Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Scan Results and New Drug Update

Dear Family and Friends,

Many of you have been asking about the results of my recent CT scan, in light of my rapidly rising tumor marker.   Since Steve was working, Renée accompanied me to the oncologist to review the scan last week.  The bad news is that my cancer has grown.  There are more spots in my liver and the size of various lymph nodes around my abdomen, heart, lungs, and thyroid, have grown as well.  But the good news is that all of the spots are 1.9 centimeters or less.  And according to the oncologist, it is not yet time to be gravely concerned (perhaps “grave”ly is not the best choice of words when we are trying NOT to be concerned)!  J

Some really good news is that after just two chemotherapy treatments with my new drug, Gemsar, my tumor marker dropped 80 points!  Remember I had asked you to pray that I would be in the 20% of people for whom this drug works?  It appears that I may be in that group—although I hesitate to confirm that until I’ve had a few more tumor marker tests.  My oncologist taught me that it is not good medicine to decide things based on one lab test.  For now, let’s just say that we are greatly encouraged by this auspicious start!

The difficult part about the new drug is that it makes me quite sick—sicker than any prior drug I have been on.  In addition to the usual nausea, fatigue, and constipation, the new drug has brought low-grade fevers, flu-like aches, and migraine headaches.  But now that I have made it through four treatments with gemsar, I have figured out the rhythm of the drug, and have learned that the challenging new level of sickness it brings only lasts for three days.  By day four, it begins to turn around.  Food sounds appealing again.  A walk seems doable again.  And once again, my days seem more filled with joy than struggle.  Thus, during the three bad days I have learned to tell myself multiple times per day, “You will not always feel as awful as you do at this moment—so hang in there.” 

As I was observing the rhythm of my gemsar treatments this past week, we received some horrific news—that a friend of Renée’s had committed suicide.  It cut us all to the core to learn that this sweet young woman—an only child, whose smile, energy, and spirit lit would light up a room—was so overwhelmed by her life’s burdens that she needed to make the pain to stop, once and for all.  We mourn with her parents the loss of one so very dear, and cry out to God for understanding, peace, and comfort.  And in comparison to the pain and suffering this young woman had endured, my having to survive three days a week of bad chemo side effects seems like a very small thing.

I told Steve on our drive home from chemo today with my nauseous tummy that all I wanted was to get home and be still.  No driving over potholes, no walking here or there—just sitting, very, very still.  And that made me think of the Bible verse that says “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10  Whether we are facing illness, or the grief to end all griefs of losing a child—as we sit in the stillness with our pain, may we hear the voice of God gently whispering to us, “Do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10   

Love,
Gabrielle

Daniel took us out to dinner at FlintCreek Cattle Co. in Greenwood to thank us for helping him get through medical school.  Their happy hour burger is divine (but you must get there right at 4 PM before they sell out), and so was this molten chocolate cake dessert!

I had a great time at my friend, Ami's, baby shower.  Eager to meet baby boy Juel!

Jericho loves his aunties Nay Nay and Riley!

This is an "outie" navel orange if ever there was one!


On the way home from chemo today, we stopped at the Amazon Treasure Truck to buy some filet mignon steaks to help my red blood cells.  I'll know in a few hours if I was able to stomach them on chemo day or (more likely) not!













Friday, March 23, 2018

Hills and Valleys

Dear Friends and Family,

Easter is just around the corner.  When I was a child, Easter wasn’t about Jesus dying on the cross for us and rising from the dead three days later.  For me, in my unchurched home, Easter was about candy!  Candy in Easter baskets and candy in plastic colored eggs, well hidden for three little hunters.  And my very favorite candies, by far, were those little speckled “birds' eggs,” which were malt balls covered in a crunchy, sweet candy coating.  I loved plain malt balls too, and in fact, they were my number one movie snack.  But at Easter time, something about adding the extra sweet candy coating on top of those malt balls made me swoon.

I’m sad to say the news I am about to share with you cannot be sugarcoated.  Things are looking a bit grim at the moment.  In the last six weeks my tumor marker has jumped from around 40 to 379.  As a reminder, a normal, healthy CA-125 marker is 0 to 35.  This jump is cause for much alarm, as even when I was first diagnosed with cancer in January of 2013, my tumor marker was only around 169.  I have reached a new high, which, as you can understand, has brought the Dudley family to a new low. 

When I saw my oncologist on Monday and we discussed that high tumor marker, she couldn’t believe I wasn’t doubled over in pain.  My stomach has felt a bit off, for sure, but no major pain to report yet.  The most recent drug we had tried, Topotecan, was a complete failure, as noted by the gargantuan jump in the tumor marker.  So yesterday I began yet another new drug combination to try to attack this growing cancer.  The new chemo drug is Gemsar, and I will continue to receive Avastin with it (Avastin is the drug that prevents the formation of the tiny blood vessels that feed cancer cells).  I wasn’t tremendously encouraged to hear that only 20% of ovarian cancer patients respond to Gemsar.  But as we know, someone has to be in that 20% and we will pray it will be me!  I will have a CT scan next Wednesday, right before chemo, so that will give us a better picture of what is going on with that ridiculous tumor marker number!

Looking out a little further, my oncologist is applying for a “compassionate use” approval of a non-FDA approved immunotherapy drug for me.  It is currently showing success in other types cancers and it may be something we will need to try if it is approved.  More on that later, if and when we get to that point!  But this is something else you can pray for for us.

I am delighted that Steve’s employer, UW Physicians, has approved his family medical leave act application so he can spend more time with me!  He is still working, but a greatly reduced (60%) schedule.  It cheers me immensely on the days he has off to attend doctor and chemo appointments and tests with me.  And to have the joy of his company on the regular days, too.  When I’m feeling badly, we play Scrabble and watch our favorite shows on TV.  We drink tea while reading our books across from one another in our comfy living room chairs.  And we go on walks, which vary in length from ½ hour on a bad day, to 1-1/2 hours on a good day!  This week we popped up to Vancouver for two days for fish and chips at Granville Island and a long walk at Stanley Park where we saw a Hallmark Movie being filmed!

I want to leave you with three thoughts I’ve been pondering a lot these past few weeks.  The first is a song I heard on Christian radio called Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells.  The chorus goes like this:

“On the mountain I will bow my life to the one who set me there.
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there.
On the mountain I know that I didn’t get there on my own.
When I’m walking through the valley, no I am not alone.
You are God of the hills and valleys, God of the hills and valleys,
God of the hills and valleys, and I am not alone.”

On my mountain top days, of which I have been blessed with so many, I want to always bow my life to the One who set me there.  And in the valley, where I am right now, I lift my eyes to the One who sees me there.  He sees me…He sees my family…and we do not walk alone!  “Eyes on Jesus” has been our family motto from the beginning, and we lift our eyes to Him yet again in this new valley.  You can listen to the beautiful song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4rRCjrAyCs

Another thought I’ve been pondering came from my dear friend, Jen, who is in my weekly Bible study.  These wonderful women friends were praying for me one Monday, and Jen prayed “that God would hold my family and me so tightly through this trial, that it was as if we were swaddled like babies and wouldn’t have to flail around.”  Picture that.  A baby in great distress.  Crying out, arms and legs flailing all around.  In comes the parent, who takes the receiving blanket and swaddles that baby up like a burrito--so tightly that those little arms and legs can no longer flail.  The baby’s body can relax inside the tight embrace of the swaddle, and the safety of its parent’s strong arms and great love.  Slowly the tears cease, and the child is again at peace.  I love to picture God holding us so tightly that we are swaddled, in His arms, and can rest secure in His love and care.

Lastly, I have been thinking a lot about the grief people go through when they lose a loved one or even as they ponder a potential loss in advance—which my therapist calls pre-grief!  I am reading the sweetest novel right now called Arthur Trulov by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg.  It is a story of an elderly man who loses his wife, and every day, he rides a bus with his lawn chair and sack lunch to the cemetery where he has lunch at his wife’s gravestone and talks to her.  Slowly but surely some ever so lovely people come into his life to help him along in the grieving process and help him experience love and laughter once again, when he thought he never would.

I don’t want to give away more, because you must read the book!  But I want to share a passage that has spoken to me.  Arthur is talking to a neighbor who is also grieving and he tells her that:

“When Nola first died, he thought he’d die himself, of the sorrow.  He says he’d read that grief has a catabolic effect and he thought for sure it would take him right out, this immense and gnawing pain, that it would eat him alive from the inside out.  But it didn’t.  It took a long time for him to shift things around so that he could still love and honor Nola, but also love and honor life, but it happened.  And it will happen to her.”

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, I hope you will find encouragement from this little quote.  I pray often for my family, who are each in some level of pre-grieving what may be coming for me, that they will know that God will give them every resource they need to get through the immense and gnawing pain of the grief that they will feel, for awhile, as if it will eat them alive.  And that He will bring them to the place where they can love and honor me, but also love and honor the long, beautiful lives that lay ahead for them.  Yes, every resource will be provided for them—friends, family, neighbors, pastors, their church home, therapists, the joy of a child or grandchild’s love and laughter, the daffodils and tulips blooming, soft, dear bunnies to pet, and best of all, God’s own faithful, loving, continual presence, holding them as tightly as a swaddled baby.

Easter blessings to you all.  He is risen—He is risen indeed!  And therein lies our hope.

Love,

Gabrielle

 
My beautiful girls--Renée and Riley--all dressed up and volunteering at the Fred Hutch Gala!

A little blurry, but this is at Stanley Park and I liked the seagull standing on the statue of the girl in the wetsuit, a modernized version of the little mermaid.

Jericho staying warm until it's time to jump in the pool for swimming lessons!

Adrienne and Daniel celebrate his residency match day with a football-sized calzone!

My love, on our 1.5 hour walk at Ebey's Landing on Whidbey last week!

Celebrating with Daniel on Residency Match Day at UW!  He will be doing his residency in family practice at Valley Medical Center in Renton, where Steve did his residency!  It's a fantastic program!  So proud.

Daniel made this cake for match day--a Spanish almond/orange cake, traditionally decorated with the cross of St. James!

Steve is known at work now for being the doc with the cool socks!  I love these anchor socks, for they remind me that when we are anchored in faith to God, the storms won't blow us away!

Halibut and Chips at Go Fish at Granville Island in Vancouver, BC!

Steve and I made a trip through Lynden, WA on our way home from Vancouver, remembering our lives there when the kids were just one month and 21 months old!





Thursday, March 1, 2018

Sad News

Dear friends and family,

I wish I had better news to report, but unfortunately this entry is a bit of a downer.  At yesterday’s chemo session, my CA-125 spiked to a very worrisome 256.  It had been in the upper 60’s just four weeks earlier.  This is the highest it has ever been.  Even when I was first diagnosed, it was only 160.  After yesterday’s news, I’d love to see that again!  For the longest time, it was all the way down in the 20’s, so this is a big change.  A normal reading is under 35.  Although most of the time, it’s great to be above average, this isn’t one of those times!

So, I guess that new drug, Topotecan, is not working for me.  My doctor wants me to stay on it for a couple more weeks as she thinks it is too early to make changes.  We are hoping and praying that she’s got another drug up her sleeve that will be effective.  We will re-test my tumor marker three weeks from now after two more Topotecans have a chance to work (or NOT work, as the case may be).

The news was a big shock.  We had all hoped that the numbers were going to drop, or maybe go up just a tad, but this big of a change was something none of us expected.  But, in the midst of the bad news, I am thankful for so many things:

- That I have been kept alive this long, when most people with my type of cancer don’t even make it five years.  
- That I have the best family and friends a person could hope to have.  Everyone has been so kind, supportive and caring.  You are all very precious to me, and I hold you in my heart and thank God for you daily.  
- That, in spite of the rising numbers, I actually feel pretty good on many days (though other days it’s an effort to get up and moving).  Good enough, at least, to go for walks with Steve, eat without throwing up, and take advantage of free movies with the Movie Pass that the kids gave us for Christmas…next up: Red Sparrow!
- That tomorrow Daniel and I are going to see Hamilton!  We are soooo excited!  Praying that nobody will cough on me!  
- That Jericho is in swim lessons and loving them!  It’s hard to explain, but it is such a delight seeing this little “learning sponge” pay such close attention to his teacher, and get excited to be in the water.  He is learning new things all the time.  The world is full of wonders for him and he is such a happy kiddo that his joy is contagious.  I love him so much…even more than free movies!  
- Of course, I am also thankful for my faith.  I have said it before, but it bears repeating.  I don’t know how people can face a serious illness without faith in a loving God who watches over us.  He is not a crutch or a pie-in-the-sky aloof god (little “g” on purpose), but the lifeblood that runs through me, my reason for getting up in the morning.  Eyes on Jesus!  No other way.  "For in Him we live and move and have our being."  Acts 17:28

Well, enough for now.  Just keeping all of you updated, through thick and thin.  March came in like a lion.  Hopefully, it will go out like a lamb.

Love,

Gabrielle
At Cannon Beach with my love of 35+ years.


Renée and Riley playing Ticket to Ride with me on my birthday!

Cannon Beach refreshes my soul--my favorite.

Jericho practicing floating hands at swim lessons!

Daniel and me buying fancy New York City cake at a pop-up bakery in University Village!


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Here we go again

Dear Family and Friends,

I normally only do one blog post per month, but I did want to tell you what was decided after we met with my oncologist on Monday.

It turns out that my tumor marker jumped up 20 points this week to an annoying 67 (should be under 30), confirming our suspicions that the cancer is growing again.  This means that the chemo drug that had been working for me, Taxol, is no longer being effective.  However, I needed to stop Taxol anyway, since it was causing so much nerve pain in my hands and feet.

Thus, I am now on a drug called Topotecan, a chemo drug that shouldn’t hurt my hands and feet as much.  Along with this drug, I will continue to take Avastin, which prevents formation of the small blood vessels that feed the cancer cells.  So we will continue our efforts to attack, kill, and starve the cancer cells.  If that doesn’t sound like full on war, I don’t know what does!

I made it through my first treatment on Tuesday with one migraine and two days of nausea, but today, Thursday, I’m doing a bit better.  I will actually attempt to exercise today and make myself eat healthy foods, even though nothing really sounds too appealing. 

I was sad to read statistics this week about ovarian cancer patients who have failed many drugs and then are given Topotecan.  On average, they live only 51 weeks.  But nine out of ten late-stage ovarian cancer patients are dead at five years, and here I am—not dead!  By God’s grace, I am the one out of ten.  As I have said before, we are not statistics to God, but individuals He created with a lifespan that is entirely in His control.  And we need not worry that we will die one day too soon, or one day too late.  When the gates of Heaven open for me one day, and the Lord takes my hand and takes me there, it will be at exactly the right time.  In the meantime, I treasure the gift of each day and work hard at ordering my days in ways that are meaningful and healthy, balancing times with friends and family and exercise, with times of quiet and rest, with prayer, Bible study, a cup of tea, and a good novel!  “All the days ordained for me were written in your Book before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:16

I want to thank you for all your prayers and kindnesses this past week.  I received lovely cards in the mail from Sue, Audrey, Maribeth, and Janet, and a large care package of my favorite chocolate treats from our cousins Rob and Becky in Oregon.  On my actual chemo day Tuesday, I was quite nervous about my first time taking the new chemo drug, as you never know how it will react in your body.  I texted my Bible study friends and they immediately started praying and one of them showed up to visit me at my chemo chair moments later!  And Monday night, with Steve at work while I was sad, emotional, and having a lot to process with the cancer growing and the new drug about to start, Renee came over and she and Daniel had dinner with me, let me cry, and watched Grace and Frankie on TV with me to cheer me up. 

It takes a village to help a person who is battling cancer.  I have the best village in the world.  Thanks be to God, and to all of you!!  I love the poem below, and quote it to myself often.  I hope it will speak to you as well.

Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Love,


Gabrielle

As you know, we love our bunnies, Sunny and Haystack.  So I took this photo with Peter Rabbit for them!  ;-)