Ellen update 09/11/06

It’s Eric’s birthday today! We are now both 40. Whew.

Tomorrow is my first chemotherapy treatment, around midday at Albany Med. I am regarding it with a mixture of relief (for getting started, thus closer to getting it over with) and dread (for doing this scary thing at all). My oncologist and the specialist we consulted at Dana-Farber both feel that TC x 4, Taxotere and Cytoxan administered together once every 3 weeks for for cycles, would work well for me. This is a relatively new protocol for early breast cancer but Taxotere has been in use in metastatic cancer for quite a few years, and adminstered after Adriamycin and Cytoxan (the AC–>T regimen) for the last few years at least. Anyway, that seems to be my best bet since I can’t take Adriamycin again. So tomorrow is the big day. After that my chemo days are October 3, October 24, and November 14. Then, after a suitable break of some unknown length, I start my 33 daily radiation treatments.

Side effects that might get noticeably in my way are, mostly, fatigue, for a few days in that first week after treatment–no guess as to how bad it might be. Maybe not very bad. There are other side effects that are rare. Hair loss is a known side effect–probably after about 3 weeks. My hair is really short now (1/2″ at the longest) but it doesn’t really look much different, so we will have to buzz it to 1/4″ in about a week. Another bad side effect could be dangerous lack of white blood cells, but I am getting an expensive shot of a drug that helps increase the number of white blood cells, I guess once chemo kills them off at first. This means going back to Albany Med for a 5-minute appointment the day after each chemo treatment, but it also means pretty much no chance of a dangerous fever and hospitalization, etc. That would REALLY cramp my style.

Although, I am still looking for that golden opportunity to read all of Remembrance of Things Past. 🙂

I am going to the doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and have been attempting mediation, reading some stuff, and doing without caffeine. Acupuncture is in my future. My goals for approaching this the TCM way are first, to support my body through chemotherapy, and second, to work on prevention–especially since traditional Western medicine doesn’t really have much to offer me there. I have also been slowly incorporating some herbal supports into my life: a mushroom tonic (anti-tumor, pro-immune system) and a plan for a liver-supporting tea (for chemo) and some other herbal cancer-fighter foods, including flax seed oil, shiitake mushrooms, milk thistle seed, and dark chocolate (really! I looked it up on Medline!).

The second-opinion visit ended up happening right when my doula clients were having their baby in Springfield. I was with them for 2 hours before my appointment (in Boston), then back shortly after the baby was born. It was a great birth with my doula partner Sarah there and all were happy. It is so important for me to keep up with my birth work of various sorts throughout this fall–I am determined to not let what I feel really called to do go by the wayside. Maybe everything else will go there instead. Besides a birth or two between now and the end of October, this fall I am going to one board meeting (for the birth-center accreditation organization I belong to), one midwifery conference that feeds my soul on many levels, and to the American Public Health Association meeting to present our Web system for Midwives Alliance of North America. I am also somehow applying for certification as a Lamaze instructor (instead of Bradley) which means taking a 3-hour test late in October, as well as recertifying with DONA, my doula organization. And the local hospital wants me to teach there, maybe, and design a new curriculum for them that suits me, by January. So: a few births if I’m lucky, some travel along the East Coast, some paperwork, an exam, some curriculum-writing…in between chemo treatments of course.

The second-opinion oncologist, Judy Garber at Dana-Farber, says she thinks there is an almost 50% chance of me having the BRCA1/2 mutations. Hmmm. More on that later.

School has started, finally, and I see a more structured, less scattered routine on the horizon, which is a great relief. The boys are doing pretty well. Eric is grappling with big issues in his work and projects, as well as supporting me and going to appointments right and left. This is so much something that affects both of us rather than something that is about just me. We are getting enough help with day-to-day stuff, and treats like massages!, which has been wonderful, and so freely offered from so many that it makes me wonder if I would have the energy to be willing, were on the other side of the equation. Hope so.

Thank you so much for your e-mail, mail mail, calls, holding us in the light, and thoughts.


Ellen Harris-Braun
Certified Doula, DONA / Childbirth Educator
518 781 0465