I know there’s been a long (truly unintended) digital silence here. I’ve started a few posts, but I’ve simply lacked the energy and dedicated writing time to finish them. What I have learned is that cancer treatment for stage four metastatic breast cancer is definitely more like a marathon than a sprint, and training/treatment/healing is a time-consuming and “all-in” effort.
Last Friday we met with my oncologist to review a recent CT Scan after three months of IV chemotherapy with paclitaxel (Taxol) and denosumab (Xgeva). The news is best described as cautiously optimistic, and my oncologist seemed pleased with this report. While my hope is to hear those words “radical remission,” we are not there yet. The good news is that all the ascites (fluid build-up containing cancer cells) in my peritoneum is gone, as is the pleural effusion in my right lung. My liver, which had been somewhat questionable on the first scan now appears normal. It’s good news that the lesion on my tenth posterior rib shows post-treatment effects. Go little yew tree, go! (Note: Taxol is derived from the Pacific Yew Tree.) It is a hopeful sign that there is no growth in the other lesions or in the two lung nodules, and that there are no new lesions or nodules.
Photo Credit: By Cancer Research UK – Original email from CRUK, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34333556
(Note: Skip the next paragraph if medical/pharmaceutical details put you to sleep. I’m learning to speak a new language in order to understand my treatment and condition.)
The new plan is to switch my chemo cocktail to palbociclib (Ibrance) and letrozole (Femara) to address the cancer cells from another angle. I’ll still keep taking the monthly denosumab shot, which is a RANKL inhibitor that helps keep the cancer from breaking down my bones. Palbociclib is a reversible small molecule cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor that blocks certain proteins in the cells (specifically cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) 4 and CDK 6). For hormone positive breast cancers like mine this can help stop the cancer cells from dividing and making new cells. Letrozole blocks the enzyme aromatase–used to convert androgens into estrogen. The end result should be a reduction in the number of cancer cells produced and the size of my lesions and nodules. If I’m lucky, it will help push me toward radical remission; however, there’s a lot more that goes into that process. Like my previous chemo cocktail, there are some pretty unpleasant probable and possible side effects (boo!). Given the choice or side effects or not living as long, I’ll take my chances on the side effects and keep addressing the situation with complementary therapies, wrapped in some serious prayer.
(Non-medical/pharmaceutical readers should begin reading again now.)
Complementary therapies that I am using include aforementioned prayer, meditation (aiming for at least 30 minutes per day), monthly spiritual direction, exercise (yoga and walking), hyperthermia treatments (daily far infrared sauna sessions), some aspects of the Gerson protocol (not juicing yet–doing green smoothies instead), supplements (Transfer Factor) and dietary adjustments (raw as much as possible, as green as can be, mostly organic, avoiding processed foods, sugar, oil, and alcohol). Depriving cancer cells of the sugar they love and need to replicate, and using heat because cancer loves a cold environment are two key elements of my complementary therapies. The hardest thing for me so far is getting adequate rest because I am still working full-time in a demanding vocation that I absolutely love. Finally, I’m trying to look at cancer as a teacher rather than an enemy. That’s why you won’t hear me use the words “fight cancer.” Instead I’m trying to embrace the reality and learn from this difficult teacher.
The first Sunday in the parish sporting my “new look.” Folks have been amazingly supportive and adaptive–right down to the youngest (who is about to put a band-aid on my head in this photo.)
Yes, this is not a sprint. I remind myself that it took time for my body to get in this situation. I was first diagnosed with stage II/III breast cancer in 2004 and declared “cancer free” in 2005 (a false truth–more on that later), so I had a good long run without the influence of cancer as teacher and companion. Now it’s back, and it’s going to take a total surrender to my own will and a willingness to learn and be in new ways to experience healing.* I’ve laced up my trainers and am ready to keep up the work of living with this condition, learning from this teacher, and seeking healing and radical remission. I am so grateful for your many expressions of kindness, care, encouragement, and love. Above all I am thankful for your prayers that keep me lifted up when the going gets tough (and it does some days).
*I use the word “healing” rather than “cure” deliberately. Healing is a much richer and holistic notion that includes mind, body, and spirit.