Update – October 6, 2022

Hi everyone. I hope you are considering October as Breast ACTION month and are thinking before you “pink” (Pink-tober).

Yesterday I had my monthly check in with the oncology team. It happened to also be the day I got an MRI on my back to investigate some significant pain.

My appointment was “fine”. I started taking Ibrance again last month. However, it’s really compromised my immune system. So much so, that I have to wait another week to restart it. Normally it is 1 week off to let your body recover. They are having me take 2 weeks off. I will go back next week to see if my bloodwork looks better. If it looks better, I restart. If I still have a compromised immune system they will probably lower the dosage.

I had my other treatment (shots) and those seemed to have gone fine.

The MRI was to try to give us some ideas about why I’ve been having incredible (intermittent) back pain. Unfortunately, I don’t have any new answers. This is incredibly frustrating.

So, yesterday was a rough day. None of my medical appointments were great. I also found out that a fellow MBC sister passed away last week. She was diagnosed one month before me. She lived in Colorado Springs and we communicated a lot. Last summer she and her husband were able to meet Glen and I for lunch. We had a lovely visit. She was only a few years older than me, and like I said diagnosed at basically the same time.

Terralissa and Bill Eastburn met Glen and I for lunch, August 2021..

This disease is rubbish.

From the American Society of Clinical Oncology: This year, an estimated 290,560 people (287,850 women and 2,710 men) in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, excluding skin cancer. Worldwide, female breast cancer has now surpassed lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed cancer. An estimated 2,261,419 women were diagnosed with breast cancer (worldwide) in 2020.

44,000 mothers, daughters, wives, friends will die from breast cancer this year. They will die from metastatic breast cancer. That is 120 people EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Every single woman (or man, yes – men get breast cancer) deals with things like I’ve described here. We largely do this quietly all while we are trying to both live a ‘normal’ life and help push the needle on breast cancer research and awareness of MBC.

Everyone is going through something. Give everyone a little grace as you go through your day. And please spread the word that we need more research for MBC, and a cure.

Enough with awareness. We need a cure.

Morning walk at our local (very low) lake.

~~~~~~~

Treatment:

Flaslodex (Fluvestrant)
Ibrance (Palbociclib)
Lupron (Luprolide)
Zometa (Zeldronic Acid)

Next scans, end of October

Science – August 15, 2022

Summer is slipping away, I noticed the air felt different yesterday afternoon during a walk. I’m sitting outside as I write this listening to the soft sound of rain. The monsoon kicked in and we’ve had a lot of wet afternoons and evenings.

Update short version:

I had medical appointments last week.

My CT scan (which is imaging of my chest, abdomen, pelvis) was “stable”. Excellent news! We DO NOT want the cancer to migrate to the soft tissue organs. It’s much more difficult to manage.

My tumor marker blood work rose again (not great, we want lower, not higher). This alone is not evidence of how things are going.

My oncologist is good with the CT scans so we continue onward. The new medication may be working. (I’m nervous and concerned because I have lobular breast cancer which can migrate to the GI track and other places and it does NOT show up on imaging.)

So, onward! More medication, more walking daily, more trying to be intentional. I hope you all are living each day to it’s fullest. You are not guaranteed tomorrow.

If you are on Instagram my MBC account is @nottodaymbc

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Longer version. I’m in a clinical trial where I don’t know if I’m getting the extra medication being tested or a placebo. In researching it more, I’m thinking I just want the actual meds. 🙂 They are FDA approved for this use, the trial is to see how effective they area.

I’m a HUGE advocate and proponent for science. You all know that.

This clinical research trial (CRT) is basically taking the “regular” medicine alone vs. taking the “regular” medicine with an “extra” medicine. The phase II trial showed that the “extra” medicine extended the time before a breast cancer patient had progression. (Progression is when the cancer finds a way to grow.) The trial I’m currently enrolled in is to determine how much more time a patient gets before progression.

Like I said, I’m all about science.

But this is personal. This is literally a matter of life and death.

I might be getting the “extra” medicine and then that would be great. I might be getting the placebo and missing out on the benefit of the other meds.

I don’t think I’m willing to risk not getting the “extra” medicine.

If I withdraw from the trial will it set back science? Yes, maybe a little.

Will it give me piece of mind to know I’m getting the actual meds and not the placebo? Yes, for sure.

What if I’m already getting the “extra” meds? I don’t know. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. There is a 50/50 chance.

I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot; especially since my cancer tumor marker bloodwork is not great. Why are those numbers rising? Is it because they are unreliable or is it because this lobular breast cancer (that doesn’t show up on imaging) is growing in some other area?

So. Much. Uncertainty.

I really thought that science was more concrete than this. This is more like art mixed with science with a dash of uncertainty sprinkled in.

So what to do?

  • Stay positive – do whatever I can to keep a positive mindset and know that I’m doing all I can to be as healthy as possible.
  • Be informed – try to read as many scientific articles about this trial and the medication as possible

Meanwhile, life.

Cara was here visiting and we went to Colorado Springs for ziplining and whitewater rafting.

Evelyn moves in to the dorms today at the University of Colorado.

Maddy starts her sophomore year of high school on Thursday.

Glen and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary last week.

I’m not letting life pass me by and you should not either. Seize the day.

Rafting on the Arkansas River. I’m in the bright pink shirt. Cara is middle row closest to camera and Maddy is far side of the boat, second back.
Hiking with Glen, late July. We are so fortunate to live somewhere with beautiful vistas!
Maddy spent 5 days in Wisconsin and then Cara 5 days here. We went to Meow Wolf in Denver and then to dinner as a last family adventure before school starts.

~~~~~

Current treatment:

Fluvestrant (Flaslodex) monthly (2 shots) – Selective Estrogen Receptor Degrader (shuts down estrogen)

Lupron monthly (1 shot) – puts me in menopause

Zometa, quarterly (infusion) – bone strengthener

Maybe Verzenio (CDK 4/6 inhibitor) or maybe placebo (clinical research trial: postMONARCH)

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!

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

February 4, 2021

Dear Friends and Family –

A few years ago Evelyn did a project for school where she made a calendar. Each day of the calendar was a different “national” day. National donut day (June 4), national chocolate day (November 11), my personal favorite – national wine day (May 25). I’m writing this on February 4, World Cancer Day. Not even national cancer day – WORLD cancer day. Who knew this existed? Not me. Now you do. Take this opportunity to enlighten others about cancer, donate to cancer research (if you have the means), or reach out to someone you know impacted by cancer. (Sadly the list for that last one is probably substantial).

Today I had my monthly treatment and medical visits. These are every 28 days (Thursday afternoons) and fortunately are relatively short and usually pain free. I typically wait to write until I get all my blood work back, which takes up to 72 hours. It seemed fitting to write today though.

I’m still taking the same medication and on the same treatment plan as when I was diagnosed in July 2019. Earlier this week I started cycle 21 of my medication. (We count the time I’m on this medication by the 28-day cycle of the meds.) I’m still taking Ibrance (you’ve probably seen commercials for it on television) and Anastrozole. Those are oral meds and I take them daily. Today I received a shot of Lupron and an infusion of Zometa. I have very few side effects from the medication. My treatment today was pretty uneventful, which is always good.

Lately I’ve been feeling fine. Some days I feel great! That’s the thing about Stage 4 cancer that is weird. I don’t physically feel bad. I’m not incapacitated. I worked this morning. I styled my hair today – I still have hair. I thought about how I didn’t want to exercise and did it anyway. Probably pretty similar to your day in many ways.

I’ll stay on this medication until it no longer keeps the cancer at bay. When will that happen? No one knows. Will I know when it is happening – will I feel it? Might feel exactly like I do right now, I might have some terrible pain, no one can say. How will we know if the medication has stopped working? When my scans show new cancer.

Speaking of which, I’m up again for scans – will have them just before my March appointment. I get them every 3 months. It feels a little bit like the movie Groundhog Day. A lot of repetition. I’m ok with that. In fact, I am grateful for it. It means nothing has changed and that’s the best we can hope for.

I hope those of you on the front lines of health care or enjoying your later years have received a vaccine or will get one soon. Until we all are vaccinated, Mask Up, social distance and stay safe.

Be well.