Thursday, November 25, 2010

Special Thanksgiving Update!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I wanted to take this holiday opportunity to provide an update on Nicole's progress but also say thanks. Thanks to all of you who have provided support, thanks for the prayers and thoughts, thanks to the doctors and nurses, thanks for the food, the gifts, the books. Thanks for the Chick-Fil-A at the hospital. Thanks for helping to make a very scary experience a lot less so, and thanks for being great friends and family. Thanksgiving can sometimes come and go without a thought to the importance of the day and how we are truly blessed, but Nicole and I recognize that we have many blessings and all of you are on that list.

Because we are most often asked about Chemotherapy and because Chemo has such a multitude of quirks and gifts, I thought I would do an update FAQ style...

What's the status?
Nicole finished chemo on Nov 10th. 4 treatments, all done. We meet with the radiation oncologist on Monday and she'll start 6 weeks of radiation soon after.

Does it hurt?
No, chemotherapy itself doesn't hurt. If you've ever had an IV, you've experienced what it's like. The chemicals used can have some minor side effects like subtle burning at the injection site, or in Nicole's case, phlebitis, which is the swelling of the veins used for the chemicals. Each time she had treatment, they chose a new vein to keep the swelling and pain to a minimum.

Do you lose your hair?
Yes! Lots of it! I still find long blonde hairs attached to household objects. They have discovered many miracles in the treatment of cancer, and the way to keep your hair is NOT one of them.

Does it make you nauseous?
Yes and no. Chemo is so specific to each person and how their system handles the drugs. In most cases, the docs provide ample anti-nausea drugs before, during, and after the treatment, so it's not much of an issue anymore. Nicole didn't get sick one time, but described her post-treatment stomach as 'rot gut.' While she never threw up, she also said the best description is your stomach with a hangover, where you just don't really feel like eating or drinking anything.

Do you get tired?
Yes, though I don't think it's an acute symptom. From an outsider perspective, it just seemed like Nicole would feel normal one day, feel tired the next, and there wasn't much of a pattern to it. She had trouble sleeping from the steroids she had to take, so she always had an erratic sleep pattern the days immediately before and after treatment, but then almost seemed normal after that.

Any other symptoms?
Nicole would tell you that the biggest side effect of chemo wasn't from chemo at all, it was hot flashes from the Depo Lupron she took. As we mentioned here before, she used Depo Lupron as a way to put her ovaries to sleep to help with fertility, and that means she got an early preview of menopause. She is very anxious to be done with that part of the process and be able to sleep under the covers again!

Also, she says there is a definite symptom called 'chemo brain.' She noticed trouble remembering things and some cloudiness that wasn't there before. That aspect of chemotherapy isn't entirely understood yet, but there are research studies underway to determine exactly what effect it has on cognitive abilities.

Happy Thanksgiving! Take time to look around the table today and say a word of thanks between bites of turkey!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Hey everyone,

As I mentioned previously, many of our friends have created teams for Komen Race for the Cure and Avon.

The links are below. Please support one, some, or all of the teams. Thanks!

Also, for those in Charlotte, there are two upcoming happy hours to help raise money and support Nicole:

Sept 22nd @ Crave, 5:30 - 8:30
Sept 23rd @ Mortimers, 7pm

Nicole and I will be there, and look forward to seeing anyone who can come out!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

1 down, 3 to go...

The first chemo treatment is over! Nicole is waking up as I type from a 4-hour nap, but besides the grogginess she feels perfectly fine right now.

We had one minor complication today, though at the time it sure seemed more than minor. A small percentage of patients receiving the drug Taxotere have a strong allergic reaction, much like what you would experience if you were allergic to a bee sting. And you guessed it, Nicole was one of the small percentage.

15 minutes into receiving the first drug, everything was fine and spirits were high (as high as you can get in a chemo treatment room, I try to crack as many stupid jokes as I can). I got up to refill the water bottle, and by the time I got back the nurses were sprinting in Nicole's direction. Apparently it happens that fast, she was fine when I stood up, and 20 seconds later began to have tightness in her chest, have trouble breathing, start to go numb, and then start to black out.

Though we know now it was nothing serious from a medical standpoint, it certainly registers very high on the fear scale, and Nicole and I were pretty shaken at that moment. The doctors and nurses were great, and within a few moments had different medications flowing through the IV to counteract the allergy, and things were fine within minutes. They told us they can never know who will react that way, but once they do it can be controlled by simply taking medications (like Benadryl) before the Taxotere, so the body can relax and receive the drug. Once they knew, she was able to take the drug without much problem (and managed to nod off to sleep).

So Nicole has been napping all day because of the heavy anti-allergy drugs she received, just like anyone else would react to doing a few shots of NyQuil. Other than that, it was a pretty standard day of chemotherapy!

Thanks again for all the support. We're off and running...

Monday, September 6, 2010



Well it's been over 2 weeks since I last posted, and we're officially moving onto the next phase.

First, we confirmed with the Oncologist here in Charlotte that chemotherapy was indeed the recommended course and the safest way to proceed. While nothing is ever certain with cancer, we decided that the small decrease in recurrence rate shown through trials was worth the short-term impact. Nicole will have 4 treatments of 'TC,' every three weeks, starting Wednesday the 8th. That means Nicole is going to need all of your support more than ever over the next 3-4 months as she encounters all the typical joys that chemo brings.

Second, we met with the fertility doctors again, and came to a crossroads deciding how we would help our chances at having kids. We could freeze eggs or try a drug called Depo Lupron. The Depo Lupron has been used in a few clinical trials and showed promise at 'protecting' the ovaries during chemotherapy. Essentially, the drug sends the ovaries into temporary menopause, which acts to preserve the eggs from the harm of the chemotherapy drugs. For many reasons, really too many to mention here, we decided we would go with the Depo Lupron, and Nicole received her first injection yesterday. If all goes according to plan, Nicole will only take that throughout her chemotherapy, and then within a few months afterward should get back to normal as her hormone levels return to that of a typical 32 year old.

Finally, I hope everyone is gearing up for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October! We have many friends and family who have started teams in several races/walks and are already raising so much money. We can't thank everyone enough for jumping into the fight, and those of you who haven't signed up or donated, it's time to dust off the running shoes and reach for the pocketbook. We're all in this together, and if we can prevent one other person from going through this, it's well worth our efforts. Later this week, I will be posting links to the different teams supporting Nicole, please check back and help us beat this stuff.

Think Pink!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

No more surgery!

Well Nicole has emerged from a second surgery on Tuesday and today was blessed with 'clean margins' from Pathology. That essentially means they have removed enough tissue that the tumor can officially be considered gone! Nicole is sore but feeling much better already than the last surgery.

We meet again with the surgeon tomorrow and expect to get a hug and a hand-off to the next stage.

Much time and many treatments ahead, but for now, we'll take the positive tone and run with it.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Sloan-Kettering Visit

Nicole and I are back from a trip to NYC and Sloan-Kettering. Sloan has one of the best cancer centers and research facilities in the world, so we figured why not have an enjoyable few days in the city and get a second look from Sloan?

We sent all the same records, reports, and films from the Charlotte docs up to Sloan. The doctor was a nice guy and ran us through everything from the beginning, providing his commentary and experiences as he went. We really didn't learn anything new from him, just a different perspective. One major update we did pick up from him....

was the arrival of the Oncotype score, which we had sent to Sloan and received while there. Nicole scored a 25, which is pretty much right in the middle of the chart, and that translates to an average recurrence risk of 17% ( I stress 'average,' the range is quite broad and goes from 13 - 20%). So faced with a 17% average recurrence risk, and the knowledge that Chemotherapy along with Tamoxifen could take that down to 10-12%, the doctor there recommended chemo, and it's looking increasingly likely Nicole will have it.

So with that said, tomorrow is surgery #2, a cleanup of surgery #1. After that, she will be left to heal for a month before treatments begin. 4 rounds of chemotherapy, one every 3 weeks, followed by 6 weeks of radiation, followed by years of hormone drugs. The timing and sequence of treatment isn't official, but it likely won't sway much from the above.

As for the blog, you can see from the timeline, my posts will be less frequent as time goes by. We will be doing our best to live a 'normal' life around these treatments, and there will be a certain routine for awhile as Nicole returns to work and we check off the necessary milestones. I will definitely keep everyone updated as things change and as to Nicole's reaction to treatments.

Thanks for the continued thoughts, prayers, and support. I certainly feel like Nicole is battling this thing with an army beside her, and I have no doubt the optimism created in her mind from all of you can only help Nicole decide she's just not going to lose.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

More meetings, more waiting...

We met with the surgeon and the oncologist this week and are getting closer to a treatment plan.

The surgeon confirmed that Nicole needs about 3-4 more millimeters of tissue removed from the one edge of the tumor for it to be a 'clear margin.' In the most simple explanation, they want to have enough space between good cells and cancer cells and they didn't get that during the first surgery. So Nicole will head back to surgery on 8/17.

In the meantime, the tumor has been sent to California for a test known as Oncotype DX. It is a new procedure that's only been around a few years but is gaining wide acceptance. The tumor itself is broken down into 21 genes and their biologic activity is tested. The test is able to gauge based on the activity of the genes in the cancer whether it's considered low, medium, or high risk of recurrence and aggression. The test is enough of an accurate predictor that, if Nicole lands in the low score, she will not get chemo. Similarly, if it's a high score, she will definitely get chemo. The moderate scores are the gray area, and if Nicole's score falls there, the decision will likely come down to a discussion between the docs and Nic about pros and cons.

So while we wait for more tests and results and surgery, we're headed up to NYC for some R&R but also for a complete second opinion at Sloan-Kettering. Nicole's case is relatively simple as far as breast cancer, but the decision to get chemotherapy still remains unclear. Having another set of doctors examine everything can only help to increase our certainty and comfort with what's next. But despite the 'hurry up and wait' nature of this process, each day that goes by gets us closer to a clean bill of health and I can turn this blog into one about weather and sports!

Thanks again, and let's hope for a really low Oncotype score!