Highs and Lows During the Holiday Season
As the festive season rolls around like clockwork, gridlocked roads return, angry shoppers reappear and my to do list is once again a juggling act. December also marks my 1-year anniversary of starting Chemotherapy.
The last 12 months have been filled by some extreme highs but also some unimaginable lows. This time last year I did not, with complete certainty, know that I would be alive to enjoy the holidays again. Yet despite a rocky 12 months, I am gaining strength and am surrounded by a larger army of incredible friends and family than ever before.
The last few months have been extremely stressful. I have always handled stress well but there has not been a day that has passed in recent months without me being gripped by fear and sheer panic at some point of the day. As you will recall, the CT scan in preparation for my lymph bypass and transplant showed some masses on my right lung.
Following a very painful biopsy to my right lung the pathology results came back negative for cancer. I celebrated with anyone willing to hug and sip champagne, but my oncologist along with a few specialists were not 100% convinced by the results. The masses were so organized and there was dye uptake during the PET Scan. Because of this, my case was placed in front of the tumor board who had mixed opinions on the results.
Thoughts varied from the biopsy needle missing the masses to the masses being radiation damage. My oncologist decided to go with the opinion of a lung specialist who recommended we wait on any additional treatment and perform additional tests in 3 months. His opinion was fact based and he sent a picture of the biopsy being performed which clearly showed the needle in the center of the mass. He also stated that on April 13, 2021, my CT scan did not show any significant masses and in his opinion metastatic breast cancer of the lung was not present. The image (below) and his confidence were comforting, and I decided to hold off any further treatment until December of this year.
Immediately following this decision, I was cleared to start Verzenio a drug for the treatment of advanced or metastatic breast cancers. It was developed by Eli Lily, and it acts as a CDK inhibitor selective for CDK4 and CDK6. It was designated as a breakthrough therapy for breast cancer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October 2015 and comes with the price tag of nearly $14,000 per month. In addition to Verzenio, I am also taking Letrozole and Zoladex - both hormone-based chemotherapies. This cocktail of life-saving drugs will be my daily companions for the coming years. All sadly come with side effects ranging from nerve and bone pain, nausea, fatigue, hair loss and a plethora of other awful side effects. I am thrilled to say that whilst I have symptoms, I am tolerating them all well.
On December 9, 2021, the long awaited 3-month CT Scan arrived. I was certainly apprehensive but also thrilled to finally have a definitive answer. I had a stressful few days waiting on the results, and as with this cancer journey thus far, I am handed miracles with some strength building hurdles every day.
Highs and Lows
The masses on my lungs have decreased in size and now appear mostly linear and plate like. These changes are wonderful news, and the radiologist stated the masses are because of post radiation damage. There are also no new masses or nodules. Whilst I will need CT scans regularly for the foreseeable future, I am thrilled to report the masses on my right lung are not cancer.
Sadly though, that was not the only update on my CT scan. My left thyroid gland showed a 1.2cm hypodense node which requires more tests.
Grace, who works with me, made a comment recently which resonated deeply. She was describing life much like our Banyan trees in the Addison courtyard. Even though the trees are glorious and share imaginable beauty with us every day, a couple of months every year they release hell on us in the form of a small cherry-like fruit that is horrid in odor and so messy. We work around the clock to try and clean up behind them. Her words of wisdom resonated. Life is beautiful and wondrous but never perfect and certainly not easy or straightforward.
On a more lighthearted note, I have had the pleasure of celebrating the holidays alongside my family and friends. Friendsgiving was a treat for all with an exquisitely curated 5 course meal here at the Addison.
Next on the calendar was a whimsical pajama holiday party. Everyone came out in their PJ-best, enjoyed the delicious food and drinks, and partook in a fun ornament exchange!
Last, but definitely not least was our Staff Ugly Sweater Party. I gifted each of the ladies an “ugly sweater” to wear while we enjoyed each other’s company, ate like queens, and exchanged holiday gifts.
What’s To Come
It will be a waiting game for more imaging, biopsies, and blood work but in the meantime, I will enjoy my imperfect life that is filled with miracles and wonder alongside the people I love. As we all enjoy the lead up to the holidays with friends, family and loved ones, celebrate hard, laugh lots, and love deeply.