Monday, September 30, 2013

Chemotherapy #2

     Today was Beth's second chemo treatment and Alison went along with her for this one. The nurse was able to infuse the drugs a bit more quickly as she was able to tolerate them fine the last time, but it still took about 5 hours. Apparently it should be even faster next time. So everything went smoothly today and Beth is not feeling any side effects except a headache.
     On Friday we had an appointment with the oncologist and although it was a brief visit we were very encouraged when she examined the breast tumour. Dr. Bahl said she could feel that the lump had definitely changed - that it seemed to be breaking up. So that was great to hear after only one treatment.
     This past week seemed to focus quite a bit on hair. Beth has gathered up a lot of head coverings from friends, the hospital and from a resource support centre called Hope Springs. She even was able to get a pretty nice wig for no charge. Of course, my favourites are the ones we picked out together at Ardene's - I think they even make her look young and hip! It was pretty timely that she explored this because she woke up Friday morning and realized she was shedding hair quite a bit. There was a lot of hair in the tub after she washed it, so that night she had Alison use the clippers to take it down to about half an inch. As of today Beth still has some slight hair covering but she's been wearing a variety of hats the last few days. And we've realized that although it takes some getting used to, this is a small price to pay for the powerful healing effects of these treatments.
     Beth's iron and calcium levels continue to be a concern. She has been taking progressively more iron supplements for the last 3 weeks but her level was still quite low on Friday. Hers was 87 - a normal level is 120, and doctors will usually transfuse a patient if it goes down to 80. Her current plan is to eat a lot more iron-rich foods (Cream of Wheat every morning here we come!). Tomorrow Beth is going in for a bone-density test and a parathyroid scan which will be used to investigate for causes of her higher than normal calcium level.
     Looking back over the last week we're thankful that Beth has been able to function pretty normally. It was nice to have Joel home on Wednesday and he cooked us a great steak dinner - we had the whole family here, including grandma & grandpa. We also had some good visits with a number of friends this week and have so appreciated the many cards and expressions of support we've received. Beth was especially touched by the beautiful plant and touching card that was sent by her co-workers at St. Mary's Hospital 5th Floor.
(P.S. Do you know that if you click on the pictures you can see a larger version?)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Week 2 after Chemo 1

     So last Monday Beth called the Grand River Cancer Centre to talk to her oncology nurse about her mouth being so sore. In fact she was feeling bad enough that she started crying as she was on the phone and the nurse was very helpful as she ordered something for her called Magic Mouthwash. I picked it up after I got home from school, she tried it right away and could already feel it working within a couple of hours. Beth used it 5 times in all over the next two days and it brought some real relief and healing (though it took a couple more days for her mouth to get back to total normal).
     On Tuesday we got everybody together to get some family pictures taken. We did it in Mom & Dad's backyard and our friend Daryl was our photographer. It will take some time for him to get them ready for viewing but we know they'll look great. Then on Wednesday Beth went to get her hair cut shorter. It took some getting used to (Joel said she looked like Justin Bieber) but the consensus is that it's pretty cute.
     Thursday morning was a minor operation to have a port-a-cath inserted, a temporary/permanent IV site in her jugular vein, which will be used for drawing blood and infusing the chemotherapy (instead of using an intravenous line in her arm). She was given a relaxant along with local anesthetic and everything went smoothly. There are 2 dressings from the incisions - on the left side, just below her neck and just above her breast. Thursday afternoon we had supper coming from our friends the Wiseman's so had invited the kids to join us, and then my cousin Jim and his wife Carol also showed up with food! We've felt very blessed by the practical expressions of support we've received. Beth also had an appointment in the afternoon with a specialist because her calcium levels are high and it was great to have our friend Ellen drive and act as a second set of ears.
     Friday morning Beth really enjoyed being able to visit with her long-time friend Marg (they were in the same nursing class 36 years ago). On both Thursday and Friday evenings we went out to our church small groups and it was nice getting back together with these good folks, as we've shared life together the past 2 years.
     On the weekend we took off for a getaway to Niagara Falls. Beth had read Pierre Berton's book "Niagara" this summer and had been wanting to visit again. She was feeling good so we felt it would be the right time to do it. We got a fantastic room at the Marriot with an amazing view of the Falls. It rained most of Saturday but our room was cozy and we also went out shopping (don't tell anyone but we ended up buying 4 pairs of shoes!). We enjoyed a nice lunch at TGIFridays and a great supper at Milestones, both within walking distance. Sunday morning was a good breakfast buffet (included with the package) and then some paperwork - marking for me, genetic history forms for Beth in preparation for a genetic counselling appointment. Then we headed down to the Falls at Table Rock via a walkway from the hotel that goes right over to the incline rail car. We bought some fudge and a photo of the Falls, then walked up to Clifton Hill. Berton talks about the "Carnival" on the Canadian side of Niagara and it sure is obvious in that section of town. We had a long walk back to the car but the sun was out and we needed the exercise. All in all it was a wonderful weekend and Beth is looking forward to being a bit more active this week as she feels quite good. The community nurse will be by on Monday to change her port-a-cath dressings.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

7 Days In

     So there have been lots of things we are thankful for this past week but to be honest today seemed a bit harder. We're so glad for anti-nausea drugs as that has not been an issue at all. Beth was bothered by headaches for a couple of days (Tues., Wed.) but these could be managed with Tylenol. We certainly appreciated getting 3 delicious meals delivered to us this week from friends at church, especially as Beth has felt a real lack of energy. While that feeling wasn't too strong the first few days, it did hit pretty hard starting Thursday evening. And on Friday she was feeling quite weak, to the point where she said she felt that if she had tried to take a walk outside she'd be afraid of the wind blowing her over.
     However we had a very nice family time Thursday for supper with everyone here except Joel (who's living in London but will be home for a visit this Tuesday). Our beautiful granddaughter Lindsay did a great job entertaining us as she bonded more with our yellow lab, Josie, and started doing some commando-style creeping around the rug trying to get the iphone I laid just out of her reach. A special aspect was that Beth had laid out a quilt for her to be on that was made by her mom and grandmother.
     We laid low during Saturday, with Beth resting a few times, but then she felt she had enough energy to go to our church corn roast near St. Clements. We had a wonderful time visiting with lots of good folks and were grateful for the sunshine keeping Beth warm. She did get tired after awhile so did retreat to the car for a bit as well.
     So today, Sunday, we headed up to Beth's hometown of Zurich to celebrate (open house/drop in) the 80th birthday of one of her cousins. Both of her sisters, Sharon and Elaine, along with her brother Gary were there too so it made for a nice mini-family-reunion. But Beth is really beginning to be bothered by her mouth. Part of her history is that she was treated for Hodgkin's disease 30 years ago and they used radiation on her neck and mouth/nasal area. Consequently she has had to adjust to having very little saliva in her mouth for a long time now, which has made her more sensitive to spicy foods and has also resulted in a lot more dental work. It seems though that the chemotherapy drugs are affecting this even more, which would make sense, as they target the fastest growing cells in our body. Beth is finding that her lips are very dry and cracking, and her mouth is even more sensitive. She is concerned about getting sores in her mouth which then would be a risk of infection. As well, I think we're both a bit worried about how bad this will get - will it start getting better or will the chemotherapy continue to exacerbate the situation? Beth will try to contact the doctor tomorrow to find out more and perhaps get a cream for her lips that can aid in the healing process instead of just protecting them (though she is glad for Burt's Bees lip balm;) Just tonight she also began wondering if she's getting a cold, which wouldn't be a good thing. From information we've gathered from different sources we are quite hopeful that week 2 and 3 after the chemo will have Beth feeling better and better (just in time for the next round, of course).
     We so appreciate your interest and support and prayers during this time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chemotherapy #1

     Yesterday was a long day but overall, and amazingly, we felt pretty positive throughout. We arrived at the Grand River Cancer Centre around 9:00, then didn't leave until 5:00 in the afternoon, and it was never stressful, but actually almost relaxing!
    We began the day by meeting with a pharmacist named Terry (so we knew he'd be a good guy;)) for about 45 minutes. He was very encouraging and also was a wealth of knowledge. It was very interesting to hear about his close connection with Beth's first cancer doctor, Dr. Brian Dingle, when she was treated for Hodgkin's disease back in 1983 (exactly 30 years ago this month). They kept wanting to share stories about Dr. Dingle and it was indeed great to reminisce. We're thankful for the advances in anti-nausea medicines over these 3 decades as Beth's chemo experience back then was pretty traumatic.
     Next we went into the chemotherapy treatment area and met our nurse for the day. It was neat that her name was Lindsay (our beloved granddaughter's name) and she was wonderful - explaining what to expect, taking as much time as we needed and patiently answering all of our questions. The facility is really beautiful and it was very nice to have large windows pouring light into the room. Lindsay started the intravenous line and started a 'top-up' of one of the anti-nausea drugs Beth had misread the dosage on (she took pills both Sunday and Monday for this but didn't realize she was supposed to take 2 of the pills on Sunday). 
      Beth was able to keep on her street clothes and opted to lay on a stretcher, though large comfy chairs are also available. With this being the first chemo it would be a longer day as they give each of the 3 drugs slowly in order to watch carefully for any reactions. The first drug was Herceptin and it took 1.5 hours to administer. I snuck home at lunch and then went to the store, as Beth had wanted to get a smaller Bible to use for reading and highlighting passages on hope and encouragement. I wasn't exactly sure what to get her until I noticed a pink one that was sponsored by the Breast Cancer Foundation - perfect! When I gave it to her it was the only time in the day when there were tears, as she said, "I still can't believe that this has happened to me!"
     After the Herceptin they wait an hour or so before giving anything else. Beth was also given some Benadryl, which is routine, to prevent allergic reaction with the next drugs. So the last 2 drugs, Carboplatin and Docetaxel, didn't get started until mid-afternoon but they didn't take near as long to administer. Beth couldn't believe that the 350 ml of solution for the Docetaxel would be given in just half an hour as they would never do something like that on her floor. But apparently the drug needs to be administered quickly because of it's instability chemically (yeah, this probably all getting too technical).
     The main thing here is that we've been so thrilled that Beth didn't feel any real side effects during the treatment and even continuing on until tonight (Tuesday evening). She said she had very fleeting and minor feelings of nausea twice today and has taken some Tylenol for a headache a couple of times but otherwise is feeling pretty normal.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cancer Shock

September 9, 2013
The past 11 days have been something of a whirlwind and so first off I want to apologize that this information hasn’t gone out sooner. As usual I’ll also apologize for the mass email but we’re feeling a bit overwhelmed (but thankful) with the number of people we need to be in contact with about our present situation.
The short version is that Beth has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She noticed a lump in her right breast in August and quickly went to see our family doctor. He sent her for an ultrasound but the doctor there felt he should do biopsies (of the breast and a lymph node under her arm) because things looked suspicious. Amazingly the results were in just 3 days later and when we met with our family doctor he acted quickly to get Beth set up. In fact, that very afternoon (Thurs. August 29th) we met for over an hour with a nurse ‘navigator’ at the Grand River Cancer Care Centre. She works exclusively with breast cancer patients to help coordinate getting their treatment started and she had already booked appointments for the following week for tests and a meeting with the cancer doctor, Dr. Bahl.
We met with Dr. Bahl a week later, but it took her an extra day to decide on the best treatment because of Beth’s previous cancer treatments, especially one of the drugs she received 30 years ago during chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease. At this time the planned treatment is 6 doses of chemotherapy (actually 3 drugs each time) every three weeks, then surgery to remove the breast and affected lymph node, and finally radiation. So this will be a long haul overall, but we’re not sure of the exact end date at this time.
However Beth has started her first round of chemotherapy today, Monday September 9th. If we keep to the schedule then her last chemo would be Dec. 23 (Merry Christmas!). They would wait at least a month, we believe, until surgery and there would probably be 4-6 weeks wait before radiation. Anyway it looks like things won’t be finished until next spring sometime and even then it seems like one of the drugs will be kept up for some time after that (fortunately that particular drug has very limited side effects).
It’s important to know that the doctor assured us that “we’re dealing with a curable situation here” - those words of course helped us immensely. While this cancer is fast growing and has spread to one lymph node, the tests showed that it has not gone beyond that, and they are confident in the effectiveness of this treatment.
We appreciate your thoughts and prayers. We believe in the power of prayer, and have already sensed God’s ‘peace that passes understanding’ in the midst of this process. 
        A good friend gave Beth this acronym when she was battling Hodgkin's disease (and it continues to apply):
B eat 
E verything 
T hrough 
H ope
          Ps. 33:22 "May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You."

Thanks so much. Love,
Beth and Terry