January, 2012

Wishing To End The Battle This Year

Hopping Doctors

My first job in the new year was visiting doctors:  In just a week I visited a Urologist, Physical Therapist, Podiatrist, and general doctor, receiving a bunch of medicines.

They are  not life threatening, but all my complaints and concerns seem to be side effects of my antibody drugs or after effects of the radiation.

The doctors told me that the problems would be gone once I stopped the antibody drugs.

Besides my physical problems, I am struggling to keep up with my daily schedule, which I started this year in order to make my life more organized and productive.

Almost everything I have had a hard time to make a decision including simple things such as what to cook or what to wear.

Forgetting this and that, I go to a grocery store two or three times a day, and I am always looking for something: not to mention about keys but also a purse, or even a jacket.

Remembering my grandma having Alzheimer’s, I am concerned about myself wondering maybe I am developing it, too or maybe this is  chemo brain.

Yet here comes George saying, “ You have been taking nasty drugs so long.  It is not strange even if your brain gets wired. I think drinking lots of water is very important to flash out toxins. “

Made an appointment for a second opinion

I will visit Dr. Glaspy at UCLA Medical Center on the 12th to get a second opinion regarding my next strategy.

Although I was allowed to continue Herceptin, a vital antibody drug for my breast cancer,HER2 +, for indefinite after Dr. Glaspy recommended to do so, my primary oncologist has implied about ending this chemo therapy since my last PET scan came back negative.  Her arguments are;

1)There is no supportive data to continue Herceptin  indefinitely.

2) Herceptin may affect my heart in the long run.

3) Cancer may become immune to Herceptin

HER2 + is an aggressive breast cancer.  I have heard or read about women whose HER2+ cancers were found in the early stage and treated quickly but came back several years later.

This is a gamble and there is no guarantee of cancer-free even if I choose to finish the treatment, but dealing with so many side effects for almost two years, I am leaning towards ending the treatment to give a rest to my body.

As new drugs including vaccination have been developed one after another,  I ‘d like to put hope on those promising medicines if cancer comes back.

I should well prepared to consult Dr. Glaspy,  so that I can make the best decision for my next step.

Chuck Smith’s Announcement of Lung Cancer

Pastor Chuck, whom George and I respect, is 84 years old.  He lit the fire for the Jesus movement in 1970’s and led tens of thousands of hippies to Christ.

George, who was a teenager with long hair and a love of Rock’n Roll was also one of them.

His church was called Calvary Chapel and it spread all over the world, creating more than 1400 churches in the US (more in the world, including my hometown in Japan) with the logo of a dove descending from the heaven representing the Holy Spirit.

pastor Chuck Smith

Pastor Chuck announced to his congregation that he had lung cancer on the New Year’s Day Sunday.

This is the 2nd crisis – he had a stroke two years ago from which he has recovered.

Last week Greg Laurie, one of Chuck’s apprentices, made a special interview with Chuck asking about his past, present, and future.

Chuck on the screen looked well, being calm with big smiles, just as usual.

He thinks his time is heading towards the end, but says he has no fear.

He explained the reasons as that “the Lord is with me.”  “Even the worst thing (death), that is not so bad.”

Chuck, who was taught to love Jesus by his dedicated Christian mother since he was little, wanted to become a doctor at first.

He wanted to save people from dying.  Yet as he was in high school, his goal changed to save people from eternal death instead of physical death.  So he chose to become a pastor.

For him the most difficult tragedy to overcome was a double loss of his father and brother in an aircraft crash.

Prayers or faith are not magic. No matter how strong our faith is,we are not exempted from trials and sufferings.

“ Never trade what you do know for what you don’t know because the question is always, ‘Why?’ “

“I don’t know why. But what I do know is that God is good and God loves me and God is working on His perfect plan in my life. So, I’m just content with that,” he said.

Since the very beginning of our human history, Satan, who questioned Eve whether she would truly die eating from the tree of knowledge, has been seducing and throwing us countless tragedies, trying to kill our faith as soon as it grows.

“There is no God.  If He were there, why do we suffer so much?”

The deceptive voice whispers all the time, but behind that voice, there is God, who says,

“ I love you.  Come here to leave your burden.  I am with you.”

Whether Chuck lives or dies, his posture to live with faith in Christ must inspire many people, and his way of living will be my great model to follow.

Good News from UCLA

George and I visited UCLA Medical Center to get a second opinion for my next step.

This was the 4th visit after I got cancer.

I started a combination of Herceptin & Tykerb  last April.  Although I could control diarrhea which I was warned might happen, an unexpected horrible rash made me stop taking Tykerb several times and reduce the dose from 5 tablets to 2 tablets.  After tapering, it was August when I finally  got back to the original dose of 5 tablets.

Since then it has been 5 months and today’s main question was if I should end this drug treatment in February.

First, Dr. Glaspy was pleased with the PET scan result I had in December.

“Although this is adjuvant ( the first treatment) and your cancer was not metastatic, it had seriously spread, so I thought this may not be curable.  Now you don’t have a tumor any more, so this kind of  consultation really brings me joy.  “

“  If I were you, I would continue at least 6 more months. If I had a fight with a bigger man than me, and I could knock him down, I wouldn’t turn back and leave because he would stand up and beat me back, and I might not have a chance to win that time.” said Dr. Grasply.

“ If I continue Herceptin and Tykerb so long, won’t cancer get resistant to them?”

I asked a question.

“ It might.  But if you stop now, the chance that cancer comes back is probably higher than getting resistant.  I think cancer is still in your body.”  He answered.

“How about TDM-1?  That new medicine is a combination of Herceptin and a chemo drug, right?  Even if Herceptin becomes no more effective, can I still use TDM-1?”

He said, “Yes.  They are different drugs so even if Herceptin won’t work, TDM-1 can work, and it is powerful.”

Good!  I thought.

“ How about the side effect on my heart?  My oncologist is concerned that if I use Herceptin so long, it may cause trouble on my heart. “

“ You have to monitor your heart.  But usually if the side effect happens, that is not in the long run but at the beginning of the treatment.”

“ If Herceptin is no more effective, it is usually the time that cancer goes into the brain, because Herceptin molecules are too big to get into the brain, but Tykerb does.  And you are taking Tykerb, so that’s good.”

Dr. Glaspy used his metaphor again and said, “ If your fist is bleeding and you can’t punch any more, then it’s different, but if you can still punch, keep punching.”

Listening to him, I realized again how aggressive my cancer is and thought that coming through so far has been a miracle.

“ Last June, I said if you could tolerate the side effects and suppress cancer, that would be your goals.  Do you remember that? Now both have happened. So this is a really good result.”

His smile and words affirmed to me that the whole thing was a miracle.

Grace through Cancer

How many times has he helped me make important decisions?

How thoroughly has Kaiser treated me and how much has it saved my medical expense?

It was Torrance School District that offered me this life saving insurance, and the Neighborhood Church that now supports my payment for the premium.

Yesterday morning, at George’s ESL Bible class, we studied about Grace, which is undeserved blessing.  When I thought what I have experienced through cancer was the Grace of God, I felt God so close that even the core of my being felt warm.

We never know about the future.  Cancer may come back.  The side effects may cripple me.  Yet at least He is giving me “Present”.  I have to use this precious “present” making sure to please God.  I feel like  I were a runner on the start line;  I was filled with hope and determination.

Crossing Out Doubts by Exams

It was just two days after I head the encouragement from Dr. Glaspy when I found a lump on my chest.

Feeling a little painful in the morning, I looked at the mirror and noticed there was a little bump on the scar area of the mastectomy.

“Again?” Being alert, I touched it with my fingers. I felt a small rise with throbbing pain. As I inhaled, I saw ribs raised on my thin chest.

‘Maybe I am touching a rib.” I wondered.

I tried to compare both ribs, left and right, but it was difficult to compare those under my chest and others under my breast.

I had a PET scan on December 4th.  It was hard to believe cancer grew so fast, but I should cross out all doubts by exams.

My oncologist promptly responded to my e-mail, as usual, and invited me for an exam today.

“Since when?” asked she, but it was difficult to answer because pains have been coming and going since the mastectomy and the radiation. Yet, I feel like this time the pain is a little different from the past ones.

I noticed the lump Saturday, but maybe it has been there for a quite a while.

“ I feel the bump, but this might be a bone,” said the doctor examining my chest.

I told her a story I heard at a cancer patient/family luncheon last week: A patient experienced a sharp pain on her operated chest and it was a fracture due to osteoporosis as a side effect of her hormone medicine.

The doctor agreed that hormone medicines could cause such side effects but had not heard of the same effects from Herceptin and Tykerb.

she ordered x-rays and I had two taken.

I may hear the result tomorrow.

X-Ray Came Back Clear

The good news of my x-ray came in last Saturday.

I asked my oncologist, “ Can I cross out the doubt of cancer?”

She was vigilant and, instead of saying, “yes”, told me to keep an eye on my chest.

My battle will continue, but the result makes a big difference.

At night George and I got together with Christian friends.

Maggie read Psalm 30 as we shared our encouragements.

“I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.

O Lord my God, I cried out to you for help, and you restored my health.

You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.

You kept me from falling into the pit of death.”

She said she thought about me as she read this Psalm.

Her husband, Bill said, “ Your faith has been growing since you got cancer, and it is so encouraging to watch it.”

How comforting and fortifying to hear from both of them!

When I first found the lump on my breast and was concerned about cancer, many fears rushed into my mind:

Am I going to lose a breast?

Am I going to lose hair?

Can’t I see my sick father in Japan any more?

It was a bottomless pit, and my fears became reality one after another.  However, I could make it through such terrified moments.  I was o.k.  because there was a refuge – Jesus.  It is because so many people have prayed for me.

Though I don’t know what is waiting tomorrow, as long as I am with Jesus, I think I will be ok.

I hear very often the statement that God will never give us more than we can bear.  Yet, I don’t think this means we won’t get into a horrible situation, or the worst case.

Horrible things may happen.  The worst thing may happen, yet His grace is bigger and He will never abandon us, walking with us all the way till the end.  That’s His promise, and with this promise, we’ll be ok even if we walk in the shadow of death!

I must never forget this conviction.

Surgeries Again

It was January 3rd that I noticed my left ring finger was bleeding.  Because of side effects, my finger tips are easily to have cracks and cuts, but it was the first time to have bleeding.

It didn’t hurt, so I just put a band-aid on and went to bed.

Next day my finger turned purple and throbbing as well as still bleeding.

(Shoot! I have lymphedema on this side.  I shoudn’t just let it go.)

Recalling the important instruction, I went to see a doctor.

That time, I did not receive any diagnosis about it, instead I went home with an antibiotic to prevent infection.

However, even after finishing the antibiotic, my finger has been still purple, swelling, and had throbbing pain.  Although the lesion closes, it is opened easily by a small trauma and bleeds.

I thought it was very slow to heal, and then this morning, as I wanted to change the band-aid, the finger started bleeding again.  As if I had a deep cut, the blood streamed down to the sink of the bathroom.

This is not normal!  I got scared and looked carefully at the lesion.

There is a bump, looking like a red berry,  next to my nail, and it is getting bigger instead of getting healed.

I went to see a doctor again and this time I was diagnosed with pyogenic granuloma,a benign vascular lesion, and was told that I need a surgery.

It is a small lesion, so even though he says “ a surgery”, it should be a simple procedure done in an exam room, I thought.

Yet, I was surprised when I found a blog of someone who did the surgery of her granuloma on her finger in OR with total anesthesia.

Today’s doctor said it could be done by a laser surgery; do I have to do such a real surgery?  I wondered.

Regardless, I am now concerned about my lymphedema.  So I e-mailed my oncologist to delete my concern.

In March George will have a surgery to fix his hoarse voice, which he has been struggling with for more than a year.

This year again, so many things are coming our way as if the Satan is mocking our faith.