Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blame Garry!

One of my good buddies, Garry, stoked my ego yesterday by telling me I didn’t post to my blog often enough. The rest of you needn’t worry, I told him that, as honored as I am by his opinion, I don’t intend to bore the rest of you with more frequent blathering. (More on Garry & his lovely wife, later.)

But, as timing would have it, it’s time for a health/treatment update. And, since I simply can NOT stand dry and droll cancer-talk, I’ll close by sharing some SWEET news and products of my creative endeavors. (The one above gives you an idea.)

The six months of major indigestion I endured since December wound down in June after discontinuation of 2 of the chemo meds, those that I received through my port.

After 2 months of treatment by Tarceva pill only, I was due for my PET scan, which I underwent this past Tuesday. I’ve been taking the smallest dose possible, 25 mg. of Tarceva, as I’ve struggled to combat side effects of medications.

Unfortunately, at about the same time that the indigestion ended, I began experiencing more pain, mostly in my right back and side. I began taking Extra-strength Tylenol during my Hawaii visit, but by the time I returned home toward the end of June, I was concerned about the frequency with which I had to treat the pain. Additionally, I began experiencing nausea in the morning. Ibuprofen controls pain for me better than acetaminophen, but I must REALLY watch my intake, because it can induce or increase bleeding, which has already been an issue with the fluid I’m draining via my catheter. (Did I put that delicately enough?)

After a few weeks on Tylenol and occasional Ibuprofen, I reached a day when neither the nausea nor pain would respond to Tylenol or Ibuprofen. As noon came and went, with me unable to eat, I reluctantly broke out my bottle of Vicodin. Within an hour, both pain and nausea were gone, and I was able to eat my breakfast, at around 1:30 PM. I somewhat reluctantly added daily Vicodin to the med regimen. After about a week, I made appointments with both my oncologist and pulmonary specialist.

In the meantime--I began experiencing a PROFOUND lack of appetite. I’d manage to eat breakfast, but had to force myself to eat lunch or dinner, usually not both. I’d serve myself the smallest of portions, and still only be able to consume ½ of that.

My oncologist assured me that I was medicating myself appropriately to manage my pain until I was able to get in for my scheduled PET scan. We didn’t really discuss, at that point, what to do about my appetite. We had no idea as to whether the pain was related to the cancer or possible scar tissue, especially in the area of my drainage catheter. I had him examine the increasing lumps and bumps developing under the skin by my ribs on the right side. He thought they might be either scar tissue or increased cancer growth.

My pulmonary doc reviewed the Xray he ordered, and felt that there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.

It wasn’t until about a week ago (a week before my scan) that the light bulb finally went on regarding the loss of appetite. I awoke feeling less pain than usual, and skipped my morning dose of Vicodin. That afternoon, I noticed an increase in my appetite. An internet search confirmed that Vicodin can interfere with appetite. Since then, I’ve tried cutting the doses in half, but I have struggled to find that happy medium between pain management and appetite.

Teaser for creative update at end:

Fast forward to yesterday’s follow-up to my PET scan. The increase in pain had me expecting very bad news about my health status. My weigh-in didn’t help, as I found I had dropped under 100 pounds…98, meaning I’ve lost 19 pounds since diagnosis.

The PET scan revealed very mild disease progression. The Tarceva, even at the lowest dose, is working. So the plan is to gradually increase the dose, as my body allows, to hopefully let the Tarceva do its thing. The progression is in the area where I’ve had increased pain.

The more immediate issue was to find a remedy for the loss of appetite. Rather than trying to find a new method of pain control, my oncologist suggested an aid to stimulate appetite. He prescribed Marinol, a cannabis derivative. Of course, I asked my doc about potential side effects, and he said some dancing in the streets was reported. I clarified that I was only interested in ADVERSE side effects. Another option would have been some sort of steroid, but the marinol seems to be the most natural option.

Boy, am I pleased with it so far! After filling the Rx, we returned home where I took my first dose as I was preparing lunch. I was thrilled to be hungry enough for a second serving! I had similar good results with my evening dose, not only finishing my dinner, but having room for a Vanilla Ice Cream Drumstick. NOW, I think we are on to something.

While I celebrated my double-serving of lunch, I reviewed the information sheet provided with my Rx. Hmmm….Potential side effects include red eyes, dry mouth, feeling “high”, an exaggerated sense of well-being. Well, I could certainly use a sense of well-being, as I’ve been wallowing in discouragement with increasing frequency these days. My first dose did seem to make me feel pretty darned good—in fact, while I THOUGHT I was ready for my afternoon nap, I found myself relaxed and happy, but NOT tired!! It appears that these side effects diminish as the body adjusts to the dosage…dang!! My night dose did not seem to provide the same sensations, but I’m elated to see my appetite return!

On other fronts: I got some VERY HAPPY news a little over a week ago—My older daughter and her family of 5 (total, including her!) are moving back to San Diego County on August 25! My son-in-law has found work here, which will enable them to establish residency. He’d like to study diesel mechanics at Palomar College, but must have established residency for at least a year to avoid paying non-residence fees. So, I’ll have my grandkids an hour’s drive away, instead of across an ocean!

I’ve been enjoying (immensely!) a 5-week online class on art journaling given by Pam Carriker. The images posted today are all products of that class. I’ve completed 2 pages so far. My favorite part of this process is painting. Although these pages are painted with acrylics, the use of a baby wipe to blend creates a washed look, similar to a watercolor. I’m also enjoying experimenting with new tools including a woodless graphite pencil, glazing medium, and watercolor pencils. I can’t wait to test the new techniques on a larger surface. OK, Lindy…maybe I’ll have some art for the school sooner rather than later!

Oh, and with that message to another friend, I’m reminded that I want to share the website for my friend Garry, who encourages me to blog more. Garry’s lovely wife Cherrie is also his partner with their Glass Ranch Studio. Their home studio grounds encompass their hillside garden retreat, where they have a gallery and glass blowing structure. They hold semi-annual art shows, as noted on their site. Their shows are an awesome opportunity to stroll their grounds, strewn with artistically placed glass “discards” and hung with a lovely assortment of garden art. If you find you’re inspired by Cherrie’s glass jewelry, you can buy a piece or two AND/OR sign up to take one of her classes.
Check out their website
…and then go do some creatin’ of your own!