Status Update: Big Decisions Coming Our Way

5 12 2011
Theo and me, sending off the lantern in memory of my Mom and Dad, the grandparents he never knew. Photo by Don Neilson.

Well, today’s the day. After two weeks of white blood cell counts and platelets that were far too low for me to be able to receive chemotherapy treatment, Don and my sister Lisa and I are headed to the hospital to have a pow-wow with my oncology team. The core issue is my inability to recover from my chemotherapy infusions. And, as my counts remain low, the continuous postponement of my therapy means, bottom line, that the doctors aren’t able to get any treatment, AKA MEDICINE, into my body. Obviously, that’s not a good answer. But there does look to be a great answer in an alternate chemotherapy choice – Xeloda.

I spoke with one of the Clinical Trials nurses this morning and she told me that yes, the plan today is to take me off of the Carboplatin/PARP Inhibitor trial and move me to an oral chemotherapy drug called Xeloda. There would be so many benefits to this move. I would no longer need to go into the hospital three times a week for bloodwork and infusions, schedule chemo drivers and spend hours of my life either in the infusion center or home, trying to recover. If it works — and we so pray it does — it could not only send me into remission, but keep me there. The worst side-effect seems to be a painful reddening of your hands and feet, with possible blistering. But should that happen to me (and I pray it doesn’t, because it would make me crazy not to be able to type for several days!), a dose reduction should solve the problem.
The nurse told me this morning that conversations over the past week between members of my oncology team are pointing to taking me off of the trial and moving me onto Xeloda. She also told me that she has many, many patients — and yes, they are Stage 4 — who have done very well on this drug for years. There are lots of benefits and few side-effects, and all seem to be manageable.
My schedule would be to take Xeloda pills for two weeks, then off a week, repeat. But instead of having to be at the hospital three days a week, my new schedule would mean I’d only need to check in with my oncologist once every three weeks. Xeloda is not hard on the body’s bone marrow and would not ravage my body  like Gemzar and Carboplatin have. It should mean the end of the painful Neupogen shots, blood tranfusions, and hospitalizations.
Perhaps I will be able to turn my handicapped placard back in to the State of Michigan and have less need for wearing protective masks in public. And I can return to a more “normal” life routine, with treatment of my Stage 4 breast cancer as the chronic disease so many medical professionals are now saying that it is. Something I can manage and live with — with a better quality of life, to boot! Wouldn’t that be awesome!
There are other issues that we’ll need to address today, too. I have been experiencing some pretty serious pain for several weeks now, controlled only by continuous doses of Motrin and at night, Vicodin. My shoulders, back, and tailbone hurt continuously and sometimes it’s difficult for me to walk. Then, last week, a new, very strange symptom popped up — my chin is numb. Still is. I pored over the Neopogen pamphlet I got from the pharmacy and did not see it listed as a side-effect. In the couple of moments when I had a break from sanity, I worried that I was having a stroke, induced by my low platelet counts. I don’t know what we’ll need to do to find the answers to this pain. Perhaps additional tests. Whatever it is that needs to be done, it will be a relief to figure out what the pain is so I can stop worrying about it. I’m sure the worry only exacerberates the problem.
When my bff Kristi Rugh Kahl originally began planning Saturday’s Sky Lights of Love Benefit, her hope for me was that we would be celebrating remission that night.  While that part of her dream hasn’t come true yet, I can’t help but think that heaven not only heard all the hopes, wishes and prayers Saturday night, but also saw the golden lights that they were riding on. When remission comes, we will hold another Sky Lights of Love Event — not as a benefit, but as a celebration.
I’ll keep you posted on what happens today. In the meantime, prayers are always, always welcome.
Click on these links to view the three YouTube videos from Saturday night’s benefit that we have uploaded so far (more to come!):
My speech:  http://youtu.be/SlvobyaDrgs
Lantern Send-off:  http://youtu.be/RUBOFVX4t3Q
My birthday lantern: http://youtu.be/rQ1J8EER7j0
Also, please see my facebook fan page for photos — with more of those on the way, too! Click on: http://www.facebook.com/ItsInTheGenes.org
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson
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Dark Clouds, Yes — But Don’t Overlook the Silver Lining

16 08 2011

Photo courtesy of: jittajack.blogspot.com

This is Week 2, Round 8 of chemo. That means I’ve now sat through 30 infusion days — and 120 total infusions — since chemo began Feb. 1, 2011.

Ugh. Yuck. Blech. Ewww. That’s how I feel after today’s chemo. I often have trouble with word retrieval in the hours following my infusions. My Chemo Buds notice this on Tuesdays — my hard chemo days — as the second infusion, Gemzar, makes me go pale and honestly, a little loopy. I sometimes slur my words and feel like a drunk who never had the pleasure of the cocktail — the chemo cocktail, yes, but not the Whiskey Sour that’s my standard order.

It feels like a bout of the flu coming on — headache, body aches, nausea. But I slept for a couple of hours this afternoon after I got home and it recharged me enough that I could eat a few slices of bread and a couple of peaches along with the antioxidant green tea that is super good for me and that I am drinking by the gallon daily. This little hiatis won’t last long — I need to hit the sack shortly. But first, some silver linings to share with you. A few of my favorites:

1. Support of Friends and Family. I keep waiting for chemo to be fun (I’m the eternal optimist), but so far, it’s disappointed me. I CAN say that it is really reassuring and supportive to have the many loving family and friends in my life who show up on time, drive me to chemo, sit there beside me, drive me home and tuck me into bed. Today, my Chemo Buddy was my bff Elaine Schultz. I enjoy the conversations with each of you and treasure you and your friendship. Not only that, studies PROVE that cancer survivors who are surrounded by a loving network of their peeps have much higher rates of long-term survival. Thank you.

2. Positive Test Results. My tumors have remained stable and/or shrunk every time since February that I’ve had a CT Scan. The latest one taken in the hospital mid-July showed the same results. That’s a LOT to be happy about!

If that isn’t enough, the way I FEEL is! The coughing linked to the tumors in my lungs stopped two months after chemo began; three months later, Don noticed that my stamina had dramatically improved, and honestly, I am feeling terrific. People have been noticing — people who haven’t seen me in two or three months. They’re surprised.

“You look really good,” they say.

I shrug it off and say, “Maybe it’s the tan?”

I mean, that seems like a reasonable explanation.

Nope. They’ve already taken that into account and they are sure I look better, healthier than just two or three months ago. Waaahhoooo!!!!!!!!

3. Amazing Blood Counts! This is a biggie. For the first time in many, many months, my blood counts were SO good today that I don’t have to do those awful, painful Neupogen (white blood cell booster shots) this round! They are worse than chemo, as I’ve said many a time. Very painful side effects in my bones (think rib bones that THROB) that last for 24 hours per shot, and the regimen calls for five days of shots. So, hooray for a small victory that is actually quite BIG!

My doctor attributed it partially to my changeover to a more healthy diet. It’s a slow but sure process, but I’ve already whacked most of the refined white sugar from my diet — replacing it with natural Blue Agave (available at most health food stores and quite good) that does not cause blood insulin levels to spike. I’ve got to keep my glycemic index in check. (For more on the glycemic index and cancer fighting foods, etc., see David Schreiber’s book, Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life. I can’t recommend it highly enough.)

I’m also eating tons of fresh peaches now in season from our local orchard, raw veggies, whole grains, tomatoes and fresh green beans (raw) from my garden, and EEEK! I ate a mushroom yesterday. For those of you who know me, I’ve had a lifelong hate-relationship with mushrooms. They are one of the only foods I cannot stand to eat.

But.

But they are extremely beneficial cancer fighters — lots and lots of great, healthy properties. So, I’m gonna find a way to get them down. Eww. Ick. My close friend and Theo’s godfather Ken Bagnall tried to lessen the pain of my palate yesterday by covering a raw mushroom in spinach dip.

Still yuck. I nearly hurled. I compare it as being on equal footing with the one time I ate a huge, garlic and butter sauted escargot. That was 20 years ago and I swear, I need to bring it up in a counseling session sometime.

4. Back on Track. It is a victory in and of itself that I was finally able to get through a full round — four sessions — of chemo after all these weeks. I’d been off since the end of June due to low blood counts and the infection that hospitalized me. I am so grateful that I am back on my regimen. That really is a silver lining!

5. The End of Chemo is Near. Nope. I’m not holding out on you. I still don’t know when the end of chemo will come. No one but God knows that. But I do know that getting back on schedule means that I’mmmm bacccckkkk and heading in the right direction, AKA The Finish Line.

Let’s get this chemo thing over and done with ASAP so I can return to my regularly-scheduled life, shall we?

Copyright 2011 Amy Rauch Neilson





I Shot Myself in the Stomach…

29 04 2011
Neupogen shot. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

today at lunch. Right after making myself an egg salad sandwich.

But it wasn’t the first time. Not for the shot or the egg salad sandwich, for that matter.

While it’s true that my chemo regimen was delayed a week, I still didn’t get off scott-free. I had to take a series of three Neupogen shots. The nurse gave me the first one at the hospital Wednesday, at Noon. Then she sent me home with two more.

Usually, Don gives me the injections. But because they need to be timed at precisely 24 hours apart, this round, that took me to Noon on Thursday and Noon again on Friday, when Don’s at work.

Could I find someone to give it to me? Sure. But that’s a lot of work and unnecessary, really, when I can do it myself. Get it over with. Get back to my sandwich.

I was just talking to a Stage 3 breast cancer survivor last night who mentioned that when she read that I’d still be taking Neupogen shots this week, she felt for me. She’s been there, done that, and she knows how painful the side-effects of these shots are.

Not the tiny prick of the needle. That’s no biggie. But the after-effects. Neupogen has a job to do — working in the bone marrow to generate more white blood cells and help to boost the recipient’s counts. That job is accompanied by aches and sometimes sharp bone pain.

The first time I had such a shot was in the summer of 2006, when I was undergoing treatment for Stage 1 breast cancer. I recall my shock at how much the stimulation of the bone marrow hurt. I remember calling my sister, Julie, and describing to her that for the first time in my life, I was aware of every single, individual bone in my skull. Who knew there were so many?

Typically, the side-effects wear off 24 hours or so after the last shot. So, by Noon tomorrow, I bet I’ll be feeling like a million bucks. Let’s hope so. And let’s hope the Neupogen does its job so that next week, my body will be ready for chemo, Round 5.

It’s not fun, but I’ve learned to stay on top of the pain by getting some Motrin into my system beforehand. Distraction is also a beautiful thing. Tonight, I’ll be making a special dessert for my close friend Diane, who is graduating from the University of Michigan tomorrow with a master’s degree from the School of Education. I’m so darned proud of her. I can’t wait to see her cross the stage at Hill Auditorium.

And just wait til she sees the little blue and gold frosted cupcakes adorned with tiny, edible mortarboards and tassles afterwards.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson





Oh, Great Crappy Day!

14 04 2011

Today, I felt physically horrible. Yet, great things happened.

Physically horrible because not only are my white blood cell counts down — which meant Don has had to give me shots of Neupogen the past two nights, the injection that helps my white counts to recover, but makes every bone and muscle in my body ache in the process.

This Chemo Round, there’s also the added complication of a low Hemoglobin count. Tuesday’s chemo was a game-time decision; the doctors considered my counts before finally deciding to go ahead with my infusions. I was given an extra infusion of a drug called Procrit on Tuesday along with my standard chemotherapy drugs, in the hopes that my counts will recover and I will not need a transfusion.

But speaking of great things, I was humbled and deeply touched by the number of people who stepped forward yesterday and today to offer to roll up their sleeves and donate their blood for me, in case I do need a transfusion. Don’t ever bother to tell me there aren’t a lot of wonderful, giving people in the world, because I won’t believe you. Not for a second. I’ve seen way too much to the contrary to ever believe anything else.

And on to more great things — today, I heard from television, print, and radio media regarding upcoming interviews to help get the word out there about my story, the unlikelihood of this diagnosis after all of the preventative measures I took and the aggressive treatments I underwent, and the hope that this information will help to save lives, many lives through better methods of self-examination post-mastectomy as well as monitoring.

I have dreamed of starting a foundation for more than two decades. I wasn’t sure exactly what shape it would take, but I’ve always wanted to find a way to help people on a large scale. I think the pieces of the puzzle of just how that will happen in my life are beginning to fit together.

I had the good fortune to end up spending more than two decades as a financial writer/editor, which means I have acquired a good understanding of investment vehicles and how they work. My plan is to use this background down the road to manage the financial end of my foundation to help all donations and revenues to grow and thrive so that the funds can help as many people as possible.

I see the foundation as growing out of http://www.itsinthegenes.org in a multi-faceted way. I have big plans, many of which I am already moving from the planning stages into the actual implementation of the ideas.

It’s all, always, in God’s time. And He, no matter how confusing or difficult the circumstances in which you find yourself, is always right.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson








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