Anyhow, while we languished in the Pacific, doing our best to make the most of our forced exile, Gabrielle was in contact with her doctors back home. They arranged for her to have some tests the moment she got back. We got in late last Thursday, rolling home after midnight. Six hours later, it was time to get up and head down for an endoscopy (“upper GI” study) to be followed shortly afterwards by a CT scan to see what could be causing her symptoms.
I spoke with the GI doctor just after the test and it was pretty good: no ulcers or significant findings. We had a nervous time over the weekend, waiting for her appointment at 8:00 this morning to go over the CT scan results with her cancer doctor. Unfortunately, the results were less than favorable. In a nutshell, the cancer has spread to the liver with at least three new spots that were not there on the scan in late December. Several lymph nodes in the abdomen have gotten larger as well and appear to be compressing some of the important structures in the area such as the main vein that enters the liver (portal vein). Doctor said that this could also be causing “gastric outlet syndrome” in which she is hungry, but the food just doesn’t leave the stomach all that easily. Can also account for all the horrible back and abdominal pain she has been having.
So, in clinical terms, the cancer is progressing and clearly the two medications she had been on since the first of the year weren’t doing a lick of good. Treatment of cancer involves trial and error. Some drugs are winners, and some are not. New plan is to step things up to a much more aggressive approach with weekly chemotherapy which starts tomorrow. Plan is to get two drugs: Taxol (the one which makes your hair fall out) and Avastin. Had labs today to make sure that her blood counts are good enough to get Taxol, which we are hoping for, as this is the cancer fighting component of her new treatment. Avastin is supposed to cut off the blood supply to the cancer cells, but doesn’t have any cancer killing properties of its own. She has had both medications before. We are a little nervous about the Avastin as that’s the one that has a potential side effect of bowel rupture, which is potentially life threatening, but we do not have a whole lot of other options at this point.
Doctor said she had been in contact with our insurance company (Regence, not like I’m naming any names or anything) and they are being downright persnickety about approving the Avastin, unless it is combined with the Taxol. So far, so good, since she is supposed to get the Taxol as well, but the concerning thing is that if she can’t get the Taxol due to low counts, they may not approve Avastin by itself. When the doctor told us about this, she said it was infuriating that they would not approve it, and plans to go toe to toe with them soon. She is, after all, the expert’s expert on ovarian cancer treatment, not the insurance companies. We are confident that things will work out such that Gabrielle will get the drugs, but it is still very frustrating to deal with insurance issues in the midst of all this. Having said that, am thankful for the insurance that we do have.
This is all quite an adjustment for us, to see such rapid change in the CT scan and see such worsening symptoms in such a short period of time. We are all nervous about what lies ahead, but are confident that with God’s strength we will weather the storms. His grace is indeed sufficient. We appreciate your kind thoughts, prayers, and support. It looks like we are in for a bumpy ride ahead.
I will end by saying that this sad news comes as a shock to all of us. It also seems a tad incongruent in light of how good she looks. Time and again, people have commented on the fact that she appears so healthy. This is a testimony to her iron resolve and determination not to let the cancer define her or bog her down. Being around her a fair bit, I have been so impressed with how she has faced this cancer from the very beginning with an attitude of strength, determination, and sheer guts. She has never let the setbacks get to her. She always has kind words and smiles for the medical staff attending her, and thanks them for their service. She faces pain with a fortitude that I cannot even begin to fathom. Her faith in God and His providence and goodness is unwavering and an inspiration to us all. In short, she is my hero. As she goes into this next battle, I have no doubt that she will continue with the same bravery and courage that she has demonstrated all along.
Even now, as I am finishing this little note, she is sitting across from me, reading passages to me from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity (phenomenal book by the way). She just hit on a passage about the contrast between this life and the next being similar to the difference between cold stone statues and the real living, breathing organisms that we all are. There is a hush about the sculptor’s studio as there is a rumor that some of us statues are going to come to life some day. That will indeed be a glorious day.