No Different Information

Here we are again. Another month has passed and I’m posting. I thank you all for reading and for your interest. I hope you also learn a tad bit about this hideous disease and share with others.

But it seems like, yes, another month has passed and there is not much to update. In the grand scheme of life, not much has changed for me. (Side note, my recent scans were “fine” and I continue my current medications. Yay!)

Life is busy. There are things to do, places to go, people to see, and dreams to achieve. One day blends into the next with the punctuation of weekends when we can stand down a bit – unless you are retired. (My retired cousin says ‘everyday is Saturday.’)

Seriously, I feel odd sometimes writing these updates because to many of you, there is probably not a lot of new information.

When I first got this diagnosis it was terrifying to me, and also to my friends and family. Here I am 3 years and 8 months later – still alive, still working full-time, still traveling. Still living like many of you.

And yet. I live in 3 month increments. I have no idea if the table will turn and the next set of scans will be the ones that show the cancer has out smarted the medicine. Will this be the month I have to change my medication – and if I do, will it work? What kind of side effects will it have?

So far, I’ve only had to change medication once. That’s pretty f-ing amazing in almost 3.75 years. Hooray for science!

The internal anxiety I have is always present. I’m able to swallow it a lot because work is distracting. My friends allow me think of other things. Being with my family helps me live in the moment.

Today I met with my oncologist. There was a real possibility I would change meds. He said that with the data he has we should stay the course. So, no change in anything. Same meds.

We talked about what is next. I have two options for treatment (Xeloda or Taxol). When that stops working I’ll go to Enhertu. When that stops working I’ll go to whichever of the ones I didn’t chose (Xeloda or Taxol).

There is no cure for this, just treatment. The idea of changing treatment is terrifying – to be honest. Do I show that? No, because I don’t think about it a lot and there is not point in worrying about something out of my hands.

That doesn’t mean that everything is smooth sailing. It’s just not apparent. I have a lot to do, a lot of plans and a lot of new memories to make.

You have that as well. We just don’t often think about the time when we can’t do it, or when we run out of time.

We all run out of time, some of us just know we have less time that others. Very recently someone Glen and I know died from metastatic breast cancer. She and I communicated via email and she was really supportive when I was first diagnosed. She leaves behind a husband and 8 year old son. Her mortality is my mortality and the same for everyone else with this disease.

This being said, I have supreme confidence in science and am looking forward to annoying you all for many years to come with boring posts of non-information. 😃

~~~~~

Second line of treatment (since June 2022):

  • Fulvestrant (injection monthly)
  • Ibrance (oral daily)
  • Lupron (injection monthly)
  • Zometa (infusion quarterly)

Looking for Balance

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I was at the oncologist this past week. Short version: stay the course for this month. Things look “ok”.

Every 3 months I have a CT scan (neck to pelvis) to check on the cancer and see what it might be doing. The results of my CT scan last Monday show nothing remarkable. This is excellent because it means the cancer has not spread. It’s still just hanging out in my bones.

The oncologist ordered a bone scan before my March appointment. The bone scan literally images the bones, toes to top of the skull.

We are a bit worried about the tumor marker from my blood work. The CA 27-29 tumor marker can give an indication if the cancer is active. My value has been slowly rising and then almost doubled last month. This month it dropped almost as much as it rose last month. What does this mean? Unclear. It’s unusual for me to see these big changes so it’s raised some concerns. Tumor markers are not necessarily sufficient on their own to give a picture of what’s going on. The oncologist won’t use this data alone to make decisions. So, we get a bone scan and re-evaluate next month.

I recently wrote about new treatment options for MBC. I was waiting for blood tests to come back to see if Orserdu might be an option. This newly approved medication only works if an ERS1 mutation as developed. I don’t have the mutation, so this drug will not be an option. If I do need to switch medication, the next option is chemotherapy.

These past few weeks have been difficult. In particular I’ve had chronic pain that is tough to deal with, as some of you know. It’s hard for the pain (and MBC) not to take over my life. So, I’ve been focusing on finding balance.

My guess is you are looking for balance too. So many of us are. Too much focus on any one thing in life is unhealthy and yet it’s easy to get swept up.

Thankfully, the past month I was able to enjoy a dance competition Maddy competed in, found a few new shows to watch while walking on the treadmill, met friends for coffee or lunch, and took a long weekend trip to Wisconsin to see some friends and family.

I keep looking carefully at how to spend my time – finding the right mix of fun, rest, and spending time with people who are important to me. I hope you can do the same.

~~~~

Current treatment:
Ibrance, 125 mg (oral) + Fulvestrant (injection) – Prevents cancer cells from dividing + estrogen blocker
Lupron (injection) – induces menopause
Zometa (infusion) – bone strengthener

Update – November 3, 2022

Winter has given us a sneak peak today. First measurable snow of the season.

I had monthly appointments this week. My CT and bone scans were the same as August. This means STABLE MABLE is back. 🙌

My enthusiasm is tempered a bit by a cranky hip.

My back pain is gone for now, and I’m having trouble walking due to hip pain. So much so that my oncologist ordered an MRI, which I had today. I’m hoping it gives me some answers.

The hip pain means my daily walks have ceased – for now.

Fingers crossed the MRI shine a light on the problem.

Onward!

~~~~~~~~

Current meds (2nd line of treatment): 
* Ibrance, 125 mg (oral meds)
* Fluvestrant (monthly shots)
* Lupron (monthly shot)
* Zometa (quarterly infustion)

Keep on Swimming – update, June 7, 2022

It was a good run. I’ve been on the same (first) line of treatment for nearly 3 years (July 2019). Alas, the oncologist thinks that the medication is failing me and that we should move to the next line of treatment.

It’s important to note that the medication is failing ME and not the other way around. I’ve done nothing to cause this.

I had a Zoom call with my oncologist this morning because I’m still under the weather from COVID. He went over my bone scan and CT scan results.

Short version – The CT scan showed some mild bone disease worsening and new small fractures on the C7 and T3 of my spine. Given that we’ve had the “should we change treatment?” conversation for ~6 months, he thinks it’s time.

Previous areas of my spine impacted include C7, T9, T10, L4 and S1. Latest scans show more fracture on C7 and also T3.

So, disappointing but not surprising or unexpected. The doctor was very upfront with me from the beginning – we have medication to treat Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) but no cure. Eventually all the medication will fail. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, rather ‘when’.

We are finalizing my next line of treatment. The standard of care is a drug called Flaslodex (aka Fulvestrant). I’ll share more about it later.

I have 2 options: (1) Flaslodex alone or (2) randomized clinical trial with Flaslodex and Verzineo (Abemaciclib, another CDK 4/6 similar to Ibrance). I opted for the trial.

A research nurse will call me about the trial and we will sort out details.

Sigh. Knew it was coming. Still a bit of a gut punch. This is the long game though…

I asked about progression free survival (PFS) on Flaslodex. He said his general experience is 1-3 years. He said I did better than average on Ibrance and so that could be an indicator of how well I respond to treatments. Overall, of course, hard to say.

I may have to go a bit without treatment so it flushes out of my system before starting the new one, especially for a trial so that they can be sure the effects are from the new medications.

As of today, still taking first line treatments (even though they are failing me): Ibrance, Anastrazole, Lupron, Zometa

March 16, 2022 -Sneaky Lobular Breast Cancer

Where to start – I had scans on Monday, March 7. The fantastic news is that both my bone scan and CT scan were stable! What does that mean? Based on the imaging it looks like the cancer is quiet in my skeleton and it does not appear to have spread elsewhere. Yay! The oncologist uses the scans as the measure of how well the medication is working so – we stay the course. Same medication, go back monthly for checks. Scans again in 3 months.

Every month I also get blood drawn for a tumor marker test (CA 27-29). The blood tests may or may not be reliable as an indicator of cancer activity. My oncologist orders this test but doesn’t make treatment decisions based on it alone.

A CA 27-29 value of under 38 means no active cancer. At diagnosis I was 122. As I’ve mentioned previously, my numbers dropped to a low of 42 in February of 2020 and have been rising steadily since then. This past month it jumped a lot. The most it ever had. I’m not going to lie, it freaked me out. That number is now at 185. (Note, numbers can vary wildly, I know some MBC patients with values around 3,000.)

Why worry about this if the data might not be reliable?

Well, I have invasive lobular breast cancer. The cancer is missing an enzyme and so instead of forming in a mass, it forms in a string. This means that lobular breast cancer doesn’t generally show up on scans.

So, is the tumor marker rising because it’s just not reliable for me? Or is it rising because the lobular cancer is active but just not visible on scans?

🤷‍♀️

We just simply don’t know. Lobular breast cancer is a very distinct subtype and also very understudied. As a result, it is treated just like the more common ductal cancer.

In the meantime, I continue to work, walk and spend a lot of time with the family. We took a few days to go up to the mountains to ski with family and it was fantastic to be able to go do that.

Take care of yourselves. Get vaccinated and boosted and really live today!

The crew at Copper Mountain ski resort. It was gorgeous weather!

~~~~~~~~~

First line of treatment. Current medications: Ibrance, Anastrazole, Lupron and quarterly Zometa infusions.

January 13, 2022

Hi everyone –

I hope 2022 is everything you hoped 2021 was going to be and more. For me, 2022 is off to a better start that expected. I’ll take it!

I had scans last week (bone scan and CT scan). I met with my oncologist earlier this week.

Short version: We stay the course. I’m staying on the same treatment for the moment.

While my blood work (tumor markers) jumped quite a bit in December and I had pain in my right ribs, my CT scan came back clear. My bone scan was largely not changed.

Also a win… my cancer center got a new CT/PET imaging machine and it’s sophisticated enough that I do NOT need to drink barium before the scan. I cannot even tell you how excited I was to learn this.

Overall, I’m still feeling decent. Last week I actually did 2 runs on the ski slopes at Winter Park! Yay me.

In the lift line at Winter Park Ski Resort with (L to R) Glen, Rob, Maddy, Paul and Evelyn.

Longer version:

The CT scan checks for cancer in the soft tissue (lungs, liver, abdomen). In October you may recall there were two items noted by the radiologists. One was enlarged lymph nodes on the left side. Those are gone/normal. We suspected it was a result of my COVID booster and we were probably right. The second was a nodule in my right lung (which are apparently common for everyone). There was no mention of it on the report. Yay!

The bone scan checks the status of the cancer in my bones. The cancer had migrated to my spine, pelvis/hips, shoulders and ribs. My imaging report was largely stable. They noticed “increased uptake” in my hip, where I already knew the cancer had traveled to.

What does this mean?

Unclear. It might mean progression. Might not. ….maddening right?

So, I was given the option of changing to the next line of treatment or staying the course. Glen says (and I agree) we are playing the long game so we stay the course.

The oncologist says this is a gray area. We could change treatments because maybe there is progression. The tumor markers make it look like progression (but tumor markers can be unreliable), but the scans don’t show any progression (but my kind of breast cancer – lobular breast cancer – doesn’t always show up on imaging well). It’s complicated.

I will have scans again in 2 months.

So, for now I continue on my first line of treatment (below). I am on cycle 33 of treatment (cycles are 28 days). This is my 30th calendar month of treatment. It’s hard for me to comprehend that my diagnosis was well over 2 years ago.

Life changes on a dime. We have no control over it. We saw this recently with the fires in Boulder and over 1,000 homes lost and families displaced and losing everything.

It’s hard not to take life for granted when things are going well. Believe me I know. I largely had 50 years of it. But really, we are only guaranteed today. Make the most of it.

~~~~~~~~

First line of treatment. Current medications: Ibrance, Anastrazole, Lupron and quarterly Zometa infusions. CT and bone scans again in March.

Fall update – November 9, 2021

Most days, my living with stage 4 breast cancer is probably very similar to you. Wake up, enjoy coffee, scroll phone, think about what’s coming up. Lately that’s meant planning for Maddy’s 15th (golden! 15 on 11/15) birthday, helping Evelyn with college apps, planning meals, and sneaking in walks with Glen.

I’m grateful that my life with MBC as been so “normal”. It’s easy to get caught up in the normalcy of life – and then you have a day like today where I’m jolted back to reality.

Short version: My bone scan was stable compared to June (great). My CT scan shows 2 areas of “interest” (not great, but not necessarily bad). At this time they are not actionable so I’ll continue the same treatment regimen and we will repeat scans in early 2022.

Longer version: I had a bone scan in early October. This procedure images my entire skeleton to look for areas that are damaged by cancer or healing due to medication. It’s an inexact science with the radiologist looking to see how much uptake there was of the tiny amounts of radioactive materials (tracers) that are injected into me hours before. Areas of the body where cells and tissues are repairing themselves most actively take up the largest amounts of tracer. My scan from October looked the same as the one from June (where they thought there might be progression). The “no change” message is one we want to hear! The breast cancer cells in the bones can compromise the strength of the bone and cause other problems, largely it’s manageable.

I had a CT scan in late October. The CT scan goes from my neck to my lower abdomen. The purpose is to look for breast cancer cells that may have migrated to the soft tissue. Cancer in the soft tissue is more worrisome than in the bones.

I had to go to a different location to get my scan and I think a different radiologist read the imaging. My oncologist noted that this radiologist is very thorough and tends to be “conservative” in what is reported – meaning everything that shows up is documented.

My report listed 2 areas of note and things that we will monitor. No action at this point. We will compare the next scan in early 2022 to see if these 2 areas are problematic or not.

The first is a nodule on the upper lobe of my right lung. It’s small, 6mm in size. These nodules can pop up all the time. My oncologist said it’s too small to biopsy and wouldn’t show up on a PET scan. These type of nodules apparently are the most common incidental finding on scans. There is no way to tell yet if this is cancer-related. We will need to watch to see if others pop up or if this one gets bigger – or if it goes away.

The second is an enlarged lymph node on left side / arm. It’s enlarged but within the “normal” limit (8×12 mm). This type of thing waxes and wanes normally. Could be related to an infection, could be cancer, could be nothing. It’s something to watch.

What to make of all this? Well, it is a reminder that while everyday life seems normal for me, it’s really not a normal life. I hope that as you go about your day and encounter others, remember that you have no idea what might be happening in that person’s life. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Live each day to the fullest.

p.s. Glen and I are making the most of each day. Last week we splurged and saw one of our favorite artists (Sting) in concert. Fortunately, they required full vaccination and we made masks part of our stylish outfits! (And I’m guessing no one who saw us would have imagined what my health situation is!)