Having been asked by one of my faithful readers - hi, Nancy! - I feel obligated to address the subject of how a person with terminal illness finds the strength to fight on.

And I'd have to answer that I really don't know. Not yet, anyway.

The fact is that I've had one fairly bad spell, and that spell wasn't anywhere near as bad as it's going to get, or as bad as other folks currently have to put up with (greetings here to my dear sister-in-arms, you know who you are), so I'm not in the position to say whether I will fight well - whatever 'well' might be - or for how long, or even when that fight might actually be truly engaged.

My current state is rather like that point we've all experienced where we can feel a really big sneeze coming on; it's not comfortable, but it's not a sneeze yet. And although we know for a certainty that it's coming (unless it's one of those rare ones that suddenly and inexplicably disappears just before we explode), we don't know for sure just exactly how bad it's going to be. Because we Aren't There Yet.

Here's what I can say: right now, I fight on because there are Bad Days, but there are also Better Days. I've been lucky the last few months, because there have been more Better Days than Bad. More recently, I've been getting... well, not many Bad Days, but more Less Than Better Days, so that's a bit discouraging. But still, there's the Better Days to look forward to, and the Less Than Better Days often have their moments. There's not much strength necessary to keep me 'fighting' right now; I enjoy life more often than not.

Some day I will arrive at the point where there will be Bad Days, and few - or perhaps no - Better Days (or even Less Than Better Days), to look forward to. I am told by health professionals that it is quite possible that by then I won't be able to think clearly enough to be able to make choices about fighting or not fighting. But if I can think in those terms, I know that my family would support whatever choice I were to make. They love me, and they wouldn't force me to suffer needlessly in order to hang on to my body for a few extra days or weeks.

I suspect that at that point my choices may be more influenced by practical matters. Unfortunately. If I were to voluntarily give up the fight, that might cause problems with the annuity from my life insurance policy, which will be necessary for my immediate family... because they will be left with the financial responsibility for the costs of my 'palliative care' during those last weeks/months and for funeral costs, etc, afterward. If there were reasonable Death With Dignity laws in MN, my choices might be different, I don't know. But we are unlikely to get there in the time I have left.**

So in the end, I may have no choice but to marshal the strength fight, depending on how one defines 'strength' and how one defines 'fight'. If we are given no choice, how can we measure the virtue in continuing down the path that fate and man's law has chosen for us?

**Why is it that if I refused to ease my cat's suffering were *she* to die a long and agonizing death via incurable cancer, I would be considered cruel - but if I wanted to ease my own suffering of a similar fate, I could be punished both legally and financially, and render my loved ones open to prosecution and even incarceration?


Yeah. Well.

The good news is that my ears aren't infected.

The bad news is that my ears aren't infected. Which means that the nausea and dizziness and fatigue are probably either from the cancer and/or the cancer meds.

I can't be entirely surprised. I'll be seeing Dr. Bouncy in a little under 3 weeks. We'll see what he thinks... but obviously, not too happy.

Which, you know, is pretty much part of this deal. I don't wish it for you. Time for a reminder - keep an eye on your hormone balance (if you tend to have problems with your period, get it checked - too much estrogen can be balanced by the use of natural progesterone cream, and protect you from breast cancer), take ground flaxseed daily, check your breasts monthly. We want you to be here for a good, long time.


Another Day, Another... Day...

This morning dawned gloomy and muggy and hot, and I got very little sleep last night; an unpleasant combination which contributes to my general feeling of being put-upon. With typical grace and dignity, I am responding by having a good whine. Don't say you weren't warned!

Issue Number One:

Ugh. Hate being woken up early in the morning by nausea. Well, hate nausea at any time of the day, actually. So of course nausea is one of the blessings of cancer (you never truly appreciate your liver until it starts acting up) and its attendant medications, along with hot flashes and fatigue and aches and pains.

Not that at least some of the aches and pains aren't just part and parcel of getting old. I'm not too fond of the alternative to getting old, so I shouldn't complain overmuch about that. But with the cancer, you have no idea whether any particular set of symptoms are due to cancer, to side effects, to age, or to some new disease or dysfunction. Everything seems suspicious, and everything is a new opportunity to enhance one's reputation as a hypochondriacal nutbag.

The nausea being one example. Now, the aromatase inhibitor does cause a certain amount of transient nausea. When I have stronger or more persistent nausea, however, this could be due to growing liver mets, or it could be due to the meds, or it could be due to another ear infection, or it could be due to something else. I get to try to figure out which it is. Because there isn't much I can do about the meds or the mets, but there is something that should be done if my inner ears are trying to explode again.

I have an appointment for lab tests tomorrow. If the problem is still there, I'll see if I can get the nurse to check my ears, as well.

Issue Number Two:

Speaking of meds, cancer, and hypochondria... I have been harboring the suspicion that my new aromatase inhibitor may be giving me less intense hot flashes at the expense of allowing my cancer to grow faster. I'll talk it over with Dr. Bouncy in a few weeks, unless I become more certain that things really are accelerating - but the hips are hurting a bit (could be arthritis, of course), and the tumor in my chest seems to be growing. And perhaps building up a companion.

The problem being that the tissue in my chest wall is uneven, that the tumor(s) move around when touched and tend to dip into the space between ribs and/or tissue bumps. And the tissue still reacts to various stimuli (caffeine, allergies, various inflammatory issues), and grows transient lumps and bumps that can make a tumor seem bigger or smaller. So figuring out exactly what is going on in there is rather difficult until things get pretty extreme.

I could, of course, ask for a scan. But that means another huge dose of radiation, which I'd rather not have... and the scans don't pick up the more subtle changes, so they might not even tell me what I want to know. Dr. Bouncy and I agree that a scan is not warranted until there is some clear sign of progression.

So. This is what I get to think about in the wee small hours of the night. Or in the morning, as the case may be. While I wait in hopes that the nausea will pass before lunchtime, so that I can take the medication that might be causing the nausea...


Plague Ship

I haven't been posting because there hasn't been a tremendous amount going on around here.

Other than the sneezing and coughing and moaning, that is.

Not to worry, mine is not a particularly pitiful situation... but the normally healthy and cheerful husband has been rather run down the past few months, and last month he came down with a nasty cold/flu which just won't go away. He's stayed home from work one day each week of April and May, which is unheard of for him. This past week it turned into bronchitis, and he was finally down for the count... he only worked one partial day last week, and came home too miserable to move off the couch for the next four days (other than the requisite doctor and Kleenex runs).

This week is a bit better, thanks to the antibiotics he's taking. I can't do much of anything when he's home, which is restful but not particularly useful for the blogging front. I, um, watched some movies and shows on dvd with the poor sufferer - I love the library - and late at night I read a few chapters, and played stupid games on my computer. Mostly I tried (with rather uneven success) to be both comforting and entertaining.

Just life. Boring, but that's not necessarily a bad thing - I'm glad I'm in condition to be bored.

One thing about cancer, it teaches you to appreciate even very small blessings... and time spent in company with even a moaning spouse is a blessing, indeed, when you take the time to appreciate it.

(Thank you, Moaning Spouse and Snuffling Son. I love you both. And I guess I'm glad you feel better, but I rather miss you!)


On Being a Donor

My beautiful and big-hearted sister-in-law is doing a fundraiser for a friend of hers who has recently had to undergo liver and kidney transplant surgery. The transplant, luckily, was a success, but it was a long and difficult struggle to recovery; Tom spent three months in the hospital, which means that he and his family are now left with a very heavy financial burden to carry.

If you live anywhere near Cambridge, MN, I hope that you will take a little time out of your next Saturday and attend the Plant Sale at the Fleet Go parking lot in Cambridge, from 8am-5pm (or until the plants run out), and/or on Sunday drop in at the Pancake-and-Sausages breakfast and auction at the American Legion building at 6439 Elm Street in North Branch, 8am-Noon.

This is a case of getting a good deal AND doing a good deed - which means it's a great opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

Another opportunity you shouldn't miss is the opportunity to list yourself as an organ donor. It takes no time or effort on your part, and gives you the opportunity to improve or save many lives.

One of the bitterest things about having cancer is that I am no longer eligible as an organ donor (although my card still lists me as one). I hope that others more fortunate realize what a wonderful thing it is to be able to make one's own death meaningful by enabling someone else to live a better life and be a blessing to their own families for years into the future.

More information on organ donation - and the opportunity to register as a donor online - can be found at Donate Life Minnesota. Quick! Go do something good, and make yourself proud!


Finding a Cure

I know this sounds a bit odd, but I'm not big on the traditional cancer orgs, for the most part. For one thing, the largest and most established ones (we won't name names, you know who they are) have gotten to the point where their biggest job is keeping themselves going - so a tremendous amount of the money brought in through their various fundraising events goes to administration and marketing. Which is not where I want my money to go, when what I'm wanting my money to do is help folks with this rotten illness, and/or find a cure.**

For another thing, many of them accept the money of and market in tandem with companies that are actually producing and selling cancer-causing (or at least cancer-assisting) products. A few cents of your purchase goes to the charitable organization, but most of the profit goes towards spreading more of those chemicals into your body and your environment - great, thanks a lot for the support.**

And perhaps most importantly, from my point of view, is that most of the money these organizations invest in cancer research is going towards the same standard treatments (or slightly tweaked branches of those same standard treatments) that we already have going - treatments that benefit the pharmaceutical companies, but which have not significantly changed the survival rate of later-stage breast cancer in fifty years.

Which is why I encourage you to think before you give all of your donation dollars to buy pink running shoes or ribbon t-shirts, and perhaps set aside a bit for organizations that might be less well-known, organizations that are investing in higher risk but potentially revolutionary research - research that very well might lead to a real cure. One good example is Stand Up 2 Cancer - check them out. Another option, if you are looking to do something a little more personal, is to donate to organizations that directly benefit cancer patients and their families - organizations like Gilda's Club or Breast Cancer Recovery or Breakaway From Cancer. Until we have a cure, these organizations help to make the lives of women and their families a little less painful, and that's something we can all get behind.

** for more information, go to the Breast Cancer Action website