Another Milestone!

I had my last Herceptin treatment today!! That means, I won’t have to sit in an infusion chair again!!

Last time in the chair!!

Last time in the chair!!

My nurse today was the same nurse I had for my very first infusion. When she asked how I was doing, my response was, “Awesome!” She replied, “You should be!” She apparently was aware that was my last infusion as well. I was back in the corner this time, surrounded by other people doing chemo. I felt a little bad that I was so happy when they were still going through the nonfunness of chemo.

Now, just because I’m done with infusions, doesn’t mean I’m done with going to the cancer center on a regular basis. I still need to go and get my port flushed every four to six weeks. The nurse’s comment was many people go every month just to make it easier to schedule, but I’m all about avoiding a trip to the Cancer Center as much as possible. I’ll be making those trips every six weeks, and not a day sooner.

Calling the doctor

Monday I called two of my doctors, which meant I was on the phone five or six times with one office or the other. Miss Adventure asked me why I was on the phone so much on Monday, and I had to explain to her the inefficiency of calling doctor’s offices and leaving a message with the nurse who calls you back to find out what you want and then needs to talk to the doctor, so they’ll call you back again…. Needless to say, the phone kept ringing.

I called Dr. Kang first. I wanted to find out when I could schedule my exchange surgery. I’m teaching in the fall again, so I’d like to be able to work around the surgery. From what I’ve read, I’ll only need a couple of days to recover from the surgery. If I can get the surgery on a Thursday or Friday, I won’t have to miss any teaching days, but who knows what his hospital schedule is. The nurse called back saying Dr. Kang wanted to see me to see if he could schedule the surgery before October. Really? Something happening faster than expected? That would be totally awesome. Now I just need to get this scab on my scar healed before I see him in August.

The second call was to Dr. Li’s office to talk about my Tamoxifen prescription. I’d stopped taking it because of the nausea. The nurse’s initial comment was just to take an anti-nausea drug along with the Tamoxifen. No, I don’t think I’ll be taking one drug to minimize the side effects of another drug that’s offering me minimal benefits for the next couple of years. The end result (after several phone calls) was Dr. Li wanted to see me because “nausea isn’t a typical side effect of Tamoxifen.” Great, now I’m all worried that the nausea is caused by the Tamoxifen interacting with cancer cells somewhere inside me. How to solve that problem – do a little research on the internet. Turns out, nausea is a side effect in 10-15% of women who take it. Some people just live with the nausea for years. In others, it seems to go away after a month or so when your body adjusts to it. I’m willing to try it for a month or two to see if the nausea subsides. We’ll see what he has to say when I see him on Monday.

Tamoxifen

The last time I saw Dr. Li, he decided to start me on Tamoxifen, which I would be taking for 10 years. I was not too pleased about this long-term drug taking, especially since my cancer was estrogen negative and only weakly progesterone positive. I did fill the prescription, but I didn’t start taking it right away. Instead, I did a little research on the internet (of course). I did find a couple of reasons that the Tamoxifen prescription made sense. The main reason is that cancer tends to be very heterogeneous. The pathologist can only test a bit of the cancer, and it’s highly possible that a different part of the cancer would be sensitive to the hormones. Tamoxifen tends to have minimal side effects, so the cost-benefit analysis usually comes out on the side of taking Tamoxifen.

So, I let the prescription sit on the counter for a week or so, but I started taking it a couple of weeks ago, along with some iron pills. In retrospect, I should have only started one new drug at a time. I started feeling mildly nauseous, pretty much constantly, and I wasn’t sure if it was the iron or the Tamoxifen. Time for some experimentation. First, I stopped the iron pills, but not the Tamoxifen and the nausea was still there. OK, not the iron. Next, I stopped the Tamoxifen and sure enough, the nausea went away. I’ll try taking the Tamoxifen once more to see if the nausea comes back. Somehow I think it will, at which point I’ll be calling Dr. Li to change the prescription. If I was only taking the drug for a short time, I could do it because the nausea isn’t too bad. However, I’m not going to spend years feeling slightly nauseous, and I’m not going to take another drug to make the first drug not make me nauseous.

Bloodwork for Science

Monday was my second to last Herceptin treatment. (Yes, there is dancing in appreciation of this fact that there’s only ONE MORE TO GO!!!) While I was there, I wanted the nurse to draw my blood for the Breast Cancer Risk in Young Women Study I am participating in. I was going to do it the last time I had a Herceptin treatment, but there was a problem with my meds which led to a long wait before my infusion, and I ran out of time to get it done. So, it was time to try again.

I figured it would be an easy process. I needed two vials of blood filled, and the researcher had provided the vials, the packaging, and everything. While I was accessed for my Herceptin, it would take no time at all to fill up the vials.

It’s never that easy, is it. For one thing, this was a bit out of the ordinary, so the nurse wanted to check with the supervisor, who of course was out to lunch. So, I had to wait for the supervisor to come back. The supervisor sent the nurse to the lab supervisor just to check. Usually they charge a fee for drawing blood, but I had paperwork that provided a billing address associated with the project. Finally, she got permission to draw the blood.

Vials of blood all set for mailing

Vials of blood all set for mailing

Once the blood was drawn, it was off to the FedEx Express store so I could get it in the mail quickly, before the blood started to degrade.

All packed up and ready to go.

All packed up and ready to go.

They received my samples today. I know this because I got a phone call from a researcher wanting to do my family history. I had done this for my BRCA testing, but still couldn’t remember all the details on how old my aunts and uncles are or, even worse, my great-aunts and -uncles. I vaguely remembered who had cancer in the family (not much of it), but hopefully it was detailed enough. The next step is to ask my sisters and parents to see if they’d be willing to send in blood to compare it against mine. I’ll ask them the next non-crazy visit we get and see what they say.

Clean Mammogram

Since it’s been a year since I was diagnosed with cancer, it’s also been a year since my last mammogram. Back downtown I went. I had forgotten to check the name of the practice that does the mammograms, so I was a bit lost when I got to the professional building. I knew I was at the right building, but finding the right floor was trickier. Got it in one, though.

They were quick to call me back to get my mammogram. I barely had time to fill out all the paperwork I was supposed to before they called me to change. Everything off from the waist up, of course. At least they had decent gowns – they kind of felt like a bathrobe.

My gown for the mammogram

My gown for the mammogram

Once I was escorted to the mammogram room, it took half as long as last year, since there was no reason (or ability) to do the right side.

A mammogram machine - your breast gets squished between the clear and black panels

A mammogram machine – your breast gets squished between the clear and black panels

They do two images. The first is with the machine parallel to the floor, and the second is at a 45 degree angle, and your arm has to hold the metal bar on the gray outer circle. The technician very tenderly places your breast in between the two plates, and then starts to squish. Not painfully, but quite firmly. She stays in the room the whole time, behind a little protective station.

The technician's station

The technician’s station

Once she finished taking the photos, she headed out to the radiologist to “check the quality of the image.” Dr. Chan actually came in to the room to go over the results with me. He started out his conversation with, “I don’t know if you remember me.” Of course I do! He started the whole process, so he’s seared into my memory. Luckily, the results were much better this time around. He let me know things looked fine this time. Yeah! Won’t have to do that for another year, although I have plenty of other doctor’s appointments still on the docket.

Back to the Sonogramist

Is sonogramist even a word? What do you call the technician who does the sonograms, if not sonogramist? Something to add to our list of random questions posted on the fridge I guess.

The gynecologist wanted me to go back and get another sonogram, just to see what the cyst was doing on my left ovary. Since we hadn’t looked at it in about a year, we needed some current data. I trekked on back into Erie to the fancy OB/GYN practice. It’s a bit big for me – I’m not sure I like getting a pager when I check in. They do have a lovely view, though, and get you in and out pretty quickly. At least for a sonogram.

Overall, it was a quick process. The practice is set up mainly for pregnant women to get a look at their baby, so there’s a monitor mounted on the wall that I could easily see from the table. I find it fascinating to be able to see all my body parts, and the technician was more than happy to explain what she saw and what she was doing. She found the cyst again (darn – I was hoping it would disappear) and did comment it looked a little smaller. At least it wasn’t bigger. Now I can wait until the doctor decides what to do about. I’m leaning towards a big fat “nothing”, but we’ll see what she has to say.

 

One Year Anniversary

So, Wednesday was the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, kind of. It was the one-year anniversary of my first mammogram where the radiologist told me he was 99% certain I had cancer, but he’d have to do a biopsy to determine what kind of cancer. Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind of a year. Treatment had it tough times, but it wasn’t all a bad year. We had two lovely family vacations (Montreal and Avon with Little Pink Houses of Hope) and got to see Mumford and Sons in concert, among many other lovely smaller events.

We celebrated this year with another bike trip. Last year we took two days while the kids were at camp to bike around the Niagara Peninsula (on the Thursday and Friday after my mammogram. The doctor wanted to do a biopsy on Friday, but I informed him I would be out of town. Cancer was not going to ruin my fun even at that point.) This year, we took three days and bike south of Cleveland, Ohio. StatsGuy and I love touring by bike, although 60 miles is all I can really handle without more training. It’s a good way to celebrate being cancer free. I’m sure we’ll do it again next year.

After biking 160 miles over three days.

After biking 160 miles over three days.