Monday, July 25, 2011

New Meds Start Today

After a very busy, social, swim-team filled weekend of activity, today I get to start my new medicine – Tykerb. This is an oral medicine that is supposed to cross the blood-brain barrier to stop or prevent cancer growth in my brain. There are some side effects as with any medicine, but my attitude has always been not to anticipate anything and expect the best. There are always meds that can help manage the side effects.
My doctor’s office had to call my insurance company to see if Tykerb was covered, because apparently this drug uncovered would cost about $3,000. Yeah – unbelievable. Care First Blue Cross does cover it (thank God) so all I had to shell out is $35. Anyone interested in knowing more about Tykerb – here is link to a site:

Here’s a pic of Erin, Grace and Jake from Saturday’s last meet at our pool Woodley, and it was Erin’s last swim meet of her career. They honored five senior swimmers who are moving on to college. I am so proud of Erin sticking with swim team from age six to 18!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Annie's Next Treatment Steps

Since I am finished with radiation, here is what is happening next:
1) In 8 weeks I get a brain MRI so they can see how the radiation did with the four tumors. The radiation is still working away in my brain, and I will experience fatigue for the next three weeks or so, and of course, I will be bald for a few months. My hair should come back. However brain radiation does a number on hair follicles, so there is no guarantee about the quantity or texture of returning hair. Yay for me.
2) Next week I go back to my oncologist, and I will start Herceptin treatments again every three weeks. That's an IV dose administered in my chest mediport. It's a 30 minute treatment - so it's not too bad. I do not really get side-effects from Herceptin.
3) In two weeks, I will start to take a new oral drug called Tykerb. It is a medicine that can cross the blood-brain barrier that will hopefully prevent new brain tumor growth. Tykerb may have annoying side effects, like diarrhea, nausea, rashes, and mouth sores. I try not to anticipate any side effects, and I know that if I get them, there will be meds to counter them.

So the Adventure Continues...

Still Working at National PTA

Throughout my radiation, I have been able to work full time. This has been really good for me. Since my seizure at the PTA convention, everyone in my office is aware of my cancer, and everyone has been so incredibly supportive and understanding. I really love my job. Last November, I had taken on many more resposibilites at the office - which was stressful. Things have stablized recently - I have new boss and some of my work is shifting to others.

It's been good for me to stay busy and keep my mind occupied. I hope I can continue to work throughout my next cancer treatment stages.

Side Effects - Unfortunately There are Some

Despite the relative ease of whole brain radiation treatments, there have been side effects that go from general annoyance to major pain in the butt. Since my seizure last month, I have been taking steriods and anti seizure meds. The steriods keep me up at night, bloat my face, cause tons of acne, night sweats, jags of energy - they are awful. Lack of sleep is the worst. The good news is, my dosage is lowering every week, and will be done with them by the end of July. Thank god.

I will be on anti-seizure meds perhaps forever.

I can't drive until November or December (need to be seizure-free). This is not a side effect from meds. However not being able to drive is awful. Words cannot describe how much I can't stand to be depended on someone to drive me places.

And oh yeah - the brain radiation has left me bald again. Bald. Again. I am not doing wigs. Just head wraps. Photos to come.

Annie's Breast Cancer History Digest

For anyone who is interested in my three-year cancer adventure time-line and treatments - here is a brief recap. I still find it hard to believe what I have been through. I have said it before and I'll keep saying it - cancer sucks.

  • July 2008 – Diagnosed with DCIS in left breast
  • September 2008 - Left Breast Mastectomy –– Georgetown Hospital – Dr. Shawna Willey
  • February 2009 – Left Silicone Implant surgery –– Georgetown Hospital – Dr. Spears, plastic surgeon.
  • July 2009 – Diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Cancer spread to lymph nodes in left armpit and liver; HER2 Positive, estrogen receptive – referred to Dr. Mary Wilkinson, Fairfax, VA - oncologist
  • July to October 2009 – Started IV chemotherapy – Herceptin; Taxotere; Carboplatin
  • November 2009 to August 2010 – Herceptin every three weeks
  • August 2010 – Lymph nodes active again – started IV Gemzar and Herceptin;
  • January & March 2011 PET/CT scans indicated liver and lymph node activity decreased;
  • June 11, 2011 – Had grand mal seizure while working in Orlando, Florida. Florida Hospital in Orlando performed MRI which indicated three brain lesions; Dr. Wilkinson referred me to Radiologist, Dr. Bajaj in Fairfax.
  • June 15, 2011 – Met with Neurosurgeon to determine treatment plan.
  • June 20, 2011 – started process of preparing for stereotactic, frameless, radiation therapy;
  • June 23, 2011 -- stereotactic, frameless, radiation therapy procedure scheduled at Fairfax Hospital
  • June 24, 2011 – MRI with SRS Protocol showed 4th tumor in brain stem. Dr. Bajaj recommended whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT) instead of stereotactic radiation to treat the whole brain.
  • June 27, 2011 – WBRT began - 14 treatments scheduled through July 15, 2011 at Fairfax Hospital Radiology.

Whole Brain Radiation - 14 Treatments - DONE!

On Friday, I finished my last brain radiation treatment. There were a total of 14. With all of the cancer treatments I have been through - between mastectomy, implant surgery, chemo, PET/CT scans, MRIs, core needle biopsies - I have to say that whole brain radiation has been a breeze.

The procedure involved laying on a table, strapping a form-fitting web-like mask to my face, and 30 seconds of a machine buzzing on one side of my head, then moving to the other side of my head for another 30 seconds of buzzing. My eyes are closed, and all I could see is a purple light and it smelled like something was burning. There was no pain at all. I hope that burning smell was zapping my brain tumors!

Here is a picture of my custom-fit mask. Of course they let me keep it. Pretty cool, eh?

Fairfax Hospital Radiology staff and scheduling were TOP NOTCH. I never waited more than 5 minutes to get my treatment. They paid for parking. The staff were incredibly friendly. On my last treatment, I got to literally bang a gong they keep at the front desk - a symbol of completion.

My parents picked me up every day from work, and took me to every treatment except for one (Erin took me once). I love you mom and dad, for driving me all over creation, and getting me to every appointment on time. You are incredible.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Annie's Cancer Adventure I - My First Blog

Here is the link to my first blog - for those who are curious as to the first year or so of my adventure into breast cancer.

Annie's Blog #2 - The Cancer Adventure Continues

Family and friends:
Many of you followed my last blog when I started my cancer adventure just about three years ago. started this new blog to keep you informed and updated on my latest treatments, health, family happenings, etc. I hope you will read this at your leisure. I hope I can relay enough details on the science, emotion and drama that has been my life.

This photo was taken on July 9, 2011. It was the last weekend I had a full head of hair!