New Year, Same Fight

Shortly after I was diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer, my friend Kristin put me in contact with a woman that she had grown up with who had also been recently diagnosed. Sarah was a woman who grew up in Dighton, the town next to where I live. She accepted my emails graciously and became somewhat of my cancer mentor. She had been diagnosed six months ahead of me, was on the exact same medical regimen as I was and though we had never met, gave me so much clarity and hope in the early days of my diagnosis. Throughout the past five years we stayed in touch via email and FB and kept tabs on each others lives with cancer. I admired how she lived her life the past five years. To the fullest. Sarah’s cancer battle became very difficult towards the end of the year. She happened to be in MA in December and I was lucky enough to come face to face with my dear friend for the first and last time all in one day. No words needed to be exchanged as we had a bond that only one going through this battle would understand. Sarah unfortunately lost her battle on New Years Eve.

Her loss, much like the loss of my other three Metastatic Sisters/friends that I lost in 2020 shook me to the core. My cancer had progressed years before Sarah’s had so for her to pass so quickly was heartbreaking. I started off the new year in a funk….for lack of a better word. I was mentally not in a great place. Terrified, angry, sad. I had also not been feeling my best. I had been doing so well on my medicine that my dr decided to increase my dose a little at a time to test what I could tolerate. Well we found very quickly where my limit was. I had debilitating headaches and extreme fatigue while on the increased dose. Headaches like I had never experienced before. Causing me to be convinced that this beast of a cancer had probably spread to my brain (it has not). My first appointment of the year on January 5th brought forth a mixed bag of info. Great lab work showing that my body was tolerating this medicine well but a significant (in my book) jump in my tumor marker. With scans scheduled for three weeks away we decided to lower my dose back to where it was tolerable and get another cycle of the chemo in before my scans. The headaches are fewer and not as painful as before!

I left that appointment on January 5th, somewhat tortured. Fearful and convinced that my time was coming where this disease was going to start winning. I looked into planning my funeral. Can you imagine planning your funeral at 39? I cry as I type this because it is so very sad. After some thought, guidance and time, I have decided not to plan my funeral. Instead to plan happy things, make memories and to start fulfilling some things that I have talked about and wanted all of my life. I am going to take the next year or so and live like I am dying. Live my life to the fullest and then if I get more time, well what a gift I will have been given. Now, I just have to get the Covid vaccine so we can start!!

I had my first scans of 2021 and on this new medicine last week. Thankfully, they were good! No shrinkage in my tumors but also no growth. While I always prefer to hear the words “Your tumors have shrunk” my oncologist has assured me that the fact that the tumors have not grown is wonderful and more important. She also feels that since I am feeling pretty good and my labs look good I now only have to go into Boston every 6 weeks for labs and to be seen. Great news. Although I have to say, I had grown quite accustomed to being at Dana Farber weekly and miss seeing my friends/nurses so frequently.

At this time last year, I had been told that my cancer was growing quickly and that I needed to move my treatment to Chemo. I am thankful and happy that so far, although it got off to a little bit of a rocky start, 2021 is looking better and I continue to hope that it will be a great year ahead.

2020…….

“What was the most important thing you did this past year?” “SURVIVE!”

I came across this saying a couple of years ago and had posted it on my social media at the end of the year. Truer words have never been spoken when it has come down to 2020. Some days I didn’t think I would make it, some days I felt I wasn’t enough, some days were tougher than others. But somehow, we made it. Another year in the books. 365 more days of life given to us. For that we should ALL feel proud and thankful.

At the beginning of 2020, I found out that I was going to have to start chemo. I was terrified. Since 2016, I had been on hormone therapies that had controlled the cancer and now those therapies were no longer working and we needed to bring in the “big guns”- Chemo. In the stage 4 cancer world, we know that once you are on chemo there is no going back. You don’t ever come off of it. You can change types etc. but you will now be on chemo forever. And chemo is no joke. It is poison. Poison that kills or attempts to kill the cancer but also damages other parts of your body at the same time. It makes you feel horrible some days and fine others and you really never know what you are going to get. I wake up every morning wondering what today will bring in terms of how I will feel.

I remember at the end of 2019, I decided that 2020 would be my year! I booked trips. I made plans. I was going to swim with dolphins in the Bahamas with my kids, visit my friend in Portugal, go on a girls vacation, lots of concerts and many other things. I was going to live life to the fullest. Well as they say “when you make plans, god laughs”. Because we all know how “my year” turned out. No trips, no visits with friends, no concerts. Trust me, I am not going to say 2021 will be my year out loud b/c I know we all need a break and I don’t want to curse it.

So… while it was a hard year. Probably one of the hardest for many, so many good things came out of it as well. We made memories at home. Memories that are sometimes the most important. Simple things; camp outs, hide and seek in the yard, baking together, bike rides. Memories I know my kids will never forget.

There were many days that I thought remote schooling would be the end of me. Days that I would close myself in the laundry room sobbing b/c I felt like such a bad mother b/c it was all too hard and too much to juggle. But when I look back on it and I see how resilient my kids are and how well they have been doing in school, I could not be prouder. Watching them bounce back and more importantly be there for each other has brought me so much peace.

I have never felt sicker than I have this past year and it has not been easy. My cancer progressed twice this year and I am currently on my third treatment of the year. Today though I am feeling pretty good. The medicine I am currently on is tolerable so far and we move forward and wait to see if it continues being tolerable and if the medicine is working. I have lost friends this year to this disease and have watched other friends struggle with their treatments and progression. It is terrifying to watch people you care about go through these terrible moments and know that one day it will be your turn. Through these tough moments I have also felt the power and the love that my Metastatic community provides to me. I have also felt the continued love and support that we receive from our friends, family and community.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and may 2021 bring great things and some normalcy to everyone.

XO

What A Week

This past week has been crazy in so many ways. We experienced a crazy election, a new WOMAN Vice President (all politics aside this was amazing to watch with my daughter), had the weather change from 30 degrees one weekend to 80 degrees the next, I experienced my first earthquake in MA, and this past week I also learned that the current treatment that I am on has stopped working. The larger of the tumors in my liver has now doubled in size in the past six weeks. I was not completely shocked by this news, heartbroken but not shocked. I’ve always been pretty intuitive in regards to what’s going on in my body and I somehow just knew. I also joked that the last round of chemo, three weeks ago, was by far my best one yet. Easy-No. But better and more tolerable than the rest. So naturally it only made sense that this would mean the medicine was no longer working. My doctors and I always joke that if there is a slim chance of something happening or small percentage of a side effect it will happen to me.

I’m not quite sure why this is my fate. Why my husband will most likely be a widow in his 40’s. Why my kids will grow up without their mom. Not quite sure at all. It pisses me off more than anything and it is so unfair. I listen all the time to complaints that others make every single day over things that are so small in reality. I try my best to understand because everyone’s “Stuff” is important but in all honesty I am over dealing with my “stuff” because it is really big stuff. I try to remain hopeful that I will be an outlier and live with this for years to come but I am a realist and I know that the chances are slim. I have been lucky enough to live and live well with this disease for almost five years. Not a lot of other women in my situation can say the same.

This is a hard life. Not only does your world come crashing down when you are diagnosed, but each time you are on a treatment and that treatment stops working your world comes crashing down again. The crash gets harder each time because you know you are getting closer to that line where there may be no more options. You try to live each day to the fullest and try to squeeze in a lifetime into whatever time you have left. Something made so hard to do with Covid. We lost out on almost a year of memories, trips, visits with friends and family. This time lost was time I will NEVER get back. I am not sure what comes next for me. I go back in to DFCI on Wednesday to meet with my oncologist and see what is out there for me and what options we have. The funny thing is that I feel good physically. Mentally, I am in tough shape right now. But physically I feel great. Cancer is so fucked up.

Living Life……six weeks at a time

For the past four years I have tried to keep my cancer in the back of my life. Trying to remind myself that it is just something I have to deal with and not something that defines me. Lately, probably since I started on this new chemo trial, there has been a shift and my cancer is definitely in the forefront of everything. I have more appointments, more trips into Boston, more side effects and more scans.

Every six weeks I have to report into DFCI for scans. I receive a CT scan every six weeks and get a bone scan every 12. I get injected with radioactive dye and drink my CT contrast and then I get shoved into noisy machines that will tell me what my next six weeks will look like and what my cancer is doing inside of my body.

Luckily my last set of scans were stable. This means that there was no shrinkage in my tumors but that there was also no progression. So we are happy…I guess. I am thankful for this news but obviously wish that the tumors continue to shrink. So after these scans, I move on for six weeks; having my appointments and getting my treatment. Then on September 23rd I will get scanned again and the next six weeks of my life will be determined. Will I remain stable and get to proceed for another six weeks or will this treatment have stopped working and I’ll have to have some changes made. It is a very vicious cycle.

It’s a funny thing when you are a “lifer” with this disease. You get to meet other “lifer’s” or as we like to call ourselves “Thriver’s”. You see each other frequently in the waiting rooms or you “meet” each other online in a support group. These women have become my lifeline with this disease. They share experiences, they understand exactly what I am going through, we all are fighting for the same reasons; our kids and spouses. It makes the time pass in waiting rooms when you get to chat and catch up with these friends. It also hurts so much when one is struggling with their own disease and runs out of treatment options. The past couple of weeks have been especially hard for me as I am struggling with the loss of two of my MBC sisters. Coincidentally both named Michelle. Both passing from this dreaded disease and leaving behind children that are the same ages as mine and husbands left to pick up the pieces. As much as I hate to say it, their deaths have made me think a lot of my own impending doom. I will one day run out of options as well. It is the nature of this beast. Who am I to think that I will be one of the ones who lives a very long time with this. I obviously hope I am but the reality is that the chances are very slim. This week I am scared. Scared of what my future holds. After speaking with my medical team yesterday, I have to try to separate myself from the struggles of others in my situation and focus on the fact that today my cancer is stable as no two cancers are the same. So very sad.

Here in our home we are doing ok. We managed to have a decent summer despite the quarantine and we are slowly coming out of isolation. We have started putting the kids back into their activities (for their sake and ours) and are opening up our “bubble” more. The kids will go back to school on the 14th and will phase in to being back to school in person for a couple of days per week. After many discussions with my doctors and our pediatrician we have made the decision to allow them to go back and feel it is the best decision for our family. We are hopeful and nervous all at the same time and are just taking it one day at a time. We hope that everyone has a healthy start to the new school year, whatever situation you find yourselves in.

XO

HI there

I just noticed that I haven’t posted here in a couple of months. Oops! You would think that being stuck in the house and in quarantine that one would have all the time in the world but in all honesty, the time has just flown by.

The Cabral family remains in a pretty tight lock down. We have seen a couple family members- from a distance and even ventured out to some stores for quick errands. We did try to go out to eat once to the Blount Clamshack (which is all outdoors)…..we’ll probably wait a while before trying that again!! Its hard for me b/c I see so many people returning back to normal and we just can’t. It is too dangerous. I am watching my white blood cell counts closely and factoring my decisions to venture out based on that so we are getting there and finding peace (or at least trying) in our new normal.

As I mentioned before, the two chemo’s I was on as part of this trial kicked my butt. I was so sick. Thankfully, I was allowed by the drug company conducting the trial to stay on the one non FDA approved chemo pill. After a couple of dose reductions because my white blood cells were non existent on the higher doses. I think we have found the magic cocktail!! I am happy to report that my scans last week were very good. So good in fact that it showed my liver tumors have shrunken 62% since I started this trial. The tumors in my bones have remained the same- which is also very good news!! The weekly appointments, new maintenance meds and the hell I have been through the past few months were all worth it. My hair, eyelashes and eyebrows are starting to grow back. I did not lose them completely but had some really attractive bald spots everywhere!!! And most important overall, I feel pretty good.

I am very thankful and hopeful. While I am optimistic, it is also not lost on me how quickly things can change when you are fighting this disease. Two of my closest MBC sisters and friends have been dealing with a lot and struggling with this disease and all of the nastiness that comes with it. One of these women became my friend when I was first diagnosed. While we never met she took the time to email with me and share her experience to help me navigate mine. We check in with each other often and she has always been there for great advice. The other woman is one who made me smile when I saw her in the DFCI waiting room. Her positive attitude about everything and the bright light around her always made the appointments feel easier. I pray for them daily and ask that you also keep them in your thoughts.

Since being stuck at home so much, I have taken the time to get organized. Not only in daily life but in case for when my “shit hits the fan”. I don’t think Trevor appreciated the book I have been organizing for him titled” I’m DEAD, now what”! Not sure if it was sensitive nature or the fact that I’ll still be bossing him around from my grave!!!!

Hope everyone is enjoying their summer, making memories with the ones you love and staying safe. Hopefully, we will break free of our home prison and see some of you soon!!

XO

It’s OK…..to not be OK

I’m fine. Doing great. Being diagnosed with terminal cancer you have no choice but to stay positive and tell yourself (and everyone else) that you are fine b/c honestly what good does it do to be sad and show how you are really feeling all the time. I make one hell of an actress don’t I!!

I can tell you that right now, today, this week, the past 8 weeks- I am struggling. Struggling with the working from home, the home schooling, the stress of so many unknowns and on top of it all, my new life as someone on Chemo. Chemo has not been easy for me. My first round I was only able to take the pills for three days before becoming too sick. The second round, i powered through, completed the pills and almost ended up in the hospital from being so sick. My third round I only was able to take the pills for a week before becoming too sick. After this, my medical team decided that in an effort to only kill the cancer and not the host, my treatment needed some tweaking. After getting the approval from the trial drug company I have been allowed to come off of the take at home chemo pills and stay on the hospital administered chemo pills alone. Something the trial would not usually permit but one of the good things to come out of this Covid pandemic. I took the pills two weeks ago and had minimal side effects with the exception of becoming neutropenic (little to no white blood cells) and the scans I had done a couple of days ago show that the treatment IS WORKING! My liver tumors continue to shrink and there are no new lesions in my bones. Great news and I am hopeful that I can continue on this path. It is not easy, but I am trying to have faith that all of the pain and suffering i have endured will be well worth it.

This time of year is tough for me. My birthday is always hard b/c i am not sure how many more I will have. Mother’s Day is really rough because my mind always goes to the place where I know one day my kids will only have me as a memory on Mother’s Day. I was diagnosed four years ago as of the end of April. The statistics still read that there is only a 22% chance of someone surviving this disease for 5 years. These stats are not good enough for me and I can only continue to hope and pray that I will be one of the ones who beats the odds.

We continue to shelter at home except for the occasional drive to get fresh air and a change of scenery. We have excepted that this new “normal” that we are all going through is just a little too much for us. We are changing the expectations that we have on ourselves at home and just trying to get through it in the healthiest and sanest way we can. Hope everyone out there is staying healthy and safe as well.

XO

So much time, so many thoughts…….

First and foremost, I hope that everyone is staying healthy, safe and somewhat sane during this crazy time. I also want to thank all of the people who are battling this virus front and center and those that are keeping the world running while most of are us staying in our homes.

The Cabral family is actually faring pretty well during this time. I have always been someone who keeps thing like toilet paper and paper towels overstocked on a regular basis so we are doing fine over here. Trevor is his usual panicky self and is making sure we are always washing our hands. I have been working hard for the past four years to make sure I don’t get sick so I am doing fine as well. The kids have been great. They obviously have their normal kid moments but for the most part during the week when Trevor and I are both working they do their best to be well behaved and quiet. They do demand our full attention and entertainment on the weekends though.

My first round of chemo did not go well. The meds made me terribly sick and i had to be taken off of them after only four days. It took my body a few weeks to recover and for all of my blood counts to be good enough to start again. I started my second round of chemo, at a reduced dosage, on March 11th, just as the Corona Virus chaos was starting to kick off. While I felt better than I did on the first round it was still really tough and I felt horrible. If there was a side effect listed as being possible- I had it. I am losing my hair (something that no one else on these meds had happen to them), had terrible,terrible GI issues and had blisters on my hands and feet. Being the stubborn (and somewhat stupid) person that I am, I powered through my horrible, near death feelings and continued on the meds so that I could complete the round. Apparently this was a HUGE no no as I “got in trouble” with my oncologist as I allowed myself to get too sick. As she put it “They do not give prizes to people who power through horrible side effects.” Essentially I am putting poison in my body daily and too much poison could “kill the host not just the Cancer”. I get it now and will never make that mistake again!!!!

I was thankful to be home during that time. It was tough but it was nice to be able to be sick and not have to go anywhere. Practices, stores, events, etc. Trust me I didn’t feel this way while going through it at the time. A couple of weeks ago, when feeling my worst, and quarantined- I was ready to throw in the towel and for the first time really questioned if I had much more fight in me. Having Cancer is not easy and with so many unknowns around us during this crazy time, it was all a little bit too much. I am feeling better now and have a more positive outlook on everything and am ready to start round three (at another reduced dose) tomorrow.

While this is such a trying time for everyone and we are all fighting our own battles with this new norm, I am thankful for this time. Thankful for the quiet, slowed down version of our life which we are quickly becoming accustomed too. I have always kept our schedules packed in hopes it takes our mind off of my Cancer and keeps us busy and making so many memories. With this slowed down life we are making more memories than I could have ever imagined. Doing the puzzles and playing the games that have been in closets for years, mommy becoming (or at least trying to become) a kindergarten and third grade teacher, ( GOD BLESS all teachers!!!!) , making Tik Toks as a family, google chats with friends and family. It’s funny b/c during this quarantine i have spoken to friends and family more in the past few weeks than ever before.

As always, we have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of care, concern and offers of help that have been extended to us. I am so thankful, now more than ever, to have so many loving and caring people in my life. I can only hope that I can. have or will be able to reciprocate the love to all of you. I hope that everyone stays safe and healthy.

XO

***** I also originally forgot to share that while i have been sick from the Chemo, it IS WORKING. My scans a couple of weeks ago showed that the tumors in my liver had shrunk from the medicine. The goal is to now find a dose that I can tolerate and still have it attack the Cancer.

Chemo and the Corona Virus

I started my new Chemo regimen on February 19th. Accompanied by my friend Lauren, we started our day at DFCI around 11 and did not leave until close to 7 pm. Very long day. I started a new trial consisting of a non-approved drug called Tesataxol. This is a pill form of a common IV chemo Taxol which is said to have less harsh side effects. I also take Xeloda which is also chemo in pill form that can be taken at home for two weeks on and then you get a break for one week. As is standard in trials, you are started off on the maximum dosage. This dosage proved to be way too toxic for me as two days into the meds, i was so so sick. Nauseous, vomiting, couldn’t eat, slight fevers, sleeping constantly and basically stayed in bed or on the couch for five days. I continued the meds in hopes that the side effects would subside. They did not and the doctors had me stop the meds only 5 days in. I started to feel better but was neutropenic- meaning that I had a very low white blood cell count. This was the first time in all of my treatments that I felt this sick. I started round two of these meds yesterday at a reduced dosage in hopes that the the meds will be kinder to me and my body can tolerate it more. I hope and pray that i can tolerate this better because, I really need a win here with this disease. I have been on four different treatment regimens and my life literally depends on finding something that will work.

For some reason, i had a very tough day at DFCI yesterday in regards to my emotions. It could be b/c every time i do in to the doctors there is always a new issue. One week its low white blood cells and this week it was heightened liver enzymes. It could have been because it was my favorite nurse practioner is leaving the practice and yesterday was my last visit with her. It could be because these weekly visits are becoming exhausting for me. It could be b/c my hair is falling out in large clumps even though I was told that i would not lose my hair (we are hopeful this is temporary). I could be all of the talk about the Corona virus is triggering me in some ways.

Trust me I understand more than most the severity of this situation with this virus. I am in the category of people who this virus is most dangerous for- those with compromised immune systems. I also know that for the past four years my family and I have had to make new habits b/c of my disease- always sanitizing and hand washing. Thankfully b/c of this I have a stockpile of hand soap and sanitizer! I get that this virus is new and there are so many unknowns and very limited resources in regards to it but i wish that Cancer and Metastatic Breast Cancer got awareness and attention like this and it really ticks me off.

While we have been going through probably the toughest time this past month or so with me being so sick, the outpouring of support has been tremendous. Our hearts and our fridge have remained full throughout and i cannot thank everyone enough. It means the world to me and my family and it makes me feel so amazing to feel so much love. It definitely helps me on the days that i feel my lowest and gives me the push i need to keep moving forward.

Tough day yesterday.
Just a little hair loss.

It Is What It Is

I find myself saying this a lot lately “It is what is is”. I also heard another cancer fighter say the same thing today and it pissed me off. This is where we are in this life with terminal cancer. Honestly, it is the truth. It is what it is and we have very little control over it. I am a prisoner to this cancer. In my cancer riddled body. Cancer has stolen so much from me. My freedom in some ways, my future in many ways, my hopes and dreams. I have become my cancer. Many of the things I do are based on and off of my disease and I am very over it. As you all know we learned my cancer had spread in November and I entered a new trial in December. The month of December was so tough for me. Many side effects and lots of pain from the new treatment. I got through it and through a dose reduction started to feel “fine” on the new meds for the month of January.

I was scanned on January 30th and found out this week that the past trial did not work. At all. My current liver spots grew and two more have popped up. There are also suspicious spots now in my lungs that will be watched. 2019 was such a hard year for me with this disease and I was really hoping that 2020 was going to be easier for me. This will not be my reality. I am now switching over to chemotherapy in a couple of weeks. We will attempt to hit the cancer with a “double whammy” and be very aggressive to try to get this under control. I will enter into a new trial that involves two chemotherapy pills. One that is not FDA approved yet and has to be administered at the hospital and one that i will take at home. They come with there own new side effects and lots of additional doctor’s appointments.

I am terrified. I am sad. I think everyday what I could have done to deserve this. I am struggling to remain positive and have hope. I do know that having your health is something that should never be taken for granted.

Christmas Wishes

Starting off with the positive; we had an amazing trip to Aruba. It was the perfect trip and I felt better than I have in a really long time. We were able to make some amazing memories and are hopeful that we will make it back to island very soon.

Upon our return from the trip, I reported to Brigham and Women’s on December 4th for my liver biopsy. I was prepped and ready to be wheeled into the procedure room when my medical team called to let me know that my liver enzymes were too high to have the procedure done that day and that I needed to go home. My oncologist called me later in the day to discuss and we reviewed that the cancerous spots in my spine are larger than they were before, there are new cancerous spots on my ribs and as we knew there was a new spot on my liver. Basically, my “slow growing” cancer became more aggressive in the past few months. We decided to try to give my liver a few more days in hopes that the enzymes would normalize. I went back in on Monday and they were still to high.  I then went back in again on Wednesday and my enzymes- while still higher than normal, were within the parameters needed for the biopsy and the trial.

I was to have what should have been a routine liver biopsy- normally a 45 minute procedure. Due to different complications during the procedure, I was on the procedure table for 2 1/2 hours. The sedation and anesthetic provided to me during the procedure did not work resulting in me being aware of and feeling everything during the procedure. Very painful and traumatic. Also, proving me right as I had told the Dr in the beginning that if there are “possible” complications they usually happen to me.

I started the new treatment Wednesday evening. The new treatment includes shot every other week and six pills a day. This treatment so far has brought on some very intense and unpleasant side effects. I am hoping that I can get a handle on these side effects as I am not really sure how much more I can take of all of this.

This bringing me to my wishes for this Christmas:

I wish that 2020 brings me better health than this past year did.

I wish that this treatment works so that this will not be my last Christmas.

I wish that I did not have to worry or think about every holiday or vacation being my last.

I wish that my husband and kids did not have to deal with this.

I wish that I was strong enough to show people how I really am feeling rather than always putting on a brave face and pretending I am ok.

I wish that everyone who has showed us an overwhelming amount of support, knows how very thankful we are.

I wish all my fellow cancer fighters finds some sort of peace this holiday season.

I wish for more treatments and medications so that the list of options for me and others like me continues to grow.

I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. Hoping everyone is filled with love and peace this holiday season. I wish Happiness and Health to all in the New Year.

XO