Thursday, January 29, 2009

I've Started My New Chemo Regimen

Hi, everyone. I am sorry I am slow in getting an update written. I started my new chemo regimen on Tuesday and so far it seems to be much easier than the previous one. I had my chemo on Tuesday and was able to go up to school for the morning flag ceremony the next day! One of my previous students, Desiree, who made me the beautiful blanket and pillow, was being recognized as the Character Counts Student of the Month. I got to say a few words about her and give her a big hug. I also got to thank one of the teachers, Shannon Guarneri, for donating her hair to Locks of Love in my honor. We have televisions in each of the classrooms and each morning the Tiger Town News program is done. Shannon had her hair cut right on the morning news program in front of the whole school! The people at my school have really rallied around me. Their love and support have been amazing. After the flag ceremony, the teacher who replaced me invited me to come and visit my old class. I got to spend about a half an hour with them, talking and having them show me the projects they were working on. I know the chemotherapy is vital in fighting the cancer, but getting to do these kinds of things is definitely the best medicine for my spirit!

I will write about my treatment below for those of you who may be interested.

We didn't have to be at the Cancer Center on Tuesday until 11:30, so it was a much more relaxed morning than when we went up last week. First stop was the lab. They have to check my blood counts each time before I get my chemo. If they drop too low, they have to put off giving me the chemo until they come up again.

It was the first time they used my new port and I can see that it is going to be very beneficial to have it. It is under the skin, so I do have to be stuck with a needle, but there is no hunting around for a vein and once they accessed it in the lab, they left it hooked up so I didn't need to be stuck again when I went upstairs for my chemo. They use a 90 degree needle and then put a gauze over and under it and tape it down. The needle felt a bit like a bee sting going in, but they gave me numbing medicine to put on an hour ahead of time for my next visit. The nurse said eventually the skin itself will develop its own numbness from being stuck in the same place over and over.

Next, it was upstairs to the chemo unit. They gave me tylenol and benadryl to prevent a reaction to the Avastin. Then, I had to wait thirty minutes for them to take effect. First they gave me the Abraxane. It only takes thirty minutes to give. The Avastin is the one they were concerned about causing an allergic reaction, so they gave it over ninety minutes. Each time I go, they will reduce the time by thirty minutes until it, too, is given over a half hour. I only get the Avastin every other week, so when I go again this coming Tuesday, it should go pretty quickly.

The concern I have now is how my blood counts will do with the new chemo drugs. The nurse told me the Abraxane can be pretty hard on them, but a lady in my exercise class has been on Abraxane for a while now and says she hasn't had any problem with her counts. I really don't want to miss any of my treatments! If my counts do drop, there is a medication called Neupogen they can give me that stimulates the body to produce more.

The radiologist called and gave us the results of the biopsies he did last week. Again, the pathology just showed fibrocystic tissue and no cancer cells. I asked him if this was a typical report when there was cancer and it has been killed off by the chemo. He really didn't know. He said it is very unusual for a biopsy to be done once chemotherapy has already started. He said his experience is that they typically measure the effectiveness of the chemotherapy with radiological procedures; ultrasounds and/or MRI's. I'm not really sure why the doctors ordered new biopsies. I think they were thinking I was not responding to the initial chemotherapy regimen and they wanted to confirm things like the hormone status of the cancer cells because this determines how they treat the cancer. The radiologist said he would view the pathology results as a sign that indeed the chemotherapy is doing its job. I will see Dr. Livingston, the medical oncologist, this coming Tuesday before I have my chemo so maybe he will be able to explain it all better to me.

Regardless, I feel like I'm recieving the right care. My previous oncologist was going to give me two more treatments of the Taxotere and then send me to surgery. I was really worried that the surgery was going to be done too soon, before they had eradicated as much of the cancer as possible. This is vitally important when the diagnosis is Inflammatory Breast Cancer which is what I was being told I had at the time. I've also learned it is very important with the hormone status of my cancer cells. I am what they call triple negative. This means that my cancer cells did not have estrogen or progesterone receptors or something called Her2. Triple negative cancers are generally more aggressive, but respond well to chemotherapy. They also have a higher chance of metastasis than other breast cancers and therefore a poorer prognosis. However, if I have a complete pathological response at the time of surgery, which means there is no sign of the cancer in my breast or lymph nodes, the prognosis is much better.

My new doctors are giving me Abraxane which is another form of Taxotere once a week for two to three months instead of two more treatments two weeks apart. I've read studies where this has been shown to be very effective with locally advanced breast cancer. Plus, I am recieving the newest drug being used to fight breast cancer, Avastin. I am anxious to have the surgery over with, but feel like this new regimen gives me the best chance of beating this disease for the long-term.

Pam is coming back on Monday. I feel selfish because it is so helpful emotionally to me to have her here, but I know it has got to be hard on her family to have her gone so much. They assure me that they are fine and want Pam to be out here with me right now. She has a wonderful, amazing family and I know sharing her with me right now is their way of helping me fight this disease. They will never know how much their sacrifice means to me!

That's it for now!
Love you all tons!


LoriH said...

Well, it sounds as if your treatment is coming along--I'm so glad that you feel like you're getting the best care. That in itself has got to be a huge relief. I think of you often, Martha. There's a reason God sent you to Tucson. Keep up you're good spirits. We're all praying for you.

velvet brick said...

Hi Martha! It was SO GOOD to see you at the flag ceremony yesterday! I just had to get my 'Martha Hug' before heading back to thanks for the love hug! You look fantastic and I am just amazed and so grateful at how well you feel after this new chemo regimen. Your knowledge of this disease and its treatment and cure are admirable - you really have done your research and because you have, I, too, feel that you are on the absolute right treatment path!! You've got top-notch doctors, medicine and protocol! It's all exciting news! I thinks it's wonderful that you are enjoying your time at your excerise group, too. You go, girl! Thank you for the update - I've been checking in and appreciate all of your great info. Prayers and still flowing your way and love to all of you. When you talk to Pam, give her a big 'hello' for me, please? : ))

Lydia said...

I'm so glad that your feeling better about the care that you are given. I wish I could have seen you the other morning. You are always in my prayers and thoughts. Keep staying positive. You're a great lady and an inspiration to me and many others! Love ya, Lydia

Jim said...

Glad for the update. I had on my list to call Joe today and learn what's going on, but you beat me to it. It all sounds good.

Glad too that Pam is coming back. I'm sure she's miserable when she can't be there with you.


N-Search of Peace said...

Tuscon was a true faith path that was shown to you and Joe...the medical people that you have met on this journey have been nothing short of hope full miracles for you...
You are continuing to commit to this fight with "guns-a-blasin"! are a constant amazement to me!
Sisters are indeed the very best of the best...blood or otherwise...
Love and Peace to you always dear Martha...

Jim said...

Hi Martha,
I'm so glad you felt strong and well enough, even after chemo, to attend the ceremony at school. I am praying that this continues throughout your new regimen. I(and I'm not the only one)am so grateful to you for this blog. I'm sure it must take a lot of energy, but thanks for keeping us all up to date.
love and hugs,