It was three years ago today that Geoff and I sat down with a surgeon at the breast clinic and got the results of my biopsy. I was diagnosed with stage IV invasive ductal breast cancer with metastasis to my liver and bones.
The average life expectancy for someone with stage IV breast cancer, particularly with metastasis to the organs, is three years.
Today I had to fill my pill boxes for the week. I count out all the right pills for the right time of day. The little blue set I keep beside the bed. I take those pills as soon as I wake up. They are mostly pain pills, long and short acting, to get me going. I usually awaken very stiff and sore, particularly in my lower back and hips. I also take some stomach pills then. They work best if taken a little while before eating. The other pills pull out of the big case one day at a time. If I will be going out of the house, I transfer them to a smaller daily case that has room for extra short acting pain narcotics to deal with breakthrough pain. I have pulled something in my back or ribs. I am pretty certain it isn't a fracture, so I didn't get an x-Ray, but the pain requires frequent top-ups of my Dilaudid. The daily pills are taken with breakfast, lunch and supper, and finally at bedtime. So, best case, I take a handful of pills five times a day. In reality, because of the breakthrough pain, it is much more often than that.
Here is what I take on a good day. The breakthrough Dilaudid aren't there. See, I told you. Handfuls of pills.
If you were wondering about that little white pill in the middle. That is Tamoxifen. That is the ONE pill I take that fights cancer. One pill. I take it with supper, my biggest meal, because it is very hard on the stomach. Due to the Tamoxifen, I also take two Prevacid and four Maxerand a day to quell the nausea. It usually works. This afternoon I will go to the cancer centre for my treatment. No longer on chemo, I am still getting Herceptin by IV to stop the cancer. I get it every three weeks. I will also get Pamidronate today to help my bones rebuild, I get it every nine weeks, if my creatinine level doesn't creep too high. Pamidronate is hard on the kidneys and my kidneys are showing the strain. Herceptin can damage the heart. Thank God that hasn't happened yet. I get an echocardiogram every three months to check my ticker. So far, so good,
Most of my pills are for pain. Four Naproxen, a NSAID also known as Aleve. Three hydromorphone contin, a long acting narcotic said to be stronger than morphine. Then there are three Lyrica for nerve pain. I also get the occasional epidural to help with nerve pain. Oh, and because all the narcotics make me sleepy, I now take Ritalin in the morning and at noon. Ritalin is a stimulant. It works paradoxically in people with ADD to calm them down. It generally wakes me up. I don't take it every day, so it's not in the picture. I took it yesterday at noon and nevertheless I was groggy by one o'clock. It doesn't work perfectly. And then at night I take an Ativan. It is an anti-anxiety drug that I take to be able to sleep through the night, I think I am hooked on it now, I don't like that much, but I am very cranky when I don't sleep, so I keep taking it
A picture tells a thousand words. That is why I use my Stage IV Snapshot blog posts to give you a picture of my life with advanced breast cancer. I don't believe that the millions that are spent on breast cancer awareness have done much real good. In addition to taking attention away from other cancers unfairly, breast cancer awareness hasn't spread awareness of key facts, like how many of us are at risk of breast cancer. One in nine women will get it. Men get it too. And did you know that nearly a third of patients treated for early stage breast cancer will have it return outside the breast as Stage IV cancer. They thought they were cured, but there is no cure for breast cancer.
I try to raise awareness of life with Stage IV breast cancer, whether it is the emotional side, or like today the pharmaceutical side. I hope I can make a difference. Let me know.