Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Herd of Elephants

A couple years ago, I wrote a post about my friend Alison. At the time, she had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. 

As her herd of elephants we rallied around her and supported her through surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy... And rejoiced when she was given the all clear.

Unfortunately, it's time for her herd to rally around her again.

Here is her story:

I had an initial stage three breast cancer diagnosis on March 16, 2012. A bunch of chemo later, the tumors were almost gone and to an operable size. September 5th, 2012, I had my right breast removed and an expander placed. 5-6 weeks later, I had my expander removed due to a massive staph infection that came with a stay in the ICU and emergency OR trip. Starting a few days before Thanksgiving and going until the last day before Christmas, I had five weeks of radiation that left me pretty burned. On June 3rd, 2013, I had a skin sparing mastectomy on my left breast, and DIEP flap reconstruction on both breasts. I lost part of one flap to necrosis and spent the next six months healing that wound. It's finally just healed, and I am able to look ahead to my touch-up surgery and having two breasts the same size.

Mid-December, I started feeling achy and sore in my lower right ribs. Soon the achiness had spread to my hips and was making it difficult for me to walk, sit, or sleep. I contacted my wonderful np Emily right away. She immediately ordered a bone scan for December 31st. On January 2nd, I got a call from her saying there were some hot spots on the scan. She wanted me to come in immediately for more scans and tests. At 7:10 in the morning on January 3rd, 2013, I went in for a PET/CT scan and blood draw. By noon, I was given my new cancer diagnosis.

Most of my bones below my chin lit up on the bone scan, indicating widespread cancer in the bones. One lymphnode in my neck also lit up. Luckily it is confined to the bones. It is most likely breast cancer spread to my bones--not a new cancer. That it is confined to the bones is the best-case scenario for this worst-case situation. Emily says that best-case, I have ten years. I want to blow that number out of the water!

I just got a call with my biopsy results, and the results are as good as could be hoped for! It is breast cancer in the bones, it is ER+, and is is HER2 negative. This means that it is the same cancer that responded well to treatment last time, and because it is estrogen sensitive, we have more treatment options. With this news, there comes more and more hope that I have many more years ahead of me, AND that I will be able to feel better and live life more fully I have an appointment first thing Monday morning to start treatment plans. 

I got a lot thrown at me today, but the gist was that my cancer is aggressive enough that they want to skip any endocrine treatment for now and go right to chemotherapy. They wanted me to start today, but not very many pharmacies carry chemo drugs, and the one and the clinic that does was very backed up and couldn't get it to me today, so they are overnighting it to me. Hopefully I'll be able to start tomorrow. This chemo is called Xeloda and is a twice-a-day pill version, two weeks on, one week off, for as long as it works for me. They gave me a whole swag bag with a pill case and a booklet talking about it, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. The hope is that we can stop the spread of the cancer and maybe even beat it back a little bit. This is the most aggressive and first-line action. If it doesn't work, or at some point I'm feeling really good, we'll look at an oophorectomy, but my doctor didn't think that taking time off from chemo, or delaying starting, was a good course of action. Radiation is a kind of last ditch effort to control the pain, as you can only radiate a specific place once.

As a tangible way to show our support, another friend has designed this t-shirt as a fundraiser.

It can be found here.

If you would like to offer support to Alison and her family, but prefer to support her in other ways, we accept payment in any form: money, prayers, positive thoughts, and healing energy.

If you would like to offer financial support, I have included a link to the site for monetary donations. Any money raised will be put toward medical expenses, associated travel expenses, healthy whole foods to fuel her fight, and maybe even a few priceless memories for the family along the way.

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