Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guerilla Warfare

First things first: I am delighted with my Oncologist. His name is Dr. John Glaspy and I am completely confident in his ability to handle my situation in the best possible way. He is the Chief of Oncology/Hemotology at UCLA and a very published researcher who will know of and have access to the newest and most advanced cancer treatment therapies as they become available over the years. I am fortunate to be in his care.

As we suspected would the case, the game plan has changed now that the cancer has spread. Initially we thought we would attack it hard and cut it out, in hopes that we would kill it all and be done with it. This is no longer an option for me. As Dr. Glaspy explained, if we try to win this war, it will kill me in the process. Short of a miracle cure (which, by the way I am most certainly NOT discounting), I will always have this cancer and I will alway be fighting it.

Now, I must admit, this has taken a little swallowing, this change of mindset. When you have something dangerous and unwelcome growing in your body, every instinct you have is to squash it out and dominate it completely. Instead, I must learn to co-exist peacefully with this. The goal is this: keep me alive as long as possible with the best quality of life possible. Really aggressive treatments are not sustainable over the long haul (and believe me, the long haul is what we want!) so for now we are going with the old adage "slow and steady". It won't win the race but should give us the best combination of results.

Like guerrilla soldiers, we will not attack head-on or draw battle lines. Instead, we will constantly annoy it...drop grenades on it from here and there instead of firing bazookas. As good guerrilla fighters, the first thing we are going to do is cut off the cancer's food supply and watch it flail around for awhile. This should make it good and angry.

My particular cancer, as Dr. Glaspy explained it to me, is addicted to estrogen. It is what it feeds on to grow. If we cut off the estrogen available to it, it should cease growing for now, and may even shrink a bit. This may work for a few years (or much more or much less) and then, when we need to, we will talk about what needs to happen next. All the avenues of chemo treatment are still open to me, but we won't break them out until (and if) the cancer stops responding to this starvation, which is called "hormone therapy".

So, you may ask, how do we cut off the estrogen supply to the cancer? By completely removing it from my body in a very short amount of time. Like the cancer, my body is not going to enjoy this very much. Essentially, I will be passing into complete menopause in a matter of days. Most women find this uncomfortable spread over months as the body adjusts, so he has warned me that I am likely to find it quite uncomfortable for a few weeks. Still, it all sounds better than chemo to me, so it's all relative at this point!

This is the plan: we will begin to shock the estrogen out of my system today with an injection and oral therapy that will continue for 3 months. At the end of 3 months we will re-scan my entire body to see if we have indeed halted the growth of the cancer. If it is working, we will remove my ovaries to make my post-menopausal status permanent and consider whether or not to proceed with the masectomy, depending on how the breast tumor is looking.

Warning: I am apparently going to be intensely crabby and weepy over the next few weeks. (Pray for Jay!) It has been suggested to me that I consider laying off the blog during this time in case I alarm any of you with what are sure to be crazily shifting perspectives on all of this. I may and I may not, but do be forewarned as to the potential instability of my sanity as my body adjusts. By all accounts it will return eventually.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the really good news in all of this: So far, the spreading cancer has not done much damage to my liver. It is sprinkled all over it like fairy dust, but has not really dug in anywhere and affected its function. So, if we stop this thing where it is I can literally live for decades with it. That's right, decades! This is so much more than we hoped for when we walked into that office yesterday, and hope is such a good thing.

Of course, the less attractive alternative remains that the cancer does not respond to hormone therapy at all and continutes to grow over the next three months, so please pray specifically that it responds (and keep up with that whole complete miracle cure thing too, if you don't mind!).

Thanks again, amazing family and friends. You teach me strength, faith and charity, and humble me with your kindness.


The Purnells said...

Good to hear this news. We will continue to pray for you. I have added you to the Alemany prayer list so our student body will be praying for you too.

Mike, Bernadette, Hannah and Michaela

Briana Schalow said...

Warning - mood swings ahead! Regardless, we will still love you! We will continue to pray for response to the therapy as well as total recovery. Whatever you need from us, you have only to ask (or yell, or cry, whichever mood you happen to be in).

Anonymous said...

This is awesome news! I am menopausal at 30 and it is quite uncomfortable and weird.It kind of feels like when you get Magnesium, during preterm labor. The hardest for me are the hot flashes, and the not knowing what to do with myself anxiety! Meditating helps a whole lot! You have quite a journey ahead of you, but you are strong and ready for battle. Love your blog!

Tracey Moses said...

Suzanne - there is another positive for you and Jay...usually, the menopause, mood swings, hot flashes, etc last for years - You guys will be dealing with it for a few months!!! :) All my heart felt support and love. Start that fight, Suzanne! All us Green Beret are by your side.

Dot Zall said...

Suzanne & Jay,
You have our love, our prayers and our support. If you do lay off the blog for a while, keep writing anyway...you are a very gifted writer and I find writing helps me deal with my hormonal shifts and moods...(I LOVED your entry on the Agony in the Garden...so, so beautifully written.)
Charlynn (and Kevin too)

Allaire said...

Dearest Suzanne,
We are praying specifically to stop the cancer growing and for a
MIRACLE too! You have all of us
Nuns 4 Fun 2 praying for you as well, one of us is a 10 year breast cancer survivor. You will survive!
We love you!
Allaire aka Sister Mary Starshine & Chloe
P.S. You are also on The Church of
Lakes prayer list too.

Anonymous said...

That is VERY encouraging news! Thank you for the update Suz!
Love to you and the fam!

Anonymous said...


My mother did the intense sudden menopause at 34 when her ovaries were removed. She said that is was intense but keeping busy and the fact that she had children that needed her pulled her through and kept her sane. Your amazing faith and strength will get you through. I will continue to light a daily candle and pray for a complete cure. You are an amazing writer and inspire those of us around you with your depth of faith. Love you tons.


p.s. Does this mean that you might be able to keep up with me with the tears? I'll be able to call you leaky face too?

antonia said...

dearest suzanne, i am praying with all my heart


m said...

That's encouraging news! What a good time management tool...get it all over with in one shot! Very efficient use of time! We're continuing to pray for you and Jay and the kids. You'll get through this! We love you lots...Mary Herbert

Anonymous said...

Darling Suzanne,
You have also been added to the Cursillo Community Prayer List ~ I have to believe that with everyone bombarding Heaven with prayers for your healing - thy shall be done!
Now I find that your blog is the first thing I log onto each day. You have such a beautiful gift for words and your faith so unwavering that you give us strength & inspiration.
Will & I send you our love & support.
Bless you & your family always,

nicole said...

I am amazed at how you are able to relay all this information to us. We will continue to pray. I hope you don't mind, but I directed my readers to visit you and send prayers your way. Peace.

Gail said...

Dear Suzanne,
Glad to hear the good news. Will continue to pray for you.

Kerry said...

oh my goodness. you are amazing.
I heard to pray for you through Marisa S....I think you and I and she were on the same retreat last spring.

You will be in my Mass intentions everyday.

You are a fighter!!

Love to you!

Bianca said...

WOW!!! What wonderful news. We continue to pray for you and the family daily. I like the idea of guerilla warfare and cutting out its food supply. You are such an inspiration to us all and thank you for opening yourselves up to sharing this experience.

A message I heard the other day on Catholic radio: "What God permits, he can redeem." This is not all in vain. Your mood swings, your change of life, you, everything that is happening and going on is redemptive. You are living proof of that!

If you need a break from the blog, I will humbly and patiently await your return. We miss you and the family so much and know you are in God's hands.

Heidi Brassell said...

We are storming heaven with our prayers for a miracle. I want you to know as I type I can feel the Holy spirit. Your courage has touched us all and inspired us . Blessings Chris Heidi Leanna and Bryce

Anonymous said...

I'll get the non-Catholic prayers going for you over at our church. I am moved by your grace and determination and faith. The world certainly needs more people like you...so let's keep you here as long as we can.


Elle and family at Newtown United Methodist...

Mike said...

Dear Suzanne,
You are the strongest person I know. Please know it is you who made me a stronger Catholic. You have changed my life, you are a Saint in my eyes. Everyday you will be in my prayers. Be strong and hold on to your Faith.
Love, Sarah McCormick

Anonymous said...

You are an inspiration to all women. I look forward to your updates and appreciate you and your beautiful family. -
Julie Neavitt