December, 2012

Meeting Dr. Slamon, Father of Herceptin

I could finally meet Dr. Slamon, who helped develop Herceptin, after almost two months trying to make an appointment with him.

As he has been my hero since I saw “ Living Proof” , a movie about him and his struggles of making Herceptin available,  I was excited to meet him.  Yet when he walked into an exam room and offered his hand to shake, I felt so humbled thinking that this was the man who saved so many women by revolutionizing the treatment of breast cancer.

Looking at the latest result of CT scan, he started off saying that cancer might be activated.  My purpose of visiting him was to get his opinion for the next regimen concerning the same, but hearing the statement from him made me realize the seriousness.

Our conversation began supposing that the suspicious lymphadenopathy was cancer, and he suggested as follows:

1)   Take another CT scan soon, not waiting until the end of December.

2)   Stop Taxol, which has caused so many side effects, and try Xeloda because the side effects could become much worse even with a less dose and then the recovery may be difficult.

3)   If cancer is active again, get TDM-1 as soon as possible.  ( I have read that  FDA might approve it on 2/28/2013)

4)   While waiting for T-DM1, the recommended regimen is Perjeta, a new drug approved in June 2012, +Herceptin + Xeloda.

5)   If cancer is stable, try Herceptin+Tykerb+Xeloda as long as it ‘s effective.

6)   Clinical trials of vaccine haven’t shown any good results yet, but the research about IL6, a protein that causes cancer’s resistance against Herceptin may be a breakthrough.  Keep an  eye on those clinical trials.

I got nervous as I learned that Dr. Slamon was seriously concerned with my side effects, but it also requires courage to drop Taxol, which was the first effective drug for me and could be still working, and to change to the new drug, which may not work on me.   I wondered if I had to look for clinical trials of T-DM1 again, though I thought I could wait for its approval until next year.

I e-mailed my oncologist informing her of the 2nd opinion of Dr. Slamon.  I was leaning on the optimistic assumption that the suspicious lymphadenopathy was due to a bad cold and I could enjoy this Christmas season until next CT scan which was supposed to be at the end of December.  The roller coaster may be moving again, but I was  thankful that I could meet Dr. Slamon to get his opinion.

The movie was produced in 2008.

Giving Our Best

The rain that continued for two days stopped this morning. It was the day for me performing Christmas carols with my piano students at a nursing home.
Last night I could not sleep well worrying about trivial things like if the copies of programs and Christmas cards were enough, if the student’s families, who were so looking forward to their first piano performance, fit in the small hall of the nursing home, or what if little brothers and sisters of the students become loud. Yet as I saw the sun coming out among the gray clouds, I took it as the sign of God’s blessing for today’s performance.
Indeed, my little 5 students did their best performance. At the last song ” Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, even the elders on their wheelchairs sang and clapped hands together with us.

After the performance, the  children went to each room to give their hand made Christmas cards. Many elders were on beds in dark rooms closing drapes, but the children were not intimidated to hand them the cards and the elders looked happy with smiles.

When I asked the students what Christmas was, they answered that was the day of Santa Claus. Yet, as I said, ” Let’s give joy today just like God gave Jesus to us. Let’s be His helpers today,” they really did. I hope and pray that today’s experience of giving will remain in their hearts for long time and help them as they grow.
I’m thankful for Sandy, who joined us as a singer, and my son Roy, who played guitar and lent us an PA system, as well.
Though I was a little disturbed by cancer yesterday, today being able to  give our best to glorify our Lord’s name, I am so thankful for the opportunity, and my spirit was lifted up again.


No More Taxol

Today was supposed to be a day for the infusion of Herceptin and Taxol, but following the opinion of Dr. Slamon, I finished Taxol and had only Herceptin.

Instead of starting Xeloda, the next oral chemo, right away, my Kaiser oncologist gave me a week break just in case.

With Xeloda, my infusion will go back to every three weeks, instead of every week.  If so, I may be able to go to Japan.

It may take a long time for Taxol’s side effects, such as peripheral  neuropathy, stiffness of my legs,swelling, etc, to go away, but a least my hair will grow back!

Xeloda also has numerous side effects and they may be nasty as well, but T-DM1 can be approved at the end of February or March.  So I hope I can tolerate whatever Xeloda causes until then.

Next CT scan will come probably sometime before Christmas.  If the result is stable, that will be a wonderful Christmas gift.  If not, I will change Tykerb to Perjeta, a brand new medicine, too, and look for a clinical trial of T-DM1 in which I can participate.

The plans were made and now I leave the rest for God and will go on a small vacation to Laguna Beach with George this weekend.

He will have a wedding over there and we have made the plan since last summer.

It is off season though, if weather is good, we can walk the beach, enjoy Christmas shopping, and even if the weather is bad, I can enjoy reading, cooking, and just being together with George. 🙂

I didn’t expect it at all, but the weekend without Taxol or Xeloda should be wonderful and this is another gift of God’s grace.

Laguna Beach to Emergency

I thought that we had a good trip relaxing and enjoying the beautiful town until the last night of the trip.

I felt already nauseous after I had a BBQ chicken at a restaurant we went late at night, but I took Tykerb, a main side effect of which is diarrhea, before I went to bed.

Probably this was a bad idea.  I woke up around 2 am with an intensive nausea and abdominal pain and I was stuck in the bathroom all night until next morning.

I have never had such an excruciating pain.  Folding my body in half, I had cold sweats followed by chills and was afraid that I might pass out and need to call 911.

Though I was so nauseous being ready to throw up, only saliva filled up my mouth over and over.

Finally as the morning came, I thought I was relieved from the nightmare.  Yet while George and I stopped at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa on the way home, again I was attacked by the nasty sensation of nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pain and had to leave for a hospital even before the sermon started.

George suggested going to an emergency and I agreed.  By that time I wondered if I had food poisoning.

In the emergency, once I received a medicine for nausea and morphine for pain, they started working immediately and I was relieved completely.

Numerous exams such as blood test, urine test, ultrasound, etc were done and as everything looked well, I was discharged around 5pm.

The doctor said probably it was food poisoning.  Since my immune system was weak by chemo, perhaps my body reacted sensitively with the bad food.

Anyway I am so glad that I was freed from the worst pain.  I had called Jesus all night asking to touch my body to heal me, and he did.  Thank you Jesus!

A Letter From A Man Who Lost His Wife With Breast Cancer

I received a letter from a man who lost his wife 40 years ago.

It was 1957 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was only 27 years old; 5 months after she had a baby girl.

As there was no chemotherapy back then, she received only a surgery and radiation therapy.  Yet the man and she celebrated 5 years cancer-free.

Then 9 years later, cancer came back and after one year of the battle, she passed away at 42 years old.

Her name is now on a memorial plaque facing the ocean at the church and he has visited her every Sunday after the worship service.

27 years old sounds so young.  I ponder if they had just married.  Wondering how devastating it was for them to know about cancer, I felt so sorry that my heart ached.

However, it is like a miracle to be able to survive without chemo for 15 years.  Their prayers and many others’ must have been granted.

Learning that his unchanging love towards her, sorrow, and hardship, now I feel so close to him.

Some trials are harder than others and I realize life is not fair.  Yet, God gave us eternal life fairly by sacrificing His only Son, Jesus, so that no one who believes in Him will perish.

Someday, when everything is over and we get into Heaven, we will see our loved ones being so happy with our heavenly Father, being freed from tears and sufferings, I imagine.

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen.  For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever,” (2 Corinthians 4: 18) said Paul.

In order to break our fatal penalty of sin, death, the Son of God came to be born as a son of man.

Being pierced his hands and feet, and shedding blood on the cross, He gave us the incredibly precious eternal life.  Because of Him, I can face brutal cancer.  I can find hope beyond death.

I prayed; like a beautiful twinkling Christmas tree,may God’s blessings be poured abundantly over the man who gave me the letter.




Starting Xeloda

About a half month after I stopped Taxol with a week delay due to the food poisoning, I started a new chemo, Xeloda at night on the 19th.

I started with 5 pills (3 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon)in stead of 6,  watching out for diarrhea.   Yet the next morning, I woke up with a stomach pain and had to go to the bathroom.  On Thursday we would have a Christmas luncheon in the ESL Bible class, and as I didn’t want to ruin the fun time with diarrhea, I immediately took an anti-diarrhea medicine.

It was a wise choice.    All day long I was fine and enjoyed every part of the luncheon.  I realized it was important to take  medicine when a problem is minor, instead of bearing it until discomfort or pain become serious.

Besides diarrhea, I was told that Xeloda may cause hand-foot syndrome, which make sores, pealing, or breaks in the skin.  Thursday morning, I found a small cut on the tip of my right middle finger.  At the beginning days of using Tykerb, I experienced cuts and breaks in the skin of fingers and soles, as well, but they were healed by ointments, socks, and gloves.  The beginning of this year I had to have a surgery for a granuloma and although it reoccurred, it disappeared by applying aloe gel. So, I am going to try aloe and Aquaphor ointment to prevent this problem.

As of day 4 of Xeloda, diarrhea is under control and so far no major problems except this small cut.

On the other hand, since I quit Taxol, my baldhead became itchy.  I guess my hair is coming back, or that’s what I hope since I want some good news.

Dr. Slamon suggested to stop Taxol, being concerned that the peripheral neuropathy would become permanent.  The numbness, tingling, and stiffness of my legs haven’t changed yet, but psychologically I am relieved thinking that I am not taking Taxol any more.

Next CT scan I’ve been anxious about was rescheduled for the 28th of this month, although I wanted to move it up.

If I think about it, I get worried, but so far, the Christmas spirit is holding it down.

In spite of many more trials this year, I am thankful that I have been enjoying Thanksgiving and this beautiful Christmas season.

I love Jesus!

Neighborhood Church Christmas Pageant

Fork In The Road

It is finally New Year’s Eve.  The year 2012, which started with granuloma followed by the metastasis in the lungs in April, including George’s three surgeries for his vocal cords, is almost over.

It has been tougher year than the previous one, but I made more friends through cancer, my faith became stronger by three Bible classes per week, and I could continue the ministry of Grain of Wheat to support international students with physical challenges and cancer patients. Being ready to welcome a New Year together with George and Pepper,the 15 year-old dog that I thought would not have made it, I am so thankful that God has helped us through all the way to the end of this year.


The result of the CT scan I took on the 28th will probably come after New Year’s Day.  If it is negative, that would be a great New Year’s gift.  If not, my 2013 will be most likely tougher than ever.  This is usual, but while waiting for a result, I feel as if I were standing at a fork in the road.

Yet, I know what I will have for the next regimen if cancer is progressing, and T-DM1, the medicine I am longing for, seems like it will be approved around the end of February. The strategy to hit the enemy has been prepared. Even if the battle becomes harder, I have to hang on to God, who repeatedly says, “ Do not fear for I am with you,” each time when I open the Bible, and move on.

Our routine on a New Year’s Eve is watching the count-down at Times Square in N.Y. on TV, but this year George and I will welcome the new year listening to Jazz at a restaurant.

“ The Lord is my Shepherd…You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.  You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.  My cup overflows with blessings…” (Psalm 23)

In spite of standing at the fork in the road, I will finish my 2012 by enjoying a delicious dinner and wonderful music that is prepared by the Lord.

May Thy will be done with us in 2013!