May, 2014

Bringing a Cold From Japan

In spite of the warning of a heavy rainstorm, the aircraft departed Narita in Japan on schedule.  My seat was upgraded from the economy to the premium unexpectedly, and the flight was comfortable without any turbulence.  It seemed that my trip to Japan would end perfectly with numerous discoveries, good memories, and inspirations.

Yet, I started feeling feverish during the flight, and when I got home, I was running a fever.

Actually I have had some pains, aches, and discomfort several days before the departure and I was taking medicines.  I had a medical travel insurance with me, but I am glad that I could accomplish all of my plans without canceling any and get back home before I needed to go to a doctor.

I went to a lab yesterday and saw my oncologist today.  There were no signs to worry about and the doctor told me it was just a cold.  Tokyo was so crowded that it was easy to catch germs, I guess.

I postponed the infusion just to be on the safe side, and George has to take care of me even after his vocal cord surgery, but I am thankful that I can rest in my own bed.  🙂

Caution for Abundant Food Era

Each time I go to Japan, I am impressed with its abundant food culture.  “Depa (department store) –chika (basement floor)” is  a new Japanese I have learned recently; that  is a food floor, and is the most popular floor in any department store selling  many kinds of foods, such as fresh produce, gourmet drinks and sweets, all sorts of international meals, and so on.  It is always alive with a big crowd and I love going there, too. Yet, in order to stay in good health, eating a lot doesn’t appear to be a good idea.

I wonder how many restaurants there are in Tokyo station.  The endless restaurants are lined-up in all directions and every place is full of people.  The crowd tempts me to go in even before my stomach asks so.

As I found a long huge line, I asked a cancer friend, who was with me, what the line was for.  Then she said, “That is for popcorn.  They have to get tickets first and then wait for an hour for the popcorn to be ready.”

Waiting for an hour for popcorn!?   I couldn’t believe it, but last year Crispy Cream donuts were a huge hit in Japan and people lined up just like for popcorn.

Japan’s food culture has been westernized very quickly I thought.   That means they consume more deep-fried food, sweets, and high cholesterol than ever and less vegetables and fruits.  As a cancer patient, who learned those were a bad diet and regrets to have eaten donuts on so many mornings, I was concerned with this change.

Several years ago I was surprised listening to the radio saying that Americans depended on restaurants and TV dinners more than 90% of the time on average.  I am afraid that Japan won’t be an exception any more soon, either, and if they forget cooking and get used to being served the abundant rich food , they may  have much more obesity, diabetes, and cancers.  The convenience or abundant is not always good.

It Has Been Four Years

Yesterday, on the Mother’s Day, I said to Sunday School students, “Mom is a precious gift from God.  The Bible says obeying and honoring parents pleases The Lord.  Let’s make a special day for her by telling how much you love her!”

In the afternoon, our grown up children came over with sushi and lobsters for me.

Spending the joyful time with them, I recalled the Mother’s Day four years ago.  It was two days after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, when my heart sank like a heavy lead and  the soul was blown like a withered leaf by the shock and fear.  I taught at the Sunday School, attended a worship service, and in the afternoon, the sons and the daughter came over just like yesterday.  I was so vulnerable  that the words of the Bible, and kindness of friends and the family made me cry easily.

Since then cancer has come back twice, I have lost hair twice, had surgeries three times, and been on chemo continually.  However, my family has always surrounded me giving firm support and encouragement.  Living a day at a time instead of looking far into the future, by holding onto the Bible, somehow four years has passed by.  I thanked God for this great family and think this four years is also a miracle, grace.

母の日カード

Sleepy and Hungry with UES

It was 95F outside.  Yet I was at Kaiser, where the AC was on, in the morning as well as in the afternoon.  In the morning I went for  a liver ultrasound and in the afternoon I went back for my first experience of an upper endoscopy.  Both were for the follow up of the CT I took before the Japan trip to exam if I had varices, swollen vein, around my stomach.

The varices around  a stomach is a secondary problem of  a liver disease, which blocks the blood circulation in a liver, such as cirrhosis, according to a GI doctor.  He denied the connection of the varices and cancer or side-effects of chemo.

The blood test I had prior showed an improvement of AST, an enzyme that indicates abnormality of a liver, with other results, which were all in normal range.   AST was increasing while I was on T-DM1, but now it started decreasing after I changed the regimen to Herceptin and Perjeta this February. Though the number is still a little higher than the standard, it makes me think that the reason of high AST is not a liver disease but a side effect of T-DM1.

The ultrasound took longer than usual and I wondered if there were any suspicious problems, but the endoscopy was done while I was sleeping. I think that the doctor said there were novarices and he would order  a liver biopsy, but I am not sure because I was affected by the sedative, though I remember I was craving for food:  I was fasting from the midnight until after 5 pm when the exam was done.  
I ate big packed lunch (or dinner), some donuts, and fruits, and then slept again on a couch until after 10pm.  When I woke up, George was already in bed.  
Well, I have to wait for the morning to ask him if the doctor really said to me that there were novarices and next exam would be the biopsy.  Without him, I am always short.

Distractions and Prayers

Christian Woman Who Was Sentenced to Flogs and Death

It was not so long after the news that Nigerian Christian girls were kidnapped by the Moslem extremists that I heard  the another disturbing news of a Sudanese Christian pregnant woman,  who was sentenced to 100 flogs and  the death by hanging because of convictions of apostasy and adultery.

According to the news, she is only 27 years old and 8month pregnant.  She was born of a Moslem father and a Christian mother, but  since the father abandoned the family, she was brought up as a Christian by her mother and married a Christian man who immigrated to the U.S. from Sudan.

Under the  Islam law,  Sharia, marrying a Christian is considered as adultery and leaving Islam is a fatal crime.  The woman was given three days to renounce her faith, but she rejected saying that she was never a Moslem, but a Christian since the very beginning and will remain a Christian.

Besides Jesus, the Bible tells many stories of persecutions and martyrs because of faith, but somehow I was hoping that was all past history and no more.

If a woman like that Christian, who is so slender, is flogged 100 times, her body will be in tatters and she will die before being hanged.  Why does such a horrified thing happen to the innocent woman just because she was born in Sudan?

What is God doing? Where is He?

My faith was shaken.

Yet, struggling with the questions, I came to the conclusion that she must be receiving the strength from God and the Holy Spirit is with her just like Stephan, Peter, Paul, and many others in the Bible.

My faith is so little that just imagining her situation freaks me out.  The fear of cancer is nothing compared with the fear she is facing.

 The Death of Cancer Friend

As I was writing so far, the sad news arrived.  A breast cancer friend, who was battling relentlessly for 17 months after being given 6 months to live, passed away.  In her final email, she asked me to pray for the strength to face the difficult last days ahead.

Despite being intimidated by the devastating prognoses, she searched for ways to servive not only in the U.S., but all over the world.  She bore numerous surgeries and radiation therapies one after another, as well as nasty chemos.  On top of that, she continued to teach at a college.  Her courage and determination were so astounding and inspirational that I am honored to have known her.

Because we all die physically, I don’t look at her death as a defeat, but an accomplishment. She ran her race well using everything she had.  I imagine that now she is rejoicing with The Lord, Jesus, and her biological father in God’s Kingdom.

Looking up the sky, I want to salute her saying, “Great job! Congratulations!”

 

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.

I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters,

I will be with you.

When you go through rivers of difficulty,

you will not drown.

When you walk through the fire of oppression,

you will not be burned up;

the flames will not consume you.

For I am the Lord, your God,

….. you are precious to me.

You are honored, and I love you.—Isaiah 43:1-4

 

Believing His promise, and receiving the strength, I want to finish my race well, too.

May God rescue Christian sisters and brothers who are persecuted, and facing death threats, as soon as possible: May He give them strength and hope continually:  May He hold the family of my cancer friend tight mending their broken hearts with His love and hope! Amen.

A New Starting Point for Stage 4 HER2 Breast Cancer

The American Society of Clinical Oncology released new guidelines for the treatment of stage 4 HER2 positive breast cancer according to recent news.

In the guidelines, the first line is the three-drug combo of Herceptin,Perjeta, and  a conventional chemo drug, and the 2nd is T-DM1.

When Perjeta was approved in 2012 as a new antibody drug that targets only cancer cells  just like Herceptin, the FDA recommendedTaxotere as the additional conventional chemo drug. However, a recent clinical trial showed that weekly Taxol had a better result thanTaxotere, which was given every three weeks.  Based on this study, many oncologists are recommending Taxol instead of Taxotere.

Because Taxotere and Taxol are both Taxane agents, when Taxoterefailed to suppress my cancer, nobody wanted to recommend Taxol.  Yet, as I chose Taxol, being convinced by Dr. M in Japan whom I became a friends with through this blog, the drug (along with Herceptin and Tykerb) wiped out the metastasized cancer in mediastinal lymph nodes promptly and carried me to remission.  It was too bad that Taxol damaged my peripheral nerve system, but other than that the side effects were much less than Taxotere in my experience.

I do not understand and am curious why T-DM1, the drug people touted as a miracle medicine, is the 2nd choice.  Maybe price also plays as a part besides effectiveness and side effects, since T-DM1is more expensive than Perjeta.

I, who have used both Perjeta and T-DM1, am interested in the 3rd line, yet the guideline just says Herceptin or Tykerb  with chemotherapy.

In another site I found that there is a 3rd phase clinical trial going on, in which a regimen of Herceptin and Navelbine with a kidney cancer drug, Afinitor/Everolimus, improved the remission period.   Afinitorhas been already used for hormone positive breast cancer and hasperovided effective evidence.

As I haave tried Herceptin + Navelbine – the regimen didn’t work-  unfortunately this new regimen doesn’t look good to me, either, but I saw that this combo has an excellent result somewhere, so  for patients who haven’t tried Nevelbine yet, probably it is worthwhile to try it.

My next CT will be 6/4.  Since thelast scan showed some findings, this coming CT is important to see how things have changed.  Researching new regimens, I am praying for the good result.