The Numbers are Not in My Favor

At my last update there was concern over my rising tumor marker: CA 27.29. I had my labs done on Thursday and the decision was made to schedule a PET/CT for August 2nd. The rising numbers coupled with my continued weight loss (I’m averaging about 10lbs a month) and my over all feeling like crud has my team feeling there is enough concern to warrant the scan. 

I’ve been thinking all morning. I’m working in a visit to Sloan Kettering on August 5th to see my Primary Oncologist while Adam and I tour NYU. I’m going to see if the PET can be done earlier that same morning before my Dr appointment. I haven’t been scanned there in a while and due to the mixed reading I recently had that involved the lymph nodes, I feel it would be best if Sloan could do it. Hopefully, all the stars align and it works out. *fingers crossed*

On a lighter note….I recently returned from a quick advocacy trip to NYC. 

Compassion & Choices asked if I would share my story and why I support Medical Aid In Dying with WABC7’s Ken Rosato for his Weekend Show – Viewpoint. Of course I said yes! It’s important to keep this important topic at the forefront and keep the conversations going. It’s the only way to gain traction and enlighten people about why terminally ill people, like myself, want this legislation. 

The interview took place at the WABC7 studio in Manhattan. The same studio that Kelly Ripa and Rachel Ray call home! In fact, Kelly Ripa was live on the air when we arrived.

Corinne Carey, the Director of the NY Chapter of Compassion & Choices and I sat with Ken Rosato for 10 minutes. Corinne spoke about the facts and statistics of the other states that already have these laws in effect. I shared a shorter version of my story and why I’m in support. I also stressed to Ken that I am in NO way suicidal nor do I WANT to die. I want to live. God, do I want to live. That’s so important for me to have people that don’t know me understand. I so hope I made that clear. I think I did.

The segment, I’ve been told will air on July 27th and again in October. I’ll be sure to post links on my Facebook Blog Page and Twitter.

At least I didn’t look as awful as I felt on the day of the interview. 😉

Nope, Not Worried At All

Last I updated, I was headed for a biopsy of my lymph nodes under my left arm and a biopsy of my ribs on the right side where I have had a large hard visible growth that is quite painful.

Both procedures were done on the same day and I was home by 2pm on June 2nd.
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The rib biopsy was by far the most painful. More painful than I remember it being. The “twilight” meds didn’t work and I was awake for the whole thing causing them to have to give me 3 doses of Fentynal because I could feel everything. My tolerance to pain medications is quite ridiculous. But boy did I sleep once I got home!

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I finally met with my Oncologist this past Friday.

The rib biopsy showed that I have a large collection of scar tissue from radiation therapy of my 9th rib from 2yrs ago. Per the Radiation Oncologist, side effects from radiation can continue long after radiation has ended.  There is no active cancer.

The lymph biopsy showed only lymph cells and no metastasis. This was very surprising but also a relief. Because this was something that showed up on the PET scan, I was pretty confident that the biopsy would be positive for cancer. My Oncologist’s exact words to me were: “We are cautiously optimistic but we will be keeping a close eye on this area going forward” Um…Ok. No so reassuring but not much I can do.

I’m still losing weight. Down another 5 lbs and to deal with that we are adjusting the Ibrance down from 125mgs to 100mgs. This should have no effect on the drugs fighting the cancer but more on the side effects of nausea and lack of appetite. 

Today, I received my tumor marker results. The one we watch closely is CA 27.29. Anything under 40 is considered normal. My number has been slightly over 40 for 3 months. This is significant because my number has been under 40 for over a year. Today, it jumped to 51.
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I know some will say that 51 is still pretty low and it is. I know some people that have their numbers jump up 2 or 3 HUNDRED points. But everyone is different and everyone’s numbers are significant to themselves. The fact that mine haven’t ever gone up like this and you add on top of that a suspicious PET (that for now is OK but we’re going to watch). I’m not feeling very good about this at all.

I said this back in May in an interview in Albany and I’ll say it again: “My prognosis is only as good as my next PET Scan”.  I’m very worried about my next PET Scan. A lot can go wrong in 12 months and I’ll be damned if I allow any of it to happen.

I have a graduation to go to.
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Happy Birthday! Your Treatment Failed.

It’s the nature of the beast. The way Metastatic disease works. We begin the best treatment option and hope it works for a long time. If you’re lucky, it does. Sometimes, like this time, your luck runs out sooner than you hoped it would.

I began Faslodex in January of this year and Ibrance in February once Insurance approved it. That’s the shortest run I’ve had because of progression.

The news wasn’t as ‘bad’ as it could have been. (That’s a lie…it’s all shitty when there is cancer showing in a PET scan). The PET scan showed cancer in the lymph nodes under my left arm near my breast as well as that painful spot in my ribs has grown bigger.

There are a lot of unknowns right now. I’ve never had cancer in my nodes before. Not even when I was first diagnosed and this is the “non-cancer” breast. This could be a totally new primary breast cancer with a new pathology. Also, the cancer in the ribs could be different now too.

So…..here is the plan of action:

Next week I will be having a Mammogram/Ultrasound and Sentinel Node Biopsy.  Then I will be having a CT guided biopsy of my ribs (hopefully under some kind of sedation).

Once all the pathology comes back we can figure out what treatment will be best to keep this from getting out of hand. It is of utmost importance to keep this from reaching my organs for as long as possible.

I absolutely MUST be at my Son’s High School graduation next June. I will not accept any other alternative. If that means I get a little more aggressive with this treatment then that’s what I do. Any Doctor not on the same page as I am with this won’t be treating me.

Now, I will take some time for me. I will release the emotions I’ve been holding in all morning and have a good cry so that when Adam comes home he won’t see how scared and sad I am. He deserves to have the appearance of a ‘normal’ Mom for as long as I can give that to him.

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Sharing My Story With Compassion & Choices for the NYS Aid-In-Dying Campaign

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The following is a speech I gave in Buffalo in support of Medical Aid in Dying Laws for New York State

I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and an aunt. I’m also a supporter and advocate of Aid-in-Dying laws in NYS and I’d like to tell you why.

In August of 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. I went to my Doctor for what I thought might have been a kidney infection but an MRI revealed I had a tumor on my spine so large that it was compressing the nerves causing me the constant pain I was feeling. It was 1mm away from my spinal cord. It also showed a tumor in my ribs. It wasn’t until after the PET scan that we learned that the primary tumor was in my right breast. It was shocking, because 9 months earlier I had had a clean mammogram. I was 43 and I had terminal cancer.

There wasn’t a question then or now of how I would treat this cancer. Despite the median lifespan of 36 months, my mind set is that I will do whatever treatment options my Dr’s recommend until I’m physically unable or there just aren’t any more options or clinical trials available.

Having Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer means that I will always be in treatment. I will stay on whatever treatment plan is working until it fails – and by fails I mean that we will see the cancer spreading on a PET scan or I can no longer physically tolerate it. I’m currently on my 4th treatment plan.

To date, I’ve had radiation to my spine and ribs, my Ovaries have been removed and 2 breast surgeries. I receive 3 monthly injections – 1 to increase my bone stability and 2 injections to supress what’s left of the estrogen in my body (estrogen fuels my cancer). I take an oral Chemo pill that affects my blood counts and at times makes me want to sleep for days and I take a few other medications to help with the side effects from the Chemo.

As you can imagine a diagnosis like this sends your mind into overdrive. I began thinking of things I thought were decades away like “I’m going to need a will”, “What do I want my funeral to look like”, “I need a Health Care Proxy” and “Who will take care of my son.”  I had a lot of conversations with myself in bed at night. Of all these decisions I’d have to make, I already made up my mind about one very important decision: How I want to die.

I did a lot of research and asked my doctors a lot of questions. The way Metastatic disease works is that once it figures out how to get around a particular treatment, it continues to travel to distant organs. In my case, it began in my bones so the next major organ will either be my lungs, liver or brain. That’s when it gets harder to treat. Ultimately, I could end up suffocating if my lungs become too compromised.  If my liver fails I’ll be unable to eat and be in horrible pain. If the cancer travels to my brain I will suffer seizures, uncontrollable migraines and could lose things like my memory, sight and speech. Quite frankly, none of that is OK with me.

I remember being with my Aunt when she was in hospice. She had pancreatic cancer. Seeing her so medicated that she was unaware of anything and anyone was awful to me. There were times she writhed in pain and was unable to communicate. She lingered for 2 excruciating weeks. That was not how I wanted to die.

As I look back over my life; my greatest accomplishment without a doubt is my Son. He’ll be 17 this summer. No question, my Son is the reason I do and will continue to do whatever I have to in order to stay alive. He’s the reason I take the Chemo pills that cause me the constant fatigue, headaches and nausea. He’s the reason I happily get the injections that make me cry when they stick the two 3 inch long needles into my muscle that I can feel for days after. And he’s the reason I will keep going and never say “I can’t” or “It’s too hard”

Since my diagnosis we’ve gone on some really nice trips and had some great experiences. It’s all about making memories now. The one memory I’m absolutely positive I do not want to leave him with is my painful and lingering death. I don’t want him to look back and see me in a bed, unable to communicate, medicated and waiting for my body to give out. That would cause me unimaginable stress.

You may have heard or read or even feel that Aid-in-Dying is suicide. I’m here to tell you that it’s not suicide at all.. Aid-in-Dying is about having end of life options. I want more than anything to live another 40 yrs but the reality is that I won’t. I will do whatever treatment options are available to me and any clinical trials I qualify for. I will continue to utilize palliative care team for pain and comfort, but when that stops working; that’s when I want another option.. My terminal illness has taken so much from me already and ultimately it’s going to take my life. I want to be able to choose how I will die when my time comes. I don’t want my illness to make that choice for me. I need my representatives in the State Legislature to make sure I have that choice in the end. If you also want to have a choice, I encourage you to contact your State Legislator so you can be heard.

Thank you.

15 Days In And I Already Want A Do-Over

I’m not going to lie. The end of the year was rough. There was what felt like, an unprecedented number of deaths in my circles. So, when January came a knockin’, well I was all too happy to close the books on 2015.

But it didn’t stop. The deaths and bad news just keeps coming and it’s becoming too much. I’m afraid to open my Facebook or Twitter because I know that there will be more bad news.

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I’ve been feeling very much like I’m in a similar situation as the movie The Hunger Games. Any one of our names could get called for the last fight of our life. It’s just a matter of when – not if. Every time I hear another beautiful, strong advocate had her name called I wish the same wish – that I could give them more time. More time with their children. More time to give hugs and kisses. More time to read stories. More time to say “I love you”.

Then I begin to wonder when I’ll hear my name called out in the crowd. When will my time come when things go sideways and I have to be stronger than I’ve ever been and make decisions I’ve been hoping I’d never have to make. It scares me because I’ve watched the health of my sisters go from NED (No Evidence of Disease) to being out of treatment options and taking their last breath in a matter of months.

When will people notice? When will people begin to care? When will there be outrage and anger for all the children that will grow up without their Mothers?

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Every day I yell and rant hoping that someone listens. Hoping that someone helps us. It can be very discouraging when the bad news keeps coming but I won’t stop. I can’t stop. I will keep yelling, ranting and making noise until someone hears us, until someone listens