Monday, October 10, 2011

Good News, Bad News, and a Lesson on World Domination

I can't help myself, so I hope you'll bear with me.  Since my background is in education, I feel like sharing knowledge is important.  If we were in the classroom, I'd hit you with the info presented here in a variety of ways to help you learn it better, but then again, if we were in the classroom, I'd have to worry about how well you'd all do on the bubble test in the spring and that would diminish my enthusiasm.

So here goes.  First, I'm starting this post with the lesson on world domination, because for me at least, it is the key to understanding the good news/bad news.

I promise.

This is my new 'do.  Or at least, until it all falls out.  Hopefully that will happen within the next week so I can quit clogging the drain in the shower every day!
Cancer cells don't know they're bad --  just like the British when they were building their empire, cancer cells think they are doing the right thing.  Somewhere along the way, their genetic coding forced them off their one true path, and they began to forge their own trail.  They go rogue because a genetic mutation makes them think it's their job to go out and make other cells like themselves.

Now, I'm not saying the British had a genetic mutation that made them go rogue, but the people of the United Kingdom were told by their leaders that they were doing their good Christian duty as they went forth and subjugated all sorts of peoples in Africa and Asia, and tried to teach them British customs and religious practices.

Never mind that the leaders may have been more interested in gaining resources and creating markets for their mass-produced goods.

Similarly, cancer cells create a little group, a tumor where they don't really belong, and they keep replicating because that's what cells do.  Unfortunately, cancer cells don't see the big picture because they are so focused on that one task of replicating.  They use up resources, and for my type of cancer, if they are lucky, they then go off to colonize other organs and the bones if they can catch a ride in the blood stream.

Just like an empire-building nation.

The British believed they were supposed to go out and teach Indians how to dress, talk, act British.  Cancer cells are on much the same mission:  they see how "wrong" regular cells are in their behavior, and they try to replace them with more cancer cells.  Unfortunately, they use up resources faster than regular cells do.  And because they're into the short-term goal (hello, British plantation farming in Africa where the land isn't sustainable with the cash crops introduced), cancer cells don't grasp that they are actually destroying the very being that provides them with the resources that keep them alive.

I sort of feel like I'm channeling Lawrence of Arabia here.  Fabulous fabric sent to me by my sister, so I can be bald in style.  I'm digging all the headwear, and sort of wish we lived in an era where it was more prevalent.
If you're a Star Wars fan, you might say that cancer cells have gone over to the dark side.  Me, I'm a historian, and I love world history in the "modern" era -- this just happens to coincide with the discovery of North and South America, and the ability of the western Europeans to sail to South and Southeast Asia.  Hence my references to Europe and Great Britain in particular.

Hey, I have cancer so indulge me.  ;)

Now that you've got all that under your belts, I can talk about how it relates to me.

Since cancer cells are working faster to create more of themselves, one of the most effective ways to slow them down is to pump the body full of chemicals that are toxic to them.  Their cycle gets interrupted and they can't carry on the way they were before if chemotherapy is effective.

Unfortunately, cancer cells aren't the only cells that reproduce rapidly.  The mouth, the small and large intestines,  hair follicles, and blood (bone marrow) also have cells with faster production rates, and their cycle gets interrupted, too.  That's why my hair is falling out and why food tastes really bad to me the first week and a half after treatment.  It's also why I have been eating almost NO fiber -- no veggies, few fruits, less wheat bread, and so on -- and why I have to get a Neulasta shot 24-72 hours after each chemo treatment.  It forces my bone marrow to up the output of white blood cells, but I still have to be extremely careful to avoid any type of infection.
If you happen to be a fan of Dr. Who, then you already know that fezzes are cool.  If not, then this photo will surely convince you.
[So Melanie, if you're reading this (and you always do, so I'm counting on you!), know that once I'm through with chemo, I will get my fraidy-cat butt on the back of your bike no matter how terrified I am, just so I can say that I was hijacked by a biker chick.  But until then, I can't chance it.]

To sum up, you've had the lesson (cancer doesn't know it's bad, because it's been convinced that it is supposed to take over the body), and you've gotten the bad news (water and most foods taste bad to me, I can't eat a normal "healthy" diet right now, and my stomach gets terribly crampy like I've eaten too many sugar free chocolates the first week or so after treatment).  I'm also going to mention here that I'm borderline anemic, because it could mean I have to get a blood transfusion at some point.  Neulasta doesn't affect red blood cell counts or hemoglobin, and even with this shot, my white blood cell count is pretty low during the middle week of each cycle.  Sick people of the world, be thoughtful about taking care of yourself and anyone you may come into contact with.

I know the quality of the photos here leaves a lot to be desired, but I wanted to get the good news out as quickly as possible, rather than waiting around for awesome photos.  Love the skulls of this head scarf -- made for me by my grandmother!
That leaves only one other topic that I mentioned in my post title:  the good news.  And it is very good news, so I'm excited to be able to share it with you all.  My doctor did her usual exam before my infusion by poking around in my right arm pit and measuring the size of my cancer tumor.  She told me that my lymph node has gone back to a more normal size (shrank over a centimeter, I believe) which made me happy.  And my tumor?  It has shrunk considerably as well.  In one direction, the tumor is approximately a centimeter smaller, and in the other direction, it's almost 2 centimeters smaller.  The chemotherapy, along with the targeted therapy drug Herceptin, are getting the job done.

I think I can bear the upset stomach for the remaining cycles.  So far, I seem to have only one day of feeling really awful, and a week of feeling meh after each treatment.  If that means that the surgeon can take fewer lymph nodes and reduce the chance of damaging the nerve that runs along the back of my right arm, I can deal with these short-lived side effects.

Now, you may all open your test booklets to the first page for the practice question.  Do not skip ahead, do not mark outside the bubbles, and do not speak to your neighbors . . .


gailcanoe said...

So glad to hear the good news! And, as for the bad news, I hope the feeling bad part is short lived. As for the taste issue, try some lemons over chicken and rice. The lemon juice (acid) will help waken your taste buds and let you taste.
We're pulling for you!

Beezus said...

Thanks, Gail, for that hint! I've already started using lemon slices in my water to help me over the "bitters," but I never thought about getting it with the rice and chicken. Thanks for all your support! :)

Jilly said...

yay for good news! Hang in there, and I hope things keep improving.

Patricia Stagner said...

We are all praying for you up here in KY. We love you! God is with you. Wish there was something that I could do to make this part of life better, but I understand that praying is about all I can do. So I'm doing a lot of that. God bless you.

Beezus said...

Thanks, all. Your support means more than you know! :)

David Coleman said...

Hey Maria--
Awesome blog post--definitely grades out as an "A+"--and even better news on the progress via treatment! Thoughts and prayers from the Keith Building--thinking of you!

Candy B said...

Hi Maria, much love and blessings to you. Interesting analogy, who knew the colonization of Africa and cancer could be so similar in nature.

Spiced Coffee said...

It's hard for me to believe you can write so beautifully while feeling just "meh." Sending a big hug and loads of positive energy your way. So happy to hear about the shrinkage of the beast!

Annie said...

Wow! This is obviously my first visit to your blog and I had no iea what a devil you are battling. You definitely have the right attitude for the fight of your life. We're all behind you helping the only way we can! Your good news is fabulous!

~ Val @ PinkPlease! ~ said...

I am praying for you!!!

Shoshi said...

A very moving account of your cancer - you are an amazing writer with a great command of the English language! I love reading your posts. Also I love all the photos of you with your great headgear in this post - so stylish! I also really like the chemo Mohican at the beginning! Really cool!

The taste side effect sounds truly awful... I am so not looking forward to all this...