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December 14, 2019

It’s been over a year since I posted on here. Compared to last year, this one has been uneventful, and for that I am grateful. After what feels like a long, meandering, sometimes difficult journey, this is where I am with my health.

Recently, I spent the whole day working in the yard. I cleared weeds, dug five big holes, transplanted my blueberry plants, covered the area with planting soil that we bought, and spread mulch over the whole thing.

 

 

This may not seem health related, but it is. Last year at the same time, I wanted to work in the yard, but I couldn’t. I was so tired. So weak. I was about 1/3 of the way through radiation, and it was already wearing on me.

I finished radiation right before Thanksgiving, and then went straight into holiday mode. I remember the time between finishing radiation and the beginning of 2019 as my cancer vacation. I may have had a doctor visit or two, but cancer definitely moved to the back burner.

In January, I went back to my oncologist and began the next phase, which I guess could be called cancer prevention. It is two-fold. The first aspect is hormonal, since I had a hormone positive cancer. I get a shot every month that suppresses my ovaries and puts me in menopause. In conjunction with that, I take letrozole (hormone blocker) every day. At this point, I don’t remember why we did the menopause route instead of just taking Tamoxifen like most younger patients do, but I’m assuming it was to get that additional reduction of estrogen.

The second and most intense aspect of my treatment is a drug called Ibrance. This drug interferes with the way cancer cells reproduce. It is typically used by women who have Stage 4 breast cancer. This is the kitchen sink part of my “throw everything at it” treatment right now. I’m grateful that this option is available to me. There are other women in my situation who do not have access to this drug. This two-pronged approach is mimicking a trial that was done recently that Dr. Z believes will be successful for women like me.

For two drugs with shocking lists of side effects, it’s been an uneventful year. I’m healthy. I’m as active as I want to be. None of the things I could complain about have kept me from living a full, happy life.

Since I began these drugs, I’ve had multiple clear scans. I’ve had some spots in my lung that we were watching, but have always been attributed to radiation scarring. My last scan showed reduction in these spots, and no activity elsewhere, which means that I will be able to finish Ibrance after a year.

(I started this over a month ago. I don’t know why it’s so hard to finish. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to sum up a year of my health life in a few paragraphs. Maybe because I’m too distracted. Either way, it really frustrates me.)

As of today, I have 10 pills left. Without even planning it this way, I’ll finish Ibrance on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Andy Zimmerman permalink
    December 14, 2019 16:11

    Hi Grace! Thank you so much for sharing your cancer journey. Kim and I have been praying for you every day and I’ve been wondering how you were doing.

    Reading of your experience has been very helpful for me. I did chemo-enhanced radiation February-March of last year that apparently wiped out my colo-rectal cancer tumor. My local surgeon at Kennestone then scheduled me for abdominal surgery to cut out the diseased section along with healthy sections upstream and downstream and nearby lymph nodes.

    That is the standard practice even though endoscopic inspection revealed no evidence of my small tumor remaining. Got to get every last microscopic cell of it to keep it from coming back. its always good to be aggressive with this sneaky stuff.

    After sleeping on it for a few days, I got to thinking if my little tumor was gone, why did we need to do major abdominal surgery involving its own attendant risks? I looked up a number of oncology journals on-line and discovered this had been an on-going question in the oncology research community for a number of years. I consulted with my cancer resource nurse at United Health Care and she stated they encouraged all their cancer patients to obtain second opinions on treatment plans.

    UHC set me up to travel to one of their designated “Cancer Centers of Excellence,” paying for an airline ticket for both Kim and me and for our hotel. I elected to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC since they were admitting patients into an on-going study of whether patients who had experienced a “complete clinical response” to chemo-radiation needed to have surgery. I managed to become a patient of the principal investigator himself, Dr. Julio Garcia-Aguilar, Chief of Colo-Rectal Surgical Oncology at MSKCC. Praise the Lord for answered prayers!

    Dr. Garcia-Aquilar has literally written the medical school textbook on treatment of my type of cancer. He’s probably the top expert in the world on this stuff. I felt in good hands.

    After confirming with an endoscopic visual exam there was no visual evidence of a tumor, Dr. G-A recommended I get the full, standard chemo regimen; i.e., CAPOX, to clean up any potential microscopic invasions that he might not be able to see. I went back to ATL and did six months of that, with Georgia Cancer Specialists (Dr. Louis Garrot), and returned to MSKCC last December. After numerous tests, including a full endoscopic exam, MRI, CT scan, etc., I was declared to have achieved a “complete radiological response,” in addition to the visual “complete clinical response.”

    Thank the Lord for all the folks praying for successful treatment! Never underestimate the power of prayer. Also, thank the Lord for modern radiation and chemo treatments. I was able to avoid abdominal surgery and avoided implantation of an IV port by tolerating oral chemo well. Managed to avoid the scalpel completely.

    I went back to MSKCC in April and October for follow ups. Another MRI, more CT scans, blood tests for the systemic cancer marker and endoscopic visual exams. Everything “clean and green” so far and I’ve started the paperwork to get my FAA medical certificate back. Might be able to return to work flying in March.

    We’ll continue to pray for you Grace; praying God will guide the surgeons, physicians and nurses treating us, granting them wisdom and judgement to be safe, effective and successful, all the way to a full cure. Its not official until we hit the five year point, but it seems the Good Lord wants to keep us around awhile longer.

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