Tag Archives: Recurrence

Recurrence Scare / IBS

I had a very bad scare last month. I started experiencing ever-increasing symptoms, like I had last year. The particularly scary thing was that if the cancer returns within six months of chemo treatments ending, it means it does not respond to the chemo and the treatment options become much more limited. It was frightful to think that I might have to tell my parents about it and that I might die before them.

After about five days I made an appointment with the BC Cancer Agency and was able to get in to see them within a few days. Everything I told the doctor was taken seriously, and I could tell from the questions asked that perhaps things were very bad. However, I was sent for a CT scan (100 – 400 times the radiation of a regular x-ray), a chest x-ray and a blood test. The results were back within seven days – during which we were extremely worried and stressed. The results: No cancer! Wonderful!

The next step was to see what caused the problems, which subsided almost immediately after this. It appears to be IBS (irritably bowel syndrome), which is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning they can’t find anything actually wrong with you but they recognize something IS wrong. IBS is closely tied to stress and so it appears that I got into a vicious cycle of worrying and making things worse.

The lesson here is to be very aware of your body and don’t waste a second in getting things checked out if you experience OC symptoms at any time. The BC Cancer Agency is very supportive and if you don’t want to undergo a CT scan whenever you have suspicious symptoms, start with the Ca-125 blood test and see where your marker is.

Glad That’s Over

Halloween 2012 Pumpkins

The three pumpkins I carved

Hello folks …

Hallowe’en
We only handed out candy to about 20 kids on Hallowe’en, which was quite a low number. The rain was appalling early in the evening and must have kept some people close to home. My pumpkins were a success! Having so few visitors means that Alex must finish up all the remaining red and yellow “licorice” – frightful sugary, chemical stuff that bears no resemblance to real licorice at all.

UNREAL Candy
On that note, you might be interested in a posting from Bill Gates about innovation in the field of sugary treats, by a firm called UNREAL Candy.

A serving of Unreal™ candy contains an average of 45 percent less sugar, 13 percent less fat, 23 percent fewer calories, 149 percent more protein and 250 percent more fiber. Impressively, all products are low GI (Glycemic Index).

Unreal™ candy is made with all real food ingredients – no corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, and no synthetic colors, for example.

That all sounds like a good idea to me, if you are not going to eat regular dark chocolate!

Medical Update
I had the final treatment, on schedule, on Thursday Oct 25 and now I am finished! My readings were a bit low and my feet were suffering quite badly from the CIPN (chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy), so we were unsure whether the Cancer Agency would or should give me the go-ahead. After seeing my blood test results the nurse called the doctor to check. The doctor essentially shrugged her shoulders and said “It’s up to Penny”. I talked to her myself and got no further information or advice. This is not new. It is really quite unbelievable that at the end of day you feel you are directing your own treatment, using expensive, risky drugs with little knowledge as to their efficacy, short term side-effects or long-term impact. They know so little about OC (as opposed to other cancers) … it seems to be a crap shoot.

Now we are at the beginning of the end of this whole process and I will slowly be able to get my health back, regain my physical strength and shake the chemo-brain. They hand out badges for being a Cancer Survivor but I think they should hand out badges for being a Chemo Survivor. I felt fine before this all started!

Factoid
While you are undergoing chemo treatments in British Columbia you can apply for a Disability tag for your car. (I didn’t bother with this because Alex was looking after me)

Factoid
After initial treatments the BC Cancer Agency does not track the usual blood marker for ovarian cancer (Ca-125). Apparently elevated markers precede physical awareness of a problem by six to nine months. Research has shown that starting renewed chemo treatments when the marker goes up provides no measurable improvement in outcomes and reduces quality of life earlier than necessary. Second or third rounds of chemo start when the patient is aware of changes to her body that indicate cancer may have returned. Treatments are started after confirming the likelihood of this by reviewing the markers or through physical (surgical) examination.

I am not planning on testing this out.

It seems much longer ago than ten days since my last treatment, but I am still quite easily fatigued, shaky, etc and I have to realize that this will be a slow process. We were surprised to see, in retrospect, that I showed no improvement over the four weeks I didn’t have chemo – perhaps because the reason I was on hiatus was that I was not in good shape and that is likely the case right now. Mmmm … right!

The Outlook

  • A couple of the nurses told me it would be four to six weeks before I started feeling a bit better.
  • My hair did NOT start growing back in the four weeks off – will try for another henna job before that happens. I hope it will start showing some signs of growth in a couple of months. It was fine in the summer, but it is a bit nippy round the edges now 🙂
  • The neuropathy “usually” goes away after a year or so – a year! – but it is not clear if ignoring the burning sensation and starting back to exercise will permanently damage the nerves. It is starting to appear in my right hand as well but I hope that having no more treatments will put a stop to that. I may have to go on drugs for a period of time as the pain in my feet will get worse before it gets better, owing to the nerves re-stitching themselves.
  • Realistically, even when I feel better physically I may not be back at work for several months because of the less tangible chemo-brain side-effects.
  • I should be able to get back to vitamins and supplements a month after the final chemo treatment.

I need to take things slowly and ignore my natural inclination to charge ahead. Quite simply, despite my best efforts, that becomes two steps forward and one step back. My goal is to clear the backlog of emails, bring my office back into shape and throw out a bunch of old stuff over the next few months. It would be nice to catch up with more friends face to face rather than through emails.

I will post updates on this journey on a less frequent basis from now on. I will put together some general thoughts, to provide insight into how you might help other friends going through these treatments. Even though we were close to my ex, Velda, through the six and a half years she took her journey, we can see now that we should have been more pro-active earlier in the process. She was extremely independent and successfully hid many of the issues that arose during her chemo treatments, and we discovered too late that some additional help along the way would have made her life easier. We have seen how things can get out of hand; how one can from time to time become mentally and emotionally drained; and how a more frequent change of scene can really boost the spirits.

I am so glad to have had Alex at my side through all this. She has been a rock. Strong though she is, it has been a lonely and stressful road for her over the last eight months; she has had much to deal with for herself as well. She deserves a very big medal.

Cheers for now …

Bridget