This past friday, Good Friday, marked the completion of my twelve rounds of Vinorelbine chemotherapy (I continue with weekly Herceptin anti-body treatments). It had been combined with Cisplatin, which was replaced by Carboplatin due to tinnitus. The Carboplatin was abandoned altogether and my body has reached it’s max of platinum based chemotherapies as the tinnitus only increased. Unfortunately, the tinnitus is typically precursor to hearing loss due to the platinum-based chemotherapies so I am working with my naturopaths to mitigate and hopefully reverse some of that damage. Apart from the tinnitus, I tolerated these chemotherapies quite well.
Tomorrow (Monday) morning, I have an echocardiogram to check my heart function. I am one of the people who suffer from decreased EF due to the Herceptin. My last echo did show decreased EF again. I’ve been much better about taking my supplements that have improved my heart function in the past (Hawthorne berry capsules and extract as well as fruit anthocyanin) so I am hoping we will see improvement.
Tomorrow afternoon I have a PET/CT scan to see if there is any metabolically active cancer left in my body. My MRI of my liver in November revealed no evidence of disease, just some hemangiomas, possibly where my tumors once had been. My mastectomy completion/explant surgery resulted in clear margins and my blood biopsy again revealed no detectable circulating tumor genetic alterations so we are hoping and praying there is nothing left.
I had gone into this 12 weeks of chemo assuming if my scans were clear, I could be done. However, my oncologist, Dr. Chue, explained that his stage IV patients who have achieved long-term “remission” or No Evidence of Active Disease (NEAD) status have completed 4- 12 week rounds of different chemotherapies. He is concerned that even if my scans are clear, there could be residual cancer left behind, stem cells, that would come back with a vengeance…again. The traditional oncology treatment model is to simply keep a patient on a medicine (maximum tolerated doses spaced apart) that is working for the time being and changing meds AFTER the cancer has become resistant and grown—playing a reactive game of checkers. Conversely, my oncologist swaps out the chemo usually after 12 weekly (low) doses, multiple times, ideally before the cancer has a chance to develop a resistance—playing a game of chess, working multiple steps ahead of and anticipating the known moves of the cancer. This tactic has helped a NUMBER of his stage IV patients achieve long-term NEAD. It has allowed many others to far outlive their other oncologists grim statistics. This model makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE than what traditional oncology has to offer.
In addition to the chemotherapy, Dr. Chue uses very low doses of interferon-alpha as a mild immune-stimulant. This is used in other cancers and the theory of it stimulating the immune system to recognize the cancer works across the board but has yet to be seen as more than “experimental” in breast cancer. I also receive high doses of IV Vitamin C before each chemotherapy if I’m not fasting before chemo. This boosts my immune system and the Vitamin C becomes a pro-oxidant in the bloodstream. I am also continuing my MANY supplements and repurposed medications that target metabolic pathways my cancer uses to survive. Finally, I have been working to improve my gut health and keep that as optimal as possible since 70% of the immune cells in our bodies are in our GI system. Is it any wonder that cancer patients have such a difficult time healing when our GI systems are damaged simply from the American diet and lifestyle but then add in chemotherapy at high doses and you have a ruined GI system and non-functioning immune system.
All of this to say, I was really hoping to be done with weekly chemo but I understand it would likely be unwise to stop now. Realistically, I’m probably looking at two more 12 weeks rounds of chemo before we seriously discuss stopping chemo—6 months. Of course, the choice is mine. I know two people who healed their stage IV cancers without chemo, mainly using metabolic targeting, cannabis, diet, exercise, etc. However, I truly feel at peace with the continued chemo. I feel like my “job” is not done at my oncologists’ office. I do look forward to seeing my oncologist, nurses, and the staff as well as the other patients. They’ve become family to me and I really enjoy chatting with the other patients and sharing tricks for various side effects. Low Platelets? Nausea? Diarrhea? Fatigue? Insomnia? GI issues? We will literally sit and just go over symptoms and what has helped us. Of course, I always share about the repurposed meds and supplements as well as the books How To Starve Cancer, Surviving Terminal Cancer, and Radical Remission .
I feel a bit like Lucy in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—they are sailing into the dark waters (what they thought was an Island)—a place where one’s nightmares come to life. They try desperately to turn around to no avail. Everyone on board the ship seem to have given into their fears, but Lucy called out to Aslan:
“Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, ‘Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.‘ The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little – a very, very little – better...There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship…It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight.
Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross…It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them…no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.” – C. S. Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Spoiler alert: That albatross led them out of the darkness.
Cancer has a way of inciting fear in us like the dark waters did in the book. It can cause some of our biggest nightmares and fears to come to life—if we allow it to. I can vividly recall times that I was tempted to allow the “what if’s” and unknowns of cancer to consume me and envelop me like the darkness. Just when all hope seemed lost, like Lucy calling out to Aslan, I called out to God. I asked him not only for peace but for wisdom and discernment. Much like the albatross and the gentle whisper of “Courage, dear heart,” I have felt and heard God whispering to me, telling me to take courage because it’s going to be ok.
I have scans tomorrow but I face them with no anxiety or fear. My courage is not my own; it is a gift from the God who loves me. The God who sent His Son (the same one Aslan represents in TCON) to die and rise again to defeat the grave for me—and you. I have more chemo ahead of me. More pokes, more meds, more injections, more side effects. Yet I face them all boldly, with confidence. I see the albatross guiding me out of the darkness.
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.