November 30, 2009

5 down, 7 to go!

that's right...i'm almost to the halfway point! although the jury is still out on whether or not we stop after the fourth cycle (eighth treatment) or keep going for the full six cycles (twelve treatments) before it's on to radiation...

you're wondering 'what about your scan?'...well, let's just call it tentatively free of any clear indication of active cancer. my oncologist said that he looked at it and would read it as a negative scan (negative being the goal here), but the nuclear radiologist noted mild uptake "that may or may not represent viable tumor"...which leaves a little gray area. go figure, i seem to fit into so many gray areas. life lesson from cancer #1091...not everything is black and white.

these PET scans are read based on a scale of intensity of uptake from the radioactive glucose. anything metabolic shows uptake (liver, bladder, brain all show uptake, which is normal)...and, since cancer is a metabolic process, it shows uptake. the intensity varies based on the type of cancer and how aggressive it is. at diagnosis, i looked like christmas lights do when you take them out of storage...all balled up, and you plug them in to see if all the bulbs work. just one big lit up mess. now the amount of light coming from it matches just about everything else in there. that's a very good thing. and, the mass that was once the size of a softball is now less than half that. it's really quite amazing to look at the difference...and, this scan was only three months since the first scan.

the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to illuminate a little. i feel just like the little engine that close to the top.

"As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, "I--think--I--can, I--think--I--can." it reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, "I thought I could, I thought I could."

November 26, 2009

so thankful...

so often we dwell on the things that seem impossible rather than on the things that are possible. so often we are depressed by what remains to be done and forget to be thankful for all that has been done.
Marian Wright Edelman

someone reminded me last night, in the midst of a rough moment, that while i still have a ways to go, i've come a long way and accomplished a lot. these moments, when i lose sight of what i have done and focus too much on what i have left to do are the hardest. so, this thanksgiving, i plan to forget about how far i have left to go and think about everything that's been done already and savor the feeling of accomplishment. and with those accomplishments come so many thanks...

for life. every day is wonderful. there are no guarentees in any of this, and you can choose to face each opportunity searching for the gifts in it or focusing on the difficulties. even in adversity, there is so much to be gained. i've learned that life is truly what we make it, and really has nothing to do with how long we live it for. i'm so thankful for the new perspective so early in my life.

for family and friends. there's no way to survive cancer without a strong web of support. this has been quite the ride so far, and it's not over yet...i feel so fortunate to have everyone i do around me to lift me up and push me forward. i know it's not only a marathon for me, but everyone in my life, too. some days i think it's harder on everyone else, and i'm so thankful for all of them for toughing it out, too.

for the most wonderful cancer fighting team, ever. on every step of this journey, i've met amazing people who have given me so much, and so much more than just medical care. every day they amaze me with their selflessness and kindness. cancer can be scary, but every person on my team has made sure that fear is eliminated, and that i have everything i need to face cancer with a strength i never thought i had. these aren't just doctors, nurses and assistants...they are my heroes, advocates and life savers.

for my fellow cancer warriors. i'm so inspired by each of the people i've met who have, and are, fighting the hodge. especially for michelle...for four years of college we lived on the same floor, had the same classes, same honor societies, and many of the same friends...but, it wasn't until my diagnosis that we became close friends. and, for kerri...who, through this experience, has become an amazing friend and inspiration. without the hodge, i'd never have these friendships...and i wouldn't trade them for the world. you're both a reflection of how wonderful life is, and you help me remember that there is life after cancer. you are the light in the darkest moments.

for my students. for reminding me that there is nothing to gain by focusing on the adversity in our lives. for showing me the importance of focusing on what we can do, and ignoring what others tell us we cannot do. for defying all the odds. for teaching me so much about life. for giving me so many opportunities to laugh, to learn and to be inspired.

the list goes on and on.... this experience has been the single greatest opportunity of my life. it's hard, and at times it has it's dark moments. but, in the end, whatever the outcome, i know it's made me a better and stronger person.

and if we're not thankful for life, regardless of what hand we've been dealt, than what is there left to live for? always look for the things you're thankful for...there's reason to be thankful in everything we're given...sometimes you just have to look a little harder to find it.

November 18, 2009

two cycles = DONE!

finished treatment four on friday...and now one third of treatments are DONE. yay! the excitement of finishing each one is waning, though, so i keep trying to pick everything back up and push forward. a good attitude is easier when i don't feel sick...and the nausea is sticking around a little longer than i'd like it to these days.

what's up next? tomorrow i head to dana farber in boston for a second opinion from a lymphoma expert. she'll weigh in on everything, and throw in her two cents on where we go from here with treatment. then, next week i have a scan to see how much progress there's been since starting treatment. send positive thoughts, this scan determines a lot for the next few months. then, a little break for thanksgiving, and back to knock cycle three out of the way.

this is the part where i have to really test my own strength. i did so many relay for life events in college, and i remember reflecting each time on the analogy of the event to those cancer...walking all night without rest.... of course the walk is a little different these days, but i try to keep going, and i know in just a little bit, if life with cancer really is like relay for life, there will be a second wave of energy to keep me up for the next few laps. i might even do the next one backwards, just for fun.

November 7, 2009

two cents worth...

lately, we've seen a lot of discussion in the news about the toxicity of chemotherapy - no thanks to suzanne somers for setting off this trend, although she was far from the first person to attack this widely used (and accepted) cancer treatment. here are some of the headlines i found in a quick internet search.... "killer cancer treatment: how chemotherapy kills both cancer cells and cancer patients", "75% of doctors would refuse chemotherapy themselves" and "only 3% of cancer patients survive chemotherapy".

first of all, like cancer, chemotherapy is not one specific entity. i didn't actually understand this until i was diagnosed and discussed treatment...there's hundreds of different mixes of chemotherapy drugs. there are also hundreds of different types of cancer. add those things together, and you end up with thousands of different situations. so, to make any statement about chemotherapy in general has a good chance of missing the mark in lots of cases.

since i can only speak from experience with hodgkin's, i want to state clearly that i have a relatively rare cancer, and the use of chemotherapy in this case is very different than lots of other cancers. in the case of hodgkin's, which is a blood cancer, chemotherapy is the standard treatment. why? it's effective. over 90% of early stage hodgkin's patients can be cured with first line treatment...and something like over 75% of all stages can be cured. it's a fact that more than 3% of people who recieve chemotherapy for hodgkin's (and all lymphomas) survive treatment.

of course chemotherapy is toxic, and of course the side effects tear all of us down and destroy cells that we actually need, too...that's not really news. i won't ever say it doesn't suck. physically, it's the toughest thing i've ever done. however, i can't say i have any hesitation, because in the world we're in now, it's the best chance i have at beating this. i will always hope that one day we find a less toxic treatment for cancer...and everyone i know that's been through treatment hopes for the same thing. who wouldn't? no one would ever wish chemotherapy on anyone...but this is the world we live in now. forty years ago hodgkin's patients had high dose radiation to most of their body to give them the best chance of a cure. that was associated with more toxicity than the current treatment for the same disease...we've made progress. and we will continue to make progress, but we have to live in the here and now. to think that the medical world is inherently evil and not looking for an answer is ridiculous. if there's any doubt, look up how many clinical trials there are right now...they don't just do those for fun.

it's so frustrating to read so many people attack something they know nothing about. you can't possibly say how you'd make a decision unless you're forced to make it. and, i have a hard time believing any of these people are experts on every single treatment for every cancer. i know there are some cancers for which chemotherapy is less effective, but i wouldn't ever pass judgement on how any individual chooses to treat their cancer. in many cases it's a very difficult decision, and i can't imagine having to weigh the risks like that. i hope i never have to. my case was fairly clear cut, and really the only discussion was what type of chemotherapy, how long, and how strong of a dose.

the last thing...for those who say that doctor's are leading patients blindly into these treatments, i say that's their fault. i never, even for a second, thought that i had no responsibility to be educated, ask questions, advocate for myself and choose a doctor i trust. doctor's are human, not super-humans, and we should never expect that. i have an oncologist who i trust, respect and who i know would never offer me a treatment he wouldn't at least consider himself if he were in the same position. he also can't read my mind and answer all my questions or offer expert advice on something i want to know more about if i don't say something. his job is to answer all the questions i have, find information if he doesn't have it, and to offer treatments and advice. he can't make a decision for me. it's my choice to show up every two weeks for treatment, and it's my choice to continue under his care. if someone turns their own decision making ability over to their doctor and they don't like the end result, that's their fault, not the doctor's.

the moral of the story...there are lots of choices in cancer (and in life), and there is not just one answer. we all want to live, and the way in which we choose to do that doesn't deserve judgement.

November 4, 2009

3 down, 9 to go!

i was warned by fellow cancer survivors about hitting a wall during treatment. usually around treatment four or five...when you're not quite halfway there, and there's no light at the end of the treatment tunnel yet. it's treatment three, aaand there's the wall!

someone once referred to treatment for hodgkin's as 'the marathon treatment', long and drawn out, and the only way to finish is to put one foot in front of the other. well, two full months of tests to get a diagnosis, six months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation...i'd say that's quite the distance. ABVD is relatively 'easy' as far as chemotherapy goes, and it's one of the least toxic treatments (although, it's no cleanse diet either). the challenge? we have to tough it out for six months. that's a long time. every other week for half of a year. followed by radiation - add another month. in case you weren't keeping track...that's a long time.

that's why it's important to not let cancer (or any adversity) control your life. i feel a new ownership of this life i'm living, a responsibility to live better, and to 'take the bull by the horns' in every aspect of life. i suppose that's the perspective you get on life when you have to fight so hard for it. thank you, cancer.

while there's no 'light at the end of the tunnel' for treatment yet, my mid-treatment scan will (hopefully) happen in the next few weeks...likely the most important scan of all scans. so, i'll look forward to that...and once we get there, i'll be close to halfway through this ABVD marathon!

every day is one day closer!