(Note: I have had readers question if I’ll be discussing certain topics within my blog. Or, if I will be sharing a story from the past, something my friends or family may be familiar with. The answer is “yes” and “no.” I intend to cover various topics as part of Marilyn’s Byline. However, since I am working on a book, many of the experiences I have had may be better suited for my “book” since I can devote more space to the subject and get into greater detail. My blog is a short version of my story -- bits and pieces of the journey that I will share every Monday and Friday with you. But, to truly know my story, you will have to wait until I publish -- “High Maintenance” - Surviving Cancer at All Costs -- a manuscript under “construction” at this time. Thanks for sharing your comments. Your commitment to reading my blog is greatly appreciated.)
The calendar now indicates that it’s early October 2002. Scans show that my lungs are now totally clear of any cancer -- that’s the good news. The “not-so” good news ... I received a call from Ellen, my oncology nurse. There has been some “disease progression” she says during our brief conversation. “The cancer has spread to the bone.”
After getting off the phone, I “freaked out!” I am now experiencing another moment of “fear” and I keep trying to tell myself that “I will be okay. I am getting better and stronger everyday.” Per Ellen, I will meet with Dr. Shah to review my new treatment plan. I will continue with the Herceptin, but will go off the Taxotere, which is the actual chemo drug I was taking all summer long. Now, Dr. Shah is adding a new drug to my plan, Zometa, which will be given to me via my port. This drug, I’m told, acts like a “varnish” and “coats the bones.” It also may help me fight off osteoporosis, which as a “side effect” is a good one, since there is an inherited risk of this within my family. Another medication, a daily pill -- Femara -- will be added to my regimen. It is an anti-estrogen. So, now I will be going for treatments every three weeks, instead of weekly. My sessions will be on Fridays. In some ways, I am grateful to have more time to myself and less time spent at the hospital. (A small thing to be grateful for!)
The cancer, I would learn, has developed within my hip and spine. If I have any pain in those areas, I am to let Dr. Shah know immediately. Unlike chemo, Herceptin is known as a “monoclonal antibody therapy.” In simple terms, it means that it is a directly targeted drug treatment ... it only attacks the HER2 positive cells within the body. Chemo attacks everything in its pathway - both good and bad, so that’s why there are so many challenging side effects. While Herceptin and Zometa have their own “side effects” -- it is definitely going to be much different now. The “typical” chemo problems will begin to go away. (At least, some will disappear. I will later learn that some side effects have not even developed yet. There are problems I may experience months or years later as a result of my Taxotere treatment. I take the liberty of being “sarcastic” here for a moment when I say -- “Welcome to the world of side effects!” )
Procrit treatments will continue per Ellen. In fact, I will be getting a slightly higher dose at my next visit. I remain tired -- fatigue does continue to plague me. At a recent trip to Disney’s EPCOT Center for its annual Food & Wine Festival, I manage to do some walking although I keep a wheelchair with me at all times. My appetite has begun to improve as well, so I take advantage of being able to eat more and enjoy a delicious meal at a Disney restaurant. Small steps in a more positive direction -- I try to enjoy these rare moments where my energy explodes to an almost normal level.
October quickly turns into November and I’m now more comfortable with my new schedule. Just as I begin to feel like I can handle this newest “setback” I get the most horrific news. My cousin, Sharon Greenstein Iwanczuk, had lost her year-long battle with brain cancer. Sharon, who was more like a sister, fought her cancer with every ounce of strength she had within. Surgery. Chemo. Radiation. She had done it all, and yet, she was now gone. She left behind a loving husband and parents along with an array of devoted family members who were now trying to deal with this loss. To me, it made no sense at all. Why Sharon? She was a talented artist -- she loved and cared for animals -- she was a loving and giving person ... she would be missed by many.
A moment of wanting to shout out “Cancer Sucks” --- I did run around screaming this. Then, I sat down and wrote out a story I recalled from when we were “kids” -- something that could be read at her funeral service. I would be unable to attend due to my own health and treatment schedule. But, the day of the service, I sat -- alone in my room, crying my heart out. Cancer had taken another precious life. I resolved to remember Sharon every year at Relay during the Luminaria Ceremony. I also resolved to raise more money for research ... something I knew would ultimately make a positive difference. Meanwhile, I simply sat and cried. Tears were flowing like a river... my heart was torn into tiny pieces. I already missed her so much. Cancer had taken another person I loved. The pain I felt now was not the usual. I cried out again, in anguished pain. Softly I said: “I will miss you Sharon!”