GOG 255 Trial

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Happy New Year’s Eve Eve, everyone!

I wanted to update you all on my journey as Mouse #8 in trial codename Stayinremissionforever.

My most recent shot was two Fridays ago. It was injection number three of either:

1. super-immune-boosting Chilean tree bark alone or

2. tree bark plus anti-tumor vaccine.

I arrived at the Cancer Center to find out that my white cell count (taken two days prior) was too low to receive the shot. During chemo treatment, low white cells just means you simply delay treatment a week. But when you’re part of a study, low white cells means you’re kicked out of the program. Just like that. No delays.

I was told I would have my blood redrawn and that there was a good chance the white cells had increased in the previous forty-eight hours. I had a gut feeling that all would be well. But still.

The Doc and her assistants asked me to get dressed and go straight down to the lab. I squeezed back some tears, and then some leaked out. The ladies were sympathetic, which caused more leakage, but I avoided a gusher by repeating my internal gusher-stopping mantra, “Whatever happens, there’s Bravo TV tonight.”

I went downstairs to the lab and had my blood drawn. Then I sent out a few panicked texts and emails, then went across the street for some Pho to calm my nerves. I had an hour to wait for my results. I decided I would defer any freaking out until after I had the results, and only if they were bad. Of course, right? But easier said than done.

I sat in the tiny Pho restaurant which was (honestly) called something like “My Grandfather’s Comfort Food Cafe”. I sympathized with the soggy umbrellas slumped in the corner by the door. The rain sheeted down outside.

After an eternity, I finished my soup and went back to the cancer center. It had only been thirty minutes. I called the coordinator to make sure she had my cell number right. Just in case. She did.

A few minutes later, the coordinator called back to tell me my white cell numbers were good. We were back on. I’d never been so excited to be getting a shot that hurts worse than a bee sting.

I headed upstairs with a huge grin, happily prepared to wait the half hour necessary for the shot substance to THAW and then another half hour for the nurses to observe me after the injection.  All went well. In fact, Doc C actually came up to the infusion room to let me know that, not only were my white cell numbers good, but my immune system seems to be benefiting from the shots.

Yay!

So now I’m in the middle of a three-week reprieve from all doctor appointments. Then the shots will start again. I’ll be getting them once per month.

For now, we are holiday central here in Sugartown. Our rooms and walls are soaked with the good energy and warmth of guests and visitors. Little J has had nothing but time to play with friends and family. Dennis and I have even gotten dressed up and gone on a few dates (thanks to Debbie and Grandma).

It’s turning out to be a joyous end to an adventure-filled year, friends. I hope you’re ringing in the new one with the ones you love.

Love, love, and love,

Jennifer

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Traveling Mouse by Maggie Rudy

Tomorrow I start my journey as Mouse Number 8 in the ovarian cancer maintenance trial known as GOG 255.

The first step is for me to get an MRI of my chest at 8:00 am. I’ve never done this before. They say I’ll be slid into a long tube and hear loud banging. I’m praying for calm and zero claustrophobia.

Next week, I have an MRI of my abdomen and pelvis, then some blood work.

The following week, I get my first injection of the mystery substance. We know for sure I’ll get an immuno-boosting substance made from a tree bark. And perhaps I will also get the vaccine that will keep the OC away. Fingers crossed.

Dennis and I are feeling good about the trial. The fact that the substances are non-toxic, immuno-supportive, and helpful, rather than harmful, gives us relief and hope.

In the mean time, as Dennis’s 40th nears, I’m thinking of chocolate cakes and little surprises. I’m thinking of guests, of family and friends, of clinking glasses and celebration, of presents and smooches and the like.

Tomorrow is two years since the cancer part of our story began, a day before his birthday. This year, we’ll let the healing and the cheering blur out that memory, let the sun burst through that cloud that hangs over the day before, let the anticipation of celebration mark the day instead.

Chocolate frosting smooches and hugs,

Jennifer

*more adorable meeses at http://mouseshouses.blogspot.com/

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Have you ever seen the film, The Double Life of Veronique? It’s by Polish director, Krzysztof Kieslowski, who’s probably best known for his amazing trilogy, Three Colors: Red, White, and Blue.

Veronique tells a fantastical story of two women: Veronique, who lives in Paris, and Weronika, who lives in Poland. Physically identical, the two women live parallel lives but haven’t met. It’s a great film that uses magical realism in a way that pushes an uncanny story through a sieve of supernatural believability. Supernatural believability? Wha?

Get this.

I have a friend whose name sounds like Maria. We are close in age and live in parallel cities. We aren’t identical, but if you fused our features, we’d look a little like Irene Jacob above (mostly because of Maria’s Eastern European beauty).

Dennis and I walked into my gynecologist’s (let’s call him “The Prince”) office on November 17, 2008. We left in tears over the news that I had a late-stage version of ovarian cancer and needed surgery and chemo asap. Four days later, Maria and her husband walked into the same office. The Prince gave them the same news.

On November 24th, a cracker-jack surgeon from UCSF and The Prince spent five hours removing the cancer and many parts from my body. Two days later, the same two doctors did the same for Maria. She was put in the hospital room two doors down from mine. I remember walking past her room with Dennis and his brother Mike when I was just barely ambulatory. I heard Maria’s husband talking in a hushed tone on the phone while Maria slept.  “It is at least stage III,” he said in a Russian accent. “They said they usually never catch it earlier than that.” I knew what he was talking about.

Two weeks later, I went to see The Prince. I told him that malignant fluid had moved into my lungs and that my cancer was now Stage IV. But I wasn’t worried. The chemo was going to work. I knew even then. He gasped  in amazement. The Prince said the exact same thing had just happened to Maria. Fluid had gone into her lungs, too.

Six months later, I finished my treatment, and as many of you know, enjoyed a year-long remission, cancer free. In May of 2010, I was back at the Cancer Center, getting chemo for my recurrence, through my fancy port. The woman next to me was looking at me like she knew me.

“Are you Jennifer?” she asked.

“Are you Maria?” I answered.

Her cancer had returned around the same time mine had.

We stayed in touch and became friends during our synchronized treatment cycles. Halfway through treatment, I called her and said, “Listen, my hair got too thin from the Gemzar, so I shaved it off on Friday. I wanted you to know before I see you at chemo on Thursday.”

“I did, too,” she said.”On Friday.”

Of course.

We both responded very well to the chemo, a combination of Gemzar and platinum, our disease retreating as quickly as it came. We are both feeling stronger day by day in our second remission. And we are both starting another parallel journey together, a vaccine maintenance  trial at UCSF.

Here’s how the trial will work. Fifty percent of all patients will get a general immune-stimulating agent made from some kind of Chilean tree bark. Fifty percent of patients will get the bark agent plus a vaccine designed to keep ovarian cancer from returning.

“I had to take my cat to the vet,” Maria said to me recently.

“I did, too! Last week!”

“Of course.”

“I hope we both get the vaccine.”

“Me, too!”

Hugs, and Go Giants!!

Jennifer

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Clarity


Ahh, there’s that silver lining.

Yesterday I found out that, due to the bone-crusher shots, my white cell count was high enough to do chemo.  There will be no seventh round because, as Doc G states, “By these delays we see that we have reached toxicity level.” That leaves ONE more infusion on to go. A few more white cell shots will be given to make sure we can get the last chemo done on Monday, in time to rest up for aloooha time on the 15th.

After I return, I’ll have a scan then start on one of THREE possible maintenance plans. Option 1) is Avastin, a non-chemo drug which cuts off blood supply to developing tumors. Preliminary study results for Avastin for maintenance are good-ish. Option 2) is  a vaccine trial at UCSF. Everyone in the trial will get a  immune-boosting drug to help stave off a recurrence. Some in the study will get the ovarian cancer vaccine in addition to the immune-booster. Option 3) is at my favorite place, the California Cancer Center. It involves a 50-50 chance of getting a placebo or a vaccine on its own.

We’ll see. That leaves a lot to think about. For now, we’re just focusing on getting through these last two weeks of chemo.

Hugs, and a Happy Anniversary shout out to Dennis. Remember when we danced to this song eight years ago while Eric played?

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