July, 2015

Brain MRI Again

I went to take a brain MRI last Friday. The headache, which stopped after a chemo infusion last week, came back this week. It’s constant.
I need to find out if the cause is the brain metastasized cancer or not.
It has been two years since the last MRI. I don’t have to worry about the radiation exposure with a MRI, but I remembered the uncomfortable intense feeling being still in the narrow “tunnel” with the loud noise for 30 minutes.

As soon as I laid down on the hard narrow exam table, which would move into the tunnel, without a pillow, I felt my head was placed lower than the sleeping position, and the mucus dripped down to the throat. I got afraid that the mucus might choke me. The neck and back hurt and I almost felt the cramps would happen. Can I be still for 30 minutes?

The young female technician was preparing the exam putting ear plugs and a helmet on me, and handed me a buzzer saying, “ if something happens, please push this buzzer.” I wondered, “With this buzzer, if I get choked or clamped, can I get out from this tunnel and stand up from the exam table right away?”

Becoming fearful, I prayed.
“Jesus, please protect me. Hold me tight so that I can be still without any trouble.”

Closing eyes though, I felt the exam table was moving into the tunnel, and even with the ear plugs, I heard the laud wild noise.

Finally the exam table I laid on moved out from the tunnel and the exam was over. “You did a good job,” said the technician with a smile, but probably she had no idea that I kept praying all the way.

It will take a week to get a result. I can’t wait, but I know that I will be very nervous as I open it.

Breaking up or Uniting

When we face an enemy, it is better to unite with your partner instead of breaking up to win the battle. Yet in reality it is not easy. If a child causes a problem at school, a family member becomes seriously ill, or financial crisis attacks, we tend to blame each other.

When I was involved in the international organ transplant ministry (1998-2009), I met about 60 Japanese families. Living in the different culture and language as foreigners, if their loved ones, who were already in serious condition, deteriorated, the relationship between a husband and a wife was stressed out, and though most of couples overcame the crisis, in some cases they even started talking about divorce.

The relationship with God is the same. When we are hit by a life storm, some cling to God tighter and some get angry at and throw away God. Perhaps it depends on what kind of God we believe or expect.

If we expect that God would grant every single prayer, we are probably often disappointed.

In the international organ transplant ministry, I saw some parents or spouses cry saying, “ I am so overwhelmed with the kindness I have received during this toughest time that I can’t find a word to express my gratitude,” even after they lost their loved ones. When I saw their tears, I thought I witnessed God, who was called Immanuel (God is with us) promising never to forsaken us: God, who may not stop the current storm but is willing to be with us in the storm: God, who eventually will stop all storms and give us the happiest eternal life. Since I found such a God, even though storms have hit one after another, I have been able to find enough reasons to be thankful for God just like the organ transplant families.

Storms or trials are for strengthening the tie of a husband and a wife, family, and ultimately with God. That’s why we make a wedding vow to love each other in sickness or in health, in poverty or in wealth, in good times and bad till death shall apart. Storms and trials are the spiritual tests to see how much we can be humble, patient, love God, and be faithful to Him. I have learned that being close to Him instead of breaking up, is the key for the victory, and a better relationship with Him is the reward of the tests.

Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart

On the way to a friend’s house, a box of cakes as a gift was tilted in the car. “Oh, shoot! I might mess up the cakes.” I was immediately tempted to peek inside the box, but it was sealed by tape firmly, and even if I could see, and found them crumbling, what can I do? Nevertheless, each time the red signal stopped the car, I stared at the box worrying so much.

While waiting for the result of the brain MRI, I feel the same way. I can’t find if I have a brain metastasis or nor until I see the result, but I am tempted to Google with “headache”.
Today was Tuesday, a day of the Bible class.
At the opening, George read Proverbs 3:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
 do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
 and he will show you which path to take.”

The Word spoke to me. Instead of assuming and worrying that this is brain metastasis, trust the Lord and wait upon the Lord.

No Mets In The Brain

Yay! The brain MRI result came back negative! I was concerned with cancer spreading into the brain because my headache became constant for the last couple weeks. On Tuesday, people in the Bible class put hands on me and prayed for me. I trusted the Lord, but it is almost too good to believe this result. This is the power of prayers and of the faithful God.

Tomorrow George and I will go to Hollywood Ball concert, which is a gift from a friend. I feel so free that I am ready to enjoy the live concert looking up at the starts and the moon God created.

I am so thankful for those, who prayed for me and God, who loves me so tenderly with Grace.

Reasons To Gain Weight

According to the American Cancer Society, overweight increases the risk of recurrence of cancer or survival, but if you are on chemo, most likely you will gain weight. I, whose belly is more sticking out and pants don’t fit any more, have to be very careful.

ACS says that the reasons of the weight gain are:

1) Chemo’s side effects make the patients tired or sick, so they become less active.

I stopped exercising because I was easily coughing, running nose, and cramping. Also when I was on Xeloda, I could barely walk, and I changed Xeloda to Cadcyla (T-DM1), I was so sleepy, that my major activities were mostly eating and sleeping only. Though someone told me that sleeping was necessary for fighting back against headaches, I have enough reasons to gain weight.

2) Eating more often due to the stress of cancer
3) People around the patients encourage them to eat more being afraid of them losing weight and getting sicker.

The preventions are:
1) Though People tend to think the patients should rest while they are on chemo, actually exercise is good to lessen fatigue, muscle/ joint’ stiffness, constipation, or nausea. ACS recommends cancer patients to exercise for 150 min/wk.
2) Eat at least two and a half cups of fruits and vegetables. Good protein sources are legumes, yogurt, cheese, fish, chicken, and nuts. Yet, they have to watch calories intake. Fiber products are also important.
3) Take more low or non calorie liquid than usual.

It’s sad, but I guess I have to say good-bye to cookies, chocolates, and cakes, and should walk more.

New Storm Again

“ I don’t think you can continue Cadcyla (T-DM1) for long.”
The oncologist said while we were discussing about my plunged platelet count.

The last lab result showed 75k platelets, which is the minimum requirement number for the infusion ( normal range is 150k-400k). If the platelets go lower next time, I have to postpone the infusion, and even after postponing if it won’t recover, I can’t continue Cadcyla no matter how it is effective.

Comparing with the previous time in 2013, this time my platelet is going down much faster pace along with the faster surging liver enzyme level.
Both are the serious side-effects of Cadcyla and the oncologist explained the reason with a concern that the bone marrow was weakening and functioning poorly being beaten up by the five year continual chemo therapy.

If I give up Cadcyla, what is the next option? I used up all good drugs. The oncologist wants to hear from Dr. Slamon, my 2nd opinion doctor, who invented Herceptin, the life-changing drug for HER2 positive breast cancer, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize. My appointment with him is on Aug. 25th.

God granted the prayers to bring me through the brain MRI. The storms are getting bigger, but God is much bigger than the storms. I must keep holding onto Him and asking for peace, hope, encouragement, and wisdom.

Getting feet Back on the Rock

Damn it!

Why did I receive the infusion? Why didn’t I ask to postpone it until next week giving the bone marrow time to recover?

Why didn’t I ask to reduce the dose? That would also help the recovery.

Since the platelet count has been continually plunging, it is obvious that the next lab will show the worse result. Then it will take a long time to recover.
Umm, I am always so slow!

Last night on top of a side effect of Decadron, a steroid, regretting to receive the infusion, I couldn’t sleep. I can’t undo yesterday. It was done already. Then what I can do was only to pray.

“God please give me your peace. Please fix my mistake.”

I prayed many times but what coming out were only sighs and frustrations.

The morning came. George asked how I was. I said,”It’s crappy.” Yet it was a totally new day! I had a full schedule today, and after spending the day with ESL Bible study, lunch with an old friend from Japan, a visit to the Christian dentist, and volunteering at a homeless shelter, my heart was lifted up.

In the Bible study, discussing about God’s faithfulness and grace, I was encouraged. The conversation with the old friend was so joyous. At the dentist’s, showing the completely closed gum, under which was the necrosis so I had to remove an implant in March, the dentist said, “Praise the Lord.” Serving together with the Tuesday Bible study people at the shelter was uplifting as always.

At the end of the day, I drove back home with complete peace being relieved from the bitter regret and the anxiety about the future. Surprisingly I felt like my future was even bright. Maybe this is just erratic impulsive feeling, but I am so thankful that I could get back my feet on the Rock.

Woman Who Beat Stage 4 Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Her name is Wendie den Brok. She was diagnosed with TNBC in 2005 when she was 36 years old. That was also the time when she was accepted at a medical school in England.

Though she tried all the treatments such as a surgery, radiation, and chemo staying in the intense course of the medical school, cancer came back as a metastatic status, stage 4, in less than a year.

Her choices were limited and cancer progressed. As the last option, her doctor recommended two chemo combo drugs, which were not common for breast cancer.

She bet on that combo though there was a little chance. Usually it is said that stage four cancer is incurable, and especially for triple negative, the prognoses is poor. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, that combo shrank cancer and saved her life. Nobody could explain why her cancer disappeared while so many struggle and die.

Wendie, who is now cancer-free and practicing as an oncologist, said that because every cancer is different and considered as a different disease, it is important to find a different treatment that fits each patient. The combo, which saved her life, must have suited perfectly with her cancer.

Enduring the side-effects while facing death threat and even achieving her goal to be a doctor, she also said, “”Regardless of the prognosis and diagnosis you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.”

Do not be destructed by cancer, pain, or death threat, but keep hope and keep going to accomplish the purpose of life—-I am grateful for her inspiring survival story and message!

No Grapefruits for Kadcyla

I started a grapefruit diet about ten days ago wishing to reduce weight.  Gaining weight is probably the consequence of being less active because of the side-effects of chemo. 

While I was researching the diet, I read that grapefruits cleanse the liver and inhibit the liver enzyme. Interesting!  As surging liver enzymes, AST and ALT, has been one of my major concerns being on KadcylaI, I thought the grapefruit diet was a way to go.

I knew that grapefruits sometime react with medicines.  When I was on Tykerb, I was told not to take grapefruits.  George, who is taking an anti-hypertension med, can’t take grapefruits.  So I researched if grapefruits react with Kadcyla or not.  As I didn’t find any clear statements, I gave myself the green signal.  Yet just in case, I decided to ask my oncologist about grapefruits.

Since I already started the diet, I expected and hoped that she would say, “Fine.” Yet to my surprise, she said,

“ Grapefruits can increase toxicity of Kadcyla.  It is better to avoid them.”

Shoot!  I was consuming one and a half grapefruits everyday already.

The lesson:  I need always ask the doctor first before I take or do something extra.
I will see how grapefruits would have affected on Kadcyla in two weeks when I will have the next lab.

Is Cancer Punishment?

Reaching Sushi with chopsticks, a cancer friend said,
“ I accept cancer as a punishment because I had done lots of bad stuff when I was young.”
When tribulations happen, we sometimes think like her as punishments- at least to some extent.

According to the Bible, sufferings and death came into our world because we broke the relationship with God. Yet the cost of the Sin was paid by Jesus’ cross. Though as long as we live in this distorted world, which is in distance from God, tribulations continue, God forgave us.

Samaritan Woman

Samarian Woman

The Gospel of John ch.4 tells an interesting story about God’s Grace. Samaritans was a race, who were born between Jew and a gentile, whom Jews despised. For Jews, exchanging words with them was a big taboo, and was utterly out of the question with women, who were the 2nd class in those days.

To such a woman, who came to a well to get some water, Jesus, who was a Jew, asked, “ I am thirsty. Please give me a drink.”

Between Jesus and a surprised Samaritan Woman, the conversation began and Jesus told her that he was the Messiah and wanted to give her “Living Water”, which meant forgiveness and the eternal life.

The woman had had five husbands and was living with a man out of marriage. Looking for love or maybe financial support, she was hopping from man to man. Her life was shameful, being far away from a good faithful model. Nevertheless, instead of condemning, despising, or even punishing, Jesus offered her salvation.

Being astonished with Jesus, who knew everything about her past, the woman rushed to go her hometown in great excitement and brought a stream of the people back to Jesus, and in the end they became believers of Jesus. The worthless sinful woman was equipped as an instrument by Jesus.

Yes. We are all sinners, who deserve for punishments, like the cancer friend told me. Yet God’s Grace is much bigger than the punishment. Cancer is not the punishment but an opportunity to get closer to God, who is reaching out to us, just like He did to the Samaritan woman.

CT to Evaluate 2nd Use of Kadcyla

After three infusions of Kadcyla (T-DM1), which I ‘d used for 8 months in 2013 for the first time, I went to have a CT scan to see if the 2nd use of it is still working or not.

“ How have you been?” A dreadlocked black nurse I have known since 2010 was exceptionally friendly today and started talking about his family and his hometown in Indiana maybe because it was already after 5pm and the peak of his work was over. He said after Kaiser remodeled the facility this year, the hospital bought a new CT machine so now they can exam more people cutting the waiting time of the exam. It was nice, but I’d rather hear the result promptly—I told him. Then he said if he uses the “STAT “ stamp, a patient can receive the result quickly.

“ Can you do that for me?” I asked him.
“It’s too late today. I need to know ahead.”

If I can get the STAT status, that will be great! I will try to ask him next time. Usually it takes about a week to hear the result, but this time I am hoping to hear the result on this coming Monday when I have an appointment with the oncologist.

I will have a blood work to see the platelet count and the liver enzyme levels on next Tuesday.

Both the CT and the lab are very crucial. Since I am running out of chemo drug options, if I cannot pass those tests, my circumstance will become extremely difficult.
Yet so far I have been in God’s peace and enjoying everyday. May this peace and joy continue and may I have good results!