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With the close of 2019, and arrival of 2020, life finally started to fall into place. Lingering side effects from medications were starting to fade, allowing me to finally focus on things other than cancer. Until life had other ideas and a routine checkup left me in a battling for my life and the steps necessary for surviving stage 4 cancer.
Bye Bye Ovaries:
After completing the last of my breast cancer treatments in 2017, I was still on two medications, the Zoladex shot which was designed to keep me in a chemically induced menopause and Exemestane, an aromatase inhibitor(AI) which works to block the enzyme aromatase which converts the hormone androgen into estrogen in in the body.
Needless to say a year’s worth of side effects had taken their toll, and in June 2019 I made the decision to have my ovaries removed, known as a oophorectomy. Prior to making this decision, my husband and I had both done a lot of research, specifically related to AIs, and it was the concerns we both had over the long term side effects of these medications that caused me to make the decision to discontinue the medications after surgery was completed.
Of course my oncologist at the time was not happy with my choice, and tried to use what seemed like scare tactics to get me to change my mind. Lines like, “we hadn’t come this far to give up now”, and “that my cancer was aggressive in nature”. I had grown so tired of the severe mood swings, hot flashes, anxiety, and brain fog, just to name a few, that I wanted nothing more to do with these medications.
Everything Seemed Fine:
I started 2020 off feeling better than I had in months. The side effects had all but faded, and I found myself finally feeling normal again, cancer becoming a distant memory.
Months went by, and with it came my yearly checkup with my Naturopath. Minus some issues that I contributed to nothing more than issues with my gut, I was feeling better than I had in quite a long time. As per the norm I was sent home with a lab form for routine blood work, and her physical exam didn’t find anything that appeared to be abnormal. She did identify what seemed to be a little bit of fluid in my lungs, and ordered an xray. Other than that, there was nothing that was a cause for concern. A few days after my checkup I felt pains under my right rib where she had stuffed her hand, but didn’t think much of it.
Elevated Liver Enzymes:
Upon receipt of my blood work results, the Alkaline Phosphatase and AST, both related to the liver, were at elevated levels. I initially dismissed it as nothing more than a side effect of OTC pain medications. I had been taking Motrin in the days prior to my blood draw for pains I was experiencing in my neck and shoulder area.
About a week after my blood work results had posted, I received a call from my Naturopath in relation to the elevated liver enzymes. I remember mentioning to her that it was likely related to the OTC meds, but she was going to order additional tests, just to be on the safe side. It was better to get it checked and have it be nothing, than assume it was nothing and have it be something.
You Have Stage 4 Metastatic Cancer:
I was feeling relatively fine, so the last thing on my mind was that I would faced with surviving stage 4 cancer, until the day that I received the phone call from my Naturopath that changed my life for the second time. She had received the test results, and the news was not good. I had stage 4 metastatic cancer. I sat there feeling numb. How was this even possible? She went on to tell us that she had already talked to my new oncologist so this new diagnosis could be attacked as quickly as possible.
In order to learn more about what we were dealing with, an MRI and PET scan were ordered. Upon returning home from a day of tests I was exhausted. I had just settled onto the couch, when the phone rang. It was my oncologist, and they wanted me admitted to the hospital immediately. To say I was scared would be an understatement. I was admitted on July 28, 2020 ended up spending about a week in the hospital that was filled with countless tests and the start of chemo treatments. A biopsy of my liver, installation of a second port, multiple MRIs, spinal taps, X-Rays, CAT scans, and daily blood work left me feeling tired, and so ready to go home. It was found that cancer had spread to my liver, bones and brain, with the worst being the damage that had been done to my spine. Evidently the pains I had been feeling in my neck related not to a pinched nerve, but instead cancer that had damaged two of my vertebrae.
Since time is of the essence with surviving stage 4 cancer, the assumption was made that based on my previous cancer being HER2+, this recurrence was likely the same, as the odds are quite rare that the HER2 status would change. Needless to say I apparently had drawn the short straw, as my new cancer was no longer triple positive, instead it was ER+, PR+, HER2-. That changed my treatment protocol a bit as the initial chemo medication that my oncologist had prescribed would no longer work. The new game plan would be intrathecal, or spinal, chemo, along with Halaven for metestatic breast cancer.
During my week in the hospital I received my first dose of spinal chemo as well as my first dose of Halaven. While I finally received the all clear to go home on August 5, 2020, my battle with surviving stage 4 cancer had just begun. I was to receive weekly intrathecal chemo, along with Halaven for two weeks on and one week off. I would also be receiving monthly Zometa infusions to support bone health.
December 14, 2020 Status:
Over the past few months I have been blessed by the fact that my body has responded quite well so far to all treatments. My weekly intrathecal chemo treatments, have been cut back to once a month, and weekly blood work has shown that liver enzymes continue to decrease, which we can only hope means that the health of my liver is improving. My oncologist has also stated that my tumor markers continue to drop and she has been overall very happy with the results so far, when not even five months ago I was in a very dire situation. Earlier this morning I went through a brain MRI followed by a PET scan.
What’s To Come:
We now wait to hear the results of the latest scans which will tell us how effective treatments have been, as well we where we need to go from here. Tomorrow is another round of chemo, both the Halaven and Intrathecal chemo. I can only hope that I continue to have positive responses to all treatments allowing me to survive stage 4 cancer and move on to living the rest of my life.
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