Already off schedule

It was expected. The entire purpose of chemo is to attack all your fast-growing cells and as that happens, it attacks all the good cells in my body too. Round 1 is the Carbo/Gemzar combination and it will knock down my white blood cell count (WBC), specifically the neutrafils (which is a major type of white blood cells used for fighting infection). The normal neutrafil count range is 2,500 to 6,000. My round 2 is only Gemzar which specializes in knocking down my platelets — hence the ER visit last week.

So today, I was going in for Cycle #2, round 1. Are you keeping up? They access my port and draw blood to check my counts each time. My platelets had risen from 54 at the ER to 400 today, normal range still being 1400-3500. But they were fine, I am expected to be low. However the WBC was too low to receive treatment. My neutrafil count was 600 with the minimum needed to receive treatment at 1200. 600 is the lowest that it has been in the last 3 weeks. The doc didn’t say why or express that he was concerned, it just meant that I couldn’t do the treatment. I will, again, go in daily for 4 days to have a Neupogen injection to boost those neutrafils. No side effects, not painful, just annoying. I will go back next Monday, the 21st for the Carbo/Gemzr combo. They will reduce the dosage by 25% to try to keep my counts higher so we can continue to stay on track with treatment. While I am all about a plan, the concern is really that the longer I go without the chemo, the more chance the cancer has to grow back. Today, I enjoyed lunch with my chemo-partner and felt good enough to do all my normal daily tasks, but I would have rather knocked the heck out of some cancer today.

Cancer 101

photo Despite how much I feel that I am constantly talking about cancer, it has been brought to my attention that many of you are still kinda clueless on my whole situation. There is a lot more to this than “my cancer is back.” I apologize for this coming late, but I thought I would try to educate a few of you on cancer and treatment. I am not claiming all of this to be accurate, but as the information makes it to me, this is how I understand it.

Cancer is an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells; cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them. They can quickly become a cluster of cells or a tumor. Let’s take my original cancer. I had a tumor of cancer cells. Those cells were tested and confirmed ER+ PR+ and HER2-. It also had a lymphovascular quality — think “arms” reaching into surrounding areas. My current doc said that was a red flag that it was likely to come back. We made the choice to cut out the cancer, chemo to kill all possible abnormal cells, and radiation to kill any leftover cells in the area. Most likely, that well laid plan didn’t work. We missed something, and it only had to be 1 cell. The cancer today is different. It is ER- PR- HER2-. There three possibilities. 1. The original cancer was still there and changed. It was not able to feed on the estrogen/progestrone since it was being blocked by one of my long-term medications, so it mutated and found something else to fuel it. 2. There were 2 instances of cancer and ER/PR+ cancer was eradicated, but the triple negative cancer still sat “active”. We don’t know why after 4 years it would have presented itself, but it came and grew quickly. 3. Original cancer was taken care of and this is an entirely new cancer. My oncologist leans to scenario 1 or 2, which I am fine with. It makes my survival rate much higher than thinking that my body has produced 2 different cancers in 4 years.

Either way, the cancer is here and now we will treat it. Oncologist is fairly confident that we will be able to beat this instance, but there is no sign of what my body can do in future. The cancer has grown quick and is aggressive. Docs decided to start with chemo and see how it reacts. If the cancer shrinks, they will know that it does respond to the chemo. Alternatively, if it doesn’t shrink or grows, that is good to know as well. We will follow with a bilateral mastectomy and most likely radiation (again).

Here is what the chemo looks like: I am on a 21 day cycle. Monday-Week 1, I have Gemzar/Carbo combination. Carbo is the ugly drug, it is actually made of platinum. I get a dose of steroids and benadryl to prevent a reaction to the metal. The benadryl knocked me out for the day, and the steroids made me jittery and hungry all week. The carbo did the rest of the work. I was exhausted for about 4 days, not sick, but uncomfortable and cranky. Things didn’t taste good, water was unsatisfying, and I took a 1-2 naps every day. By Friday evening, I was back to myself. Monday-Week 2, I only had Gemzar. I was a little tired Monday, but the rest of the week was normal. I did all my normal activities, soccer practices, ran, workout class, homework. I am so thanful that I have felt good. Now the first round did knock my counts down really low, but we decided to go ahead and do the 2 round. To keep from getting really sick, I had to have a daily Neupogin injection to build my white blood counts up. Week 3 starts tomorrow and I don’t have any treatment. My week off. Then I start that cycle all again up to 5 more times, taking me probably to July/August.

I think the hardest part of cancer is the unknown, the questions, the testing. I feel that we have past all of that and now we are in full swing. We worry, we pray, we ask questions, but we march on. God has certainly led us into unknown waters where feet my fail, but our faith with stand. (Love that song by Hillsong) I am not just His, but He is MINE. Thank you for walking this with us. Thank you for the words, cards, the generous donations, the prayers. We are blessed.