I’m sitting here on a quiet Sunday morning. The house is mostly still asleep, except for my mom and our new kitten (be forewarned: cutest cancer card kitten ever!!!). It’s been a long week and today is the first day we could all sleep in.
We had our third oncologist appointment on Monday—a private practice doctor who uses western medicine but has an integrated eastern medicine team built into his office. Ultimately, I chose the UCSF oncologist who came recommended by so many and promised me the most aggressive treatment (if you’re a regular blog follower, you can guess her cartoon character…Mike said I probably should stop the comparisons in case she becomes a blog reader) (she regularly emails me back at 2am answering my questions, so obviously she’s already a blog reader spending all other waking hours pouring over this site).
Frankly, it was a trying decision. The hardest part was that each oncologist prescribed a different treatment plan, from relatively minimal chemo side effects to the worst. I talked to many different people who are nurses or oncologists (e.g., new contacts, friends, my dad’s doctor, etc), and everyone seemed to have a different opinion on what I needed. It got even more complicated in that UCSF offered a clinical trial, which has promising new agents for the type of cancer I have.
Some thought I didn’t need the most aggressive chemo (AC), mostly because of toxic cardiac effects and AC would possibly be overtreating me.
So why would I elect to do the toughest? AC is the most clinically proven, especially when done in sequence with other lighter chemo drugs that target Her-2 positive cancer. An oncologist friend asked me if my cancer reoccurred in 15 years, would I regret not doing the most aggressive treatment now? I would. I’d also regret having a weakened heart because of it but that will be monitored heavily and my strong heart going in will help.
Other differences between oncologists were around the facility (a university or small practice), the chemo process (a whole floor full of patients or a feng shui room with few chairs, a view of the Bay Bridge, and dogs), and celebrity status (on the speaking circuit or not). Each has its pros and cons. Mike tried not to weigh in, although he was granted permission to make fun of the UCSF breast cancer center’s acoustic guitarist who was singing “Over the Rainbow” when we arrived. Cheese factor off the charts.
I feel good about my decision. UCSF has an integrated healing center, so I will knit together my complementary healing—acupuncture, massage, guided imagery, and nutrition—to manage side effects and relaxation. That weighed in heavily for me too.
Yesterday, we celebrated being done with the fertility treatment and the daily shots, blood draws, and ultrasounds that go with it. I went in for my egg harvest, and Mike showed up and did his part. His part…well, it’s so much easier than my part. He can comment later on the wide array of porn the doctor’s office had to offer. I had a pretty bad reaction to the anesthetics and came out of twilight with the worst hangover of my life (my friend put it perfectly – the hangover where you’re so nauseous, even lifting your head to vomit makes vomiting not worth it), so I had to stay awhile longer to get pumped full of meds and fluids through my IV.
They were able to harvest thirty-seven eggs. And yes, I do feel thirty-seven eggs lighter today. Ovaries are only supposed to have one mature egg at a time, and mine had eighteen and nineteen respectively so they are a little confused right now. We’ll know in the next few days how many were fertilized and then frozen to use when we can, or another couple can if we don’t use all of them.
Up this week is getting my PET/CT scan to be sure the cancer hasn’t moved elsewhere beyond my breast and a lymph node, an echogram to get baseline heart function before chemo, and a port to make all my treatments way easier. I could also start chemo. Having my parents here has been great for many reasons, but most obvious is the benefits of a parent’s touch. Making soup from my new cancer-free cookbook, cleaning our bathroom that maybe hasn’t seen a scrub brush since we moved in April, feeding the kitten, and hanging art so Mike and I don’t divorce have to.
As we continue to tell this story as it unfolds, I’ve been simultaneously warmed, saddened, and inspired as you all have opened your lives, health, and hearts to us…sharing your own struggles. I’ve said this to a few of you—your challenge is your challenge. It’s not greater or lesser than mine. We all have our own cross to bear.
My 8-year old niece said to my mom, “I see signs everywhere, like at the mall or stores, that say “Stop Cancer.” So, like, what do we do to stop cancer? What can I do?” She went right to the heart of it all for so many people. My mom explained that it seems like cancer only chooses people who seem to be able to handle it. As unsatisfactory as this might be, there may be some truth to that. I remember thoughts a few years ago around what would I do if I had cancer. I thought that I would want to curl up and give up. Now that I’m in this situation, I realize it’s sink or swim. That it’s actually not a choice if you have one iota of human spirit and love of life. You just do it and know it’s going to be completely shitty many days. Focusing the mind and body on one day at a time has a much deeper meaning for me now.
So here we go.