A Year Later

(Picture above is from the first day of spring, enjoying our free Rita’s water ice.) A year ago today (well, a year ago yesterday by the time I’m actually posting this), we were told that Anne had malignant, metastatic neuroendocrine carcinoid tumors. I’ve been looking back over emails and notes from those first few days after we found out, and man, what a whirlwind. I want to talk about some of that, but first, an update on where we are now, since it’s been three and a half months since our last update… sorry!

What’s Been Going On Since December

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost a third of the way through 2017. In February and March, a team of our friends in South Africa worked tirelessly to pack and prepare all of our belongings to be shipped around the world to our new house here. Meanwhile back here in the U.S., construction workers knocked out a wall, ripped up carpets, and replaced flooring in our new house.

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A Belated Update

Hard to believe it’s been almost two months since our last update. Rather than try to capture everything in the last few months in detail, here’s the bullet-point version – with pictures!

October 15 – NET Cancer awareness fundraiser at Bryn Athyn Bounty farmer’s market, with proceeds going to the Neuroendocrine Cancer Awareness Network.
bounty-booth

November 8 – A trip to the ER; Anne had intense abdominal cramps and pain, to the point that the pain required narcotics. It passed and Anne was feeling much better by the next day, but she has had consistent, daily, really bad stomach cramps since then. It’s the big mystery at the moment; there doesn’t seem to be a physical blockage, but the cause could be anything from a reaction to the lanreotide, to adhesions from the surgery, to a recurrent ileus (intestinal paralysis), to any number of other things. Anne will skip her upcoming lanreotide injection to see if that makes a difference; the lanreotide has been effective in reducing symptoms like flushing and heart palpitations, but we want to see if it might be responsible for the abdominal pain. If it is, we’ll talk to the doctors about reducing the dose or switching to Sandostatin, another drug that acts very similarly to lanreotide.

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Hormones, Hair Loss and Halloween

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It’s been nearly a month since my first Lanreotide injection. I’ve had some good results – small reductions in symptoms and just enough more energy and steadiness to make life feel more manageable. I’m up and about, have gone out a couple of times without my wheelchair, and even on a couple of excursions without Coleman – to yoga with a friend, to the hair salon.

Hair. My hair is falling out. It was falling out before I started the treatment, most likely due to hormone issues (it’s been falling out for over a year!) but the rate has distinctly increased, a side-effect we knew was a possibility. So, I’m planning on shaving my head. Since I’m going to shave it anyway, I decided, why not have a little fun for Halloween?

Coleman and I attended a masquerade ball with a ‘fire and ice’ theme, and I decided to go ‘ice’. White hair is fun, still a bit of a shock when I look in the mirror, but fun! Stay tuned for buzz cuts, coming next week!

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On Halloween night we dressed up with the kids and took them to the girl’s dormitory at the high school where they were given puzzles pieces and cards (thanks for accommodating our food allergies!) and got to see all the fun costumes and decorations the girls put together. We especially enjoyed Hogwarts, and Around the World!

The Farmer, the Dancer and the Dinosaurs

The bad news is I have a partial bowel obstruction. It’s been an on and off thing for the last month and has worsened in the last few days. We’re in touch with my team, trying medication and diet to help improve things. I’m managing fine at home, but will go in to the hospital if necessary. The worst part is the pain, which seems to be worse in the evening and at night than during the day – while being up and moving seems to help at the time, increased activity brings increased pain when I stop moving. We’re hoping things improve and continue to heal and that I get closer to ‘normal’, but this is likely going to be a condition I live with for the rest of my life, with better moments and worse moments.

Other medical updates: this month we do more testing to try to narrow down my bleeding disorder, visit maternal-fetal medicine for follow up OB/GYN care and see a dietician who will hopefully help us understand what I need in the way of supplements and how best to eat now that my digestive system has been rearranged. I also have my next injection of Lanreotide tomorrow, and we hope it will continue to help me stabilize.

November is NET cancer awareness month and Nov 10 is NET cancer day. Watch for more blog posts with updates on what we’re doing in the NET cancer community and what your support means to us. Thanks for journeying with us!

Top Ten Takeaways from the National NET Patient Conference

Last week, Anne and I attended the National NET Patient Conference in New Orleans, presented by NCAN (the Neuroendocrine Cancer Awareness Network). It was an amazing experience. Here, in no particular order, are our top ten takeaways:

1.) We’re not alone.

Before the conference, we had met only one person with neuroendocrine tumors, back when Anne had her Gallium scan in Pretoria. I can’t put into words how much it meant to talk with people, laugh with people, cry with people who not only know what NETs are (which already puts them ahead of 99% of the population), but who know intimately what it means to live with this disease. It’s not a club that anyone asks to join, but it’s an amazing community full of passionate people who are willing to fight for each other and lift each other up.

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The Next Battle

My body is fighting a war, good cells against bad cells. It is being fought on multiple fronts.

There is the cancer. We learned that when I had my second surgery in July (to repair the anastomosis that was bleeding) they removed another microscopic tumor. Too small for the surgeons to see. Too small for the pathologists to see. Only under the microscope, going through cell by cell, did they discover it. This confirms what we and the medical team suspected and assumed: We will be fighting this war for the rest of my life, as tiny tumors sneakily grow. This doesn’t change our management plan; we will still wait and watch, carefully. There is no chemotherapy for my situation. No remission for this kind of cancer. So we will be always at the ready, vigilant and aware, to do what we can to keep it at bay.

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Another Bump in the Road

As Anne mentioned in her last post, we were back at HUP today to find out the source of the abdominal pain and nausea she’s been having since Monday. They did a CT scan and discovered several small abscesses with fluid collections. They followed that up with an ultrasound that showed the collections to be tubo-ovarian abscesses, probably caused by exposure to bacteria from the surgery or from the insertion of the previous drains. This is a fairly rare type of abscess to have after a surgery like Anne’s, and the surgical team is working with the gynecology department to figure out the best way to deal with it. Unlike the last abscess they found, these ones do not seem to be reachable for drainage, so the plan for now is to admit Anne into the hospital and have antibiotics administered by IV here at the hospital for a few days, then re-evaluate based on whether the infections respond to the antibiotics.

It’s frustrating and tiring to have yet another complication; Anne’s surgeon says that he has never had another patient with this many complications after this kind of surgery. We’re learning to take it a day at a time, a moment at a time, but we’re not always great at it. I think we sometimes make it sound like we’ve got it all figured out. We don’t. We get grumpy at each other, annoyed at the odd unhelpful nurse, glum about all the setbacks. But we pray, and we read Scripture, and we turn to our friends, and we try to make each other laugh, and we let the Lord lift us up again. And tonight, we’re doing OK. God is still good, and we know we are loved.