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3 Important Characteristics of an Oncologist [Plus a Chemo Update]

11 Feb

My 7th maintenance Rituxan treatment went well on Friday. I was much more tired than I usually am after treatment and had aches like the flu Friday night and Saturday, but am feeling really well now. Ready to take on a new week!

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In spite of the fact that I don’t want to have to go there every eight weeks, once I arrive I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my doctor and the nurses who care for me. They don’t have to be kind, but they are. They don’t have to take the time to listen to me, but they do. They don’t have to be compassionate, but they are. They don’t have to care, but they sure do.

I am reminded with each visit just how grateful I am for Dr. Daniel and how confident I am that he was/is the right choice of oncologist for me. There are certain things I think each patient needs to find in their oncologist. It’s incredibly important to get the right “fit” for you, as an individual. If you are not confident and comfortable with your physician, your treatment, progress, and overall attitude will likely suffer. You do not need to have additional stress added to your life at a time when it is full of stress already.

Naturally, education and knowledge are extremely important, but there are other characteristics of oncologists that matter, too. I didn’t know what I needed in an oncologist until I was well into the process of working with Dr. Daniel, but now that I am 20 months into this journey, I am able to see what it is about him that makes him a good fit for myself and Barry.

1. Approachable Personality. From day one, I’ve felt comfortable mentioning anything to Dr. Daniel without fear that he would dismiss my concern as silly or nothing of importance. He listens to each question and gives a thoughtful answer. He doesn’t overreact, nor does he dismiss things lightly. This has helped me to develop a sense of trust in him because I feel that my care is important to him.

2. Sense of Humor. This might not be key for everyone, but it is for me. I couldn’t deal with a Serious Sam every time I went to an appointment. I need a doc who is serious when he needs to be, but who also accepts my sense of humor and expresses his from time to time. Cancer is serious enough – I need to lighten the load when possible and having my doctor on board for that makes him the right doctor for me.

3. Selfless Attitude. Despite his exceptional education and experience, my care has never been focused on him – how much he knows, or what he thinks. It’s always been about me. My specific situation, concerns, treatment plan, etc. If I have a question about something that is not his strength, he has no problem referring me to someone else who has more expertise or knowledge of the subject. He is careful to constantly share notes with my other doctors, too, making it possible for them all to communicate and coordinate my care.

Your list may be very different, but if you are just starting out on this journey (and I am so sorry if you are!), take time to think about the characteristics you will need in your oncologist and be prepared to find another one if the first one you are given does not meet your needs.

If you’ve been through this before, what characteristics did you look for or appreciate in your oncologist?

Blessings!
♥Rachel

On Birthdays and Aging

7 Feb

First, thanks for your feedback and encouragement on my decision to reduce my number of posts each week. It’s felt good to have a little breathing room in my schedule. :)

I want to wish one of my most faithful readers – my mom – a VERY happy birthday today! Love you so much and am blessed to be your daughter!

Speaking of birthdays, I turned 44 on Tuesday. Does that seem really old to anyone else? I feel like I should be so much smarter, wiser or more mature than I actually am if I’m going to be 44. Grown ups are 44 and I don’t feel grown up. {grin}

growing-older

Birthdays are different now (in a good way). Those of you with cancer know what I’m talking about. Milestones are no longer saved for turning 40, 50, etc. Each birthday is a milestone, a reason to celebrate. A gift. This is true always, but we become more aware of it after a cancer diagnosis (or some other serious health scare). Sad, but true.

It’s no longer about how many gifts I receive or what my family does for me to celebrate the occasion (although those things are wonderful and I don’t want want to give them up!). It’s not about me being the center of attention (although I am very comfortable being in that position – {grin}). It’s about breathing in the day and acknowledging what an accomplishment the previous year has been. It’s about making it through a year of maintenance treatments without a relapse or major issue. It’s about growing more into the person God created me to be. It’s about learning to thrive in the midst of challenges. It’s about living.

This past year has been calm in comparison to the previous one. I’m on cruise control right now, and that’s where I hope to stay for a looooonng time. But it’s still been a challenge. The emotional side of dealing with cancer has been harder this year than my first. In year one, I was busy “doing” cancer – going to appointments, getting tests and scans, receiving treatment, taking it one day at a time. Now, the reality of having a chronic cancer, while not immediately life threatening, can be tough to wrap my head around at times. I don’t want it. I want to stamp “return to sender” on this cancer and put it in the mail. Too bad that’s not an option,  huh?

In spite of being stuck with a package I didn’t want to receive, life is good. I have people to love and I am reminded often of how much I am loved. God gives me reasons to smile each day. Can I really ask for more than that? Nah.

Speaking of cancer, tomorrow is my 7th maintenance treatment! Only five to go after this one. Oh, yeah!!

So, what’s your perspective on birthdays? Love them? Hate them?

Blessings!
♥Rachel

A Treatment Update and Good News

11 Oct

I’m dragging tonight, so this will be short and sweet.

I had my routine 4-month CT on Monday so they could look at my left kidney. The previous two scans have shown a very small amount (2 to 3 mm) of “thickening” which is what they refer to as the lymphoma. This week’s CT showed more clearly just 2 mm, so they consider this to be stable or even slightly better than that. Yay!!

After my appointment with Dr. D today, I had my fifth maintenance treatment. It went smoothly, but I’m feeling kind of icky tonight as expected. I should feel better after a good night’s sleep.

Thanks for all your prayers and love!  It means so much to me.
 Rachel

Treatment Update

26 Jun

I had my third maintenance treatment on Friday.  It was a pretty smooth day – no complications or hiccups.  Just the way I like it.

I am always surprised by two things on treatment days: 1) How quickly Ativan starts to work and 2) How crazy relaxed it makes me feel.  :)  It’s like I have no cares in the world.  They could tell me they were going to stick 50 needles in my arm and I would likely tell them to go ahead.  ha ha!!

Dr. Daniel reviewed the CT results with us and was pleased to see no change in the left kidney from the scan I had in February.  There is a 2-3 mm “thickening” on the surface of my left kidney which measured the same as it did four months ago.  Best case scenario would be for there to be no thickening whatsoever, but I’m happy with no increase in size.  :)

The labs they drew Wednesday before the CT were a little off, but not enough to cause alarm.  My white count was 2.3 and granulocytes were 1.5, which is pretty low but not dangerously low.  When they were 2.0 and 1.0, respectively during my primary treatment, he gave me that icky Neulasta shot.  This time, he decided to re-do the labs on Friday and my white was back up to 3.0 which is acceptable.  It’s supposed to fall between 4.5 and 10.5 so it’s still low but not enough to require any form of intervention.  He believes the low counts are the result of the Bendamustine that I received from August – January because it’s hard on the marrow and said we would keep an eye on it.

I’m also having some kidney issues that aren’t necessarily bothersome, but important enough that I had to mention them to Dr. Daniel.  I honestly didn’t want to mention the symptoms to him, but Barry told me I had to.  :)  I just knew he was going to send me to Dr. Young which would be like sending me to the principal’s office — but he didn’t.  Yay!!  He ordered some more tests and put me on five days of Cipro for a kidney infection.  I can’t say I’m enjoying the Cipro because it makes my stomach upset, but I’ve seen some improvement in the symptoms already so that’s a good thing.

And that’s about it on the cancer front for now.  I’m doing well and enjoying life.  Can’t ask for more than that!
♥ Rachel

Treatment Chronicles

30 Apr

I read this verse Friday morning before going to treatment and thought, “yep, even treatment days.”

This is the day the Lord has made,
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:24

Friday’s treatment was uneventful, which is EXACTLY how we like it.  :)  No reactions, no rashes, no abnormal responses of any kind.  Just me, the Ativan, and the Rituxan getting along nicely.

I don’t usually sleep during treatment because I’m a curious type and I like to watch what’s going on around me.  Besides that, I’m afraid I might start snoring or something obscene like that!

This time, I slept.  In fact, I slept so hard the nurse (Sarah) told Barry she had a hard time waking me up to check my vitals while he was gone grabbing lunch!  I think her words were “I had a really hard time waking her up.  I felt bad because she was sleeping so well.”  At which point, I looked at Barry and he gave that “oh, I know exactly what you mean” grin as he was nodding in complete agreement with Sarah because I am NOT easy to wake up.  It’s a gift.  :)

My labs were pretty good – white slightly low, red slightly slow, hemoglobin on the low side of normal, and platelets were good.  Pretty consistent with what they’ve been throughout this entire process.

Then we met with Dr. Daniel.  I talked with him about the numbness and tingling I’m having in my feet and hands (which according to everything I’ve read is fairly normal following chemotherapy).  The lower half of my left leg is frequently numb and my feet tingle and sting.  My fingers turn extremely white and get so cold that they hurt.  It’s not a constant thing, but comes and goes.

In addition, when I wake up in the mornings my hands are swollen and stiff (almost like what I would expect an arthritic hand to feel like).  After a few hours, they improve, but it’s tough to grip things for a while. It’s a form of peripheral neuropathy that he feels is brought on by the Treanda that I received.  He was surprised, though, that I’m having this now – so long after finishing the Treanda in January.  He told me if it starts to keep me from sleeping (ha!) to let him know.  (Between you and me, I don’t know that’s an adequate gage for my symptoms getting worse because I can sleep through virtually anything!)  I told him if it got noticeably worse, I would call.

I had some mild queasiness this weekend along with heavy fatigue, but nothing horrible at all.  My next treatment is scheduled for June 22 and I’ll have a CT scan of the abdomen on June 20 so he can see how the kidney is behaving.  Which means I get to dreaded drink the contrast.  Oh yum!

I have to show you guys this picture.  It’s a Blue Q zippered pouch that my Aunt Frances sent me and I love what it says:

How awesome is that??  Boy, if that doesn’t describe how I feel, nothing does.  I may be hit, but I can make it.  And I will make it.  Love you, Frances!  Thank you for the pouch.

Thanks so much for your thoughts, prayers, emails, texts, and calls on Friday and this weekend.  I really can’t express how much they mean to me.  This maintenance stuff is pretty routine and not too bad to deal with, but it’s still chemo and I am so grateful that you would take the time to lift up a prayer for me.

Hope your week gets off to a fantastic start!
♥ Rachel

Headed to Chemo Today

27 Apr

It’s that time again.  It seems hard to believe, but it’s been eight weeks since my last maintenance chemo treatment.  This morning, I’m going for #2.  Only 10 more to go!  Hmmm….maybe I won’t think about it that way.  :)

This is me after the past couple of weeks:

source: pinterest

I’ve had such a tough, crazy-busy two weeks that I think I’m actually looking forward to today.  Is that bad??  :)  Chemo drugs aside, it will be nice to sit in that recliner for a few hours with nothing that I have to do other than just be there!  Ha ha!!

Yesterday was interesting – anytime my thoughts wandered forward to today and treatment, I got cold chills and goose bumps.  Funny how we can have such strong physiological reactions to negative experiences so that even the anticipation of it or thinking about it can create a physical response.  Fortunately, today’s treatment shouldn’t be very negative.  It’s just Rituxan, which is the more friendly drug of the two I received during my initial treatment.  It shouldn’t make me sick – just fatigued thru the weekend.  It’s definitely nothing to complain about.

Happy Friday, friends! Hope you have a beautiful day and a blessed weekend.
♥ Rachel

You Can Change the Future

26 Apr

I am so excited about this!  The American Cancer Society is enrolling participants in a cancer prevention research study, the Cancer Prevention Study – 3 (CPS-3).

This is what the American Cancer Society has to say about the study:

By joining CPS-3, you can help us understand how to prevent cancer, which will save lives and give people more of their most precious resource: time.

The criteria to participate is fairly simple.  Participants must:

  • be between 30 and 65 years old,
  • have no personal history of cancer (this does not include basal or squamous cell skin cancer), and
  • be willing to make a long-term commitment to the study which simply involves completing periodic follow-up questionnaires.

I can’t participate, but maybe you can.

CPS-3 enrollment opportunities will take place at selected venues and events and will take about 30 – 60 minutes. Study participation typically involves:

  • reading and signing an informed consent form
  • completing a survey every few years
  • providing a waist circumference measurement
  • providing a small blood sample (similar to a doctor’s visit)

At home you will receive periodic follow-up surveys, which will ask for information on lifestyle, behaviors, and other factors related to your health. Participants will also receive annual newsletters about ongoing research from Cancer Prevention Studies.

For a list of locations in your state where you can enroll visit the American Cancer Society’s website here.

Their goal is to enroll 300,000 people.  This number is completely reachable – with your participation.  :)  Please share this information with your family and friends.  It is important to spread the word and get as many people to participate as possible.

I’m hoping you will give serious consideration to signing up for the study.  Do it in honor, or memory, of someone you love.  Progress is being made every day in the area of cancer prevention and treatment.  Your participation in this study could help uncover insight that might prevent your children and grandchildren from ever getting cancer.  What a gift you would be giving to them!

  • You can help save more lives from cancer.
  • You can contribute to research whose purpose is to better understand the factors that cause or prevent cancer.
  • You can personally participate in research that ultimately eliminates cancer as a major health problem for this and future generations.

YOU have the power to help prevent cancer!  Will you?

I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something that I can do.
– Helen Keller

Have a wonderful day!
♥ Rachel