Saturday, November 26, 2016

365 Birthdays

Every single day is new - a day that anything can happen.

We were all born and we will all die... 

Cancer or not... Everyday is my birthday. 

Celebrate 365 birthdays every year - if you're lucky.

I'm so fortunate to be alive and so are you! Never regret getting "old(er)" because it is a privilege denied to many people.

Love deeply. 

Laugh often. 

Forgive yourself and others.

Happy birthday and many more!!!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Skating On Thin Ice

My life is broken into a labyrinth of foggy moments. It's not that I'm sad - merely existing as a floating illusion simultaneously here and gone. I'm disappointed at how disruptive the side effects of the new treatment are. Extreme fatigue and intermitent nausea keep me home, quiet, and counting the weeks flying by.  I don't believe that I'm near the End yet too tired to move much or get out, walk, let alone jog or run. 

I have been taking Lynparza/Olaparib for a month. I've run out of medication and refilling the prescription has led to some fumbling and I pray there are no risks of serious withdrawal from abruptly quitting. We hope that the new batch of pills will arrive soon.

Entering my 5th year as a rare statistic makes the unknown danger feel like it's looming closer so I'm constantly looking over my shoulder. Reality endangers my hope and infests my optimism while I'm persistently rewarded with amputation, tumor by tumor, of this affliction. It's a miracle that I'm alive but I'm cursed with fear and uncertainty. I grab at faith and hope like straws. Some days I feel like the only thing sustaining my survival is a melting precipice of ice. 

I spend time reflecting. For my 7th birthday, I had a fabulous party at the local skating rink. Once upon a time, I was obsessed with figure skating. I was often found "iceskating" like my favorites: Dorothy Hamill and Katarina Witt. Twirling down our long driveway on my 4-wheel rollerskates, I became an Olympic champion (at least in my active imagination).  Another favorite champion Olympic skater, Scott Hamilton, is on a journey with brain cancer and experiencing a 3rd recurrence. I was inspired by his faith and metaphorical use of iceskating to glorify the meaningfulness of life especially when forced to face a deadly and unabating challenge such as cancer. The Gold medal-winning figure skater talks about “Get Up,” a new initiative to remind people that everyone will fail at times, but that it’s important to not let it keep you down. I will post the video below.

A graceful figure skater glides across the ice; spinning and leaping without looking down. Every champion skater falls countless times in a blur of spinning color crashing and sliding across slippery ice. A successful skater will lumber and rise countless times on their way to the next championship not knowing which medal will be their last or when they will be forced to retire their battered skates. The only given is how cold the ice is not how hard or how many times they will fall down. How will they choose to get up? Will they smile and wipe the ice crystals from their injured egos? 

If I can still get up from the bed or the couch, is my life still miraculous and worthy? What about when I can no longer physically get up? If my own hope and faith determines the value of my presence, does declining hope and faith signify depreciating value? Quality? I am literally skating on thin ice. 

This is where I stand bracing for the next storm to hit. I've fallen down and so looking up is my only way to grasp at any satisfaction, my life, my destiny... I still believe that I may physically get up and "skate" again. For now I have no choice but to adjust my expectations of life, myself, and achieving a new kind of championship. It's not the End but in the End my falls will not define me. When the final fall is near, I hope to land gracefully and I hope that what radiates from within will painlessly and swiftly melt the ice away leaving a legacy of love, faith, hope, and joy. Inevitably, it's not how or how long you stayed upright on the ice - it's how you fell and how you got up. At the End it's also how about the manner in which you stayed down - how you made life meaningful in any position and any circumstance. 

New Treatment - New Hope

We had our first thunderstorm of the season yesterday and I'm still in Summer. It all went by so quickly; the chemotherapy, the vacation in California with family, the chemotherapy.... the side effects. 

My last chemo treatment was at the end of August and I was ready to be done with the ride up to Jerusalem through the spiraling mountains of Ein Karem, done with the alcohol offending my nostrils and the needle puncturing my chest to access my port-a-cath. Done feeling sick every single day. Done. 

I reached a milestone; completing 3 stints of platinum-based chemotherapy for recurrent metastatic cancer! The chemotherapy did what we hoped!

The celebration of finishing chemotherapy lacks hoopla and jubilee for three reasons:
1. It's hard to party when feeling persistent side effects; exhaustion and EXHAUSTION.
2. I'm pretty sure the anti-anxiety med.s are interfering with my ability to feel.
3. CANCER. Reality is knowing that the cancer is still there and unpredictable. An anniversary-bash for cancer treatment seems fraught with danger and arrogance.

At over $21.00 per capsule 16 times per day - this drug is gold

The upside of this milestone is I'm now a candidate for a newly approved treatment, Lynparza AKA Olaparib, the first oral prescription medicine for women with BRCA-mutated advanced ovarian cancer who have received 3 or more prior chemotherapy medicines In the US these drugs are approved by the FDA for treatment in combination with chemotherapy and privately cost $18,000 per month. In Europe and Israel, women may receive the 16-pills per day as a maintenance treatment; a regiment to be followed for as long as it's beneficial and blood counts are stable. Luckily for me, the full cost of this very expensive drug is fully covered by Israel's national health care. On the receipt of the last purchase the subtotal was over 36,839 shekels = approximately $9700!

Studies have proven Lynparza to be effective in 34% of cases and within those 34% response ranged from 5.6 to 9.6 months. I'm not jumping up and down with exhilaration but we all hope that these drugs, known as PARPs inhibitors, will buy me time. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Forever On Pause: Catching Up

Living with cancer is a reality that is indescribable in many ways. I've made a very emotionally demanding decision to continue living with as much gusto, happiness, and positivity as I can possibly muster. There are plenty of ways that I embody the living with cancer part. It's no phony act. 

It's been a while so lets catch up.

When the cancer first came back and had metastasized to my liver and chest a mere 10 months after completing chemotherapy, in 2013, I was told there was no chance for a cure. I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer. The next step was to try to get it under control with another regiment of chemotherapy. I was devastated. My family was shocked. We didn't want to imagine the possibility of me dying so soon. I had certainly believed that my journey with cancer was behind me. I embraced the hope that the radical surgery and brutal chemotherapy would culminate in cure and I would go on to live the rest of my life creating memories including the cancer journey. I had already decided that the whole cancer nightmare would be just that: a ghastly yet memorable experience of my past.

Obviously I was mistaken.

I went through chemotherapy again. I joined an experimental group - a clinical drug trial, which ripped me off big time!  The cancer came back for a third time. In December, 2015 my right 3rd rib just snapped. While trying to recover, a bout of vomitting refractured my rib in February, 2016. It's been a tough year for me. I found out that despite maintaining my level of fitness, I have brittle bones that can spontaneously fracture. Life goes on. My 14 year old and 13 year old daughters need a mom to confide in. My 10 year old son and my 8 and 6 year old daughters wonder why Mom doesn't play, roughhouse, and pick them up anymore. My husband picks up all the slack by keeping a fulltime job while also filling my old shoes including grocery shopping and doing many of the Mom Things I used to do without a second thought.

By the spring of this year, cancer was everywhere AGAIN - 3rd time: in my liver, throughout my chest. My abdomen filled with ascites requiring the drainage of 15 pounds of malignant fluid via a needle jabbed through my tummy. There was no time to wait. It was skedaddle back to chemotherapy or die. 

In May, 2016, I took my first dose of my third series of chemotherapy and was knocked back with all of the lousy side effects. I promised myself that I would stay strong. No matter how miserable and debilitated I felt I would continue to exercise. I went out for my first run and that night I suffered excrutiating pain the entire night. The next morning my oncologist sent me to the emergency room. The professor of ultrasound determined that an existing inscisional hernia was stragulating my intestines. Ultimately it was actually the cancer that had burst through the hernia in my belly in 4 places, leading to emergency abdominal surgery. I had a few weeks to recover and then back to chemotherapy.


Who knows if the treatment will work? My oncologist encourages me with sincere eagerness. Of course I'm hopeful for a third remission; a miracle - how hard I hope and pray every second of my conscious hours. Nightly slumber is my sweet escape but my beloved husband no longer sleeps.

If you see me out and about I look the same. No one can see the cancer in my body or even in my eyes. I smile. I laugh. I post selfies on social media; at the beach, amidst the yellow sunflowers, out with family or friends. I look happy.

My cancer journey has made me thankful in many ways. Let's start with the fact that I've beat odds more than once. It's been 4 years and while the cancer continues to chase me - I'm alive! I'm mobile. I'm not exactly a suffering, withering pile clinging to life. I'm living with stage 4 metastatic and very persistent recurrent cancer. I'm not the same wife or mother that I once was. My kids have become more independent than I would've wished for them. My family is dependent on the kindness of family and friends more frequently than I ever could have dreamt of.

I'm loved and embraced.

I'm happy nevertheless I'm anxious and restless.

I live however my life is on pause. How could it not be? That snapped rib was a constant disability for months. I'm in the throws of chemotherapy at the mercy of side effects. An emergency surgery was another life-stopper. I wait for blood test results. My cancer markers jumped way up. I hold my breath hoping the markers go down and when they do they're still way above normal and I hold my breath.

Today I had another PET CT scan - I can't remember how many I've had but I've been pumped with radioactive fluids and chugged countless pitchers of iodine fusions. The worst part of everything is not knowing. You wait for answers that are supposed to come today but "call back tomorrow because the results aren't in the computer yet.....". 

Life does go on and my life is on pause - forever.

I feel blessed every day that I wake up - alive! I'm thankful for each and every time any one of my children walks through the front door healthy and complete. I'm grateful for the sounds of my life partner breathing beside me even if he stays awake most of the night tossing and turning.

This is not a life I would wish on anyone. This is my life; my reality. 

I am happy, I am thankful, I am blessed, AND my life is forever on pause.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Reason

One of the touchiest subjects for a person facing challenge is, why? 

If G-d is loving why do good people suffer? Or worsely for some; why do bad people prosper while good people suffer? How is the Universe right to let innocent babies suffer and young people die of cancer?

I'm very careful around the subject of, Why?, and I mostly don't feel the need to justify G-d's tests and decisions. I have very strong faith and I've dissected these troubling issues at length with my soul on long runs outdoors and in the wee hours of the morning as I try to sleep.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. This is a belief that makes many people very mad.

I'm not asking for the dreaded, "you're so strong and G-d will only give you what you can handle...." line. No. No person facing a duel for their life wants to hear that. I can't always handle this! I'm tired of being the smiling, glowing example of a stage 4 cancer girl, and yet I know that I have no choice. The Higher Being Above decided that my family and I would suffer with a life threatening beast and I have faced 3 grueling and painful surgeries, 2 rounds of chemotherapy, and now again, I am in the midst of a third round. 

For the most part, I succeed at putting on a bright face. You don't see me at home writhing in pain as I recover from emergency abdominal surgery. You don't see my young children entertaining themselves without a mother - but with a mother upstairs in bed. Those are the private scenes and some of the most painful ones to have to live through.

So, if I have so much faith, what's the answer? Right? You want to know why I think bad things like this happen to good people. Why does cancer even exist if G-d is so great? Why would G-d hurt some of the best souls ever to grace this earth?

When I was out on my last run, weeks ago, before my surgery, when I came to the end there was a phenomenal and extraordinary sunset overhead. The colors looked as though they had been painted with bright pinks and fluorescent orange with accents of blue and purple. I stopped and took a few photos. Later I saw that friends from all different places and cities in Israel had posted similar photos from different perspectives on social media. It made me think. Across Israel, millions of us were witnessing the same beautiful canvas painted in the sky! In my mind, an act of G-d for all of us to enjoy for whatever reason. A gift from Above. I loved seeing each friend's reaction to the beautiful sunset and I felt connected to them by having witnessed it myself. I thanked G-d and said a prayer in light of His greatness in giving us such miracles to enjoy. This phenomenal sky came to be as I jogged through a nearby village.

As I trudged through the village, my belly was heavy. Something was wrong and I would soon find out that some 3-4 tumors and parts of my intestine had become strangulated in an incisional hernia that I've suffered from for a coulple of years. Half way through my run, I looked up at the sky and actually began to cry. I had already begun chemotherapy for the THIRD time. Would it work? What if I die sooner than could be planned for or even imagined?! I immediately wiped my eyes and swallowed the lump in my throat. G-d, PLEASE! Help me get through this! I felt a surge of warmth and I thought of the friends I have lost to cancer. So many young and vibrant souls taken up to Heaven before their time. I don't want that to be my legacy! 

When I gather my thoughts and think rationally, I come to many conclusions. I feel that G-d loves me. Entire communities of people have rallied around me and my family to uplift us, provide support and meals for us in our need. My family remains staunchly at my side from Israel to America and Australia. I've been dealt hard times and I have had to miss out on precious moments with my children. Yes, I have suffered. I have also chosen not to suffer. I've taken this horrible hand I've been dealt and used it to speak and write and reach out to others. 

I believe that this world isn't so great. We have pain and suffering from sea to sea. We have wars and strife and hatred galore. Why? This great planet of ours is a temporary place for us to be. Each of us has a soul. We are here to practice and prepare for the next world - call it Heaven or whatever you please. The next stage of life will be after death and it will be better! 

The Next World will be best for those who lived well in this world. For the humble and the kind souls who cultivated watermelons and not raisins.... the Next World will be a wonderland!!!

We all have choices. NOT what hand we are dealt, but what we do with that hand. Who knows why I am the recipient of kindness and not the main giver? Who knows why I must suffer in order for others to shower me with kindness? This is the greatest secret of life. Perhaps we will all find out when we make it to the Other Side.

A Day In The Life: Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy - part 2

As I write I'm sitting in what I refer to as the "chemo lounge". It's a large room with recliner chairs filling every bit of space around the four walls. You hear the conversations of all the other patients in every language; mostly Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and a bit of English. Israelis, bless them, have no problem using their cellphones with full ringtone volume - including playing games with the volume on. Volunteers go around with tempting carts of treats, cakes, drinks... Most importantly many blessings, kind words, and smiles.

First I get a small IV of anti-nausea medication, then the first chemotherapy drug, Doxil*, and then Carboplatin**.  This is all part of the chemo experience and I try to take it in stride. I'm the youngest patient in the room amongst 60's and 70's mostly. I feel the others' eyes on me - maybe with a twinge of pity for me? I'm not sure. I'm mostly on my iPhone trying to pass the time on social media and reading articles that pop up on Facebook. There's wifi here however it's slow and I prefer my 4G.

This is the life of a cancer patient.... In the past I came weekly and now my treatments are monthly. I'm praying that I go into remission SOON so that I can get an oral maintenance treatment called: PARPS inhibitors. I'm hoping!

This usually takes the entire day..... So I try to stay cheery. I know I'm acting silly and cancer isn't a joke. The chemotherapy  makes me feel terrible physically - I'm hoping that if I focus on happiness and positivity I can strengthen my immune system. So far it's working - my blood counts usually plummet, which requires me to take daily injections. This time my blood counts have remained stable and that is miraculous!

We all have a choice in how we take our lumps; our peckles.
This is mine....

Chemotherapy - Doxil AKA "The Red Devil"

There are so many side effects that may occur... I have experienced some and not others. Chemotherapy is definitely a toxic treatment, which happens to save lives too. It's a balance between life and death.

*Doxil: side effects
  • Serious and possibly permanent heart-related side effects that may lead to congestive heart failure
  • Some side effects during IV include: flushing, shortness of breath, facial swelling, headaches, chills, back pain, tightness in the chest or throat, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Stomatitis (painful redness, swelling, or sores in the mouth)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hand-foot syndrome: tingling or burning, redness,flaking, bothersome swelling, small blisters, or small sores on palms of hands or soles of feet. In certain cases, this reaction can be more severe leading to serious infections, interfering with walking and other daily activities.
  • Rash
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Low platelet count
  • Anemia
  • Cases of oral cancer have been reported in people who had taken DOXIL® for more than one year. The oral cancer was diagnosed during treatment and up to 6 years after the last dose. 
  • DOXIL® may turn urine and other bodily fluids a reddish-orange color (hence the nickname, Red Devil). This is due to the color of DOXIL® and will go away as the drug leaves the body.

**Carboplatin: side effects
  • Nausea and vomiting usually occurring within 24 hours of treatment 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Severe abdominal pain 
  • Lip or mouth sores: redness, swelling, ulcers
  • Extreme fatigue: inability to carry on self-care activities
  • Muscle cramps or twitching 
  • Change in hearing 
  • Dizziness, confusion or visual changes
  • Taste changes
  • Hair loss
  • Weakness
  • Blood test abnormalities: Abnormal magnesium level 
  • Burning sensation at the injection site 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Constipation 
  • Mouth sores 
  • Infection 
  • Peripheral neuropathy: decreased sensation, numbness, and tingling of the extremities. 
  • Sensory loss
  • Central neurotoxicity including dizziness, confusion, visual changes, ringing in the ears. 
  • Nephrotoxicity AKA kidney problems
  • Hearing loss 
  • Abnormal blood electrolyte levels (sodium, potassium, calcium).  
  • Abnormal blood liver enzymes
  • Heart failure, blood clots and strokes have been reported with Carboplatin use.  
  • Allergic reaction during transfusion: itching, rash, shortness of breath or dizziness 
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising 
  • Black stools, or blood in stools or urine 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Sun Will Come Out...

How does one count down to something that they know is going to bring great pain? I can tell you how… It's called the chemo countdown. On one hand I know that I will probably be suffering for a few difficult weeks after chemotherapy. I also know that after chemotherapy hopefully the cancer cells are being zapped into oblivion! 

Sometimes, in the dark of the night when I am tossing and turning, and trying to fall asleep, I have awake-mares. Nightmares that taunt me about the chemotherapy not working and that's a terrifying reality that I try not to consider. One way that I encourage myself that the chemotherapy is doing its job is by watching the clumps of hair fall out onto my comb each day.

I'm 3 weeks out of an emergency surgery to repair an incisional hernia, which had 3 or 4 sacs of strangulated tumors mixed with incarcerated small intestine entrapped in each sac. Each day I feel better however I'm still wearing a brace and feeling the dull aches and pains from the surgery. Each day is better than the last.

Focusing on each day being better than the last is the way that I make it through each day. I distract myself from negativity by doing positive things. From the cuddles with my kids in my bed to the wonderful outings with girlfriends to the beach.... These precious life moments get me through the pain.

Lately I've been hearing Annie singing in my head, The Sun Will Come Out Tommorrow! I haven't returned to my exercise routine yet, of course, but I've started taking 5KM walks with my beloved husband. I'm so thankful that I'm able to walk and enjoy the evening breeze and sun setting as we walk hand in hand around the nearby village of Yishi together.

I must cherish each day... Not knowing what tomorrow will bring is my reality and the truth is - it's everyone's reality. 

Take it all in. Take a deep breath.... The only way to move is forward or not at all. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Random (and not so random) Acts Of Kindness

Melabev Bat Mitzvah girls baking challahs in my honor and holding up signs that say, "AHAVA EMUNAH" in Hebrew

This is another piece about.... me. About cancer.

I am happy - you knew that, and I prefer to drink my coffee from a heart-shaped mug. I prefer everything heartshaped, marked with "LOVE", pink, rainbows.... you name it.

When I think about my journey, what comes up so many times - in my soul - are the acts of kindness that I constantly experience.

I have friends and neighbors who bake or bring small tokens of their "thinking about you...." gifts. I receive acts of kindness from around the world and in my community.  I receive letters from strangers and aquaintences via Facebook or e mail, and even from celebrities in the form of video clips!

There is an extra special group of girls, in a Bat Mitzvah preparation program, who have been adorable! They baked challahs in my honor for a refuah shleimah (speedy recovery). I had the merit of speaking to them a few months ago about kindness towards the sick.

 I was so impressed by the sensitivity of the questions asked. I'm hopeful for our future, knowing that such thoughtful and special young women are already on the path of good deeds.

The other day, I received a CD of beautiful and calming piano music from a musician I just met! He must've gone through the trouble of aquiring my mailing address to send me the professionally made CD of his piano talent!

The point is not how lucky I am, but how hopeful these acts of kindness make me about my inner circle and the entire world in general. I don't live in a hole... I know there's immense pressure and strife from sea to sea. Here, in my tiny bubble, I live amongst the beauty of rainbows and unicorns. sometimes I'm openminded enough to see it. It's so precious; I must share it with the world!

Pass it on.... random and directed acts of kindness will save the world! Curing the world with kindness, one act at a time... We may all be like tiny pixels or minute grains of sand. We each have the ability to sparkle and uplift our own souls. By making our own souls "juicy", we heal the world.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Back To Black

over 2 liters of relief from my abdomen (actual photo)

I loved her raspy voice from smoking too many cigarettes, and probably doing too much blow. I loved her music before she hit the mainstream radio circuit. She was a seemingly smart girl who could sing the life into a dead tree trunk. Her songs were sometimes dirty and dusty - too old for her youth. Her cancer was addiction and I take one of her hits and make it my own; I keep going back to black. Her back to black was bad and so is mine. Of course, she was Amy Winehouse and I'm me - night vs day. One difference is my black has the ability to kill me into living again. If my poisonous black works, it could possibly give me a year or even two.... time to stall and wait for the next nasty bet.

I've had no time for regret, sore lips licked wet
This is the same old nasty bet 
Me and my head high, and my tears dry 
Get on with my life I try
Chemo takes me back to what we know, so far removed

From all the living I will have to throw

And I tread a troubled track, my life is stalled
I'll go back to bald
I don't want to say goodbye with words
I know I'll die a hundred times 
 It's the same old nasty bet

And I go back to, I go back to sick and bald
I love life so much, it's not enough
Cancer loves death and I love the shore
And life is like a dream
And I'm a tiny pebble rolling against the stream
I never want to say goodbye with words
I will die a hundred times
Life will go on without me 
And I go back to...
We only said goodbye with a glance
I died a hundred times

Life will go on without me
And I go back to...Black, black, black, black,black, black, black,
I go back toI go back to...We only said goodbye with a glance
I died a hundred times
Life will go on without me
And I go back to
We only said goodbye with a glanceI died a hundred times
Life will go on without me
And I go back to bald.... and black

My black isn't a hole - it's mixed with hope. This black is my THIRD time doing chemotherapy. I don't know anyone like me. I've never met a gal who has/d ovarian cancer, that started in her thirties like mine did and is still alive after not one recurrence, but TWO in less than 4 years. She doesn't exist - except for me that I know of. I'm her. It's lonely going back to sick and bald... and black

A few days ago, I had well over 2 bursting liters of malignant fluid drained from my abdomen. On the scale, the next day, I was 12 pounds lighter! It's not the weight (fluid) I lost but the life I gained! I'm like a new person - I can move and I can breathe again!

I'm scared of going back to that horrible place. Chemotherapy. For years people have told me about this chemo drug that they refer to as, The Red Devil. They ask me with a suspended voice, "Did you ever have to DO the Red Devil?!". I thankfully say NO. But now the time has come and I'm doing Carboplatinum along with the famous Devil.... The Red Devil. I'm terrified yet I have hope. 

I recently internalized that hope doesn't mean false expectations for something nobody can promise me. Hope can be any pathway to a better place. A positive place. Hey, I can probably teach a seminar on what hope is! This is a new revelation for me. I once thought that remission meant I was clear of cancer and that was a mistake I won't make again. I will never be clear and clean of the beast that is deathly and nasty enough to take the life-breath out of a human being. I can make each day worth living and I can hope for a better tomorrow.

So, yes, it's back to black.... I'm scheduled to start chemotherapy May 1st.... May Day! May Day! Hope. Love. Faith.

Please keep me in your prayers: Ahava Emunah bat Chava Ehta