Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Turning Points

According to my latest PET scan, the cancer in my body has been significantly reduced, so the oncologist says we'll keep doing what's working. However, he consults with the surgeon frequently, and they have decided that I should see her again to determine if we should go ahead with the surgery. I'll have one more consultation with the doctor, and he may or may not decide to do chemo then, depending on how we're managing the side effects.

From my previous consultation with the surgeon, I learned that there's no such thing as a radical mastectomy anymore. In the old days, radical involved taking out lymph glands and muscles and tissue that hadn't been affected by the cancer yet but might be. While we were on our vacation in Oregon, the surgeon's office called to set up an appointment to talk about the next step. I've had a lot of surgeries in my time, so I'm not terribly worried about it. Friends who have had mastectomies recently tell me it's an easy surgery, without a lot of pain involved. I have a history of healing well from surgeries, so that is comforting information. My family "team" and I will visit with the surgeon next week, ask questions, and gather information to make a decision. When the surgeon sees how my tumor and glands have softened and shrunken from the first time she examined me, she may have a new recommendation.

When I met with the oncologist yesterday before treatment # 17, he said it's time to change direction in treatment. After a while, cancer learns to deal with the chemicals and adjusts so it can continue doing its thing. Though it has diminished, that's not a declaration of complete remission. We still have a long way to go. However, he said there's a list three pages long of chemical options he can use to treat breast cancer, and one of the new ones he especially favors is a pill that's taken for 14 days, followed by a seven-day break. That means I wouldn't have to go to the treatment center, although if the two-week treatment isn't as effective, I may go back to the infusions with something other than Taxol. I'm taking potassium because Taxol depletes it, but so far my blood work--white count and platelets--has been good every week.

Lymphedema has been a recurring problem. I got a compression sleeve for my left arm, but it doesn't seem to press much fluid out. I'm also on Lasix which is supposed to pull a lot of water out of the tissues. Interesting that its other name is "furosemide" because with the doubled dose, it does have a furious effect. However, I gained a lot of weight while I was out of town--which I can chalk up to salty restaurant food because I certainly didn't have much of an appetite, and I can't eat fresh fruit or sugar because of how my bowel reacts. This week, after starting on Lasix again, I lost 12 pounds. I also started treatments at the lymphedema clinic twice a week and hope that can bring the desired results. I understand there's lymphedema pump that might help as well. Don't know how that works, but my left arm is so swollen I'm willing to try anything. It may be possible to have the surgery but avoid touching the lymph glands in my armpit, which is a source of swelling after a usual mastectomy. Driving home Saturday from Oregon in one 14-hour push didn't give me much chance for exercise and my legs and feet were quite swollen when I went to have my cellulitis wraps changed on Monday morning.

We had such a wonderful time together on our vacation! Our first night there we all spotted some whales spouting and splashing out beyond the breakers just before sunset, and the next morning when the kids went down to the beach at low tide, a sand bar was exposed, and some sea lions were lounging there in the sun. All the kids got along well, and although it was sometimes hard getting all 12 of us (plus the dog) ready to go, we didn't try to keep a tight schedule--just made it easy on ourselves, planning what was doable with our various limitations.

On Tuesday, the highlight of the day was getting to Tillamook in time for lunch at the Cheese Factory (i.e. Williams' Oregon Coast Mecca), followed by a turn through the gift shop for cheese and fudge and local jams and sweatshirts and ice cream. Some of us went on the tour that shows how cheese is made--I especially love their Vintage White flavor. They have a new S'mores ice cream flavor we all liked a lot, and another one called horchata--fashioned after a popular Spanish/Central/South American almond drink with cinnamon. So refreshing as ice cream! We had miniature waffle cones so we could have little samples of these new flavors we were trying--some can only be purchased at the factory. They don't make blueberry ice cream at all, but they do make Oregon huckleberry flavor, another of our favorites. For the chocolate lovers among us, we go for Tillamook Mudslide, which has several kinds of chocolate in it, and Peanut Butter Chocolate, which has huge ripples of what tastes like peanut butter fudge.

On Wednesday, the highlight was the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. Such a fascinating place. Our 19-month-old granddaughter went nuts identifying every fish to us as Nemo--it's one of her favorite movies, right after Monsters, Inc. We arrived in the afternoon just in time for the seal and sea lion feeding "show." So interesting. Seals have spots, in case you were wondering, and sea lions don't.

On Thursday, we had a little sprinkle of rain as we were cleaning up and getting ready to leave our nice beach house rental in Lincoln City that stood at the top of a cliff with a great view--70 steps down to the beach, lots of birds in the yard including hummingbirds, and a very nice flower garden. I slept quite well there. Doug the dog thoroughly enjoyed playing in the surf and chasing with the kids in the yard. In Portland that evening, we had dinner with a crowd of my family members who live in the area, brothers and their wives and kids, and cousins I haven't seen for a while, a great mini-reunion.

On Friday, I spent time resting and preparing for my book signing event at the Deseret Book store in Lake Oswego, about a mile or so south of the Portland Temple. It was really a rush to have the manager and clerks tell me they had read both my books and loved them, and that customers were reporting how much they enjoyed them as well. I wished I had known then so I could announce it, but the following week I found out the third book in that series will be published this fall. A special treat for me was to meet with a high school classmate I haven't seen since graduation. We had reconnected after all these years through the class website where we both posted profiles. She lives in Lake Oswego.

Since coming home, I have been thinking a lot about how kind and sweet my family is to me. They were so solicitous and watchful, making sure I had a place at the table, helping me in and out of cars, making sure I was comfortable and enjoying myself. I have been thinking about the roles of caretaker and caregiver and wondering about the similarities and differences of each one. All I know is that I have 12 of them (13 if you count the sweet-natured puppy dog) and I feel so loved.