Friday, August 5, 2011

A Huge Blow

I have to ask for your forgiveness, kind readers. I admit, I have been hiding and I have been procrastinating. Both of these qualities are unusual for me. I am usually very forthright, open, and a take the bull by the horns kinda gal, but, please allow me to explain my silence.

A couple of months ago, I celebrated stable scan results and looked forward to a quiet summer. I promised all of you blog readers that I was going to celebrate my summer of stability by focusing on others and ending the Bridget Show.

The reason I have been hiding is because the Bridget Show has come to the forefront again- way sooner than expected.

I desperately want to be normal, quiet, and not the center of attention or the focus of pity, so I didn't want to share my news with you blog readers until I absolutely had to share it. I wanted to put off this post for as long as necessary. I wanted to put off the questions of "How are you doing" and "what can we do to help?" etc, etc for as long as possible. At the same time, I also couldn't in good conscience lie to all of you. I couldn't write about other people's stories, or cover topics like cancer and fertility or cancer and careers, and pretend my world was quiet and perfect, when in fact my whole world was falling apart. So I chose the middle ground. I didn't lie, but I didn't come clean. I chose silence.

Please accept my apology. Today, I'm coming clean.

The cancer has grown. The Tykerb/Xeloda regimen has failed.

It all started with my stable scan results. At the same time that the doctors look at my CT scan, they also take blood work and keep an eye on my "tumor markers." Tumor markers are like trails of trash that my cancer leaves behind in my bloodstream as it grows and travels. When my tumor markers decline, it is a sign that my therapy is working. When they increase, it is a signal that my treatment is failing. That said, tumor markers are unreliable, so we don't jump to 'all hands on deck' after just one bad blood test. Instead, like playing the stock market, we follow the tumor markers' trends and we make decisions based on trends after looking at weeks and weeks of data points.

So, the same day that my CT scan results showed stability, my blood work showed increased tumor markers. Because we focus on tumor marker trends, my doctors played down the blood work and focused instead on the stability seen on the scan. However, after we saw a second large jump in my tumor markers the next visit, the doctors started preparing me for bad news. After a third jump, the doctors said, let's be safe and scan you early.

After the second appointment, when concerns were first raised, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. My doctors had never before focused much on tumor markers. My subconscious was telling me that this was not good. I wanted to hide. I wanted so desperately for my life to be normal and wonderful and perfect. I wanted so badly to enjoy the blissful summer I had planned.

I couldn't bring myself to blog. Sharing the news made it real- I was admitting to something I couldn't yet admit to myself. Like I said before, I took the easy approach and I disappeared- from blogs, from Twitter, from Facebook, from email returning, even from some phone calls. I apologize, friends.

Instead of blogging or emailing with all of you, I threw myself into home and work. I cooked for Big Man like he was a family of 4. I made mango salsas and elaborate skewers of meat and fancy veggies. Like Izzy on Grey's Anatomy, I baked- cookies, and brownies, and cakes- oh my! I walked the dog 4 times a day for long walks through new neighborhoods. I stared at her perfect, cute little face. I stayed up late and stared at the Big Man while he was sleeping (creepy! but also romantic) and I imagined what our kids would look like. I didn't want to fall asleep each night. I stayed awake later and later. I didn't want to go to bed because I didn't want the party to end. Every day that passed was one day closer to the bad news that the butterflies in my stomach knew was coming.

I also threw myself into work. For those who don't know, I am a coach as well as a 5 time walker for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. A few months ago, I moved into a new position at the 3-Day- I no longer worked nationally with every event, I now am the chief cook and bottle washer here in Boston. That really is my title "Boston's chief cook and bottle washer!" I threw myself into the new job working weekends and nights, and loving it! The Boston 3-Day for the Cure was July 22-24th, otherwise known as the hottest weekend in 100 years or something. I relished the busy-ness and the heat and the challenge. I wasn't winning in my own cancer battle, but I sure as hell could work my tail off and save someone else. I also relished the fact that, at work, I knew what was expected of me. I could handle work. I could control work. There were SOPs and checklists and deadlines. There is no SOP for metastatic breast cancer. I couldn't control my tumor markers.

I loved hiding.

Me as 3-Day coach with my blogger buddy Dusty Showers-
Big Man, be afraid, be very afraid!
So this brings us to a couple weeks ago. On Sunday July 24th, I celebrated with the 1,800 walkers and 350 crew as they crossed the finish line of the 2011 Boston 3-Day. I hugged my survivor friends. I cried with them. I laughed with them. I took pleasure in hearing other people's stories instead of sharing mine. I looked fabulous. I felt fabulous. I was a success. Life was good.

The next day, on July 25th, life got tough. At 7am, I lay alone in the tunnel of a CT scanner, praying because my life depended on it.

This unexpected, early scan showed that in just 2 months my cancer had grown in both my liver and my lymphnodes. In my abdominal lymphnodes, the cancer used to be about 1mm. The cancer was now more than 2cm. In my liver, my tumor previously was 1cm. My liver tumor was now 2.6cm. In just two months, my tumor markers went from 40 to 120.

Allow me to explain those that these tumors, my cancer, is all still very small and very manageable. This is not a "get your affairs in order" situation. I don't want everyone to freak out or misread me. I still plan on celebrating my 30th birthday in two years and throwing the most fabulous Birthday Bash the world has ever seen, but there is also no doubt the cancer is growing. We need to take action and stop it.

There are two things that make me angry about this situation. First of all, the trials and tribulations of Tykerb and Xeloda were all for naught. That regimen never really worked for me. I was on them for only 4 months. I suffered with hives, painful and peeling feet and hands, and acne on my face that made young children run and hide. All of that was for nothing. That said, the Tykerb and Xeloda probably did slow down my cancer's growth. The cancer grew, but it took 4 months for us to notice anything. I guess I'll take that, but I'm not happy about it.

Secondly, I feel like we are getting down to the wire. I just keep taking hit, after hit, after hit, and its getting to me mentally. These past 2 years it seems as though nothing has worked! I've had some victories, but I have had more losses than victories. My "arsenal" of drugs has now dwindled to 4. There are 4 more standard therapies available to me if this cancer keeps growing. That does not make me happy. I need 84 years worth of drugs if I am to grow old with Big Man as I have planned. When I counted the remaining number of drugs with my doctor, I gulped and clutched Mommy's hand desperately. In the past I have felt scared, disappointed and worried, but I've never felt desperation before.

I am starting a new chemo called Gemzar. I am going to take it in combination with my BFF, the drug Herceptin. The big bummer is that Gemzar is given through IV over several hours...every week. No more fantastic trips to Paris or Milan for me. I might have to miss a few friends' weddings. Every single week I have to show up like a good little girl and get my drugs. Cancer will be an even more frequent intruder in m life. I will spend even more time at the hospital instead of out living like every other 28 year old. Unfair!

Gemzar causes flulike symptoms. After my first treatment a few days ago, I ran a fever, and had chills and muscle aches. It's pretty daunting to imagine suffering through a flu every single week for the foreseeable future.

My doctor says in most patients the flulike symptoms diminish over time. I won't run a fever or have chills, I'll just be achy. Let's hope that diminishing happens sooner rather than later. After all, I have a full plate. I have to take over the world and cure cancer, remember?

The realities of entering this next, scarier phase in my fight against breast cancer are particularly daunting. All of the most exciting and talked about supposed "cures," all of the hottest and latest drugs, well, I've taken them. They haven't worked. Now I am on to "standard therapy." I am hoping and praying that Gemzar gives me stability, but after 3 failed regimens in one year, I just don't know if I can say that I am kicking cancer's ass. Cancer seems to be kicking mine these days. On the internet I found a synopsis of the results of clinical trials of this Gemzar and Herceptin regimen, the median time to progression for patients (meaning the median amount of time that these drugs gave patients' the stability that I so desperately want) was 5 months. The median survival time for patients receiving this regimen....10 months. I want more than 10 months! I am not ready to die in this calendar year. I have to assume those statistics will not be mine, but they still are staring me in the face. They still haunt me every night as I try to fall asleep.

My doctor is my biggest fan. It makes me choke up just thinking about her. She's wonderful. She tells me she has seen some patients who were on this drug for several years. She's confident of my future and she scoffs when I mention that I am doubting my hope of a 30th birthday. She says the results of this regimen vary greatly by individual. She also reassured me because I'm in great shape and I'm so very young.

My favorite poster from this year's Boston 3-Day
This is going to become my mantra!
With her confidence in my back pocket, I am entering this new chapter with my Big Girl Pants on tight. She's right, I can handle this. She wouldn't give it to me if she didn't think it would help. So, even though I am scared and worried and disappointed, I have to put on my Big Girl Pants and focus on hope. I suppose that is what faith really is, believing in something when it seems impossible. True faith isn't believing in something when the chances of it happening are good. True faith is continuing to believe even if that seems crazy, especially when it seems crazy. I'm choosing to believe. I am going to continue to believe in my future. I will continue to believe that Big Man and I could one day have babies. I will continue to believe that we will grow old together. I will continue to believe in it, and I can't wait for that to happen!

Today though, I ask you for some favors. I ask you for prayers, but not pity, and I ask you for research dollars, passion, and activism, but not gifts or cards. We need to cure this and I can't do it alone. We need to cure this SOON.

Even though I hoped and prayed and hid from reality for the past two months, I now must admit: the Bridget Show continues. I just hope that this past year of my blogging has opened your eyes to the roller coaster that is Life With Breast Cancer. I hope that my blog has made you understand why the world needs more pink. I hope you realize that, contrary to popular opinion, this battle for a cure is far from over.

Every 69 seconds someone in the world dies from breast cancer.

That needs to I don't want to add my life to that statistic, but I can't help but wonder, when will my 69 seconds come around?