But when something has been trying to kill you for fifteen years, it is impossible not to take it personally. And when this thing that’s chasing you starts going after your friends as well, it’s more than personal.
This is a war. And when I hear others rail against that terminology, I have to think that their experience with cancer is not quite the same as mine.
My own struggle to stay alive is daily. And it is a struggle. The enemy is persistent, relentless, and sneaky as fuck. I have now lost hundreds of friends to cancer. My heart has been broken so many times I am sometimes surprised that it can go on beating. But it does, and, against all odds, I continue to draw breath. Battle on.
What keeps me going is in part this notion that I am at war.
I lost a dear friend yesterday and my first thought was ‘man down.’ I felt incredible grief but also that familiar surge of motivating anger.
In less than two weeks I shall likely start my fourth phase I clinical trial. The front lines of this battle, if you will. I am–unapologetically–a cancer warrior.
I fight not just for myself, but for all who are similarly afflicted. I fight because I want to live, but also because I want others to have the opportunity to live as well.
I don’t know if it was the Captain Marvel movie (love me some scrappy heroine), the hot water with lemon that my friend Peter prescribed to start my day, or Jenny Ro’s bone broth soup. It couldn’t be the chemo, could it?
This girl has turned a corner. As of Monday evening, after a nine hour day of physical labor (I am crazy, but I needed to get the rest of my art stuff out of my old apartment), I have felt not good but GREAT.
Physically strong, almost zero wheeze (what’s up with that?), I am now of the mindset that I am going to live.
Powerful, powerful feeling, that. And just the boost of confidence I needed.
This weekend I am going to spend a couple of days in my new studio space. Making art. I could cry just writing that sentence.
This means I am likely to go another round of chemo prior to starting the clinical trial. As long as I wasn’t feeling any improvement, that was a dismal prospect. However, there is nothing I won’t do if I believe it is capable of knocking down my cancer.
Belief that I shall rise again from this diminished state. The hard core reality of pushing through with chemo even though there is no assurance that it’s poisoning not just me but my cancer. Hanging my hope on the premise that perhaps this potent brew is slowing down the pace of metastasis.
This is hard. I can march through hell if I know there is something good on the other side but this, well this is just marching through hell. Blindly.
But….I push through. One day at a time. I will make it to this next clinical trial and maybe, just maybe, it will turn this runaway train around. I have to believe it is so.
A long, long day. But in the parlance of my kind (the terminally ill), a long day beats a short day all to heck.
First, my life is blessed with a plethora of goddesses. Childhood friends, my daughter, sisters, my many new friends, nurses, phlebotomists, counselors, medical doctors. Men are great and I love a heap of them as well but this group of women has been my consistent go to for the tough stuff.
One goddess was in tow yesterday, my friend Sally: pals since the fifth grade. I am beginning to realize how beneficial it is to have company at these visits, after years and years of going it alone.
I had an appointment with the goddess who takes care of me from the neck up (as I like to say), Mary Susan Convery, my thoracic social worker. She keeps my head on straight.
A quick trip down Charles St for a hug from my daughter (Sally is her actual godmother) and a delicious lamb sandwich at Tatte. And then a long wait in those spaces appropriately called waiting rooms.
Oh, the irony. Those of us to whom time is so precious spend far too much of it waiting.
Anyway, the action got started around four with a visit from the head goddess, Alice. Chit chat about how I am feeling (great for the moment, on that artificial steroid high, my dyspnea temporarily under control.) But I was eager to cut to the chase—how about those scans? She had read them herself and her assessment was that they were mildly worse than the ones in December. Now remember this is while getting chemo so bummer. Of concern is the lymphangitic spread as well as the fact that the slight amount of fluid in the bottom of my left upper lobe is also increasing.
Alice puts more store in symptoms though and mine are not encouraging. Definite downward trend. So we agreed that I’d go ahead and get chemo one more time (and possibly two, depending on timing and tolerance) in the hope that it is at least slowing down progression.
There was a bright spot though and that was in the form of options. I figured we were down to one–lorlatinib plus a mek inhibitor. But Alice described yet another possibility. That after all these years on TKI-s it might be good to take a break. Maybe let my cancer forget some of what it has learned. To try a novel therapeutic, one my cancer is completely naive to.
While getting infused I signed the consent forms for a phase I clinical trial for a drug called DS-1062a; an antibody drug conjugate which targets a protein called trophoblast cell-surface antigen2 (TROP2), which is found in copious quantities on the surface of cancer cells.
This sounds exciting to me–a fresh possibility. But it is going to be intense. First there are the necessary hoops to jump through in order to qualify, including a lung biopsy, heart scan, ECHO, and eye exam. And all that blood, blood, blood (30 teaspoons for the first three cycles).
Every three week infusions but the first week, at least two additional visits. And then for the subsequent nine weeks, I return to the hospital once a week, with a second lung biopsy at week two. It is going to be consuming–that is, assuming I qualify.
But it also has given me fresh hope (I love the luxury of choices).
Good thing. Chemo may not be kicking cancer’s ass, but it is kicking mine. My liver is a tad inflamed–Alice asked me if alcohol might be involved. Truth? Yes. Goodbye to that for the time being. Sally filled me with healthy fluids last night and this morning she made me oatmeal, hot lemon water, and a vegetable chicken soup. I am in good and loving hands.
So yes. Stability or response would have been the preferred report but this feels if not a door, at least a window. And that’s what I need. Fresh air and a bit of a vista to contemplate.
When I was a wee child I would recite a prayer before bed each night:
Now I lay me down to sleep and I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
And then my parents would turn off the light and shut the door to my bedroom, leaving me alone with that happy thought. A stupid little prayer that scared the shit out of me and was undoubtedly at least partially at the root of a life long case of acute anxiety. I mean, WTF? No wonder I suffered from nightmares.
I thought of this prayer today as I have begun to preface so very many of my thoughts with ‘and if I live.’ Irony free.
Only someone who has been in my position where death is not just a possibility but rather a probability can understand.
It is rather like being in an out of control vehicle, hurtling headlong to a bluff overlooking the ocean. There is a remote chance that you will be able to steer the car to safety at the last moment. However, as you don’t want to waste a moment of what might be your last time on earth, you are also doing your utmost to enjoy the scenery.
It is that flipping surreal.
I have a CT scan on Tuesday which will give a clinical assessment of where we are at. From the objective of the person who is in this body, I can only tell you that it’s getting harder and harder to breathe in here. Hardly encouraging.
And yet the view out the window? Still extraordinary.
I am at a tough place. Physically, financially, emotionally.
Moving again combined with chemotherapy plus lorlatinib has been more difficult than I imagined. I am exhausted and raw–figuratively and literally.
In December my five years of alimony came to an end. The previously draconian divorce laws in NH have been revised, and were I to be divorced now, I would have received alimony for up to one half the length of my marriage. I asked for an extension which was summarily denied (no surprise). I don’t qualify for disability (not enough work credits–being a stay at home mom bit me in the ass–hard) so I am going to have to have to rely on my retirement fund. It is all very stressful and yet small potatoes compared to my health issues.
Breathing. So simple and yet not. Thus far no indication that chemotherapy is making a positive difference. Which of course makes the abundant side effects less tolerable as well. And then there is the mind fuck of pushing ahead with the belief that this is all for a reason while also understanding that in fact I may just be making myself sicker with no resultant benefit.
On Monday I was given the option of forgoing chemo. My response was ‘hit me.’ I need to believe that I am accomplishing something.
There is also the reality that I am essentially going this alone. That the dog still needs to be walked and I need to eat, neither of which is going to happen magically.
I have no doubt I shall get through this. It is what I do. But it also occurred to me (again) today that perhaps the worst part of being alone is having no one at my side. That human touch and warmth would do far more toward making me feel whole than a meal or a walk for my dog (things I can do myself).
Well. I am not one to let conventionality stand in the way. If you’re a close friend of mine and within driving distance, don’t be surprised if I hit you up for a sleepover. Nothing fancy. Not sexual.
This part of chemo I had forgotten. A bone numbing fatigue that even a consummate overcomer such as myself cannot override.
It is difficult to be patient. My mental energy remains exultingly high. I have plans, big plans. And much to accomplish.
In three weeks I shall have my first scan and will know better whether this hit on my physical self has been for naught. Of course I remain exceedingly hopeful that my cancer is also struggling. And if that is the case, well, then I can continue to justify this reduction in stamina.
I have an agenda. A clear agenda that keeps me incredibly focused. Tolerant of discomfort. Stubborn and steadfast. Eyes on the prize. Eyes on tomorrow.