Friday, March 25, 2016

Stage 4 - A New Life Begins

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I wrote each and every little thing that happened to me from diagnosis to when I thought I was cured. It was a way for me to release inner fears, but it was also meant to help others. I was always candid, and as you may know, always silly. This go ‘round is different for a reason. But first, let me catch you up.

In October, I went for my yearly scan - the magical 5th year. Supposedly, if you get to year 5, you’re in the clear. I took my daughter with me and we went to lunch and shopping afterwards; kind of a celebratory day. Until dinnertime.

The phone rang and it was my oncologist, Dr. Nakajima. He informed me that they had found something in the scan. There’s a spot on my spine, a little bit on my liver, and an enlarged lymph node. He said he was pretty sure my cancer had come back. As I spoke to him, all 3 of my children and my husband, Matt, came into the room. The look of horror on their faces as they heard my side of the conversation and figured out that cancer had come back was heart breaking. Dr. Nakajima said his nurse would call in the morning to line up all the necessary scans.

I hung up the phone and looked into the stunned eyes of my family. And then we cried. After several minutes, I kicked into mommy mode. I told them the truth, that it was very, very early in the cancer, as far as Nakajima could tell. And he’d said that it was very treatable, and I said that over and over and over again.

I couldn’t stand myself. I was the one who let cancer invade their lives again. I know I didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it, and was definitely frightened of it, but if not for me, our lives would be our family’s version of normal. It’s a bitter realization, and yes, I know it’s not my fault, but I’m still responsible. When you’re a mom, bringing any kind of sorrow into your children’s lives is tantamount to opening the door and inviting Satan in.

The funny thing is, Matt and I had just returned from a long, celebratory weekend to Ocean City. We hadn’t been there for a while (cancer kinda gets in the way), and there’s an old historic hotel, The Flanders, that I had wanted to go to for the past 25 years. We went there to put a period on the last 5 years and to begin another chapter in our lives - one that didn’t have cancer as part of it. I even made a slide video; you can see it here. It was wonderful, and I’m glad we went, but the irony isn’t lost on either of us.

I had a few scans, including a PET scan. I’m going to go off topic for second, though, because I think it’s important for you to know what to expect when you’re told you need a PET scan. I was told that it would take a few hours, so the night before, I charged up my Kindle and off I went in the morning. And here’s what they DIDN’T tell me. I couldn’t read my book, a magazine, a phone book, nothing. I was injected with some kind of dye, and told I had to lay still for 90 minutes (yup, an hour and a half). No reading, since even that small eye movement would light up like a Christmas tree. Folks, I’m a fidget and being still for 5 minutes is difficult. Being in a dark room, lying on an uncomfortable gurney, listening to their “soothing” music (if new age is your thing, then, yes, I guess it was soothing. It just irritated me and made the time slow to a crawl), I lay there. New age music has its place - just not in MY musical repertoire.

In what seemed like years, rather than an hour and a half, the nurse came in and I was brought into a room with a machine that rather looked like an MRI machine. The rest of the test took maybe 15 minutes, and I was finally done. Why am I telling you this? Because if being still for an hour and a half, while enduring crappy music is your thing, then a PET scan is going to be a piece of cake. My advice? Bring some music you actually like with you. It’ll make the time pass quicker - I think. I hope.

But as usual, I have digressed. Back to the story.

It was finally confirmed - I was now living the Stage 4 lifestyle. New medicines, more drugs, more pain, and a life that was now going to be full of scans and blood tests. For the rest of the time I have left on this earth.

But, on the bright side, there was a new medicine called “Ibrance” that just came on the market. It’s being touted as a new wonder drug, and can extend the length of my life. At Fox Chase, where Matt and I went for a second opinion, Dr. Carlson confirmed Dr. Nakajima’s opinion that due to new therapies, coupled with how early the cancer was caught and that it’s a slow growing cancer, my outlook is pretty good. And that’s what brings me to why I haven’t been too vocal about it for all these months.

I have several friends that I’ve met on my journey, ones that are really, really sick. I’m going to lose a few within the next year; one I said goodbye to last year. I don’t feel right announcing this on my FB page or any other social media right now. These women won’t have the necessary criteria to use the new medicine. I wish I never had to make this announcement, pray that I won’t lose any more friends, and hope that no other woman or man has to deal with breast cancer or any other form of cancer. But sadly, none of those dreams will be realized anytime soon.

Cancer is insidious and is an equal opportunity destroyer. It changes you, it frightens you, and you experience thoughts and feelings that you probably would never ponder until it breaks down the door of your life and and invades like a Storm Trooper. There is no Obi Wan Kanobi, no magic pill, no cure. It is now going to be part of the rest of my life and the lives of my beloved Matt and our children.

On the bright side, with the support of family and friends, there will be many happy days to come. Life continues with all its milestones, including the fact that on May 14th, our daughter, Elyse, will marry HER Knight in Shining Armour, Rob. We have a bridal shower to plan, a service to attend, a reception to hold and a new son to welcome. Life continues and it’s still wonderful, full of love, happiness, and many more joyful memories.

I’ve decided to look at this new part of my life with hope and the same humour coupled with the goofy escapades that have always been a part of who I am. I will fight and I’m sure I’ll stumble. But that’s OK, because that’s part of life.

I’ve chosen to embrace hope. The human spirit, our belief in God, and our love of family and friends are things that cancer can’t take away from us.  

And that is what will make us triumph over cancer.

(If you’d like to get in touch with me, feel free to “like” either one or both of my Facebook pages, “The Brunette Lucy” or “The Brunette Lucy vs. Breast Cancer”)

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