Category Archives: Uncategorized

SFO

            Returning from Boise was bittersweet.  I hated to leave but I knew that my sister and I had a great trip planned to see the Angels play in San Francisco and I was completely stoked for that trip! 

I flew back into LAX and Dad picked me up.  I was starving when I got off the plane so we stopped to grab a bite before getting on the freeway.  We got out of the car and started to walk up the ramp to the restaurant when all of a sudden I realized that my left leg wasn’t cooperating with me and seemed to have a mind of its own.  I grabbed the handrail next to me and made the observation, “That’s weird”.  The athlete in me kicked in and I quickly convinced myself to ‘walk it off’.  Funny how the athletic trainer voice never seemed to kick in.  We went inside and ate and then decided we needed to visit the Baskin Robbins across the parking lot for some dessert.  The dead leg thing happened again as we were leaving BR and when we got in the car Dad asked if I thought we needed to go see the doctor.  My oncologist was only 5 or 6 exits up the 405.  “Nah”, I said.  It’s no big deal.  Just a fluke.  Plus, I had to be on another plane in the morning and couldn’t risk this was something they would admit me for. 

The following morning (after missing our scheduled flight because I couldn’t seem to remember what time the flight was) my sister and I flew up to San Francisco. 

We checked in at our hotel and decided to make our way down to the stadium.  The goofy leg thing happened once or twice more but really wasn’t much of an issue. 

            What a fantastic ballpark (check out the pics). We even got free tickets to the game and the seats were amazing.  We stayed for most of the game and then set off for the hotel again.    

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            Wednesday morning we walked down to Mel’s diner for breakfast.  San Francisco Sourdough all the way.  With happy tummys we went to the hotel to check out.  When we got to the room I had to lay down.  All of a sudden I had a miserable headache.  This should have been my red flag, but of course, it wasn’t and like a good little soldier I pressed on.  I took some Aleve, waited for it to kick in, checked out of the hotel and headed over to Fisherman’s Wharf.  Not wanting to miss yet another flight we opted for a to-go lunch and set out for the airport.

    

 

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        I’m not sure if you’ve been keeping track but by now I had racked up 6 take-offs and 6 landings in a matter of 5 days.  I can’t be positive that this was a contributing factor in the events of the days to come, but I’m guessing it shouldn’t be excluded as a possibility.

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  The day after we returned from the trip I wanted to visit Grandma and share the pictures with her.  I had some errands to run first; the post office, Target, etc.  I walked into the post office and the dead leg thing happened again.  “Are you okay?”  The question came from one of the postal employees.

            “Sure.  It’s just the chemo.”  This has become a standard response even though I haven’t had any chemo in months.  On to Target.

            I got out of my car and started to walk into the store.  Dead leg (my flip flop falls off every time I take a step), I’m starting to get a feeling like the room is spinning around me and I need to sit.  I sat in the Starbucks in the store and FINALLY decided to call the doctor.  I waited for my pictures and my phone rang.  It was one of the nurses she was obviously concerned.  “Are you falling?”  “You shouldn’t be driving.”  “Get someplace safe and I’ll have the doctor call you.” 

            I got to Grandma’s and stumbled through the security gate.  I didn’t have a key and barely remembered the code.  I couldn’t control my left hand now.  I went to the front and all but fell into the apartment.  My phone rang.  “You need to get to an ER immediately and tell them you need a brain MRI.”  I didn’t argue, I just went.

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Update 08/12/2009

ONCE UPON A TIME

In a land far, far away…or at least that’s how all good stories should start, right?  It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated.  There’s plenty to tell.  So grab a cup of coffee or maybe an iced tea or a Diet Coke, sit back and get ready to read away.

 

BOI

June 13th was an amazing day for me!  I got to return to Boise for the first time so I could watch my friends graduate from the Master’s program we had all enrolled in a year and a half earlier.  I had been looking forward to this for months and even caught myself smiling as my plane was landing.  I was thrilled when they invited me to join in the class picture; little did I know I would be stunned later (in a good way, of course). 

            I had talked with the program director several weeks before graduation and let her know how proud I was of the cohort and all of their hard work.  I had spoken with several cohort friends and knew just how much time and energy they were putting into their work.  Not only that, many of them took time out of their days to stay in contact with me and my treatment progress.  THESE 25 PEOPLE ARE TRULY AMAZING.  I wanted to hand them roses as they came across the stage to receive their diplomas. 

            What happened next had me cracking up.  We stopped on the way to Boise State to pick up the flowers, I even counted them to make sure there were enough.  S there I sat in the audience waiting patiently for my friends to take their place in line.  I unwrapped the flowers only to realize that the 30 flowers on TOP equated to 10 flowers on BOTTOM.  The stems ran together!  I looked at my Idaho mom sitting next to me in horror and said “Quick! Peel!!”  As fast as any 4 hands could work together we began to separate all of the flowers so I would indeed have 30.  All the while I was cracking up and struggling to stay focused.  Flowers in hand, I made my way to the stage.  Ever the jokester, I decided to ask the guys in class if they would “accept this rose” in my best Bachelorette fashion.  Nobody got my joke.  I suppose while I had been watching TV, they had been putting sweat and tears into their projects.  With the flowers handed out I started to head back to my seat.  My work was done and I smiled as I looked at my friends. 

“Don’t go too far, Heather”. 

I turned to see it was Terah, the cohort leader.  I froze and instantly felt my eyes fill with tears.  From that point on, I know she spoke but I could never tell you what words came from her mouth.  I looked down the stage to where my friends were now standing and cheering, clapping.  What were they doing?  THEY were the once most deserved of the ovation.  They had worked so hard!  Once I was adequately numb I started to head back to my seat.  Halfway down the aisle I was quickly summoned to take a seat with the graduating cohort and exit the ceremony as one of them.  I am so blessed to have friends like this.  I have never had an experience like this.  The cohort’s explanation?  I need to get out more.

Kicked out of the Hospital

Friday was quite interesting.  Interesting from an odd perspective.  Let me replay the day for you.

We had planned to go to the hospital for my 2nd maintenance treatment.  As usual, Mom called the hospital in the morning and was told there weren’t any beds just yet, but call back in a while and we’ll see if there are any folks being discharged.  Keep in mind that when they say this, I always wonder if the doctors are walking into patients rooms, taking a look at them and saying…”Yeah, you look pretty good.  You can go home”.

Anyway, we got there and were promptly sent to the lobby for the next hour or so.  Picture me, Becka, and Dad sitting in the lobby with all of our luggage and food for the weekend, watching people walk by us from the front door of the hospital heading for the elevators.  My oncologist even walked by and asked, “No room at the Inn”?  Ha ha…very funny.  Everybody’s a comedian. 

After about an hour, I had decided that we’d waited quite long enough.  We’d finished off all of the lame jokes we could exchange with the nice volunteer lady at the front desk and I started to walk back to the ONC unit.  As I was walking down the hall, my nurse was walking towards us coming to let us know the room was ready.  We grabbed our stuff and headed to the room.

We got unpacked and settled in as the nurses were coming in and out of the room, setting up the supplies.  My nurse, Diamond, let me know it was time to access my port.  I’ve got a Port-A-Cath that was surgically placed on Dec. 19th.  It’s located on the upper left side of my chest about 3 fingers below my clavicle.  We’ve learned some neat tricks over the last six months that have to do with hospitalizations.  My favorite is the little 1 1/2 inch slit that we have cut into old t-shirts.  Whenever my port is accessed a 1 inch needle is inserted into each “lumen” (an oval receptacle) and there are two catheters that are about 4 inches long that extend from each needle.  Each of these catheters can slide through the slit in my t-shirt which allows me to wear my own shirts and not have to put up with hospital gowns.  By now, Dad had to go feed the meter so he made his exit.

Diamond was only able to get one port accessed and had to call the Charge Nurse.  The Charge Nurse couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my port so she suggested they remove the needles and re-insert them.  UGH!  They already stabbed me once and now they wanted to do it again!  Not only that, I have a cream that I can use to numb my skin.  Because we were rushed into the room and hurried into the port access, I wasn’t able to use the cream (it takes 30-45 minutes to become active).  So they stuck me again.  This time they realized the port wasn’t working correctly and they needed to TPA the port.  This is a process similar to using Drain-O in a clogged drain but takes anywhere from 1-2 hours to work.  Lucky me, this time it took 2 hours.  So I took a little nap.

Finally, with the port working, they tell me it’s ok to start the treatment process.  First, they start with the anti-nausea meds, then we move to the Benedryl, then one more medication, then we can move to the IL-2.  For some reason, Dad had decided to wait before leaving.  He didn’t feel like sitting in traffic and just wanted to wait it out.  This ended up being a really good thing.  Keep in mind, we’ve been at the hospital for almost 5 hours now and they still haven’t started my treatment.  Then my oncologist came into the room.  He started to check me, we started chatting about nothing, he started talking with Dad, blah blah blah and then I did it.  I moved his hand over the lump in my neck.  His response wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

He basically told me that he was going to have to discharge me.  He wants to get a CT scan before we move on.  If this is new disease, then we treat it as such.  If it’s not, then we biopsy it and find out what it is.  I’ll go into his office tomorrow for the scan and we’ll go grab lunch and wait for the scan results. 

On the upside… I got to enjoy a great weekend that I was sure I was going to have to spend in the hospital!  Not such a great weekend for my Angels, though.

Gamma Knife Pics

Measuring my head

Measuring my head

The halo is attached.

The halo is attached.

Taking time out for a perm.

Taking time out for a perm.

Dr. Pagnini is the oncologist (front left) and Dr. Apuzzi (behind me) is one of the pioneers of the Gamma Knife procedure.

Dr. Pagnini is the oncologist (front left) and Dr. Apuzzi (behind me) is one of the pioneers of the Gamma Knife procedure.

Laying down, about to enter the Gamma Knife Machine

Laying down, about to enter the Gamma Knife Machine

I love a good miracle!

Last Thursday we were able to get in to see the Radiation Oncologist at USC.  We scheduled the gamma knife for this past Tuesday.  We all felt extremely positive leaving the doctor’s office.  With this type of brain lesion they expect a 90% total success rate with the Gamma Knife.  I’ll take a 90% success rate anyday!  We didn’t have a timeline set up specifically on Tuesday so on Monday morning I called to find out what time they were expecting us.  The words that came out of the phone absolutely sent me through the roof!  “We’ve hit a glitch with the procedure.  Your insurance company has denied it.”  I’ve never been as fearful as I was in that moment.  For the next 24 hours we raised Hell with the insurance company.  Both of my oncologists vowed to make phone calls regarding the necessity of the procedure and it was GAME ON!  The nurses assured us they would hold our 1pm appointment time just in case a miracle happened. 

Around 715am Tuesday morning the phone rang.  It was my mom’s only ally at the insurance company (who had taken the day off the day before).  She said she got my message and the message mom had left for her and was returning our calls.  After we filled her in on what had transpired the first thing she said was “there must be some mistake.  Let me look into this and I’ll call you back”.  Within an hour we had the approval.

 I didn’t have any fear of the procedure (yes, it was a little unnerving that they were going to work on my brain on an outpatient basis…would you like fries with that?), I was most terrified of the pain when they had to screw the halo on me.  Amazingly, I honestly didn’t feel a thing.  They knocked me out for about 10 minutes and when I woke up there it was. 

Considering this procedure has a 90% success rate, I’m feeling very confident.  Far more confident with the procedure than I am with my Angels.  At least my doctor didn’t walk in the winning run last night.

By the way… I’ve got some fantastic pictures of the Gamma Knife Process and the doctors and nurses it took to make it happen.  I’ll get them posted eventually, but I don’t have access to them right now.  They are on my sister’s camera card and she took it with her…… to Europe.

Good News, Bad News

The slacker blogger returns.  I can only apologize f0r the gaps between updates, but cut me some slack… I’ve got cancer, remember?

Since the last update I was given the option to complete a 6th round of the bio-chemo.  I was told by my doctor that the 5th round was unexpectedly effective and therefore he thought that a 6th round might be effective, as well.  Remember, they removed one of the chemo drugs for these treatments because it was making me so terribly sick for so long after the hospitalization.  That being said, I felt like I would be foolish not to opt for the 6th round.  If there was a chance that it would be even half as effective as the 5th, then I needed to go for it. 

The recovery from the 6th round was a bit of a struggle.  Once of the side effects of bio-chemo is a potentially dangerous decline in blood pressure.  I struggled with this twice in the hospital.  Once passing out in the bathroom and hitting my head on the sink, resulting in a nice little trip to the CT scanner.  Gratefully, once again (using my family’s words) there was nothing in my head.  I don’t remember the timeline exactly but I believe it was the following day, this time I was able to at least tell my sister that I felt light headed and she was able to get me into a chair before I passed out again.  When I came to, she was holding me up and my other sister was yelling for help out the door. The next thing I remember there were MANY people in the room helping us.  My blood pressure seemed to stabilize after that but we weren’t done with the side effects.

Hallucinations worked their way back into our world with this treatment.  Both in the hospital and once we returned home.  I don’t remember any of this stuff, but I’m told I was very concerned about my cats.  (Who, by the way, are still staying with my Dad and he is still acting like a typical grandparent and spoiling them like crazy).

I had more scans done yesterday.  A PET scan, a CT scan and an MRI of the brain.  The PET and CT scans showed a couple of metabolically active spots that we already knew about but absolutely no growth in those areas.  We were quite pleased with this news.  The last round was also very effective in reducing the size of the two primary tumors in my liver.  WE WERE EXSTATIC ABOUT THIS!!!  Dad and Rebecca were with me for the results and my doctor even hugged me and told me how glad he was that it looked like I was recovering so well.  As we were getting ready to walk out of the room Rebecca started to tear up and we looked over at her.  “So this means the brain MRI was good?”, she asked.  My oncologist looked at me and said that he hadn’t realized that I’d gone for the MRI.  He left to go pull up the results.

When he came back in he was the most somber looking I’d ever seen him.  “I need to talk to you about your MRI results”.  I felt my stomach jump into my throat.  There’s a 2 centimeter lesion on the sensory portion of my brain.  He told me he felt like this could be handled efficiently by a doctor with a Gamma Knife at USC Norris Medical Center.  The Gamma Knife is a radiation procedure.  Interestly enough it’s done on an outpatient basis.  Seriously????  They can work on your brain and it’s outpatient??? Are you kidding me?

As it stands right now, I’m waiting for the Gamma Doc’s office to call.  I’ll either go in today for the consult and get the treatment tomorrow, or I’ll go in tomorrow for the consult and Thursday for the treatment.  Either way we are still scheduled to start the maintainence program on Friday and I should still be eligible for the Ipilumimab in August as planned. 

As usual, we have to look at the upside to all of this.  When I spoke with my doc about the maintainence program he said it was totally fine to work around my summer plans for the hospital admit dates.  This means I’ll get to go to Idaho in June to see my cohort graduate!!!  It also means that I’ll get to attend my friend’s wedding on July 4th and then leave for 4 more days in Idaho on the 5th. 

I’m pretty confident that things are going to be fine and that this is nothing more than a hiccup in the road.  Wish me luck!!!

******Since this was posted I’ve found out that the Gamma Knife procedure will most likely not be done this week.  I misunderstood my doc when he was explaining everything (this is why you should NEVER go to the doctor alone in these situations).  We need to wait to hear from the doctor at USC and his scheduling department.  More to come soon.

The Glory of Easter and Gray’s Anatomy

Now THERE’S a combination.
I’ve been home from the hospital for a little over a week now. Feeling quite a bit better but still not 100%. Still not 80%, but making progress. Removing the Vinblastin drug from the equation certainly made the treatment more tolerable this time, the downside has been an insane amount of itching since I’ve been home.
Last night was quite fun. Most of my family went to enjoy The Glory of Easter production at the Crystal Cathedral. It blew me away. They had an enormous cast and worked wonderfully with all sorts of live animals and of course, a fantastic telling of the story of Easter. WOW!
One last note for today. I can’t help but mention one of the current Gray’s Anatomy storylines. One of the doctors has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma with brain and liver metastasis. Last week it was mentioned that the character would undergo IL-2 treatments. Keeping in mind that everyone who goes through these treatments is impacted differently, I’m curious to compare my experience with that of the character. I should mention it has been widely publicized that this actor has wanted to leave the show for many months and unforturnately the prognosis will probably not be good for the character. It will be interesting, nonetheless.