March 6, 2019. Dr. Rugo and I went over my MRI results at yesterday’s appointment. My tumors continue to shrink. My last MRI was on November 30, before I’d started chemo therapy. Back then I was determined to not have 12 weeks or even one week of these nasty and toxic treatments. I still have vivid memories of the effects of chemo from 19 years ago, and none of them happy. Did those 5 “lite” chemo cocktails (I was supposed to have 9) along with 33 rounds of radiation give me 19 years of life that might otherwise have been much shorter? I tend to believe so. I’ve known others who had a diagnosis similar to mine and opted to only have radiation and declined chemo, and 5 years later they were gone. But still, to go through chemo poisoning again was not on my radar no matter what. I believed, in the end, the treatments would kill me before the cancer did, given my experience in 1999.
My tumors have shrunk by about 50%. My February 26 MRI compared to November shows very encouraging results. After 6 treatments, they are half the size they were pre-treatment. The largest tumor, which could easily be seen bulging through my skin, can only be visually detected by finding its location with your fingers and then you can see the outline come into view. Sort of like a Bev Doolittle painting. The tumors have softened, they are flatter, they are dying. We are ecstatically uplifted. As Dr. Rugo would say, “We are very pleased with the results.”
Surgery. Given my exceptional progress, we (Dr. Rugo and I) now have our sights set on getting a surgery date set with Dr. Ewing. This first requires a consultation and assessment with Dr. Ewing and her team. As Steve and I sat down to wait for my infusion, my cell phone rang. It was one of Dr. Ewing’s team members calling to set my assessment date. This will be a 4 or 5 hour appointment. I’m told to bring snacks and electronics as they will have me take a series of tests and examinations, and there will be a good amount of time sitting and waiting for results. We settle on Friday, March 22 at 1030a. I block out 5 hours of time on my calendar. This feels like solid forward progress. By then I will have had 10 treatments. I’m happy.
Infusion time. My bloodwork and vitals were really good yesterday, so my #8 infusion went ahead as scheduled. Lovely Lisa was my chemo nurse. She is the best. Big smile, wraps her arm around me and we walk arm-in-arm into the infusion room. There is a definite bond between the two of us, and it brightens my day even more. She has one of the new chemo nurses shadowing her…Denise who recently relocated to San Francisco from New Orleans. She was sweet, as they all are. And we had visits from Nurse Caroline, and Rugo’s bubbly scheduler Em. Wonderful, lively conversations. So different from just a week ago, and so appreciated and needed. Since I was 2 hours late getting started (think Rugo visit), my infusion doesn’t start until 330p. I finish at about 6p. We get home about 9p. I will get another shot at the Ukiah Infusion Center again this week since the meds have not yet arrived in the mail. I don’t know the day and time yet, but likely it will once again be on Thursday morning.
Side effects. The cumulative side effects of the chemo are catching up with me. The most dominant being fatigue. Last week, each time I came to do a blog post I couldn’t even bring myself to sit down at the computer. My brain felt soft and uninspired and tired. So I would turn and walk away. This morning when I woke up at 4:30, my head felt clear and I started thinking about the shrinkage and that I only have 4 more treatments to go. Four! It was then, that my blog started calling out to me. I knew I had to get this down while I felt good. I wanted to share the news. Somehow writing it all down makes it all the more real.
One more thing. Gaining weight before surgery, hell before my March 22 assessment, is critical. If I am too thin (I weighed in at 89 lbs yesterday), Dr. Ewing might postpone the surgery until I pack on some pounds. So, I am determined to gain at least 3 or 4 lbs over the next two weeks. That means I need to reassess my current diet. I’m still 100% committed to a sugar-free diet, and I am fully supported by Dr. Rugo on that decision. So I plan to spend some time reading through the Eat to Beat Cancer site and their recipes and try to add more calories to all my meals and the snacking in-between. Did you know that a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains 180 calories? The new protein powder I’m putting in my smoothies adds an additional 200 calories. The vegan protein bars I eat (choke down) are 200 calories. Hell, I’ve never counted calories in my life, but I am now. I have to. I have a few recipe books for healthy eating during cancer, one that Steve just gave me is called I Quit Sugar and has 108 sugar-free recipes. I am seeking out the highest calorie recipes. I’d like to add at least one or two new (and hopefully tasty) meals to my diet every week. And grazing, there will be a lot of grazing.
I feel like I’m in the home stretch. It is a great feeling. Truth is, I couldn’t have done it without Steve at my side. He bears witness to my many ups and downs, my bad days and good days. He does all the driving and grocery shopping. He prepares meals and makes the bed. He reminds me to eat and drink water and keeps a pot of hot water on the wood stove for tea. He gives me big, healing hugs and holds my hand as we watch TV. Sometimes we look at each other and just have a good cry. I know he’s scared. We both are. But the two of us together (over 39 years) are a formidable team. I love him unconditionally, and I know he feels the same. I thank the universe for Steve. I thank Steve for deciding I was the one, because I knew he was the one almost instantly.
Our union is like this: You feel cold, so I reach for a blanket to cover our shivery feet…You ache with loneliness one night so much you weep, and I say here is a rope, tie it around me, I will be your companion for life. — Hafez