October, 2010

Removing A Drain

When I came home from one night stay of the mastectomy, I had two drains inserted in my left side.  I was told to measure the fluid gathered into lemon shaped containers three times every day and they would be removed when the total amount of drainage per day became less than 30cc for at least two days in a row. The first drain was removed last Monday and finally another one was removed today. Several pieces of tape that covered the incision (instead of stitches) were also removed.  Now I can drive. I need exercises to stretch my stiff arm.  I feel numb in my surgical area because my nerves were also cut, but the surgeon says the feeling will come back gradually as time goes by.  I hope the throbbing pain also goes away soon.  Human recovery and adapting power is amazing.

While Waiting for New Chemo

Since I couldn’t remove the 2nd drain until 10/1 and my oncologist is still working on my new chemo, the chemo scheduled on 9/30 was canceled and I have been off chemo.

After a Sunday worship service, I visited a retirement home with George who volunteered to give a communion service.  About 10 elderly people who were in wheelchairs or walkers gave us a warm welcome.  I learned that George’s visit was so much appreciated by them who were not able to go to the church, but also that they were praying for me to beat the cancer.  Being filled with thankfulness, I left there with a promise to come back.

In the afternoon, George, Roy, Jennie ( Roy’s girlfriend), and I drove to Temecula to celebrate Pa’s 83rd birthday.  Pa experienced paralysis of the left side of his body and speech difficulty from a stroke last year, but he recovered miraculously.  Now he lives in an assistive care home.  Though he is losing hearing and vision, I am thankful that he made good friends and is able to eat what he likes by himself.  Seeing Pa , who enjoyed the time being with us, I wished to share good and tough times altogether as a family for many more years to come.

♱ Lamentation 3:18-26

Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.

So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the Lord.

Thumbs Up For Kaiser

I went to have  a Muga Scan to check my heart function today.  I need to check my heart every three months because Herceptin may cause  side-effects on a heart.  My new chemo drugs are not yet decided, but Adriamycin is one of possible drugs and this can be also hard on a heart.

Hoping for a good result, after the Muga, I received a free flu shot.  Flu is something I need to watch carefully during chemotherapy which lowers my immune system, but if I had been on chemo, I am not sure if I could have even had this vaccination or not.  I am glad I had a break from chemo.

Besides this free shot, so far I haven’t paid even a dime for all the exams and chemo I have received.  Besides my monthly insurance fee $23, I’ve paid only copayments for a doctor visit ($15), hospitalization ( $100) and for a prescription ($10).  Kaiser insurance covers only for Kaiser services, but as this time when my oncologist is consulting UCLA doctors, Kaiser is open to seek resources outside if necessary.  This is really good.  Trusting God who is fulfilling all my needs, I’d like to wait calmly for new chemo to be selected.

“My Life is Not Only Mine”

Mr. Satoru Nakajima, was a post-heart transplant patient who had a surgery at UCLA Medical Center in 2003.  The following is his encouraging email translation.

“I usually let my wife e-mail you, but this time I am hitting the keyboard  as I ‘d like to share about my illness with you.  Knowing you are fighting with breast cancer, I thought I had to stay continually strong, too.  It has been 7 years and 9 months since I had a heart transplant, but I have been fighting with liver cancer, also, for three-and-a-half years.

Because I had hepatitis B virus, I was cautious, but it was quite depressing when CT scan found the cancer.  Multiple cancer cells were spread in my whole liver and an operation was not an option.  By a procedure called TACE,  chemo drugs were injected directly to my  tumors and  blood vessels were blocked.  Immunosuppression was also changed to a new drug, Certican, which was  introduced from  Europe to Japan recently.  I am in remission right now and stable.  When I was told that I had liver cancer, I got devastated. –Why do I have to go through so many diseases? It was daunting.  Yet I said to myself, “ I can’t be beaten by this. My life is not only mine, but the life saved by so many people; and more importantly this is the precious life received from my donor and his family.” And one more—I have a beloved family.   Living being positive without giving up is the most important thing I can do for my family.

Kathy, you also have a wonderful family.  Every time I see your family picture on the blog, it makes my heart warm.   Cancer treatments are tough.  Yet never give up!  I’d like you to have a happy life with your family for a long time.  There are so many people who are on your side even in Japan.   I will visit L.A. to see you sometime again with my wife.

Let’s fight and beat cancer!

A new organ transplant law in Japan is in effect, finally ,and organ donations are slowly increasing.  Although it is controversial, I think we need more systems to take care of donor families.  Anyhow,  I am pleased with this advancement.

Please send my regard to kind George. I pray for your successful treatment and quick recovery!

Mr. Satoru Nakajima with a volunteer right before  a heart transplant operation @ UCLA M.C. in Jan. 2003

Next Chemo is Navelbine

Visiting UCLA’s Oncologist

While my oncologist was consulting regarding my new chemo even to Florida, George and I visited UCLA’s oncology department, where Herceptin was invented, referred by a church member to get a second opinion yesterday.  “ You are way out of a map.  It is difficult to find a right answer.”  That is the first statement from Dr. Glaspy.  Yet he also said that chemo’s goal is to prevent cancer from coming back, so until then we can’t say chemo was failing.  In my case previous chemo couldn’t shrink the breast cancer, but maybe it was preventing metastasis.  He, who has many experiences and is knowledgeable, recommended the followings.

Summary of the Advice

  1. Retest to find out if my cancer is HER2 positive or not. (Depending on the test method, the result could be different.)  If the result is HER2 negative, Herceptin is useless.
  2. If my cancer is HER2 positive, Navelbine and Herceptin may be effective.  Use Herceptin as long as possible.  ( One of his patients has been using Herceptin for 14 years without relapse.)
  3. Administer TOPO test ( a gene test) to determine if Andriamycin would be effective or not.  If the result is negative, Andriamycin, which has a toxic effect on a heart, could cause some damage on a heart by a combination with Herceptin.
  4. Radiation is a must.  That will improve my survival rate.
  5. Supplements are harmless to chemo.  If they makes you feel hopeful, that is also an effect.
  6. Even if cancer comes back, there are more plans.

Starting on Monday

Bringing back this advice, today we discussed it with my oncologist.  While waiting for the #1 and #3test results, I decided to restart chemo with Navilbine on Monday (10/11).  I am so thankful that I could hear the opinions from experts of breast cancer.

Cherokee Legend

In the morning when I was going to start new chemo, I found an e-mail with the following story from Sam & Lois, who have facilitated the Good Grief Group at the Neighborhood Church and other bereavement support groups in the community for the past 23 years.

Cherokee Legend

Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youth’s rite of Passage?

His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him an leaves him alone.  He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it.  He cannot cry out for help to anyone.

Once he survives the night, he is a MAN.

He cannot tell the other boys of this experience, because each lad must come into manhood on his own.

The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him . Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth, and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man!

Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold.

It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him.

He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.

We, too, are never alone.

Even when we don’t know it, God is watching over  us, Sitting on the stump beside us.

When trouble comes, all we have to do is reach out to Him.

Moral of the story:

Just because you can’t see God,

Doesn’t mean He is not there.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Starting Navelbine

In the morning of the new chemo,

I found two e-mails: One was the story “ Cherokee Legend” from Sam and Lois, and the other was from Pat, who had come to clean our house and called the congregation to pray for me on the Sunday before my surgery.  She wrote me that she asked her friend who would participate in a 3 Day Cancer Walk in November to put my name on the back of her T-shirt.  Several years ago I participated in a Revlon Run for George’s friend who was fighting against breast cancer, but now someone else is going to walk with my name on her back…I didn’t expect this at all, but gratitude!  I have been encouraged by lots of people for today, but I left for new chemo being fully recharged to fight again by those two mails.

Everything is alright

While the previous chemo that had three drugs took three hours to inject, this time it took only 10 minutes.  There was neither pre-meds to prevent vomiting nor Neupogen, a shot to boost my white blood cell count yet.  Main side effects are constipation and numbness or tingling feeling in hands and feet, besides lowering blood cell counts.  I will receive Navelbine on the first and the 8th day following by a week off for the next 6 months.  Probably side effects will be getting heavier towards the end of the treatment, but at least it started smoothly.  This Saturday is a wedding of our cousin, Megan. It may be possible for me to participate!

Healing Animal Videos

My sons have sent me cute animal videos to cheer me up.  According to the Kaiser newsletter, having a pet is effective to reduce stress.  It helps lower blood pressure and patients who have had heart attacks have shown a significant difference between people who had pets and people who didn’t; one year later the death rate was 1 to 5.   With pets people can increase activity level, get comfort and encouragement, and help them connect to the outer world.

For me, an animal lover, the videos my sons send are absolutely a part of healing.

Please crick titles.

1. Otters holding hands

2.  Rottweiler Attacked by Beagle Puppy

3. Beagle Puppy Howl

4.  Beagle Puppy at 3 weeks “Cutest Thing Ever”

5.  A Perfect Beagle Howl

6.  Dancing Merengue Dog

7.  Big Cat Halloween

Wedding in Woods

It Began crossing a small bridge

Across a small bridge decorated with big white and orange pumpkins, autumn leaves, lanterns, and old family pictures, over a brook, were trees stretching their curving branches to the sky and making a green pavilion.  It was as if we were slipping into a fairly tale.  In the tranquil green pavilion was a green aisle with autumn leaves on the sides and white chairs in rows waiting for the wedding guests.

Last Saturday, I could attend our cousin Megan’s wedding at Vista Valley Country Club about two hours away from Torrance, where I live.

After bridesmaids in purple dresses entered, being escorted by groomsmen in black suits, the bride in white wedding dress appeared with her father from the woods.  She was so beautiful as though the queen of the woods.  It was the 4th anniversary of her grandfather, Uncle Bob’s death, and the family chose this day as the wedding day to add a joyful memory, as well as to honor him.

I could dance, too!

The wedding in the woods was perfectly peaceful and then in the reception indoors the joy exploded like fireworks. A delicious dinner was followed by a dance time, and unexpectedly I also danced.  I couldn’t believe that I was dancing with George (it has been 5 months since we danced together.). But I, who am on chemo, was also dancing with Pa (my father-in-law), who could not even walk a year ago because of a stroke; it was almost like a dream!

Relatives including an aunt, uncle, and cousins from the east coast rejoiced in this family reunion, for the new beginning of the young wedded couple, and even for me who could make it to this special day.  This must be a taste of heaven where everything is beautiful, peaceful, and full of joy.

No Side Effects So Far

I could be a part of  this great day because there have been no side effects from new chemo, Navelbine, so far.  I had the  2nd chemo today  though, I hope this week will go smoothly without side effects, too.

Granted Family Trip

“What do you want to do for your birthday?”  My son asked me a question a few days before Megan’s wedding.  Since I have been doing well without any side effects, I wanted to go away somewhere with my family.  After I could enjoy Megan’s wedding, I became more hopeful and last week George reserved a vacation rental in Big Bear Lake, a ski resort, which was about three hours east driving from our home.  Unusually, L.A. had rain every day last week and it was cloudy as we left home last Friday.  As we got off the 210 FWY and drove a winding mountain road, the fog was so thick that we could barely see even 10 yards ahead, but when we got to the lake, it was sunny as though we had climbed above the clouds.  There was no snow yet; the mountains around the lake, where many birds were rested, were colored with evergreen and yellow with autumn leaves.  It was the beautiful autumn scenery I longed to see.

Saturday, my children also arrived and it became like a school field trip raising the energy level.  We enjoyed walking around the village and the lake, playing games, and celebrating my 56th birthday with a hot apple pie altogether. It has been since last year when we went to San Diego together for George’s birthday, but it is always so fun to have a family trip.  In the midst of my battle of cancer, this was an unexpected event and I deeply thank God for this precious family and the beautiful weekend we spent together again. God is good all the time!

with children @ Big Bear Lake Village

Speech on the Cancer Battle

Tuesday I was invited as a guest speaker with George by P.E.O ((Philanthropic Educational Organization), a group to promote women’s education. P.E.O, whose headquarters is in Iowa, has about 25,000 members in the U.S. and Canada though, on Tuesday about 80 women got together for a meeting.  George, who is a teacher and a pastor, is used to speaking in front of people, but it was the first experience for me to speak to such a big group  in English.

It appears to be coincidence how Grain of Wheat volunteering started, but if I look back now, I realize it was a vital preparation for my battle with breast cancer. I got to know God through organ transplant families who faced death and life. Though fears are always next to me, I am not alone.  My family, friends, and church members are continually with me and most importantly God is always with me.  Because He loves me so much and knows what is the best for His kingdom and for me, I will surrender to Him regardless of the result.  My job as a breast cancer patient is to be His faithful witness and I will fight with faith in Him.  That was my speech.

I appreciate the patience of the audience who listened quietly until the end, as well as many hugs and kind words after the meeting.  It was a wonderful opportunity and I was so blessed.