Friday, October 03, 2008


Famous last words: "It's not my plan to let cancer take over this blog." Unfortunately, cancer took over me and I decided to spare you the minutiae of my misery. It's been quite a while since I last posted, though, so I'll give you to a brief update.

The process was agonizingly protracted. I had a diagnostic mammogram and on-the-spot biopsies on August 1. Immediately scheduled for a mastectomy, a subsequent CT scan ruled that out. The CT scan revealed a suspicious area in my lungs. One test after another followed.

Have you ever watched a Zamboni machine clear ice? It's a large, lumbering contraption that moves slowly around an arena, scraping, spraying, and resurfacing the finish. Waiting for the endless tests, I felt like I was lying on the ice, hearing the machine approach ever-so-slowly, knowing it was about to run over me. Then I had to lie still and wait for the next pass. Pass after pass. Unpleasant, and finally quite morale-destroying. There was a bone scan, a heart scan, ekg, and numerous blood tests. Chemotherapy treatment was scheduled and then re-scheduled when I told the oncologist that I'd been coughing for twenty-five years and that only last year I'd had lung function testing and an x-ray. The old x-ray threw enough mud onto the picture to prompt another chemotherapy re-scheduling in order to allow time for a bronchoscopy. Now that was an unpleasant test! I saw the respirologist for a post-op appointment yesterday and I think he explained it partially as "You have an interesting redundancy of cartilage..." Whatever, they couldn't get a sample in the area of interest. The I.V. drugs administered are supposed to render one unconscious and unable to remember the procedure. The I.V. was placed in my arm at least three times; I guess I coughed it out at least once because I have a distinct memory of waking and looking at a screen that resembled a simulation of the Martian landscape. I also recall choking and gagging. End result of the test, an inadequate sample but nothing abnormal in what they did retrieve. I came away with giant cold sores on top and bottom lip, across my tongue, down my throat and possibly in the lung. I'd also bitten my tongue rather severely. I ran a fever of 39.7 C and had serious failure in my ability to concentrate. That was September 23. Perhaps there was a lingering effect of the 'forgetfulness' drug because I really wasn't thinking straight again until the 30th. I visited the oncologist again on the 26th and at least had enough of my wits about me to enquire if the bronchoscopy might have suggested sarcoidosis. (My mother had had sarcoidosis and there's some suggestion of a possible familial connection.) Sarcoidosis isn't malignant. (I don't have a clue what it is, but it's not as intimidating as lung cancer.) Finally, after considerable discussion back and forth the oncologist (Dr. Vanessa Bernstein) announced that for the moment "we're going for the cure". Future events may change that, but right now the chemotherapy is tailored to hopefully eradicate the cancer.

There's a long haul ahead - about fifteen months to begin with. Months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation plus chemotherapy, and finally a mastectomy and lung biopsy.

I had the first chemo treatment on Tuesday, the 30th, and am pleased to report that it wasn't too traumatizing. The anti-nausea regime available today is truly wonderful because I've had very little discomfort so far. On days seven to ten post-chemo one is apparently at great risk of infection due to suppresion of the immune system, so I'm nervous about that. And my hair will be falling out in about a week. Could there be more fun?

Ah well, I've got my wig on hand. When the hair starts coming out in clumps I'll make an appointment to get the remains shaved off and have the wig fitted, steamed and styled. It's not a bad match to my current colour and not too 'wiggy' looking. I also bought a cute little sleeping cap, a cloche, and a variety of pirate-style bald-lady scarves. (If I have the courage I'll post a picture later.)

And as Forrest Gump would say: "That's all I've got to say about that."

I'll try not to put you through too much more of this in the future.

Bright Sides

My dear family has been wonderfully supportive. Every vaguely positive medical report has been greeted with enthusiasm. My little girl drove all the way from Los Angeles to be here for me. My neighbour Rose, an ER nurse, came off all-night shifts and insisted on accompanying me to the surgeon and the first chemo appointment. I've had lovely surprise packages from Sharon and Ute, Debra and Maxine and Clare. Debra's little girls sent me delightful 'get well' cards. And I have some hope that this ordeal won't kill me.


At 12:26 AM, Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thank you so much for posting, Susan. I have been thinking of you a huge amount and not wanting to bother you with lots of emails but I'm going to start writing one now.

They're going for the cure! This is such wonderful news. I am so happy.

At 6:34 AM, Blogger Debra Hamel said...

Susan, thanks for the report! We've been worried about you. Doesn't sound pleasant at all, but like Clare I'm happy they're "going for the cure." Please keep up informed when you're up to it, but we'll understand if you're not.

At 11:08 AM, OpenID maxine said...

What an ordeal, Susan, but well done to you for being so "above it all" - the best way to be! I am thinking of you lots, and please thank Martha for her lovely card. As Debra says, though, don't feel you need to blog or otherwise be in touch unless you want to - we all love to hear from you but only when you are in the mood!

The white blood cells will be very low for a couple of days after each chemo treatment (I think it is about 7 days). You might think it worth discussing with your doctor taking prophylactic antibiotics on those days as this will take care of any bugs that might be about at those vulnerable times.

My thoughts are with you often, and well done for this brave post.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Kimmy said...

It is so good to read a post from you! I have been thinking about you and praying for you daily. It sounds like you have quite a lot ahead of you, but you have a really good attitude going into it, which is excellent and it sounds like you have tons of support which is also wonderful.

Please know you are in my prayers and you have a lot of support from all of us here!

Keep us posted when you can and remember...they are going for the cure!!

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Jan said...

Susan, I haven't called for ages but have read your latest posting and send you lots and lots of wishes.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Tom P. said...

Is there something in the air or water there? I know two people from Victoria and both of you are ill.

The other person I know:

I have a cousin-in-law in Vancouver and she is a breast cancer survivor.

We are sending you some good karma. We don't have much here but we are sending some of what we have.


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