Thursday, October 08, 2009

Better Living Through Chemistry

Throughout our marriage, when one or the other of us has been sick and needed to take some medication, Todd and I have always made some joke or statement about "better living through chemistry". I'm not sure where the phrase originated... I have a very vague notion that is was a tagline in a commercial for some chemical conglomerate at some point... you know, one of those ads where they show you all these things you use daily and then at the end there's a tagline and the name of some company you've never heard of that, I guess, makes some component of all those products. I've never really understood the point of that type of ad but whatever- it's their advertising budget.

But reminiscing about commercials of yore is not where I was going with this post.

Sound the trumpets, I finally have a treatment plan! I've actually had it for a couple days but I've been busy trying to get my ducks in a row and so the poor blog has been neglected.

As I believe I mentioned in a previous post, I am going to be bucking the usual breast cancer treatment trend (surgery then chemo or radiation or a combination of the two) and will be having chemotherapy first followed by surgery. For those of you who like to be able to throw around fancy medical terms, this pre-operative chemo is more properly called neoadjuvent chemotherapy.

And I start on Friday. Two days from now.

Cue small freak out.

Do you want all the nitty-gritty details? Hmmmm. I wonder if I can explain all this without heading into novella territory?

I'll try- bear with me.

So, if you were paying attention (see, I told you there would be a pop quiz!) you might have noticed that I called my cancer "triple negative" in an earlier post, but I did not explain what that meant. Let me do that now because it figures prominently in my treatment.

Triple negative means that my cancer is ER, PR, and HER2 negative.

Um, yeah. That makes it clear, thanks Katie...

Here's the translation:
ER - Estrogen receptor
PR - Progesterone receptor
HER2 - Human epidural growth factor receptor

Breast cancer can be positive or negative for each of these receptors. If you have ER+ cancer, for example, estrogen will fuel the growth of the cancer. On the other hand, if you are negative for a certain hormone sensitivity your cancer is unaffected by the presence of that hormone. In recent years, great strides have been made in developing new drugs that target cancers that are positive for these hormones. Drugs exist now which essentially block the cancer cells from getting access to these hormones which encourage them to grow and reproduce. These drugs are far more targeted than older drug therapies which go after any fast growing cells (your hair, the lining of your stomach). As a result, the newer targeted therapies have improved the chemotherapy experience for patients with hormone sensitive cancer (don't get me wrong, it's still unpleasant, it's just not horribly unpleasant).

Following so far? If you are, you might realize that I am negative for all three of these little receptor types. This is fairly uncommon, in fact, only 15% of all breast cancers are triple negative.

So what does that mean? It means, that instead of a "nice" targeted drug therapy I get to have what I like to call Bazooka Chemo. Take out everything in it's path, say buh-bye to your hair, hope you like feeling nauseous chemo.

Wheeeee! Fun!

Can you tell I'm looking forward to this?

Now admittedly, I am being a bit harsh. Even though I will be having some serious toxins pumped through my body these are not the bad ol' days of chemo. There are much better coping mechanisms available to chemo patients: anti-nausea medications for example, and white blood cell boosters to help prevent or lessen fatigue.

In fact, I thought the white blood cell booster sounded pretty fabulous until the nurse explained to me that it is a DAILY INJECTION!!!! Have I mentioned my fear of needles? Yup. Daily. So I can either go to the clinic every day or I can learn to give myself the shots.

Yes. This was the part of the appointment where I wanted to run screaming from the room, bury my head under the nearest pillow, put my fingers in my ears and sing "La la lalalalalalalalalala".

I shocked myself (and, no doubt my poor mother who held my hand through many a teary near fainting experience with needles in my childhood) and learned to do it myself. It took me three or four preps to do it but I did.

Admittedly, there was a third option: have Todd give me the shots but let's be serious, love him though I do, he is a bit of a bull in a china shop. No way in Hell is he getting in the same zip code as me with a needle.

But even armed with all of these helpful things to lessen the side effects, it isn't going to be a picnic. And while I am excited to be making progress toward ridding myself of all the nasty buggers I would lying if I said I wasn't apprehensive about the chemo.

Tomorrow afternoon I go in to have my Port-o-Cath placed. I'll be under conscious sedation for the procedure so I'll be pretty loopy the rest of the day. Hopefully I'll be too fuzzy to dwell on the fact that I'll be pumped full of some nasty chemicals the next day.

So, yeah. Treatment starts in less than 48 hours... kinda' freaky. And this time I'll really pushing the boundaries of better living through chemistry because, let's be brutally honest, for me, it's living through chemistry.


Abby said...

Blessings, Katie. I will be praying for you. Abby (from knitting)

Charity said...

Wow! Katie, I had no idea! You have always been a very strong person and I know you will get through this with some class. You are in my prayers!!!!! Charity

Kristen said...

Do they really have to call it a port-o-cath?

Sending lots of love your way! Can't wait to see you at the end of the month.

xoxoxo Kris

Anna Banana said...

Hi Katie,
My mom has been going through breast cancer treatment this year, and I'm so sorry you are going through it now. Let me know if you want her info, I am sure she would be glad to talk with you about it if you want! She had a lumpectomy and lymph node disection and three months of chemo, now completing radiation then more chemo. She will be done on New Year's Day. It sounds like your diagnosis is a little different from hers. She ended up with type 2b Her2Nu negative and ErPr positive. Thinking of you and sending you my good thoughts,

Jacqui said...

Merde, Katie! That's what you say to a dancer, right? Well, I will be thinking about you tomorrow.

Daphne said...

God. Good to be on the road, and yet so very, very scary and real. Thinking of you...

Jessica said...

You'll be in my thoughts.

Mary Catherine said...

Well, as I remember it, step one was to make a plan. Now you can officially check something off as completed on your cancer to-do list.

Like this:

1. Make plan: ☑

2. Get port: (you can add the check here tomorrow).

Then, you'll have TWO check marks. I feel like I should get you a gold star.

All kidding aside- glad it's moving in the right direction, still praying for you, let me know if you need anything.

Nina said...

Merde my dear.Sending all thoughts your way....

Dwight said...

Good luck Katie! We'll be thinking of you.

For the record, that is a variation of DuPont's slogan from the 30's through the 80's. Co-opted in the sixties by hippies. (family ties to DuPont)

I wish we were closer and could offer material support to you and your family. For now, our best wishes will have to suffice.

Michael said...

Todd gave some of us an update last night...we're so sorry about the whole thing, but we'll all be keeping you in our thoughts. All bravery to you!

Archie said...

Hi Katie, positive thoughts your way. You inspired me to sign up for bone marrow donation...I completed the registry and should get my kit soon.

Wishing you, Todd and the kids, all the best:)


AmyB said...

Love to you, dear Katie. Friday will be hard, no doubt, but once it's done, it's done. Every day after that is a step closer to your cure.

mames said...

hi katie, you have been in my thoughts and non-denominational prayers every day. i am glad to know so much about the next part of your treatment, it is amazing how good you are at explaining the medical part, this from a person in medicine. i hope you feel bolstered by the energy we send your way along with the self administered WBC shots. damn, girl, you are awesome. hugs hugs hugs.

ME215 said...

Hugs from Atlanta Katie. You know you're continually in my prayers.

xo ME

jennifer said...

Katie we are thinking about you every day, stay strong. Please let us know if there is any thing we can do for you, Todd, or the kiddos - we would be happy to help. lots of love, jen & ben