May, 2016

6th Cancer Aniversary

Today is my 6th cancer diagnosis anniversary. The day when my life turned upside down and I was dismayed by the great magnitude of the shock was just like it had happened yesterday. As the first chemo therapy prior to the mastectomy allowed the cancer to grow, the doctors warned me saying this would be a very tough battle, and one of them even told me I might not live more than four years.

Since then I have had 5 surgeries, the radiation therapy, and endless chemo. I have experienced all kinds of side effects, and the routine of the every three months CT scan has made me nervous always. Meanwhile George was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, lost his voice, and laid off in 2015. We were even robbed this year. This six years have been a big series of life storms.

Neverthless in 2014 George and I could go on our dream trip to Israel, and I have been able to go to Japan almost every year. Friends and family have been so good and supportive, and we were not only able to keep the insurance, the house, or cars, but also have been provided more than we had asked for. Marking the 6th anniversary is nothing but a miracle. This is all because of so many people’s prayers and my dear God’s Grace. I am grateful!

One step ahead is pitch dark and the future is uncertain that is never different from the last six years, but I know my journey will have a happy ending, the victory, because the Bible promised it: because Jesus defeated death! How encouraging it is!

Having a chemo infusion today, I feel sluggish right now just like a typical day after chemo. Yet, if I recover in a few days, I can begin the 7th year from the Hawaii family trip. I am waiting for it patiently. Thy Will Be Done!

Waiting Patiently

The thermometer read 99.3 F. At the night of the chemo infusion, I was running a little fever. This happens sometimes after chemo. That’s why I moved the infusion from Tuesday, the day before the Hawaii trip, to Friday so I have a enough time to recover.

Yet Saturday, the symptoms were still the same.
“Should we give up the trip?”
The question came out from my mouth several times, and then George answered, “One day at a time. Let’s see how you feel tomorrow.”
I gave myself a shot, which boosted up the white cell count, took Tylenol, some supplements, and read the Psalms:
” Oh, hear me as I pray;
pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for I pray no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Every morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly….” (Psalm 5)

I gave the prayer just like the psalm and fell asleep.

This morning, finally the fever went down and I feel better!
George started packing. Sue, the owner of the house in Maui, gave us the car key. The kids wrote on a Mother’s Day card, “See you in Hawaii!”
“Rest one more day and we have a good chance to make the trip,” said George.
Yes. I am almost there!
Trusting in the Lord, I wait upon His answer patiently.

Finally I Am On Airplane

“Thank you, God!” Seatng in the airplane, I said to Him many times.
Until yesterday after 3:30pm, I was at an urgent care being not sure if I could make the trip. I was reluctant, but concerning the worsend cough and the slow recovery since the chemo infusion last Friday, I decided to see a doctor.

He first listened to my lungs moving his stethoscope left to right And right to left, and then told me that my air flowed weaker in the right side than the left side. After an X-ray and lab tests, I waited at the urgent care for being called my name once again. One hour passed. Then another hour passed, but still I Was not called. On top of the comment of the doctor, thinking of the relentless cough and the chest pains, which come and go now, I became nervous.
What if the X-ray showed abnormalities, or if the doctor orders the admission again? I was scared and if I imagined the cancelation of the trip, I wanted to cry.
“God, I am scared! Please help me!”
I prayed.

Finally the time with the doctor came, and he said that the X-ray result was the same as the last time, which caught the new nodule, but it was OK for the trip.
God granted the prayer! He performed a miracle again!

At night when I went to the Bible study, some friends welcomed George and me wearing the costume of hula dance.

I am so grateful for Sue, who offered and prepared in so many ways to make the trip wonderful, and many friends, who have prayed for my recovery so I could make the trip!

GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!

Granted Vacation

How quickly the time goes by! Our vacation has been already more than a half passed.

Although I was not in the best condition, once I got to Hawaii, perhaps because of the antibiotics, I feel much better and even relentless cough was improved so much that it doesn’t  bothered  me any more!

The first night George and I visited a cancer friend, whom I got to know through Inspire, a virtual breast cancer community. Her cancer is hormone positive and HER2 positive like mine, an aggressive one, but she has been surviving 26 years since the first diagnosis and almost 20 years since cancer came back with metastasis.
Although we met the first time, we talked like knowing each other for a long time.
I was not sure if I would’ve been able to meet her until the very last minute, and am not sure if I can see her again, but now feeling her so close that I was so thankful for my prayer to meet her was granted.

Next day, George and I flew to Maui and at night the kids joined us at this beautiful spacious house with the incredible ocean view. Since then we have seen huge but cute sea turtles, driven  through thousands and thousands of tropical giant trees being taken away the breath with colorful countless flowers and water falls, and I could enjoy even snorkeling!

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The ocean where we did snorkeling in front of the house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Once I go back home, I have to face the hard reality, but I am throughly enjoying every minute forgetting about cancer. I am so thankful for this marvelous vacation!
God is good all the time!

I Don’t want To Go Home

Waking up with birds chripping and the sound of waves, every morning I looked for sea turtles that swam on the rocky beach at the back of the house. A mountain on the horizon is covered by the patchwork of orange, brown, and many different greens. This space surrounded by colorful flowers, greens, and the cobalt blue ocean was a timeless paradise.

Such a vacation will be over tomorrow and I have to go back to LA. Once I get home, I have to go to take a CT scan and the following day will be a chemo infusion.

Because Pneumonia totally messed up the chemo schedule for last 7 weeks and the expected oral chemo, Afinitor was dropped off, the oncologist doesn’t expect a good CT result. If so, I have to look for the next regimen from few options.

.Maybe being here is more effective than chemo!
Ahhhh, I wish I didn’t have to go home!

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A sunset from the house

 

Healing Power of God’s Creation

As I sat in a chemo chair, a conversation between a patient in front of me and a nurse came into my ear. “ My sister and her family are in Maui this weekend…”

Listening to the word,“Maui”, I jumped into the conversation telling, “ I just came back from Maui.” Including my nurse, too, we started sharing how wonderful a place Hawaii was.

“I was coughing so hard before the trip, but it stopped once I got there. Then as soon as I got back, I started coughing again. I think it’s because the weather or the air over there is better than here.”

As I said so, everyone agreed.

“ My cancer friend has been surviving for almost 20 years though her cancer is advanced HER2+. Hawaii must be a healing place. Since there are Kaisers in Hawaii, all cancer patients should be sent there!”

Again, everyone agreed with smiles.

Surprisingly the lab tests I took yesterday showed the best number ever in glucose and cholesterol, which has been over 200 for many years even before the diagnosis of cancer: It dropped from 246 in the last month to 194! I don’t think this happened during the only one week vacation, but I was so pleased that I wondered if the great nature, which is not polluted, may have a healing power. My mind traveled to Genesis- God’s creation which once was totally perfect, and His coming Kingdom meditating and inscribing the beautiful awesome sceneries in Maui.

Significant Progression

Right after I posted the blog last night, I received the CT result: “A significant progression in both size and numbers in the lungs.”
Although I was bracing myself as the oncologist warned me of a bad result, I have never seen such an aggressive progression before. Even when I was off treatment for 5 weeks last summer the progression that time was not even in comparison with this time.

When I had pneumonia, a doctor told me to postpone a CT scan for 3-4 weeks because the image would be confusing between pneumonia and cancer. I was not doing well until the day before Hawaii trip and just finished the antibiotics this morning. Maybe some bad result was due to pneumonia. I told myself to be calm but I know I have to change the regimen.

Since last year cancer has been growing no matter what I have used. Maybe Herceptin, I have used for 6 years, is no more effective. If so all the recommended regimens from Dr. Slamon or many clinical trials, which include Herceptin may be not effective. Then what options do I have? I feel clueless. I will see the doctor this Tuesday. I hope and pray that God guides us to the right treatment and opens the door to sustain my life.

Prayer

“O Lord, How long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don”t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don”t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.”–Psalm 13

As I went to the church, everybody prayed for me.
being surrounded by many smiles, and by sharing about the Maui trip, my sunk heart was lifted up and the joy was restored.
I did my homework researching possible next regimens to discuss with the oncologist tomorrow. May God lead the doctor and me to the right next step opening the door for the miracle!

Next Step

Herceptin is the must drug for HER2 positive breast cancer, which has otherwise a poor prognosis. Yet this promising drug doesn’t work for all the patients and even if it’s working, as the time goes by, it eventually loses the effectiveness. I have used Herceptin for 6 years continually, but cancer had grown even in the 1st & 2nd regimens until I added Tykerb. When I had two year remission, I was using Herceptin and Tykerb on top of other conventional chemo, and when I withdrew Tykerb, cancer became active again and has kept growing. Receiving the bad CT result, now I wonder if Herceptin is no more effective or maybe it wasn’t even from the very beginning.

In the email with the CT result, the oncologist asked me about a clinical trial with MM302, which was originally recommended by Dr. Slamon at UCLA. MM302 is a new drug of the same family with Adriamycin, which is one of major drugs for HER2 positive BC, but when the previous doctor wanted to use it for me in 2010, a genetic test (TOPO) indicated this drug was not compatible for me. So I have never used it yet. I emailed to the doctor who was in charge of this study asking if MM302 could be still beneficial for me or not. The reply came promptly but it said that the answer was unknown until I try it regardless of the status of TOPO test.
Since this study is about a sort of Adriamycin and Herceptin, which I started doubting the effectiveness, I am not sure if it’s worth betting.

I have googled other clinical trials for anti-resistant Herceptin. I found four, but practically only one was possible: It’s a study of Poziotinib, alternative of Herceptin, developed in China. In the phase I study this drug was effective for 60% of metastatic status women, who had failed with multiple regimens.

In the meeting with the oncologist, I discussed about MM302 and Poziotinib, and got agreement to explore the study of Poziotinib. Meanwhile I asked to add Tykerb, again, instead of Afinitor on current chemo, Abraxane and Herceptin. According to news, a recent study showed that Tykerb was much more effective than Herceptin at stopping breast cancer stem cells from growing when it was combined with the IL-8 drug.

Nobody knows if the 2nd round of Tykerb is effective on me or not until I try it. Chemo therapy is all big gambling, but this is what I will do next. I pray for God’s guidance continually.

Because I Believe Jesus

Receiving a bad report is discouraging for anyone. Going through accelerating pain and losing physical abilities must be despairing, too. When I was in bed with pneumonia with a relentless cough, I became weary thinking I would never get better.

Yet as a believer of The Creator of heaven and earth, and Jesus, who paid for my sin on the cross and made it possible to receive eternal life, I have no doubt that death is the door for the new life. Whether you believe the tremendous hope is waiting on another side of death or not, it affects our way of living. Because it is important for me to survive from cancer, I pray for the healing and the miracle, but how to live must be more important than the result in God’s eyes. The Bible tells us that the most important teaching is to love our God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Fortunately God has given me so many good examples around me. I have to do a better job for that.

Regarding the battle against cancer, I have to do my best using all resources I have been given, and trust in God for the rest remembering that my life is in His hand. I am truly grateful getting to know that there is God, who never fails, or makes mistakes, and is full of Love.
GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!

Clinical Trial Requires Courage

Cancer treatment is always a gamble:  Yet clinical trials, especially the early stage ones appear even bigger gambles for me.

I have written about the TIL (Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes) treatment in this blog as one of the most exciting immunotherapies, and then recently I have read the update of the lady who has participated in this trial.  Judy, who had a recurrence three years ago with three year life expectancy after 10 year remission, was the first breast cancer patient in this trial while this treatment has been used successfully in Melanoma and Lymphoma.

According to the newspaper  article, first a surgeon removed one of her cancer tumors and sliced into 24 pieces.  Then in the lab, the scientists observed how her TIL would attack the cancer. The TIL attacked 4 sliced out of 24, but those active TIL were increased to 80 billion!

So far I was very excited, but the next paragraph in the article scared the life out of me:  Before she received those 80 billion active TIL, she had to “kill off” her own white blood cells, which didn’t recognize cancer cells, by a huge dose of chemo.

White blood cells protect our body from all kinds of infections.  They are the major part of the immune system. I have run a fever, had pneumonia, UTI, ect, all because my immune system was knocked down by chemo. So if she had to make “the tank empty”, I wonder what kind of reactions or side effects she had experienced and for how long.  No wonder this trial requires the participants to be admitted to an ICU.

She endured this process and was discharged at the beginning of this year.  Seems like she was in bed for a while even after the discharge, but after 5 months, her cancer is “melted away” and she is enjoying her normal life getting back to so many activities though her doctor said it is still too early to conclude if the trial was successful and the observation is necessary to continue.

I, who am intimidated already learning the details of my pick of Poziotinib trial, am such a coward compared with Judy.  We can have better treatments because the clinical trials move the studies forward, but without brave participants  like Judy, the trials are not possible.  Cancer battle requires lots of courage, and I am grateful and respect those trial participants, who are willing to take the big risks.