The Big C

A journey through Stage Four Cancer

The High Cost of Cancer

This will be a quick update.  It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that my cancer is once again active.  There is a study going on that my doctor thought I would benefit from, but  unfortunately, my i’s weren’t dotted and my t’s crossed in time, and I missed out on being a participant.

Plan two, a new medicine has been approved for use in the United States and my doctor thought that I might benefit from that.  It would be two pills at breakfast for two weeks, so 28 pills.

I dropped the perscription off at the drugstore and was told that since it was a new medicine, it might be a while before it was able to be filled.

Surprisingly, I got a call from the pharmacy soon after I dropped off the prescription telling me that my insurance had covered the medicine and my co-pay would be $2,800.  I was in shock and was mentally resigning myself to the idea that I would not be taking this particular med and that the doctor would have to go back to the drawing board on method of attack on this onslaught of cancer.

The woman at the other end of the phone call agreed that the co-pay was high, and gave me a number to call that might be able to get me financial help.  I called the number, and was connected with another nice woman.  She asked me a few brief questions on our family size and income and a fax number to fax the first two pages of our last year’s tax return.

A few days after that, I received a call that told me that I had been approved for financial assistance. Remember what I wrote a few blogs back?  Be careful that the wolf you think is at your door is actually a wolf and not a rambunctious Labrador Retriever.


A Little Rain Must Fall

They say into every life, a little rain must fall.  This past week my life has had some showers.  It started nicely enough on a beautiful day when my son offered to take me for a walk around the neighborhood.  On the walk, I saw some unusual flowers, and I asked him to stop.  The flowers were a dark purplish blue with some bright yellow.  They were very small, smaller than flowers people usually plant in their yard.  I thought it would make a nice picture for my blog, so I took out my ever trusty Olympus 820 Stylus and turned it on.  The LCD screen had black lines in it, and the edges of the picture were jagged.  I tried to take a picture anyway, and it came out much too dark.  Not ever being one to give up at a first, or even a twentieth try, I took another picture.  Still to dark.  Well, to make a long story short, the screen image continued to degrade, until my pictures all looked like they were an acid trip from the 1960’s.  The objects I took pictures of were not identifiable.  When I got home, I tried to find advice on the Internet, but instead found out that Olympus would charge $80 to look at my camera before fixing it.  Then they would fix my camera at about a charge of between $150 to $180, which is about the cost of the camera new.  Talk about being bummed!  As a last desperate attempt, I reset everything on the camera and …………………my camera began to work again, taking great pictures.  I thought I had dodged the bullet until I turned on my camera today to take a picture, and the screen was back to being a horror show!

So, I am upset.  I know that my dear husband is not going to want to purchase a new camera anytime soon.  Shouldn’t a camera last more than 6 years?  The lens and all the motors are great, but that doesn’t help the situation.  And I am lost without a camera.

Then, as you recall, I was too sick to go to my last doctor’s appointment.  Today I wasn’t too sick to go to the doctors, well until this afternoon when I found out that my camera is broken I wasn’t sick.  So I saw my oncologist today for the results of my CAT scan.  The results are good, everything looks stable.  The cancer hasn’t grown in my abdomen.  Oh! Here comes another shower!

Because, as I have mentioned before, I have pain in my left groin.  Well a bit of pressing and the talented hands of my oncologist found something.  The CAT scan hadn’t scanned here.  Is it cancerous?  It seems safe to assume so, but he also pointed out that it could be infected lymph nodes, a benign growth, anything.  We don’t know for sure until after I get an MRI and it is read.

Just a little shower.

Yesterday was the end of my novena to Our Lady of Good Success.  You can follow this link for more information about this apparition.  I found it interesting and very relevant to our times.  Perhaps, after this novena to Our Lady of Good Success, whatever is in my groin will be found to be benign and not cancer?

And if it is cancer?  A little more rain will fall.  But like Jesus, the Lord I profess to follow, I must say “But not my will, but your will Father.” Luke 42:22

Thank-you for reading my update!


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The Wheelchair

Well it’s time for another update.  Do you remember the way Nate and I argued about getting a handicapped tag for me so that we could park closer when going to the mall?  I was for it, because if I was feeling good, I didn’t have to use the tag to park in a handicapped parking space.  Nate fought against it because he thought if we had it, we would use it and we’d get lazy about keeping my legs strong and walking.

Well, little by little, my hip area has started to hurt too much for me to walk much.  It used to be that I’d walk through the mall, and have to rest for a few hours afterward.  Then, I couldn’t make it through WalMart, and would have to rest on the bench while the family finished shopping and checked out.  And then rested for hours at home later.

There is no longer any fooling around, I hurt.  I walk from my living room couch to the bathroom, and it hurts.  I walk from the bedroom to the living room and it hurts.  I can’t stand long enough to prepare supper any more.  My world has become my house, because unless the store has a wheel chair, I can’t shop.

Finding a wheel chair has been impossible.  I have called churches, charities, community centers, lending centers, thrift stores and even a pawn shop, to no avail.  Renting a wheel chair was $80 per month, and I wasn’t willing to have another monthly bill.

Nate to the rescue!  He scanned the Net and found one for under $200 and free shipping.  It was on back order. Now it isn’t on back order any longer, and I should be getting it before Christmas.

All great news, at least physically.  Mentally, I am not prepared.  I have always been a walker, a big walker.  I’ve walked all over creation as a child.  I’ve always gone on walks with my kids.

Not anymore.

“But we like pushing you Mom!” my kids protest.  “We don’t mind!”

I mind.

I am at one time both grateful for Nate’s perseverance in getting me a wheelchair and ungrateful to have to use it.

Interesting position to be in.


Great Update

I went to my oncologist on Halloween , to tell me the results of my latest CAT scan.  I call it the CAT scan from hell because I’ve developed an allergy to the contrast fluid and had diarrhea from shortly before the scan until about a week afterward. Not fun!

The good news is that my tumors have not increased in size or number.  I am scheduled for another CAT scan after all the holidays are over, sometime in January.  The bad news is that the Dr told me that more chemo is in my future.  With all the good news, I asked how needing chemo fit in?  I was surprised, and a bit take back.  The short answer is that the kind of tumors that I have won’t stay dormant, at some point they will start to grow again and I will need chemo to knock them down again.

I wanted to yell “No!”, but this is his profession, he’s seen this beast many times. He knows.  But I’m not laying down with a lily on my chest.  I am going to continue to start every day asking the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be my Patroness, to ask her son to please grant me either a remission or a cure.  I’m going to continue to take my vitamin D and my yucky mushroom supplements.  I’m going to try to keep a cheerful mood .  I am going to continue to refrain from alcohol because that is what the Dr’s have told me to do.

I am going to continue to take it day to day, and be grateful for the day that God has granted me.

The bills continue to be, spectacular.  Today I don’t feel guilty for living.  My family is grateful to have me.  I am continuing to write my book “The Development”, although inspiration hasn’t been as strong as it was previously, but maybe that is because I am now writing hoping for commercial success instead of just telling a good story.

I’ve also taken pictures of my daughters cats with pumpkins, Jack O’Lanterns and Christmas garland and then submitted them to SnapFish Stock Photos and had them accepted.  I’ve been told not to expect to make my fortune selling photos, but anything I do make will help pay the bills.

I still have the pain in my leg, the mystery pain because it isn’t from the tumors.  I’ve been trying to find a wheel chair from Craigslist, thrift shops, even pawn shops, to no avail.  Maybe people are selling wheel chairs instead of donating them in this economy?  My knight in shining armour has come through again, and ordered me a new one.  It should be here before Christmas, so soon I won’t be home bound anymore.  Even walking in my yard is too much for me now.

So, there is my mostly great, update!


Bald as a Cue Ball

My life seems to go in two speeds, sonic, in which I have way too much to get done and then slower than a sloth, in which I never think of the things that I need to get done.  May-be I can blame being overwhelmed for the end result of having nothing done?

So now, in a matter of days, I’ve gotten an MRI, Port operation and my first round of chemo scheduled.  Yikes!  Nothing, nothing, nothing and then vrrrrrooooooooooooooooom!  The MRI is just to make sure the pain in my legs is not due to my cancer migrating into my bones but actually from the tumor.  The port is because the chemo would destroy my veins if it was administered there.  So a little plastic appliance will be installed (again) in my chest wall that will funnel the chemo to the right place to minimize damage to anything except the tumor.

My husband continues to be my personal hero, tries to keep my spirits up etc.  So we’re sitting here watching tv and out of nowhere, he says to the whole family “That’s your mom!  She’s going to wear a scarf with style!!”

Everyone in the room is concentrating on a very engrossing television plot, that for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you now. Hmmmmm….. which is what I said “Huh?” because somewhere in the periphery of my consciousness I realize that Nate had said something.

“A Bright, catch-catch-your-eye pink scarf, right Mary?”

I caught up to his conversation quickly.  My mind screamed “NO!” and a LOT of tears came to my eyes.

“Hey, if you go bald, I’ll shave my head! We’ll be bald together!”

I’m less touched by his offer of solidarity than you might think.  Nate likes being as bald as a cue ball, he’s done it many summers.  I hate it when he shaves his head.  But his timing is a definite nod toward solidarity.

What’s going on?  With my first round of chemo, I was losing my hair, and I wasn’t overly stressed about it.  Now my fourth round of chemo hasn’t even started yet, and I’m upset about the possibility of losing my hair?

I was walking past the hospital gift shop for chemo/radiation patient women.  Nate was getting our car, and it was cold, so while I waited, I walked into the shop.  There were all kinds of different hats and scarves.  I’d like to be a hat woman, but with a semi-bald or bald head, I don’t think it’s the time to start.  I looked at the scarves, and was astounded by how many different types there are.  Short, long, brightly colored, drab, print, the array is endless.

For myself, I think I am leaning more toward the head covering that you see in the Middle East instead of the type that is knotted at the back of the head.



The Day After

So here it is the day after, and my head is still swirling.  For all of my resolutions of how I am going to fight this newest attack, for how I am also such a believer in the next world, I find tears in my eyes often.

My emotions are a mess.  I go from being stalwart and chomping at the bit to get to this fight and get past it.  Then I am depressed, because there are no guarantees.  This may be my last battle.  There is no real reason to believe that this will be the last battle but cancer is so sneaky, so underhanded, malignant and vile.  Who knows if another assault is being waged in some other part of my body?

There are no guarantees…………

The chemo oncologist spoke to Nate and I yesterday.  He was very open about what chemo I would be getting.  This time, the chemo will not cause any more numbness to my fingers or toes, which is good, because any more numbness and my fingers would probably be useless except for the most gross of activities.  I am glad for that.  This new chemo will inhibit the tumor from producing any new veins from it, to me, it’s host.  This chemo has side effects of diarrhea and, I will lose my hair again.  This time, it may well be all of it.

I know losing my hair should be the least of my worries, but, I’m not looking forward to it.  I am sort of dreading it.  But not dreading it enough to put off chemo.  Fact is, I think I am becoming one of those people desperate for life, that I will do almost anything  just to be with my children that much longer.

The way that I am handling this second battle surprises me.  I am in turns brave as a lion, and as cowardly as the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz.  I am full of hope, and in the depths of despair.  I am grateful for more time with my children, and fearing what kind of time it will be.

I will have to have a port put back in.  That is not overwhelming agony, but it does make me retreat to an early bedtime just to get away from the pain.  I am fearing to some degree also the chemo.  It is after all a poisoning of my cells, good and bad.  How tired will I be?  How long between treatments will it take me to recover to another ‘new normal?’

In the next two weeks, I will be having an MRI to make sure that the pain in my back is because of pressure from the tumor, and not because of a new cancer onslaught.  Then the port gets to be put in.  And then chemo begins.  My fourth round.

I don’t know for how long.

There are many heroes to this story.  My doctors to start with.  If it wasn’t for Dr Miner who saw something in me (I was unconscious at the time), I would have been dead for two years now.  Dr Safran who thinks so carefully about my chemo.  The team of Miner and Safran are genius!

Then there is my husband.  My journey has meant me staying months in hospitals (notice the s?), being with me as I relearned how to walk, putting up with potty duties when walking to the bathroom was beyond my strength.  He worked all day and then came home to do the laundry, check the schooling, make dinner and drive 120 miles roundtrip almost every day to see me.  Despite rain, sleet, ice and snow.  He doesn’t understand how close I might be to the end of this fight.  I don’t think he will allow that thought.

Mary has cancer again?  We’ll fight it.   She needs chemo again?  She’ll get it.  I have to drive her to chemo sessions 130 miles round trip?  I’ll drive it.   I have to make suppers and do all the house hold chores?  I’ll do it.  Mary needs another operation?  We’ll get through it.  Mary will go into remission and if the cancer comes back again, we’ll go through it all again.  And again if need be.

Too bad Nate can’t be made into a supplement for everyone who need strength to get through the day!

He gets absolutely grouchy at my tears! He allows no defeat, not even in attitude.  Not even in fears!  No quarter given to cancer. None!

The other heroes in this story are my cousin Alice and my long time friend Janet.  They cry with me, they pray for me.  Other heroes are people that I’d never recognize on the street, my long time internet friends and blog readers.

And I am so thankful for all the individuals that make up a huge army that prays for me.

Thank-you all of you soooo much!

What worries me about posting this, is that although it is truthful, it is not all that uplifting.  Will it really help anyone who has been diagnosed with stage four cancer?  May-be.  They’ll see that it isn’t unusual to be afraid or depressed.  To have emotions that are all over the place, and rapidly changing.

The most important thing is to hold onto your faith with two hands and not lose hope.  Where there is life, there is hope!  And miracles still happen, even in this day and age.


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