com, I couldn't find any groups on Facebook either.

It was a lonely time.

I got through it, but when I had my first reaction to carbo this year, I finally met another ovarian cancer patient who was also in her first recurrence.  We both had reactions to carbo on the same day, had second reactions when our doctor tried to de-sensitize us 3 weeks later, and are now currently on the same weekly Taxol/every other week Avastin schedule.  We have treatment on the same day, and odd as it may seem, it's nice to have someone to visit with every week - to compare our lack of side effects, our energy levels, who's hair is growing back quicker (woohoo - I win on that one so far). 

Debbie's experience is different from mine.  Her cancer was a surprise found during a hysterectomy.  It wasn't as advanced stage as mine.  We had the same front line treatment, but she had a little over a year before she recurred. And her recurrence is in her liver and viewable on CT scans - unlike mine that was found via a rising CA-125 and the return of ascites.  They've never been able to see anything on the CT scans.  She's also responding well to our Taxol/Avastin combo - her tumor is shrinking, and she will likely have surgery to remove it in a month or so.  But she's my chemo buddy - and I'm going to miss her when I switch treatment centers this summer.

We share a love of gardening, and living in the country.  We share a craptastic diagnosis.  She's tough as nails though - while I rely quite a bit on my husband and sons to get some of the more strenuous gardening work done right now, Debbie does it all herself.  I don't know how she does it - maybe since she's not working, it gives her more energy to do it.  And while I have gone scarfless for weeks now, she still wears a wig - a great looking one to be sure, but a wig none the less.  She always has all of her makeup on, and actually drives herself home after treatment each week. 

I'm asking that you all add Debbie to your prayer list for a few weeks.  I'd love to hear from her in a month or two that your prayers have led to her tumor shrinking enough that she *doesn't* have to have surgery.  Wouldn't that be awesome?



Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Where's A Holy Hand Grenade When You Need One?

When I looked out my back door this evening, I had no intention on barrelling out of it a scant two minutes later.  All I wanted to do was to watch Buster amble across the field.  But when I looked out of the back door, I saw him.

The Bunny.

Those who have read my blog for a while know of my deep loathing for those little grass and garden nibbling bastards.  They eat my grass.  They eat my garden.  They nibble on my bushes and garlic and trees.  They dig little holes in my yard.  They are a MENACE and I hate them.

Currently, we have a gap in our back yard fence as the Tree Man is supposed to come and dig up the trees we paid too much money for last year that died in the last freeze of the spring.  He assures us that he coming soon to replace those trees, but until then my back yard is wide open to all sort of predators.

Including bunnies.

So when I saw this latest invader sitting in the middle of my back yard, I did what I do most times I see his marauding compadres - I stepped out onto the porch and told him to beat it post haste in a loud and annoyed tone.  He wiggled his nose at me.  I then grabbed a piece of bark that was on my porch and lobbed it in his general direction.  He hopped to the right - just one hop mind you - and continued wiggling his nose at me.

Obviously, this bunny was not intimidated by a woman with short gray hair and poor bark-tossing aim.

So I turned around, slipped on the nearest pair of shoes I could find, and muttered something about "taunting little bastard - we'll just see about THAT."  I vaguely recall hearing my husband asking if I wanted to scare it off or let him shoot it - but I just grabbed the old mop on the porch and charged out after him.

I would love to tell you how he fled from me in obvious fear - recognizing that I was without a doubt the top of the food chain and that his days were numbered.  But that little SOB leisurely hopped into my asparagus bed and I'm pretty sure stopped to have a snack as I came after him.  He had no fear, this bunny.  And he was right to have no fear, because as I tried to chase him through the asparagus bed I realized that the pair of shoes I slipped on were E's house shoes and were about 4 sizes too big.

Go ahead.  Laugh.  Since you are not in the throes of bunny-homicidal thoughts, you can see what's coming.  You have all the time in the world to realize that annoyed and tired woman + too-big house shoes + cocky bunny leads to only one thing.

Yup - as I tried to chase said bunny out of the asparagus bed, I stepped out of one of the house shoes, tripped over border to the asparagus bed, and landed on my knees.  The bunny made his escape and I - well I sat there in the dead grass, hoped I didn't break anything, and realized that shortly my husband was going to come out and find me on my butt.  *sigh*

Never fear - nothing was broken.  Although my pride has taken a beating, and I'm sitting here with ice packs on my knees and very glad that the Tylenol has kicked in, I'm ok. 

As for The Bunny?  The one who was obviously related to that bunny in The Holy Grail?  The next time when my husband asks if I want to chase it out of the yard or let him shoot it?

That little dude is going DOWN.

(For the record, no bunnies were hurt this evening.  UNFORTUNATELY!!!  But next time he won't be so lucky!)


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tired

I mentioned the other day that I was having a hard time finding something to blog about.  The fact is, I'm just avoiding blogging because I don't have super happy stuff to blog about.  I've been doing chemo since last October, and frankly, I'm tired.

I'm tired of spending every Friday at the cancer center.  I'm tired of being constipated for 5 days out of every 7.  I'm tired of constantly having to wipe or blow my nose due to the Avastin.  I'm tired of the taste of blood in my mouth from all that drainage.  I'm tired of constantly worrying if the chemo is working, if I'm going to go into remission, if that weird pain in my chest another blood clot or a tumor or just a weird twinge.  I'm tired of the cellulite that has taken residence on my thighs because I don't have the energy to work out every day.  I'm tired of having to draw on eyebrows so I don't like a boy. I'm tired of having short gray hair. I'm tired of not being able to sleep more than 4 or 5 hours at a stretch.  I'm tired of having circles under my eyes so dark that it truly looks like my husband tuned me up.  I'm tired of gaining weight, of hot flashes, of food tasting too salty or too spicy, of the constant craving for chocolate.  I'm tired of trying to brave, inspirational, and chipper.

I am so very tired of having cancer.

I know I could have it so much worse than I do.  I have family and friends that love me and support me.  I have a job that provides me with insurance that has made all this treatment possible.  Sometimes I feel like such a whiner for feeling this way.  But even if you're not at death's door, after a while - having cancer wears on you. 

Those who haven't had cancer - or haven't had dealings with someone with late stage cancer - look at me and see that I'm feeling pretty good compared to a year ago and think that my battle is over.  But my battle may never be over.  I may never go into a full remission.  I might - but the odds are against me.  Sometimes I think people don't know how to deal with someone like me - the cancer patient who can't claim they are cured.

I'm not sure I'd want to hang out with someone who just can't do the things she used to.  But I wish I knew of some way to tell the people I don't hear from much anymore that they are missed.  That I'm sorry that I can't just go back to who I used to be.  My life has changed forever.  I will never again be the chick who can party until the wee hours, or that can spend Sunday morning loading a pickup truck with load after load of hay. 

I wish I knew how to tell them that I miss that chick too.

I've said before it's not all moonlight and roses.  I'm not helping anyone if I only post when I'm all happy and chipper.   I would hate for someone to come across this blog and see nothing but unicorns and rainbows and get down on themselves because they are having more blue days than they know what to do with and feel like they're doing this wrong.  There is no wrong - we all have to deal with it in our own way.  And I bet I'm not the only one who gets so damn tired of having cancer.  It helps me to write it out - it's a way for me to figure out why I feel the way I do, and a way to express those feelings and get them out of my system.  If it helps someone else someday, even better.

It's unrelenting, this having cancer thing.  It never goes away.  Not for me, and not for my family.  I wonder if it would be easier if there was any real hope that I could actually be cured.  I'll never really know - I'm to look at ovarian cancer as a chronic disease that I can treat but not cure.  Like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.  I'm doing my best to find a way to accept that gracefully.

But damn.  I'm just....tired.






Monday, March 17, 2014

Sara

(In case you haven't noticed, I've had a hard time coming up with something to write about lately.  It's all the same ole same ole lately. So I thought I would share with everyone those that I pray for and why.)

Sara. Debbie.  Becky.  Allison.  Amy.  Dr. S.  Dr. G.  Nancy.  Lynn's mom.  Megan's mom.  L.  M.  The sweet lady who likes my scarves.  The man who likes to gamble.  The sweet man who reminds me of Angie's dad from hockey.  The man Monty knew from his old job. The professor from BA who's name I've forgotten.  The sweet lady with the trees.  The lady from WalMart. And myself.

Sara is married to one of my faculty members.  When he was originally hired, back when I was hugely pregnant with my eldest, I met Sara when she came to town to find a place for them to live when they moved to Mid-Sized City. She brought with her their 6 month old daughter and we bonded over impending motherhood. She had two daughters, and I two sons, and we both loved them like crazy. She had wonderful advice for a new mom, and the sweetest personality.

Over the years, we would see each other at various departmental parties, and talk on the phone when she would call up here to talk to her husband.  I've always thought the world of her.  It's been nearly two years since she went into a hospital to have some tests run to see why she was having some gastro-intestinal issues, and came out with a diagnosis of advanced pancreatic cancer.  When her husband told me, I was devastated, because all I knew was that there was no cure.  I didn't expect her to finish out the year.

I often talked of going to see her while she was undergoing treatment.  Of calling her when she was stuck at home recovering.  But I never did.  I'm not sure why - was it because I didn't know how to deal with her diagnosis?  Was it because I was afraid?  I'm not sure, but I'm so ashamed of the coward I was.

Later that year, when I was diagnosed with my own advanced staged cancer, I was even more ashamed.  Sara called me frequently to see how I was doing, to offer me support as I went through chemo, as I recovered.  She offered me ideas as to what I could eat, and shared that she too spend months sleeping in a recliner because she just couldn't tolerate sleeping in a bed.  She made me feel normal.  She made me feel less alone. 

Sara is doing great right now.  She sees a doctor at MD Anderson that specializes in her type of pancreatic cancer, and for now, her disease is stable.  She is a constant inspiration to me as I go through my own cancer journey, and is always the first person on my list of those I pray for healing.  If you are so moved, would you consider adding Sara to your prayers for a time?  She is a woman of faith, with an open heart.  She doesn't kid herself about what's ahead for her....but the way she handles the day to day and the future to come makes me proud to call her friend.




Saturday, February 08, 2014

Our Newest Addition







Everyone - meet Buster.

Buster joined the Digby family a couple of weeks ago, at the start of the coldest weather we've had in the boonies.  He seems to be thriving, and this morning he and his mama were pretty close to the house (comparatively speaking anyway) and I was able to grab a couple of pictures.

As you can see, he's totally black, and still a little gangly.  But cute!  As all babies are.

It's fun to have a baby around the place, even if it's a calf, and someday we'll probably change his name to Ribeye.  I'm really quite pleased with how good a mama ole Steak turned out to be - she had Buster completely on her own, and we didn't even realize that she was ready to drop him until Monty couldn't spot her and it was so cold.  He found the both of them down in our "pond" out of the wind. 

Since Buster is so small, he's already figured out how to just walk under the hot wire fence and escape into the neighbor's pasture to hide amongst the weeds to take naps.  When he does this, Steak just kind looks over the fence every now and then, but grazes nearby.  When we had snow the other day, my poor husband, who was not feeling well, had to suit up in his insulated coveralls and hike out there to get Buster back into our pasture because he couldn't figure out how to get back under the fence. 

Hence the name Buster.  As in "get your silly butt back over here buster!"

Last weekend the boys had to walk our fence to pull tumbleweeds off of it so that the hot wire stayed hot, and that's when my eldest determined we had a little bull on our hands.  Now we have to figure out when to get him "fixed" because we're not equipped to raise a bull!  Nope - I'd like a nice docile steer, thank you very much.  One that won't give us too much trouble when it's time to load him up and well - you know.

It's almost time to attempt to start seedlings again.  My husband is contemplating putting our greenhouse kit together this week.  This would be awesome, because while I am quite proficient at starting seedlings, getting them big enough and strong enough to be transplanted is not my forte.  Part of it is not really having a great place with enough light and enough warmth, plus enough breeze to grow them large enough and strong enough without being too spindly and weak.  It would be so cool to not have to buy any seedlings this spring!

I probably should sit down today and figure out my garden plan.  Since I'm feeling so well with this new chemo regimen, I think I might plant big again.  Plenty of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, taters.  I might even try eggplant!  And okra - we skipped okra last year, and squash because they put out so much produce and we weren't sure I'd be up to cooking it all the time, and let's face it.  Okra and squash just don't freeze all that well.  I'm thinking this year I can handle it - as long as I don't let my husband plant too many of them!

It's fun to look forward to gardening again!  I'm thinking that looking through my new seed catalogs this afternoon while doing laundry and watching the Olympics is a great way to spend the day.

My husband just asked me how I was feeling.  I told him I was feeling pretty good all things considered - that's when he informed me that it had been 5 days since we drained from around my left lung.  I would have never guessed - I don't feel like I have anything in there!  We'll drain tonight, but I have a feeling that's going down some as well.  Woohoo!

It's so nice not feeling sick.  Not feeling worn out all the time.  Not having fevers every three weeks!  I just hope that the taxol is still working at this different rate - and that the Avastin is doing it's job as well.  I won't know if I'm still making progress until the 21st.  Until then, I'm just enjoying feeling good.

When I'm not trying to get pictures of this little guy!