The week…

So much for blogging on “at least” a monthly basis. But actually, I have been blogging! If you haven’t already, check out my new genealogy  blog. The topic is one I really enjoy reading (and writing!) about, and I think I’ll do better at keeping that blog updated, at least for awhile. Which is not to say that I plan to give up on “Writin’ Shotgun.” (I know that was a collective sigh of relief I just heard from the Internet public, now that you all know that I don’t plan on abandoning this blog… oh, wait. It was just my dad’s Chion, snoring in the doggy bed next to me.)

Henry the CHIhuahua-PapillON.

How come my dad’s Chion is in a doggy bed next to me?  Don’t worry, Daisy the Silky Terrier is alive and well (she’s in Olympia with her dad). I, too, am alive and well — but 40 miles away, in Gig Harbor, at my parents’ house. That’s because this week is the dreaded… Scans Week. Which means that, for the first time since February 2011, my oncologist ordered some “routine” scans (specifically, a chest/abdomen CT Scan and a full body bone scan) to see whether or not my cancer has progressed.

Yesterday, my wonderful mom drove me up to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (she and Merwyn are both great about that) for the scans themselves. Tomorrow morning, I find out… the results.

I pick "anxious."

How did the tests go? Alright, I suppose. There’s nothing particularly traumatic about either of the two scans I had done. (That would be the pelvic ultrasound — a procedure I’ve only had once, and hope never to have again!) The worst part is always waiting for the pathology report.

 That said… I hate, loathe, and DESPISE that stuff they make you drink before a CT scan! I’ve had different variations of it; sometimes it’s white and milky looking (sometimes they try to give it some flavor, like berry or apple… as if that will help). Sometimes it’s called “Barium Sulfate Solution.” Yesterday, my lovely beverage looked like water and was called “Oral Contrast” — and came in this HUGE jug that I had an hour to finish. I left behind 100 ML of it (gasp) but managed to chug down the rest. It pretty much tasted like water, too…except, it was unusually thick and therefore reminded me of… I dunno, spit? Or something else just as gross. Stupid Oral Contrast!

The jug looked something like this, with the words KEEP REFRIGERATED! on the label in big red letters.

Fortunately, the actual CT scan went by very quickly. As usual, I just lay on a table and stared at the two smiley faces on the CT scan machine, while a deep man’s voice instructed me to “Breathe in — hold your breath” (doing so turned one of the faces orange and made his cheeks puff out) and then to “Breathe” (this turned the other face green; he had a “happy playface”). The whole process took maybe 10 minutes. I didn’t exactly love having to wait in a chair “for observation” for 30 minutes afterward, but at least I’d thought to bring some reading material along with me!

When that was done, my mom and I took a lunch break before my bone scan (unlike the CT scan — which required 4 hours of “fasting” — there are no dietary restrictions before a bone scan). Not that we had much choice; lunch break or no, we had to kill some time so that the radioactive stuff they’d injected into me earlier that morning could finish doing… er, whatever it does to make a bone scan effective. (For some reason, it takes 3 hours.)

But finally, an hour or so after lunch, they called me back to the bone scan room — where I got to lay strapped down on on that bed/table thing and stare at a picture of a tree on the ceiling, while my body moved verrrrry slowly through a machine that looked something like this:

Actually, I think this is an MRI machine, but they all look more or less the same. At least a bone scan is quieter than an MRI.

Those machines aren’t as intimidating as they look, by the way. I even got a nap in toward the end of the bone scan. (It was certainly a relief to be done for the day, though!)

Hey, notice how I didn’t (yet) say anything about needles? That’s because — where once upon a time, the thought of having a needle jammed into me was in my Top 5 list of biggest fears — these days, it’s such a nonevent that it barely warrants a mention. I’m not sure if this is a good thing…

Anyhow, the “technician” in the radiology lab knew her stuff, and got the needle into my vein on her first try (and it barely hurt!). I made sure to drink plenty of juice and water in the morning before I rode up to SCCA, just in case (certain liquids were “allowed”, despite the 4-hour fast). Somebody — I think my mom? — told me about that “drink water before they stick a needle in you” trick once, and it really does seem to work!

Everybody on the radiology floor was nice, and seemed to know what they were doing. This made up for the “team coordinators” (aka schedulers) at SCCA; yesterday, I had yet another encounter where a scheduler messed up. This time, she “misread [my oncologist’s] order”, which COULD have resulted in my missing both lab work and my every-3-months Zometa infusion. The Zometa is now scheduled for tomorrow — but only because I noticed it was missing on my paperwork, and asked about it. (I got the lab work done yesterday.)

All in all, it wasn’t the hugest of deals; however, it DOES make me wonder how many other orders those schedulers have “misread.” Plus, this is not remotely the first time I’ve had issues with a scheduler. At least, my onc’s current scheduler is marginally better than the one she replaced — who was notorious for her flakiness, so much so that a random person at the YSC boards knew exactly who I was talking about once when I ranted about one of her mistakes there (I said nothing that would “give her away”, either. The person just knew!)

Anyway, I like SCCA overall (and am definitely pleased with my oncologist) but their “team coordinators” sure could use some improvement!

That about covers yesterday.

As for tomorrow… I mean, today (just noticed that it’s past midnight!) I don’t have much to say about it. I don’t really believe in things like “jinxing”; however, I want to be careful about expecting either the worst or the best. I know what my “gut” tells me the pathology will say. But that’s the thing about cancer. There’s just no way to predict. Stupid cancer.

Finally… all things considered, my “scanxiety” hasn’t been as bad this time around as in previous years. Sure, I’m a little nervous (who wouldn’t be?) but I’ve done a pretty good job these past few weeks distracting myself with genealogy, trips to Poulsbo (Merwyn and I enjoyed a day in Washington state’s own “Little Norway” this past weekend!), and books and pets and comfort food… and sushi! (Thanks, Mom!)

With that, I’ll leave you with a picture of Herbie the Papillon/Shih Tzu. Who needs scanxiety when you have THIS face to peer at?



Happy 3rd mets-aversary to me…

Yesterday Merwyn drove me up to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for my treatment. I prefer to go up there on the weekends whenever possible, since not only does no one have to miss work to take me, it’s also nice and quiet and FAST!

Yesterday was no exception. They “accessed” my port — meaning, a bored lab technician rubbed alcohol over the port/catheter-thing in my chest, then jammed a needle full of Lidocaine into it so that the REAL needle wouldn’t hurt, then jammed the big needle in (it didn’t hurt), then, took some blood, somehow got an IV in there, and just generally hovered awkwardly over me for about five or ten minutes. After my “labs” (which I didn’t even have to wait in the lobby for!), Merwyn and I rode the elevator up to Infusion on floor 5. Again, I didn’t have to wait; my little Olive Garden-esque pager buzzed almost immediately after I sat down in the waiting room, and I went right back to Bay 15, one of SCCA’s 35 or so private infusion rooms, for my Lupron and Zometa.

This is always the most boring part of treatment, in part because I often have to wait seemingly forever for both my medicine to arrive and my bloodwork to come back. But neither took too long this time.

Actually, the worst part about yesterday’s treatment was the Lupron. Which isn’t uncommon … even after “getting used to” shots, I still loathe them. Even Lupron, though, I tend to only think about in the brief moment it takes to give me the stupid shot. (Then, later on, it’s “why is this Band-Aid on me? … oh, yeah.”) However, I was sore up until this morning at my injection site, which … let’s just say, didn’t surprise me much after I saw my nurse reading an instruction manual before she finally gave me the injection. I think she was just trying to determine how long to warm up the medicine; still, I’d rather my nurses not find it necessary to glance at “how to” books for ANY reason when they’re about to jam a needle in me! At least it wasn’t as bad as my first Lupron shot (which is a horror story for another time).

As usual, the Zometa infusion proved uneventful … Merwyn and I sat for 20 minutes while a machine dripped Zometa into my IV. Then (after the machine beeped it was finished), the nurse came and unhooked it; then she flushed and de-accessed my port (i.e. cleaned it with saline and took the IV out), and Merwyn and I were on our way! Before I went to bed last night, I took my Femara (the pink pill I take every night); like the Lupron, it suppresses estrogen, whereas Zometa keeps my bones nice and strong.

That’s it; that’s treatment for me, except I only get the Zometa and Lupron every THREE months now. Most days, you can take out everything above except for:

“I took my Femara”

… and that’s my treatment. Pretty boring, right? Now you know why I can’t keep up a cancer blog!

Actually, today is a significant day in my “cancer journey.” It was exactly three years ago today that my horrid then-oncologist broke the news to me over the phone: both the spot on my spine (revealed in a recent routine CT scan) and a second spot on my pelvis showed evidence of metastatic disease. In other words, not only had my cancer returned, because it had spread to my bones I was now Stage IV. The “worst” of the stages. “Beating cancer” was no longer an option for me. Once somebody has Stage IV cancer, it’s pretty much established that they can be treated, but never cured.

Well … for whatever it’s worth, that treatment sure seems to be working in my case! Three years later, I still haven’t had any progression. Not only that, the spot on my pelvis seemed to disappear almost instantly (it didn’t show up on my first follow-up scan, and hasn’t shown up since) and even the spot on my spine has remained stable. Granted, it’s been ten months since my last set of scans; but that’s only because my current oncologist (who’s great; I started treatment at SCCA about three months after my “mets” diagnosis) determined that I only need scans once a year for now. I’ll get my next ones sometime in February.

Honestly, even with bone mets (which are generally considered less threatening than mets to the organs) it’s pretty unusual for somebody to be doing this well after three years. Not that I’m complaining! I won’t go so far as to say that having Stage IV cancer doesn’t affect my life (or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, that it’s been some great “blessing”) but I WILL say that I feel lucky (for it’s sure not for any great effort on my part that I’m doing so well!) and blessed (in life, not by cancer!), and that I must have one heck of a “shotgun angel” riding with me all this way.

Speaking of blessings and angels, I must log off WordPress and go get ready … Merwyn and I are going down to the Washington Center for the Performing Arts to see Handel’s Messiah in less than an hour!