LIVESTRONG:

What started as IDC (Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma) in 2011, then turned into CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) in 2013, probably partially caused by chemotherapy along with a genetic pre-disposition. Here we are now in March 2016 and I am newly diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the left breast and liver (LMBC - liver metastasized breast cancer).


So the focus has shifted yet again, BUT... I continue to THANK YOU for your prayers, love & support. I receive them with open & loving arms. My wish is that I will gain strength from you, will provide helpful information and strength to others & will help to strip away the fears we each experience.


I am strong. I am loved. I am healthy. I WILL SURVIVE!

Have you or your loved one had their annual mammogram? PLEASE, don't put it off. Speaking from experience, I highly recommend monthly self exam as well. And if you are now cancer free of breast cancer, do everything you can to insist that your doctors follow up with an occasional PET Scan and labs for tumor markers.

WARNING:
Contents may be uplifting, sad, funny, scary, downright depressing ~ THAT IS CANCER .... at it's best, at its worst.

PLEASE ~ Feel free to share this blog with anyone who is interested to learn about my journey. While I welcome their support, I hope that by sharing this experience freely to the universe I may help to support others by breaking down some of the barriers and fear associated with breast cancer and the treatment.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Good News on CT Scan

My CT Scan was good!

And by "good" I mean that it showed a bit of improvement, and that is what I know so far from a voice message from my Oncologist.

I had this CT Scan with contrast Friday morning (yesterday) and am scheduled to meet with my breast surgeon and oncologist the week of November 7th, so I asked that rather than wait that long, to please call me. My oncologist did call that same evening, but unfortunately I was away from the phone. The voice message said that the scan  "does look a little better, so -- good news." 

I don't know how the breast and liver might be different from before, or if one improved more than the other, or how the intrahepatic bile duct or enlarged lymph node under my right arm looks, or any other real details. But... I take this good news and am very relieved.

And by the way, as a side note, I thought I had two enlarged lymph nodes they were watching. I just pulled a summary report of diagnosis from my online portal, and this is the first time I notice mention of a intrahepatic bile duct. Oh well, nothing I can get alarmed about at this time, but it does make me a bit concerned. I guess I will have to ask about this at the next appointment.

As I was waiting for my scan, sitting in the waiting chairs in the hall at the Sotoyome Street of St. Joseph's Healthcare Office, I got to say good morning to Dr. Elboim as he entered through the side door, a doctor I have known for many years, from my first breast exam for fibrous tissue, and my gallbladder surgery 20+ years ago, and someone I think the world of. That felt good too.

A CT Scan with contrast is a pretty quick and strait forward process. My appointment was for 9am. I fasted from solid foods starting at midnight the night before, and restricted to no fluids 2 hours before the scan. I fill out a questionnaire before the procedure asking if I have a pacemaker/defibrillator, fake/metal body parts, am allergic to the dye, etc. Then, because I have a port, there is no needle stick or anything. I lay down on the table at the scan machine, they put a paper cover over my chest and abdomen (this scan was for chest, abdomen, pelvis area), and I pull my pants down to my thighs. I also removed my heavy cross necklace. 

As the tech was prepping me and my port he says:
So is this a checkup?
I say, yes.
He says, "Are you all done with everything?" (Meaning like treatment). 

I say, with a smile "No, I'm Stage IV. I'll likely never be done. But hopefully we'll find out that everything is working well with my treatment."

Its just a bit more information of the interesting things people say, even medical technicians. I know they see a lot of patients for several times over months or a year, and then rarely again; similarly to my oncology nurses. But then there are those like me that they see continually, off and on, sometimes weekly or more often, most likely for the rest of their lives. They are all very wonderful and special people.

Anyway, back to my story...
My port is then accessed. They do a quick scan, to make sure everything is aligned properly, and for comparison. Then the tech comes back in to administer the contrast. He tells me that I will feel a little warm, which I always do. And I get a weird taste in my mouth immediately, which is typical with any port access. As the scan happens, which takes a minute or so, the techs voice comes over a speaker to tell me to take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds as the table I am on moves me under the scanning machine. And then we are done and they offer me juice and show me the way out.

At the end, I asked about the whole process, and the fact that two Mets BC friends have mentioned that they drink a yucky concoction a few hours before their scans, and asked why I did not. Apparently, some of the older scan machines need this to happen so they get a better picture. The equipment at this facility is top of the line and so there is no need to drink anything before. And I was also told that some scans for specific intestinal issues might require the patient to drink something before the scan. I also learned from online research that some without ports drink something, rather than have the dye injected. Who new? So another new bit of information for me, and for you. There is always so much more to learn.


I will tell you that these tests do create a bit of anxiety, as you might imagine, but I hope you will never know -- no matter how calm one tries to be, or how much meditation one does, or how positive an attitude one has. As I returned to the car, where Mark was waiting, I just started to cry. Not much, but I cried. I told him I didn't know why, I did feel kind of good about things, but something just came over me. Was it relief, was it worry? The feeling was fleeting, thank goodness.

We went out for a nice breakfast afterwords at Colibri Grill Cafe, a new little breakfast/lunch spot we recently found on Montgomery Drive near Summerfield Road in Santa Rosa. Then some grocery shopping and home.

So to have it over, and hear that the cancer was "a little better" is something I will take, and feel very relieved about. Because, in all reality, I know that one day, or more than once, it will not be good news, or will waver back and forth, as we try out every drug out there, every type of treatment available at whatever present moment in time is available, in the arsenal of treatment(s) for HR+ (Hormone Receptive) Liver Metastasized Breast Cancer. So this was GOOD NEWS.

DID YOU KNOW THAT






Get more facts on Metastatic Breast Cancer at
http://www.keepmeinthepicture.com/get-the-facts/

Peace and Love





Die cancer, DIE. You are messing with the wrong woman!!

Debbie... aka the cancer FIGHTER, AND Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
B E L I E V E

• I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •
THANKS for visiting!        I look forward to your comment.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Watson AI, Loving Kindness Meditation, Dreams & Cold Caps

I've had a lot on my mind. I find that I typically Blog about once a week, sometimes more often, sometimes less. Today I have a lot on my mind, and I have been saving up some subjects I would like to cover. So here goes...


Artificial Intelligence & Genomics

On October 9th, 60 Minutes aired a piece on Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Watson, a question answering computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. And Watson can read and learn from documents, images, scans, you name it. Just click on "60 Minutes" above to go to the video. Or click here to see the segment on Watson for Genomics

What I found so amazing is that Watson can take in the 8,000 medical research papers published daily, something my Oncologist would not have the time to do and still practice medicine, or any other for that matter. 
As the article says,
Each person’s cancer is unique, as is their treatment journey.

However, what is not unique is the devastating impact on those living with the disease and their loved ones, as well as the struggle oncologists face in working to deliver effective patient care. In fact, this is increasingly true given only 25 percent of cancer patients benefit from the first drug they are offered in treatment.
Now, in partnership with Quest Diagnostics, collaborating with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), UNC Lineberger (as seen on 60 Minutes), and over 20 other leading cancer institutions, we have an opportunity to give every clinician the ability to create a unique, personalized approach for their patients.
 
The thought that Watson, or some other form of AI could be used to help diagnosis a disease, like cancer, and then suggest a treatment based on all of it's knowledge, with the guidance and oversight of the medical community, I find absolutely amazing and gives me such hope.



Loving Kindness Meditation

I've just completed a six-week program on Loving Kindness Meditation, Sonoma Insight Meditation Sangha (group), and really enjoyed it. And the good news to you, or others in the Sonoma Valley area, is that the group will continue to meet as an open ongoing group beginning today, Monday, October 24, 2016. 

We welcome new members and drop-ins.

Time is 5:15-6:45 pm at the Shambala Center on Napa Street.  This is dana-based (donation-based), and all you need do is show up. But if you have questions, our coordinator, Judi Cohen, is happy to take them at Judi[at]warriorone.com. I'm looking forward to making meditation a more consistent part of my life.

Dreams

I've been dreaming almost nightly of late. I know that we all dream, but I am rarely aware of mine. So I'm wondering if it is because I am now taking 60 mg of Melatonin nightly and slowly upping the dose. Or is it the nightly Cannabis juice? They are both thought to help combat cancer and do not conflict with my cancer treatments, so I am giving them a try. Mind you, I am continuing all my Oncology appointments and treatments, just adding this in with the hopes it may help as well. 

Some of the dreams are so vivid. One night it was about swimming in the ocean where hundreds of octopi were and they were sticking onto swimmers backs - YIKES! Another was about my dear cousin Denise who passed from MBC earlier this year in February, and we were at a party somewhere and she was opening lots of gifts. Talk about polar opposites.

Here are some links on the benefits of Melatonin for cancer.

  • An Overview of Melatonin in Breast Cancer Melatonin: an Inhibitor of Breast Cancer
  • Effect of Melatonin in Epithelial Mesenchymal Transition Markers and Invasive Properties of Breast Cancer Stem Cells of Canine and Human Cell Lines 
  • Circadian Regulation Metabolic Signaling Mechanisms of Human Breast Cancer Growth by the Nocturnal Melatonin Signal and the Consequences of it's Disruption By Light At Night 
  • Susan G. Komen's Description of Melatonin  
  • Role of Melatonin and Cancer Treatment
  • Melatonin Suppresses the Growth of Ovarian Cancer Cell Lines
  • Benefits of Melatonin in Solid Tumors When Used Concurrently With Chemotherapy


    Cold Caps
     
    Cold caps have been a bit of a controversial topic for me, as in the past I had learned they might combat the good effects of chemo in the head and brain where the caps are placed. But I am reading more news that the risk is so small it really isn't an issue.

    A cold cap is a tightly fitting, strap-on hat filled with gel that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. It may help some women keep some or quite a bit of their hair during chemotherapy. Because the caps are so cold, they narrow the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles. With less chemotherapy medicine in the follicles, the hair may be less likely to fall out. During each chemotherapy session, the caps are worn for 20 to 50 minutes before, durin, and after chemo. I hear it is pretty uncomfortable, giving you a headache, but then I've never tried it.

    Cold caps were unknown to me in 2011 when I was first diagnosed. I think it was all pretty new technology back then. But I learned about this shortly after. I still don't think I would have chosen it then. And now... well my treatment is pretty much ongoing for the rest of my life so it just doesn't make since for a metster, AND I am already bald. But it is information worth sharing to those following along. 

    I will finish with a couple of snapshots from a very busy weekend filled with family love and fun.

    Riding in the old fire truck with grandson at the Sonoma Fire Dept Open House & Pancake Breakfast.


    With our granddaughter at Davis Farmer Market
     

    Watching Sonoma High Homecoming parade down Broadway with my sis.
    Peace and Love





    Die cancer, DIE. You are messing with the wrong woman!!

    Debbie... aka the cancer FIGHTER, AND Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
    B E L I E V E

    • I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •
    THANKS for visiting!        I look forward to your comment.





    Wednesday, October 19, 2016

    A Reprieve from Chemo

    Today, October 19th, would have been my day for Abraxane chemo infusion. Mark and drove in to Santa Rosa fully expecting it, although I was feeling very tired since the previous afternoon, and was curious what my blood counts would be. The office was packed, but there were a few available chairs in the infusion room for my port access and blood draw. The blood work all came back fine, or at least good enough. Tumor markers are still in normal range, as they have always been for me so far, thankfully. Liver is still functioning in the normal range.

    Dr. Anderson, my oncologist, feels that four months on the Abraxane infusion has been plenty long enough for it to have done what it should or could do for the cancer. He feels strongly that it is now time to give the Xeloda tablets (Capecitabine) a chance to do it's job on the cancer. So he gave me the option to skip infusion today. I looked at him, back at Mark, then at Dr. Anderson. I didn't know how to respond. 

    He gave me the option to skip the Abraxane infusion a couple of months back and I opted to go ahead with the chemo. That was when the breast was flaring up again and it scared the heck out of me. But now, the breast looks good. The thought of not having a weekly appointment and infusion was so freeing to even consider, but felt like I was playing hooky. And to think, my hair may start to grow back and provide some winter warmth for me. It is all so hard to even fathom. But I think I could get used to it. We do know that this could only be temporary until we need to find something new to fight these cunning cancer cells trying to take over my body. It is the fight of Metastases, Stage IV Liver Metastasized Breast Cancer. My life's struggle.

    Dr. Anderson has increased my bi-weekly Xeloda pills to 3 each (1,500 mg) morning and night. (I take it for one week on, then one week off, then repeat. And I just finished my 3rd week on it.) I was doing 2 in the morning and 3 at night, as a step up to work towards this new dose. I am having some side effects from this medication, morning diarrhea, dry skin, but nothing I can't manage. There are many other side effects, but so far so good for me on this drug.

    So before we could leave the cancer center, I went back into the infusion room to have the port access removed. Didn't need that anymore today

    I went into scheduling to cancel next week's appointment and set up a return visit mid-November. By then, the results from my CT Scan with contrast will be back and we can see how the recent drugs have been affecting the cancer in the breast, the liver, and the two lymph nodes. Hopefully it will all be good news and I can continue with the Xeloda pills for the time being.

    By the time I returned to Mark in the waiting room, and as we walked out to the car feeling like we had been freed from something unexpected, he said, "I have an idea". His idea was to drive out to Bodega for a late lunch at Fishetarian and a walk on the beach or Bodega Head. Now this is my way of playing hooky for sure!

    So off we went, to enjoy a lovely fish lunch and walk on Bodega Head.

    A beautiful walk along Bodega Head.

    On the drive home, I caught a little cat nap. The day ended on a perfect note with my sweetheart.

    I wanted to share a very interesting article I just came across on breast cancer and the difference of the microbiome of the breast in patients with and without cancer, There’s a breast microbiome, and it’s different in women with breast cancer. Just click on the colored link above. I think you will find it most interesting both for those like me fighting this disease and their loved ones, and for those without cancer. Especially with all the information surfacing on the benefits of keeping the good bacteria in our guts healthy and thriving.



    Peace and Love




    Die cancer, DIE. You are messing with the wrong woman!!

    Debbie... aka the cancer FIGHTER, AND Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
    B E L I E V E

    • I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •
    THANKS for visiting!        I look forward to your comment.



    Thursday, October 13, 2016

    Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day - October 13th

    Today, October 13th, is #MetastaticBreastCancerDay

    Please take a moment to honor the many women who have  spoken up, challenged the status quo, and changed the breast cancer conversation. And sadly, those that have passed on from this devastating disease.

    They have all shared their stories and their truth. Breast cancer takes away mothers, daughters, friends. Breast cancer kills. It took Holley Kitchen from us in January 2016. A brave mother, wife, woman, who shared her story through the gripping video of hand-written cards. 

    This is not about pink ribbons, or some of the gimmicks and weird products being promoted today. The revolution didn't start with Holley, but she took it to a new level. And MBC won't stop with her, either. Thank you, Holley, we all miss you.

    Metastatic Breast cancer is not talked about enough... not enough research... but yet it's the cancer that kills 108 women in the US alone EACH DAY.... please share to educate! 

    Take action. Donate to Metavivor.org
    Please help me make a difference by funding research for metastatic breast cancer by donating to any organization dedicated to this cause. 

    I just shared my hope for the future of #metsbc treatment and research on the #ItsAboutTimeMBC website…and I’d like YOU to do the same. Visit www.itsabouttimembc.com today and share your thoughts!



    Metastatic Breast Cancer Facts



    20% to 30% of people initially diagnosed with early stage disease will develop metastatic breast cancer.


    * * * * *
    Metastatic breast cancer – cancer that travels from the breast and spreads to other parts of the body – is treatable, but not curable. It affects up to a quarter of a million people in the U.S. every year.  Those with metastatic breast cancer face daily challenges, continued treatment regimens, anxiety and a whole host of emotions knowing they cannot be cured from their disease. But their stories remain hidden, or get lost, among the better understood realm of early stage breast cancer. These patients are often left feeling isolated and alone.


    An estimated 155,000 Americans are currently living with metastatic breast cancer.


    * * * * *

    Despite its prevalence, metastatic breast cancer is still largely misunderstood. A recent national survey revealed that 60 percent say they know little to nothing about metastatic breast cancer and 72 percent believe that breast cancer in the advanced stages is curable if diagnosed early.

    Early detection does not guarantee a cure. Metastatic breast cancer can occur 5, 10 or 15 yrs after original diagnosis,  successful treatment checkups & annual mammograms.


    * * * * *

    The survey results also show that it’s critical that we expand the understanding of metastatic breast cancer to the larger population. What the average person may not know is that, according to a study published in the journal, The Oncologist, roughly one in three – nearly 30 percent – of women diagnosed with early breast cancer will eventually progress to metastatic breast cancer.

    Individuals with metastatic breast cancer face the reality that as of 2014, the median survival of those who receive a metastatic diagnosis is only three years after diagnosis. They’re up against a clock – hoping for advances in the treatment of this disease and more time to live their day-to-day lives.

    Additional Resources:

     

    Peace and Love




    Die cancer, DIE. You are messing with the wrong woman!!

    Debbie... aka the cancer FIGHTER, AND Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
    B E L I E V E

    • I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •
    THANKS for visiting!        I look forward to your comment.


    Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    Cardiology Yesterday, Oncology Today

    It's been three days of medical stuff. It all started on Monday, spending most of the day in San Francisco at the hospital with a loved one who was having surgery. It was a long day, getting home at midnight; but thankfully all went as expected and healing and recuperation seems to be slowly progressing as of today.

    Tuesday morning I had my checkup with my cardiologist. All seems good on that front. the interrogation of my ICD (pacemaker/defibrillator implanted in my chest and heart) tracks all my heart functions and there was little to no record of issues with my heart, or declining health. That is always such good news. At my last visit, about six weeks ago, there were a few times of heart failure, so this is an improvement. 

    One issue I learned about during my cardiology checkup is that I need to watch for a premature battery failure of my St. Jude ICD. Implanted defibrillators are powered by lithium-based batteries. Deposits of lithium, known as “lithium clusters,” can form within the battery and create abnormal electrical connections leading to rapid battery failure. St. Jude Medical has reported that in some cases, full battery drainage can occur within a day to a few weeks after the patient receives an ERI alert (a vibratory alert from the ICD). They tested my ICD in the office to show me what the alert would feel like. It is a vibration, that is almost audible. It isn't painful at all. I'm so glad they showed me what it would feel like. Apparently it alerts for a few seconds, then repeats continually until it is replaced. Unfortunately, it will require surgery to replace, but hopefully that will not be anytime soon.

    As of a couple of days ago when this news was announced, of the 398,740 affected devices sold worldwide, 841 were returned for analysis due to premature battery depletion caused by lithium clusters.
    • 2 deaths (1 in the U.S.), have been associated with devices that could not provide needed shock therapy due to premature battery depletion.
    • 10 patients (9 in the U.S.), have reported fainting from devices that could not provide needed pacing therapy due to premature battery depletion.
    • 37 patients (30 in the U.S.), have reported dizziness from devices that could not provide needed pacing therapy due to premature battery depletion.

    Since I do not have a high likelihood of requiring life-saving shocks and am not pacemaker dependent, at least at this time, both my cardiologist and I are not too concerned. Currently, my ICD battery is expected to last another 5+ years.

    So I will return in another six weeks for another checkup. They are keeping a close eye on me because of all the chemotherapy drugs changing frequently, and just all of the side effects from the cancer treatment. And I am so thankful for that. 

    Chemo #22, Abraxane Infusion #14,
    Week 3 of Xeloda Chemo Pills

    Mark came with me to chemo today. He rarely goes, as Sarah has been my chemo companion, so it is always hard on him to be there in that room. But he was a trooper and got some good time in on a new book. 


    Dr. Anderson was thrilled with how breast looks and is feeling that the Xeloda pills are working well. He expects if is working well on the liver too. After this week currently on the Xeloda pills, and if no reaction on my "off" week, then he wants me to up the Xeloda to 3 tabs am and pm. 1,500 mg each, morning and night; which is an increase of 500 mg per day. After my infusion today, I called and scheduled my CT Scan for October 28th. I will make a follow up appointment with breast surgeon, Dr. Elboim for one week following the scan. 

    Dr. Anderson is thinking that we may be able to stop the infusions soon, if the scan looks good, and give me a break from the weekly visits. This would be nice and would give us the opportunity to get away now and then. But it will all be determined by the results of the scan and at keeping the cancer in check or at bay.


    It took a while for my labs to come back, but they checked my tumor markers this time and the CEA (Cardinoembryonic Antigen) is within normal range. It has always been for me, for some reason, so I am glad it is still good. My liver functions continue to be in the normal range. Thank goodness! My RBC (Red Blood Count) is just a bit low, so good for now. So I was able to have my infusion for today.

    I went in to this appointment, as in most, feeling very chipper, as seen in this photo of Mark and I in the waiting room.

    In the waiting room.
    After infusion, where I surfed the web, read a bit, and tried to catch a nap, I was pretty tired. It was a hard day for me. Not only did we watch as another patient seated near us had a slight anaphylactic reaction to his infusion (they paused and then stopped it all together before it was too bad), the infusion room was VERY busy and the nurses were very active jumping from one beeping infusion pump to another. They are all so good at what they do, and keep a positive attitude and smiles on their faces. And then I learned of a young man in Sonoma who's cancer has returned. He is just a few years out of high school and dealt with the devastating disease during those high school years, and I thought he was doing well now. But No! this news brought tears of sadness to me, for him, his mom and grandma (who I worked with at Sonoma Valley Bank and are both cancer survivors themselves), and all his family and friends. It is making my blood boil now as I sit here typing about it. It is just so unfair. Thinking of you Mikey, Kelly and Molly; and your entire family.

    So we left the cancer center around 4pm and headed over to Rosso Pizzeria for some well needed, and delicious, nourishment.
    Heirloom tomato piadine & basil risotto with prawns - YUM!


    I will close for today with this...

    Do you have Metastatic Breast Cancer? Something as simple as spitting in a tube could help you, and many others like you. Join the MBC Project today to learn more. 


    Peace and Love




    Die cancer, DIE. You are messing with the wrong woman!!

    Debbie... aka the cancer FIGHTER, AND Cardiomyopathy warrior!!!
    B E L I E V E

    • I AM STRONG • I AM HEALTHY • I AM LOVED •
    THANKS for visiting!        I look forward to your comment.