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Breathless May 9, 2017

Posted by Judy in Musings.
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6 comments

A few weeks ago, I read a book called, “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi.  It’s a story about a man who was diagnosed with lung cancer in his last year of residency to become a brain surgeon.  In the book, he talks a lot about making life decisions, and how being faced with your mortality changes how those decisions are made.  He was very focused on research, and when his cancer came back in his brain, he was faced with whether he wanted to start long-term research projects that wouldn’t see results for 20 years, or focus on projects with more immediate results.  I find myself in a very similar position.  I was faced with my mortality when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years ago, and by and large, had come to terms with my death.  This time around, I’m having to think in more practical terms:  what is really important to me and what do I want to accomplish in the next handful of years.  Prior to the upsetting of my apple cart, I had planned on returning to school to get my Masters in Music Education with teaching licensure so that I could be a choral music teacher at the high school level.  This program takes about 2 years to complete.  Now I’m thinking this may not be the best idea.  I don’t have the luxury of time, so do I really want to spend that time away from my family?  I’m still working through that.  Fortunately, I don’t have to make any solid decisions until August, so I’ll let that percolate in the background and allow the more pressing matters, getting treatment set up, to inhabit most of my consciousness.

As I sit this morning, contemplating the upcoming treatment and my conversation with the oncologist, I’m struggling with faith, or the seeming lack there of.  I still have faith and believe that The Master has a plan and that He is sustaining me.  And yet, I feel unsettled.  I am fearful.  Even though the doctor-approved message is “This is bad news but not terrible news”, I’m with my BFF in feeling like, how is this NOT terrible news?  I’m struggling with reconciling my feelings over being told that I have a handful of years, with faith that The Healer can heal me.  Does the fact that I’m fearful and bummed mean that I’m lacking faith?  Conversely, does thinking that I’ll live several more decades mean that I’m seeing things through rose-colored glasses and not being practical?  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.

My oncologist is great.  He’s so down-to-earth, practical, and scientific in his approach.  He came into the room saying, “So you got the terrible phone call on Friday and I’m imagining you had a difficult weekend.” and immediately launched into answering questions and showing me pictures of the PET scan.  We spent about 40 minutes talking, and lots of information was exchanged.  I’ve tried to organize the information, but be prepared, it’s a lot.

Step 1 is to have a bone biopsy.  Chances are really high that this is breast cancer that has metastasized and not a new cancer.  But, the doc wants to make sure he knows exactly what we are dealing with so that the treatment will be the correct one.

Step 2 is to shut down my ovaries.  This can be done either surgically, or chemically with a medication called Lupron.  I’m likely going to go with the chemical option as it has zero recovery time.

Step 3 is to start hormonal therapy.  Since the cancer is in more places than just my armpit, I won’t be having surgery as it doesn’t really make a difference to survival whether or not the lymph node tumors are removed.  No sense in doing a surgery, that requires recovery, if there is no benefit.  Instead, the plan is to use two different medications.  The first is called Faslodex, and it is used for post-menopausal women (which I will be once the Lupron does it’s job) that have estrogen receptor positive breast cancer that has stopped responding to previous hormonal therapy (Tamoxifen, in my case).  The second is a very new therapy, approved by the FDA in 2015 for use in treating postmenopausal women with hormone receptor positive, HER 2- breast cancer.  This medication interferes with the growth and spread of cancer cells.  While talking with the doctor’s nurse after the appointment, I was surprised to discover that this medication is actually oral chemo.  Surprised, because the doc had said I wouldn’t need chemo this time.  I’ve decided that what he meant by “chemo” was the intravenously infused version, and not the oral version.  While I’m glad that I won’t have to go in and do infusions, I am bummed that I’ll again have to deal with chemo side effects, which include:  nausea, vomiting, neuropathy, mouth sores, hair thinning/hair loss, fatigue, diarrhea.  I’m most bummed about the hair loss, as I’ve finally come to terms with dealing with my curly hair, which came back thicker, something that I didn’t think was possible.

Step 4 is to speak with a nutritionist to see how making changes in my diet can have a positive effect on eradicating the cancer.

Step 5 is not specifically set up by the doctor, but he is okay with it . . . alternative therapies.  I am considering two different supplements:  Immunocal (which works with glutathione in your body) and Artemisinin (which has been used in Chinese medicine).  I need to do some more reading about both of these, so if you know anything and can enlighten me, I’d be grateful for the information.

The final step has nothing to do with the doctor, it has everything to do with you all . . . . . . prayer.  In the next two weeks, we will be having a prayer service, likely at my house, and also an anointing service, which is, I think, a decidedly Adventist thing to do.  (It’s based on a passage from James, chapter 5 verses 14 and 15)  If you’d like to be involved in either of these services, let me know.  If you are not local, that’s okay, you can still pray for me and my family and we welcome the prayers.

So I guess that wasn’t as much info as I thought, but it’s still a lot to process and digest.  I’m hoping that I can have the bone biopsy done this week, because step 2 can’t take place until after the procedure as the doc doesn’t want to do anything to mess with the chemistry of my body prior to the biopsy.  Once that is done, it’s full sail ahead, and I’ll be hanging on for dear life!

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