Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What will 2014 bring for the Spears family?

As 2014 begins, it's a time for many to reflect upon the past year and look ahead to the new year.  It's the time when people make resolutions about things they'd like to change in their lives.  It's when they think back on the good and the bad of the previous year and either wish for more blessings or pray the next year will be better.

I used to be a part of that group of people.  I used to make resolutions every year, although I rarely ever kept them.  (I've been supposed to be back down to my pre-pregnancy weight for 9 years now!  lol)  But one thing that this diagnosis has done, is taught me to live one day at a time.  Not that wanting to better myself is a bad thing, but I'm simply not able to look into the future much farther than the end of the week.  When I try to look past a few days into the future, I become overwhelmed and depressed.  You know how kids like to play the game, "When I'm (insert age here), how old will (sibling) be?'  Kinsley loves to do this.  "When I'm 16 and I can drive, how old will Anderson be?"  As they start this discussion of what life will be like at that point in time, my mind starts to wander to bad places- places where I start thinking "Will I even still be around to see you when you are that age?" which then leads into thinking about all of the things in their lives I will miss out on.  Enough about that- you get the point- anyway that's why making sure I keep myself focused on a few days at a time is absolutely necessary to keep going.

As I look back over 2013 it's not all bad things that I remember.   I'm able to look past the bad health, and more diagnoses to see God continuing to work in my life and bless me each and every day.  Would I like to hope that 2014 will bring less of the health issues and more of the good things?  sure.  But I'm also very realistic about this diagnosis and I realize that I will never have a day or week or month or year go by that the word CANCER isn't a part of it.  Is that fair? Is that how I want it to be?  Is that what I had hoped for when I received my initial diagnosis almost 2 years ago?  NO.  But am I am peace with this is how it's going to be?  Absolutely.  And if I can still be blessed and have a wonderful year despite the ugly C word, then that's all that really matters.

December has been an extremely busy  month for us.  We spent 4 days in Vanderbilt with Anderson, while the doctors tried to determine if his shunt was functioning properly or if he needed surgery.  He was a very sick little boy, which makes for a worried and exhausted momma.  We ended up being sent home with a virus, RSV, and an ear infection- they did admit that they still aren't sure if the shunt is functioning properly, but until he gets sicker or shows more symptoms, they don't want to do surgery YET.  (reassuring, huh?)

Our house that we started building the middle of September was completed and we were able to move in 3 days before Christmas.  The builder was determined to get us in so we could spend Christmas together as a family in our new home- and he did just that.  Building this house was one of the least stressful and wonderful things we've done.  I'm so glad we made the decision to go ahead with our dreams and plans despite my diagnosis.  If you live anywhere near the Maury county area, may I recommend Sparkman Construction for those of you who are considering building a home?  They do phenomenal work and are wonderful people.  Seriously.  Check them out.

So between a hospital stay, finishing Christmas shopping, moving our things into a new house, and going to family's homes for Christmas, we have been crazy busy this month.

I have had some changes in my health this past month also that I'm concerned about- and I'd like to ask you to continue to pray as you have throughout this journey.  I had been on an oral chemotherapy that was working great- I felt great, and was able to honestly not have cancer on the forefront of my mind.  However, my pain began to slowly return and my tumor markers began to rise.  So I was taken off the chemo and put on a hormone therapy and targeted therapy that have been shown to be very successful in many cancer patients.  Well, over the past month I just haven't felt well.  My pain has been really bad- bad enough that I take pain medicine at least 2 times per day (if you know me, you know it must be bad because I HATE to take medicine.)  I have felt like I had the flu, I've had no energy, and just felt yucky.  When I went to the oncologist this past Monday, I found out that I've felt so badly because my bloodwork looked awful.  My white blood count was bottomed out, as well as my red blood cells and some other things.  So I get one week off from my medicine, then when I start back she is going to half my dose.  She initially wanted me to try the new lower dose for another month, but when my tumor markers came back the next day and they had doubled in the 3 weeks I'd been on this medicine, it was clear this medicine isn't working at all.  She also wants me to go back to the oncologist at the Sara Cannon Research Institute to see if they have any treatments to offer me, because she's running out of options.

I also made the decision to go to Chicago to Cancer Treatment Centers of America to see what (if anything) they have to offer me.  I don't want to get to the end of this journey and have any "what ifs".  I want to know that I did everything in my power to be educated about my diagnosis and search for all options out there.  I know God is ultimately in control, but I think he expects us to put forth some effort as well.  I know many people have differing opinions on how they feel about CTCA, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but as I've said many times, If it won't hurt me- why not give it a try?  So this Sunday, Jan. 5 my mom and I are flying to Chicago.  Maybe I will come home with some options and answers, and maybe I will come home knowing exactly what I know now.  But I won't know until I go check it out.  Your prayers are appreciated.

It does feel a little like deja vu, as this time last year I was in Houston at MDAnderson getting checked out- and they determined I was cancer-free, all because they didn't do any scans like I had requested.  If those scans had been done in Houston, it would have been discovered that I was nowhere close to cancer-free, but rather covered up in cancer all over my ovaries and in my bones.  Looking back, I wish I had FOUGHT harder for scans.  Oh well.  Maybe this experience will be better.

I hope 2014 brings you many blessings.  Despite the circumstances, I will continue to remind myself daily that GOD is in control.  He is by my side, he has a plan.  And it WILL be a good year- no matter what.

Love to all! 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Should I introduce myself?

I feel like I should reintroduce myself... Hi, I'm Andrea.  I used to blog all the time, but life has been so busy lately that I've let it fall by the wayside.  I haven't blogged in nearly 3 months and a lot has happened during this time period.

I'll try to catch you up without making this post ultra-long.

Since the last post, Karlie celebrated her 7th birthday with a gymnastics party with her friends.  She is in 1st grade and still LOVES school.  She enjoys reading and spends a lot of free time with a book in front of her face.

Kinsley has been moved up in her gymnastics class and is learning how to do back handsprings.  She LOVES gymnastics and is pretty good if I do say so myself.  She is getting ready for basketball to start up again- another sport she loves- especially when her daddy is her coach.

Anderson is still doing great.  We've had a lot of success with this shunt, thank goodness- We have had the same shunt for almost 2 years...whew.  I don't want to speak too soon, but he's doing great.  He goes to preschool 3 days a week and loves it.  Our only frustration is that he could care less about potty training.  He wants NOTHING to do with it.  We are about to pull our hair out.

Jamie is helping coach a high school boys' basketball team, which of course he loves.  Basketball has always been a passion of his.  Plus, it's good for him to focus on something besides having a sick wife.  It keeps him going each day.

We started building our house in the middle of September.  This has kept us busy, but we have really enjoyed the process.  Not near as much stress as I thought it would be.  We got very lucky with good weather, and now they are telling us we should be moved in by Christmas!  Wow!  That will put the kids and me only 10 miles from work/school.  We are very much looking forward to that, as right now we drive at least 6 days a week to Hickman County.  We have been living with my parents, as they bought our house.  It has been wonderful having them here to help and my kids are really going to miss having Granny and Pa in the house when we move.

As my last post stated, I have been doing great.  The chemo pill I've been on took my pain away and my tumor markers dropped.  Plus, it was easy to take with minimal side effects.  However, just over the past 2 weeks, my pain has returned and my tumor markers are climbing back up.  So my oncologist feels this means that the cancer has already found a way to be resistant to this chemo.  Now we are looking for more options to try to fight this cancer.  It's frustrating that I only got about 3 months out of that chemo because my doctor was hoping it would work for awhile.  Oh well.  This stupid cancer keeps changing and it's aggressive and smart.

This past Monday, I had what I hope to be the final stage of my reconstruction process.  So I am off work this week recovering from that surgery and waiting for new medicine to start to try to fight the cancer.  Please continue praying- we need to find something else that will work- and we need it to work longer than 3 months or I will quickly run out of treatment options.

I'm still taking things one day at a time...I can't allow myself to look to the future or then the devil sneaks in and puts bad thoughts in my head.  I must focus on today- and I must stay positive.

Thank you to everyone who continues to pray for our family.  We believe in the power of prayer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Great News Finally!

Life is busy, and I've been meaning to post this for the past week- please forgive me.  Last Wednesday we got some very very encouraging news.  I had my scan last Wednesday to see if the latest treatment (oral Chemo) is working at all.  After other treatments have failed, my oncologist didn't want to waste any time leaving me on a new treatment without doing scans to see what's happening.  So after 6 weeks (2 rounds) of the medicine, we did a full body scan.

Some of my lesions that are measurable have SHRUNK!  Some others are stable, and there are NO NEW places that have grown since my last scan.  Praise God!  The CT report did say that the bone cancer (which isn't measurable in size) looks worse, however my oncologist explained to me that it is very difficult to tell the difference between HEALING bones and Bone lesions.  It will take more time to be able to tell if the bone cancer really is worse, or if the spots they saw just look worse because they are HEALING.   Also, my tumor markers have gone down quite significantly- just in the past 3 weeks, which is very encouraging!

I have been on top of the world with this news.  I'm so excited.  This is the first scan since all of this started that we didn't find out there were MORE tumors/lesions/spots.  So that is wonderful news and I can finally feel like maybe this cancer- which was once growing completely out of control- may be slowing down and responding to the most recent treatment.  But I also know that the millions of prayers being prayed for me and my family have a great deal to do with it also.

So we continue the treatment, check tumor markers every 3 weeks and scan every 6 weeks for the first few rounds.  If the cancer responded like this after only 2 rounds, I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens after 4 rounds.

The main side effect from this chemo is what's called Hand and Foot Syndrome.  This means that the palms of my hands and bottom of my feet become red, swollen, and feel burnt.  They also get very dry and begin to crack and peel.  It is very painful, but on my week off from the medicine it does improve.  I've decided that as long as this medicine is killing this cancer, I can deal with that side effect.  I can soak my feet, use lots of moisturizer, and complain a little, but that is a small price to pay to be able to live life and be able to dream about the future again.

Thank you again for your prayers.  Please don't stop praying.  We haven't won- YET.  But we've begun a "Rally in the Dugout" if you will.  And we aren't going down without a fight!  Love and hugs to you all.

Lots of fun and exciting things have happened lately- maybe I will find some time to catch up with some new posts soon- but right now we're in full speed ahead, living life- you know, work, school, supper, baths, homework- the normal.  Plus add in a few concerts, trips,  and meeting a few stars and that's what September has looked like.  :)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Plan B once again...

I'm not sure why I expected it to be any different this time- Haven't I figured out by now that Plan A never works for me?  My previous post discussed the clinical trial that I was so excited about- and how I was beginning all of the pre-testing necessary to get started.  That was Plan A- which fell through the day before it was supposed to begin.

What happened?  Well, during the testing it was discovered in my blood work that my liver enzymes were elevated slightly, and in my CT scan it was noted that along with the cancer still growing and spreading in my spine, the cancer has also spread to my liver.  There are "several new small lesions."  And having those results immediately disqualified me for the clinical trial, as well as made me very very angry for a few days.

Angry, ticked off, P*ssed off- whatever you want to call it- that's what I was.  How does this happen?  How from one month to the next do you go from finding out it's Bone only and hasn't spread, to now it's in your liver?  Well, that's how aggressive this cancer is.  It continues to grow and spread out of control right now.  So I met with my oncologist this week and came up with a quick plan to try to get it back under control.  The quick treatment to get started trying to stop the growth and spreading is chemo.

This chemo is different from what I've already had.  This chemo is pill form that I take by mouth each morning and night.  My current dose is 4 pills in the morning and 4 in the evening.  It is supposed to be well-tolerated as opposed to the other chemo I went through, but they have had success with this treating people that other chemo and hormone therapy were not successful.  In fact, my oncologist looked at me and said "We WILL get back in control of this." She is optimistic, and I trust her completely.  I know she would never lead me in a wrong direction.  Now, she's honest with me- she doesn't sugar coat anything, which I love.  But with the honesty she also can still be positive and not all doom and gloom.

My anger is now gone.  And I'm thankful that God is big enough to be able to handle when His children are angry at Him.  I still know He is in control, but getting hit over and over with bad news- well, it just stinks.  And after being so strong for so long, I allowed myself to turn my focus away from God for a short period in all of this and it became very overwhelming.  Not only have I started hurting and having to take pain medication to deal with the pain, but since hearing the news people have started treating me differently.  And if there's one thing I want in all of this, it's to be treated exactly the same.  I don't want special treatment, I don't want sympathy looks, I don't want people to tell me I can't do something.  But for the past week that's exactly what's happened, and instead of being angry, I've become an emotional wreck.

I've been through this journey knowing that God is in control, but also with the theory of "As long as I don't look sick or feel sick, then I can pretend I'm not sick."  But now I do feel sick because of the pain- and when people start treating you like you're sick, that just one more thing to remind me of how big of a battle I'm in.  But it's not just my battle- I still know God is right by my side, I just could use a break- some rest, some good news, instead of being beat down all the time.

However, I refuse to give in.  I refuse to quit fighting or give up.  So please don't feel sorry for me.  Don't cry for me.  Don't treat me differently.  Pray.  Pray for healing.  And realize that none of us are promised tomorrow, so when you pray, also make sure that you enjoy each day that you are blessed with- be thankful for each day when you wake up.  Don't complain about work, or kids, or dirty dishes.  Be thankful that God blessed you and allowed you to have another day on this earth.

Once again I have had to remind myself to take things 1 day at a time.  I cannot worry/stress/be anxious about the future.  One day, one step, one moment.  Be thankful.  Make the best of it.  Look at everything with a different perspective.

"This is the day the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Taking another step in this journey

Tomorrow I will begin all of the pretesting necessary for the clinical trial that I will begin next week.  I am both excited and nervous.  Tomorrow I will have a full body CT scan, full body bone scan, EKG, and blood work.  These will be used as a baseline for comparison reasons during the clinical trial.  I'm excited because they have had great results on this trial thus far with other patients and are optimistic for me as  well- plus little to no side effects.  I'm nervous because I haven't been on any medication to fight the cancer for the past month- there has to be a time period of no treatment before beginning a new clinical trial- so I am a little nervous about what the scans will show.  Hopefully it will still be contained in my bones and not have spread. 

After all of the testing tomorrow, I will begin the trial next week.  The trial is through the Sara Cannon Research Institute and consist of combining 2 pills that are already being used in cancer treatment to prove they fight cancer more aggressively in combination.  Every 6-8 weeks I will have a scan to see how well it is working.  At any point that it is determined it is not working, I immediately stop and go to another treatment, which they already have discussed with me (it includes chemo- so hopefully we won't get to that point).  If  the treatment is working and they are able to see positive results, I can continue it as long as it works. 

Along with the clinial trial, I am also going to have a needle biopsy of some of the lesions in my spine- to see how that cancer compares in all areas with my original breast cancer.  Knowing everything they can about the cancer in my spine, will help them determine why previous treatments haven't worked and what treatments may be better options.  They are determining right now what point in time I need to have that bone biopsy completed.   I may find that out tomorrow at the appointment. 

Good news- so far the reconstruction recovery is going well!  Things are healing well and so far my body hasn't rejected anything.  It will be a  few months before this process is complete, but so far, so good.  Things are going great.  I feel wonderful and am loving life! Thank you for your continued prayers.

A huge thank you to all of you who have given money to our family- either by the benefit, donations, in the mail, or being a part of one of our events.  I have no idea how to thank each of your without spending all day everyday writing thank you notes.  Please know how thankful we are for each of you.  We now have a medical account set up that will help with my monthly medical bills, tests, and any surgeries that may be needed in the future.  It also gives us the option for me to travel different places if needed for more trials, without worrying about putting our family into a financial burden.  This medical account allows us to breathe easier as we look toward the future- with all the unknowns, it at least is comforting to know there are funds set aside to help pay for whatever treatment plan is needed to help me fight this beast of a cancer. 

For now, Keep Praying, Keep fighting, Keep living!!