...And what it is, is an aggressive form of breast cancer--a "triple negative," in fact. There are three forms of hormones, as I understand it, to which it might be receptive or sensitive. Any one of them could be used for treatment (Clarification: the hormones "feed" the cancer/tumour--assuming there are any cancer cells left or, possibly, unidentified tumours elsewhere--so by eliminating those hormones from the patient's body, the tumour/cancer is "starved" and dies). Unfortunately, mine isn't sensitive to any of the three (and so eliminating them or stopping my body's production of them, will not affect the cancer). Therefore, it will be treated aggressively.
I'll be getting a total of six cycles of chemo, each of three weeks. During week 1, I'll get the chemo. Then I have week 2 and 3 off, then the next cycle starts with week 1 and chemo again. That repeats for six cycles. I'll be getting two kinds of chemo, one is a "cocktail" that goes by FEC for short--I get that the first three cycles--and then docetaxol for the second three cycles. Once that's all done, there will be radiation therapy.
This is going to be complicated. When people talked about needing energy and time to cope with chemotherapy, I thought simply of the physical side of things. But, wow! I have to have blood tests drawn at the clinic the week before chemo, then see the doctor a couple days before chemo. Then a week-10 days after chemo, I have to have blood tests again. And then it's about time for the pre-doctor's visit blood draw again. Periodically I will also have to have heart tests. Before I can even begin, I have to be sure my vaccines are up to date, be tested for Hepatitis and HIV, and have a stent placed. Luckily, my surgeon already had me get a bone scan and some baseline ultrasounds.
It will probably get more complicated, as I hope to be accepted into a clinical trial for a drug under development for the "triple negative" tumours. That will require more tests; but at least they can give it at the same time as the other chemo.
So now I'm doing what I can to get ready--from the medical stuff to planning worship for the next few months to making sure my car is in running order to replacing my wonky stove (I know its quirks, but I'll probably have friends and family cooking on it and they don't know the tricks...).
I do plan on a "shaving party," as most of those chemo drugs have hair loss listed as a "usual" side effect; the other one says "frequently." I'd say the odds are pretty good I'll lose some! So my plan to crop it very close (and Stylist and I have been working so hard on growing it out! Oh well...) and then I won't notice it so much.
Strong Heart and I are very pleased with my medical oncologist. It took him a few minutes to adjust to the fact that SH was my partner, not simply a good friend (it's a cultural thing), but once he did, he carried on just fine. He's patient, clear, willing to explain, to discuss (instead of decree), and genuininely caring. For that matter, all the staff (and I mean everyone--social workers, pharmacy techs, nurses, volunteers, lab techs, etc.) in the cancer centre seem to be the same way--caring, focused on what will make life easiest for the patients and their families, supportive of what the patient needs, etc. A very positive experience--as positive as possible, anyway, given the circumstances.
And I'm going to need some positive experiences! The church is still struggling, looking for solutions to the financial crisis. One consolation--we are not alone in our struggles. Most non-profits here in River City are facing similar issues. It's not just our short-comings--it's the economy!
My plan at this point to post about my progress in treatment--detailed but not graphic, partly as an update on how I'm doing, but also partly as a document of what this journey was like for me. Everyone has a different story (see last post) but this will be one woman's story, in any case. I'm committing to be as honest and as open as I feel comfortable--maybe pushing that comfort envelope a bit--so that this is a true account, not simplified or glossed over so that it doesn't worry anyone. It is what it is; and I'm getting wonderful treatment, and an amazing amount of support from all sides.
I'll keep you posted!