The past week was not an easy one for me, to say the least.
Here's what's going on. I was admitted on Saturday (July 1) to the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale University in Downtown New Haven, CT. As I am sure you can imagine, it was a setback for me. As I have shared in my past few blog posts, I have spent the past few months doing significant research into alternative cancer treatments. I was ready to move forward on the next stage of my journey. My setback is certainly a disappointment, but it has revealed some beautiful things. In these past days, this bump in the road has shown that I am blessed beyond measure. I am grateful for my devoted family, an abundance of loving friends, compassionate church families from throughout the tri-state area, expert medical care, and my enduring faith. Today, I want to share additional details about my health and where my journey goes from here.
Starting on Sunday, June 25, I began to experience worsening abdominal symptoms – lack of appetite, vomiting, stomach pain and discomfort, and digestive issues. The morning of Friday, June 30 I went to see my Primary Care Physician, Dr. A. because I knew there was more going on than met the eye. She sent me to Yale that same day to have a CT scan of my abdomen. That evening, she called me with the results.
My last scan was on April 10. In the 2 ½ months since, there has been a significant spread of the metastatic breast cancer throughout my entire abdominal cavity, also known as the peritoneal cavity. That’s just a fancy word describing the continuous area lining the abdominal wall that surrounds the organs in the abdomen. These include all the digestive organs such as the stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder, as well as the kidneys and spleen. To summarize, my abdominal cavity is full of what are called ‘small deposits of cancer cells.’ They are on the surface of several of my organs, and my bladder. These deposits, or implants, are the most likely cause of the abdominal symptoms I’ve been experiencing. The good news is that although these cancerous cells do exist throughout the space, at this point, they are not inside my organs. So, the plan is to arrest the growth of the cancer cells. That way, they don’t invade my organs, my symptoms improve, I’ll be able to eat, drink and eliminate properly, and my cancer will recede.
As I mentioned above, I have done extensive research into alternative treatment options. I was planning to go to a clinic in Tijuana this summer for an intensive 3-week treatment program, but that was before I began experiencing my latest troubles. I believe these recent problems were a blessing because had I gone to Tijuana without knowing that cancer had progressed throughout my abdomen, I would have received an ineffective treatment. So, given where we are today, I’ve decided to hold off on alternative treatment for the moment and begin more traditional therapy to get things under control. Once this happens, I will start to incorporate alternative and naturopathic treatments into my regimen so I can be as healthy as possible.
I must admit that it has been quite a roller coaster ride. Perhaps it’s time to adopt a new perspective on it all. A new perspective will help me to see things more clearly and be able to walk forward in even more certain faith, even when the path ahead appears to be more uncertain than it was previously.
At Smilow, I had an amazing team of Wonder Women physicians attending to me, and I asked them to be honest with me about my condition. Specifically, I asked them point blank if I was dying. Dr. S, the head of the team, told me straight up that although there was a lot going on, I am not on the verge of death. She indicated that there are many other treatment options available to me that are well tolerated by most patients. I was happy to hear it because I’m not interested in taking a therapy where I’ll be sick and weak all the time and not able to go about my normal activities. As you know, I was trying to hold off at all cost on conventional intravenous chemotherapy, because it’s so toxic to the entire body.
Furthermore, when one has Stage 4 cancer and goes on IV chemotherapy, there is typically no end date in sight. One has chemotherapy as long as it’s effective in keeping the cancer under control, and if it fails, one switches to a different type. Dr. S. said that she felt very confident that I would respond well to chemotherapy for two main reasons: 1) I’ve been doing so well for so long with metastatic disease and 2) My body has not had actual chemotherapy in 17 years. This second point might surprise you.
I have been in treatment for the past eight years, ever since my 2009 Stage 4 diagnosis, but I have been very fortunate that hormone treatments such as aromatase inhibitors have been effective for almost the entire time. The last treatment I started taking in late December is called Ibrance. It is not hormone-based, but it’s called a targeted treatment, not chemotherapy. That was not effective, and I stopped taking it a couple of months ago. What this means is that since my body hasn’t been exposed to actual chemotherapy for 17 years, the cancer cells in my body won’t know what hit them! That means that the chemotherapy is very likely to be quite effective in stopping the cancer in its tracks. That is good news!
I was thrilled to return home yesterday afternoon. My wonderful family (husband, son, and mom) planned a surprise “Welcome Home” party to celebrate. Amari and my mom bought a chocolate cake that had the words “Still on the Journey” written on it in icing. Although I am in no physical condition to eat chocolate cake right now, their celebration warmed my heart! My family is a huge part of what has sustained me on this journey, and I believe they will continue to do so for years to come.
I will see my oncologist tomorrow morning - Friday, July 7 - and we will discuss the details of my next treatment plan, including what type of chemotherapy and my treatment schedule. I ask for your prayers as I begin this new phase of the journey. It’s a phase I was hoping would not come, but here it is. Since it is here, I must face it with the same degree of faith, hope, and courage that I have had while walking the journey thus far, expecting the same healing.
Thank you to everyone who came to see me in the hospital during my 4-day stay. You made my days brighter! On July 4 from my hospital room, I made a Facebook live video. The video has been viewed over 1600 times by people around the country and the world. I am both overwhelmed and humbled by this incredible response to what the Spirit of the Lord led me to do. I know I have a powerful voice, and I plan to keep on using it to help others on their journeys towards freedom and liberation from whatever binds you – cancers of whatever types.
Life is not easy. No one ever said it would be! But here we are, so our mission is to follow the plan God has not only to make our own lives better but those we are called to serve as well. As long as God keeps endowing me with strength and courage, I will do my part, and my prayer is that you will do yours as well.