Tuesday, April 18, 2017

April Showers

Dear Family and Friends,

Well, I have some good news and some bad news, so I think I am supposed to ask you—which do you want first?  Since I can’t hear your answer, let’s just start with the good news!  I recently received the results of my CA125 ovarian cancer tumor marker test and my tumor marker dropped from 166 to 59 after just my first three chemotherapy treatments!  That's more than 100 points lower!  The two drugs I’m on must be doing something right, and we are praising God for this good news!

Now for the bad news.  Yesterday was chemo day number six, and the first news I got was that my blood counts were below the levels required to receive chemotherapy.  My neutrophils, those precious little white cells that fight infection, were at .7, and are supposed to be at 1.0 to be safe to get chemo.  A healthy person’s neutrophil range is 2 to 7.  And my platelets, the wonderful cells that allow your blood to clot if you get a cut or a nose bleed, were at 78, and to get chemo they should be at 80.  A healthy person’s platelets would be in the range of 150 to 400.  No wonder my nose has been bleeding all week!

Despite the lower than optimal counts, the doc still gave me the chemo, for she deemed the risk of me getting a life-threatening infection or bleeding to death as less than the risk of withholding the chemo and letting my cancer grow.  As soon as I’m done writing this Daniel will give me one of those nasty stomach shots (Neupogen), and I must continue them for a total of five days to force my bone marrow produce more blood cells.  Two weeks ago when I had these shots for five days I experienced terrible bone pain for that week, so you can imagine I’m not looking forward to how I will feel for the remainder of this week.  But onward I will go.  A dear friend just gave me a necklace with a silver charm that is etched with the word “Brave.”  Will see if I'm worthy to wear the necklace or not this week!

The other piece of bad news I received yesterday is that I am no longer a candidate for the drug Niraparib, which we had prayed the FDA would hurry up and approve, and which they did just approve.  Unfortunately the FDA only approved it for ovarian cancer patients who are “platinum sensitive.”  I thought I was platinum sensitive, as that was my original diagnosis—“platinum sensitive ovarian cancer.”  But since the carboplatin chemo I was on last year stopped working for me in December, as shown by dramatic disease progression, they now deem my cancer to be “non-platinum sensitive.”  I hadn’t realized this and had to shed a few tears yesterday over this disappointing news.  But now the tears have dried and I ask you to join us in praying for new treatments to be discovered, to pass their clinical trials, and to be available to me, and other women, in the future.  And please pray that God will keep me going on my current double chemo regimen until something new comes on the horizon.  Thank you!

When you have a chronic or life-threatening illness, you are extra susceptible to depression.  And why wouldn’t you be?  It IS depressing to feel unwell day after day and to have to think about and tend to one’s health all the time, not to mention if you also have to ponder and prepare for the possibility of a shortened lifespan.  Today I read a brief devotional on depression by a woman named Mary Southerland, and I want to share a part of it with you:

“Anything or anyone that makes me desperate for God can be counted as a blessing. Honestly, I hate that truth – but I also love it. God has used it to make my life a living illustration of the wonderful horrible certainty that His power shines best through the broken places. He is drawn to broken people. Broken people are why He came.”

When I can’t be in crowds or hug people I love because I have no immune system, when a drug that held promise to extend my life turns out to not be an option for me, when my bones are about to ache 24/7 for the next five days, and when I can’t plan a trip further out than a month because I don’t know how my health will be—these are the things that make me desperate for God.  And how timely for me, that just two days ago we celebrated Easter.  A day in which I am reminded that God is alive and with me always.  “Lord, please let your power shine through my broken places this week.  Thank you that you came for broken people, like me.  And please send your strength, hope, peace, and comfort to all my family and friends experiencing their own brokenness this week.  Amen.” 

Love,
Gabrielle
 
When you are feeling sad, dress up goofy and get your picture taken, then look at it several times a day.  Sure to produce a big smile!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Each night I pause, remembering, some lovely, precious thing

Dear Family and Friends,

I hardly know where to start, as so much has happened since my last post.  But let’s just start by saying “Adios” to my hair!  Yep, after just one month of my new double chemo, my hair is falling out by the fistful and making a huge mess everywhere.  Thus, today at 5:20 PM, I have an appointment to have it shaved off.  Poor Jericho!  When he sees me on Saturday, he will wonder who the bald-headed woman is and where did his Ga Ga go?!

Yesterday I finished chemo number four, which almost didn’t happen.  My neutrophils, the part of your white blood cells that fight infection, were only 1.17, and the cutoff for it being too risky to get chemo is 1.0.  Yikes!  My doctor was out yesterday, but today she will call and tell me to start the neupogen shots in my stomach for four to five days in a row this week.  Neupogen is the drug that helps your bone marrow make more neutrophils.  The shots hurt and bruise your abdomen, but the worst part is that neupogen makes your bones ache as it stimulates your bone marrow to work harder to make blood cells.  This week will be challenging, but as I’ve shared so many times, even through the hardest parts of battling cancer, God seems to send an equivalent amount of joy to make my days not just survivable, but truly worth living.

For instance, our beautiful daughter, Renee, got engaged to her long-time love and best friend, Riley, a week ago!  We are overjoyed to welcome Riley to our family, and I am thanking God that He has kept me alive to attend my daughter’s wedding!  Do Mother-of-the-bride dresses have to have sequined sparkly things all over the fabric?  Wig or hat?  Heels or shoes I can dance all night with?  These are the musings in my head this week as my mind turns to wedding planning! 

In other news, the new cancer drug we have been waiting for, and that many of you have joined us in praying for, slated for fast track approval by the NIH by June 30, got approved EARLY—this very week!  It is designed exactly for my type of ovarian cancer, and while not able to cure the cancer, it is shown to extend life expectancy in most women who took part in the clinical trials.  We are praising God for this answer to prayer!  The oncologist won’t start me on Niraparib automatically, but will wait to see how my current drugs are working when I get my next scan on May 19th, and then will decide if it’s time to start the new drug or not.  But knowing it is approved and on the market, if/when I need it, is a tremendous blessing.

Another blessing has been that even after just four treatments, the pain in my stomach and back have decreased to barely noticeable most days!  I have been eating normal amounts of food again and have been able to walk three to four miles or work out on our elliptical machine about four days a week.  So thankful for these simple pleasures I took for granted for so many years. 

Other joys have included teaching Jericho to make our famous chocolate chip cookies, Daniel turning 27 on April 1 and finishing his arduous surgery clerkship the Friday before, and Steve fixing our leaky kitchen faucet.  Oh, and have you noticed—things are finally blooming (like our pink dogwood tree and tulips)!

My dear Uncle Roger, who just lost his own daughter, my cousin Andrea, to cancer, sent me a wonderful poem this week about the coexistence of joy and adversity, and how even through the worst of times, splashes of joy appear to make life so worth living.  Here is the poem, given to him by a friend in 1964, author unknown:

“The day will bring some lovely thing” –
I say it over each new dawn –
“Some lovely, precious thing to hold
against my heart when it is gone.”
And so I rise and go to meet
the day with wings upon my feet.

I come upon it unaware,
Some sudden beauty without name:
a snatch of song, a breath of pine,
a poem lit with golden flame;
high tangled bird notes keenly thinned,
like flying colors on the wind.

No day has ever failed me quite –
Before the grayest day is done,
I come upon some misty bloom
or a late line of setting sun.
Each night I pause, remembering,
some lovely, precious thing.

And I will add in closing, “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound; let the plains be joyful and all that is in them.  Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice before the Lord who comes, who comes to govern the earth, to govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness.”  Psalm 96:11-13

Love,
Gabrielle Dudley

Daniel and girlfriend, Adrienne, serenading us with "City of Stars" from the movie, "La La Land!"

Steve and me on a rainy day walk at Alki, followed by our favorite pizza at Pegasus!

I could look at this photo all day.  Renee reading Thomas the Tank Engine books to Jericho ("Thomas, more Thomas")!

After doing all the adding of ingredients and stirring himself, Jericho squeezes the scooper, dropping his cookies onto the pan to bake!

My beautiful girls--Renee and Riley--at their engagement celebration at Lantern Brewery!

Daniel and me by the Montlake Cut on his birthday when we went with Steve to see the cherry blossom trees at the UW Campus!

My handsome, 27-year-old, April Fool's Day "baby"--never too old for his Winnie the Pooh birthday banner!