Category: Health


The sun rose this morning at 3:49, and will set 20 hours 15 minutes later, a minute after midnight tomorrow morning. It’s still rainy: 4.58” (well over twice the July normal) as of July 12, with more yesterday and even more predicted for next week. If this keeps up we could set a record for July as well as June.

The raised beds with herbs and mint are riotously green, and the mints especially are crowding each other out. The delphiniums were a little beaten down by all the rain, but they are now tied up. The tallest are close to 12’ high, and the flowers are just starting to open. I don’t actually grow peonies but they are one of the few commercial crops up here and are starting to show up at the Farmers’ Market. Seems that the blooming period here, in July, is at a time when there are very few parts of the world peonies are in bloom. Result? Several people are growing them for the international cut flower market.

My hair finally grew back from chemo to the point that I got a haircut. I thought all the curl would be cut off, but a little wave still remains. I’ve included some before and after shots, which you can compare with the ones last fall.


Cancer Survivor

Cancer 6:10:14I’m getting tired of being a cancer survivor.

Oh, not the survivor part; that’s definitely preferable to the alternative. And in many ways I’ve been very lucky. I have excellent health insurance, awesome doctors who have managed to diagnose me early every time (and that’s not easy with ovarian cancer) and surgeons who were deft enough that all three times I’ve had clean margins on the pathology.

But three times?

This is not a matter of recurrence or metastases. I had breast cancer in 2008, spent most of the summer on chemotherapy and the winter on radiation therapy. No recurrence.

Then last summer I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Stage 1c, and I know I was very lucky that my doctor caught it. I had assumed that my difficulty in urination was due to diabetic neuropathy, but my doctor suggested one quick ultrasound test in her office. Two days later I had an appointment at the Women’s Cancer Center in Anchorage. (Keep in mind that problems with urination can be an early symptom of ovarian cancer, which is often symptomless until it is too late.) This tine the chemotherapy (precautionary) was much more severe, and I wound up spending about 18 hours a day sleeping for the third through fifth days after each infusion. Since both cancers were “women’s cancers” I was checked for the BRCA gene, but I have neither of the known dangerous variants.

Except a routine diagnostic mammogram (because of the previous breast cancer) showed up a very small suspicious spot in the other breast, which a biopsy showed was cancerous. I was just getting my hair back from the last time around! Surgery again (partial mastectomy because I wanted minimal impact on my type 1 diabetes) and I just “graduated” from radiation therapy on that one. I’ll be on Herceptin® infusion for most of another year, though my doctor didn’t want to give me any stronger chemotherapy right after the one for the ovarian cancer. I had a port installed (outpatient surgery and they didn’t even knock me out all the way) since I would be getting weekly infusions for a year, and my veins are getting hard to find.

A couple of things I want to say from the viewpoint of someone who’s dealt with cancer:

(1) Keep exercising as much as possible. With my balance so poor, it’s mostly stationary bicycling for me, but I kept up at least an hour or two a day throughout radiation therapy. I really think it helps.

(2) They tell you radiation therapy can produce sunburn-like effects on the skin. Effects, yes, but they’re more like zombie skin. Rotting rather than peeling, and downright painful (and itchy) near the end. So glad that mine’s over and I can put ointment on the skin!

(3) The Herceptin® is a breeze compared with either of the other chemotherapies.

A to Z Reflections

This was my second A to Z challenge, and my first time as a minion (one of Stormy’s Helpers.) It’s also been an April with a lot more to do than I expected, with the result that I didn’t get as much out of it as I hoped, because I wasn’t able to put as much in as I’d planned.

When I signed up I knew I’d be taking adult classes (see O post) in April, and I planned for that. I also planned to pre-schedule my posts, I decided on my theme and a number of letters before I signed up, and I had several of the posts written and scheduled before mid-March.

I had breast cancer several years ago, and as part of the follow-up to that I get regular mammograms. Last summer, shortly before the first writing conference I’d scheduled, I was diagnosed (early, thank goodness) with ovarian cancer. I wrote a number of the 2013 Blogathon posts from my hospital bed, but the surgery went well, with good pathology results. I missed the conference (was in the hospital) and chemo pretty well destroyed my usual summer gardening. But by March my hair was growing back and I was feeling chipper again.

Then shortly after volunteering as a minion I had my regular mammogram: another breast cancer, this one on the other side. I had surgery before the Challenge started, again with excellent pathology (1a) and clean edges. I’m currently (since mid-April) getting radiation five days a week, and I’ll be on weekly Herceptin for the next year.

I am not particularly worried about any of the three cancers. They’re apparently unconnected, and I am not positive for either of the known BRCA mutations. But I am very annoyed at effectively losing a good part of another summer, and sorry also that I could not visit as many blogs as I had hoped. I did find some new blogs to follow, and picked up a few new followers myself.

I apologize for missing so many of you. I’ll continue checking out blogs following mine on the list during the A to Z Road Trip.

A to Z Road Trip

Happy News: CT Scan

ClearI had a CT scan with contrast yesterday, and I’m happy to report that there is no sign of the ovarian cancer recurring. I’ll probably be followed for another 5 years, at least (possibly for the rest of my life) but at the moment my only problem is the amount of liquids I’m supposed to be drinking to flush the contrast dye out of my system. Not to mention the inevitable side effects of drinking some 5 liters yesterday, with a 3 liter goal for today.

Aside from a cold head (I’m still nearly bald) and continued loss of balance, I’m feeling fine. Should get back to the final editing of the trilogy soon.

Chemo, Hair Loss, and Wig.

I went to the beautician who cuts my hair Tuesday, for advice on how to clean and style my wig. She trimmed what was left of my hair. and showed me how to shampoo and style my wig. The results?

Not much hair left, but it seems to have stopped coming out.

Not much hair left, but it seems to have stopped coming out.

I think the wig helps a little right now.

I think the wig helps a little right now.

A Chemotherapy Fashion Show

Portrait, Sue Ann Bowling

Author Sue Ann Bowling in July 2009

I’ve always been too lazy to do anything to my hair that requires upkeep, so I’ve just gone from brown to gray without ever trying blond, red, black or frosting. But at this point in my chemotherapy I have a few strands of (mostly white) hair combed over a pink scalp, and I thought, “Why not try out a different appearance?” The local cancer center has all kinds of wigs and turbans available, so I spent a morning trying them on. Most were totally unstyled, and I tried them on only for length and color. Most – how can I put it? – just weren’t me. I used  Photo Booth on my laptop to record some of the results.

In self defense, the photo at the left gives a little better idea of how I look when I’m not undergoing chemotherapy and when the photo is taken by a professional rather than by my computer! (Not to mention when my nose and my forehead are not skinned, and whatever the laptop photos are doing to my skin tone.)

I should mention that all of these photos have been lightened and warmed in color to compensate for the lighting.

2 mod3 mod4 mod5 mod6 mod7 mod8 mod9 mod

10 mod

Almost. This one came out in second pace.

final

But when it came right down to it, I liked the highlighted one better. It still needs styling.

Lilies 8:11:13The sun rose this morning at 5:29; and it will set 16 hours 51 minutes later, at 10:20 this evening. Solar height at noon is now below 40°, we are still losing almost 7 minutes a day, and in a few days we will start having nautical night (sun more than 12° below the horizon) again.

We’re still running warm and dry for the season, with 3 more 80 degree days since last week, and only a trace of rain. Tuesday and Wednesday might hit 80 again, but mid-70’s are still pretty warm for this time of year in Alaska. I really hope we get more precipitation than the isolated showers predicted; I’m tired of smoke.

Mint&herbs8:11:13Those lilies not badly stunted by the lack of water early on are opening, the zucchini is growing faster than I can eat it, and the mint is running riot in the raised bed, thanks to my hauling the hose around. This is increasingly difficult; my balance has deteriorated until I don’t dare water without a cane.

No pictures of me this week; the volunteer at the cancer center wasn’t there Friday. I need to go in again for labs today, so maybe today. My sister thinks I should go for red hair. I’m going to have little enough of my own by the end of the week!

Update 2:30 pm: My hematocrit and cell count have changed enough I won’t have to have a transfusion, and the volunteer at the support center was in so I spent the time between blood draw and results trying on wigs. Red and blond just didn’t work with my skin tone, but I now have a highlighted brown that I rather like. I took my laptop and photographed several I tried, so I’ll have a “chemotherapy fashion snow” on the blog Thursday..

Cancer, Chemo and Quilts

Quilt Champion 8:3:13The chemo seems to be following the same pattern as last time. Maybe I can at least count on it to stay consistent.

Friday is infusion day. All five hours of it. Not so bad, if boring.

Saturday I feel fairly well, but my basal insulin goes crazy, up to twice normal. My balance is getting shaky, but I feel well enough to spend a few hours at the fair, with the aid of a rolling walker. Took in the quilt show, but the horse show grounds were too rough to handle.

Sunday the need for basal insulin crashes – 90% normal. By 7 I’m ready for bed, and I sleep until 9 Monday morning, and crash again after breakfast.

Not that I have an appetite, but I drag myself out of bed for an unwanted snack and nausea meds by 1. Joints and feet hurt. If I continue to follow the pattern of the last round, my insulin needs will rise again Monday, but I won’t feel like getting out of bed until Thursday. I did get dressed this morning, though — it has not rained, the forecast is close to 80 today, and I have to water.

Anyway, here are a couple of quilts from the show.Quilt 45 8:3:13

delphiniumThe sun rose this morning at 5:06 am, and will set 17 hours and almost 40 minutes later, at 10:45 this evening. We’re still losing a little more than 6 minutes a day, but the noon altitude is starting to decline faster – it will be down below 42° today. Civil twilight (sun more than 6° below the horizon) has been back for about a week, though we still have no nautical twilight.

It’s been a warm summer after our cold spring, and while not a record, so far we’re in second place to 2004. We have, however, set a new record for the number of days with temperatures of 80°F or warmer during the summer: 31 as of Thursday, August 1. Friday and Saturday were also above 80°, though it now appears to be cooling off with some showers expected. I hope so; things badly need water and I’m not going to be feeling up to watering for the next few days. In spite of the heat, blooming is behind last year; none of the lilies have opened yet and the delphiniums are just coming into full bloom.

ADA kerchief

ADA kerchief

My favorite (though very old) gardening hat

My favorite (though very old) gardening hat

This one was purchased for a boating trip. Looks nice, but not as comfortable.

This one was purchased for a boating trip. Looks nice, but not as comfortable.

The pre-meds knocked me out when I intended to try wigs while in for chemo Friday, so I don’t have any pictures of wigs. I am including a few with the head coverings I have, and one of me au natural

Current appearance without head covering.

Current appearance without head covering.

(though I expect it will be very temporary, both in terms of what hair I have left right now and of the overall loss.) It might even come back curly.

Other Uses of DNA

DNA Molecule

A schematic of a DNA molecule. (Public Domain image from Wikimedia commons.)

So far I’ve been talking strictly about my results from the genographic project. This project is aimed at clarifying the history of the human species, but this is far from the only way human DNA sequencing is used.

Genographics focuses on mutations that are relatively old and allow us to track the spread of the human species around the planet. There are two other commercial DNA testing services that use a similar method of testing but are focused on slightly different uses. All use y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA as well as the 22 sets of autosomal chromosomes, and all look for mutations specific to specific groups. But Ancestry.com uses a set of relatively recent mutation that are most useful for finding recent relatives, while 23and me puts more emphasis on testing for genes know to be associated with health conditions. All three are useful adjuncts to conventional genealogical research, especially for those who have hit a “road block” with a known ancestor of unknown background.

But genealogy is far from the only use of DNA analysis. At the other extreme of price and usefulness is whole genome sequencing, where all 23 pairs of chromosomes are sequenced, letter by letter. This is expensive and rarely done, though the price is dropping fast. We are still talking thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars, not something to do for curiosity alone! However, such sequencing may be useful in finding an abnormal gene in a person with a health problem that cannot be pinpointed, and through knowing what the normal gene does even leading to a cure.

A far more common approach to health studies using DNA is based on the fact that many diseases are closely associated with specific genes. Finding such genes may aid in diagnosis, or (if the genes are found in prospective parents) may lead to counseling about the advisability of having children.

I’m running into this right now. There are a couple of variants of the BRCA gene that lead to an increased chance of breast and/or ovarian cancer, especially in relatively young women. I’ve had breast cancer, though at an age where it’s common. My recent (like this month) ovarian cancer has no obvious relationship to that breast cancer, from which I appear to have recovered, and the ovarian cancer was caught early enough (stage 1) that the chemotherapy I’ve been prescribed is mostly precautionary. But could I have a general susceptibility to this class of cancer? If so, would it be worthwhile removing my remaining breast tissue?  This is why genetic counseling should accompany or even precede this type of testing.

Finally, there are all kinds of forensic genetic tests. Like the genealogical tests, these are generally incomplete and depend on markers—regions where the DNA is known to vary markedly among people. I am no expert in these tests, but they have cleared more than one person on death row.

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