Thursday, August 1, 2013

IVAC At-Home Recovery

Welcome, August. I’m proud to say I made it through July – barely, but I made it.

I’ve been home since last Thursday when I was deemed ready to leave my hospital bubble. This past week has been one of recovery and discovery of my limits and my capabilities.

There has been a whole lot of sleeping happening and resting in general, but also some actual summer fun mixed in. I refuse to be robbed of the entire experience of summer 2013, so I’ve done what I can with the incredible help of Craig and my mom and sister who have been here to nurse me back to health and keep me entertained so I don’t totally lose my shit focusing on what I’m facing at the moment.

I can’t say enough about how kind my husband is. Since the very beginning he has ensured that I keep normalcy in my life and knows what makes me happy and wants to make sure I do it. Even if I complain at the onset and say that I can’t, he pushes me just enough so that I don’t fall down the rabbit hole and disappear.

Incredible ladies
It’s very easy to push people away when I’m not feeling well, but he knows I always feel better when surrounded by the very, very special friends I have in my life (in balance with my much-needed alone time). With that in mind, this week we went to an outdoor Rolling Stones tribute concert with friends, had a few friends here in the evenings just to hang, had a date night of a delicious dinner in one of our favorite parks, and I had a girls night at my home where six of my closest friends since high school (or earlier) brought over tons of food and albums of old photos and we spent the night laughing and talking out on the porch under the summer stars until the mosquitos sent us indoors to continue there. It’s been a lovely and wonderful week.

I feel so very loved and so much more comfortable in allowing myself to talk more openly and honestly and to allow others to help me – whether by talking with me, bringing us food, sending adorable gifts and treats that brighten our days. I am much more accepting of those who want to spend time with me and help out because I realize that it’s not a burden to them  - they truly want to – and I truly appreciate them being in my life. I’ve also accepted those who are not there and realize that this is difficult for others to handle, too. Yes, it’s taken me being fantastically weak to get to this point socially, but I’ve been testing the boundaries and have been so pleased with how receptive and loving everyone has been – not that I ever doubted it, just that I was always scared and guarded. Right now I don’t really have a choice but to let it all hang out.

wooded beach
I’ve also been spending many days with my mom and my sister (who is home from out west to spend time with family for a while). My mom is beyond incredible and has always been. She swoops in and cleans my house, changes my sheets, helps me with paperwork, rubs my feet and calves with lotion, waits outside the bathroom door to make sure I don’t fall in the shower, escorts me to appointment after appointment, cooks for me, tucks me in, all while able to laugh and bitch right along with me about this crazy conundrum we find ourselves in.

My sister has been here to relax with me, watch over me, cook me food and just hang like sisters do. We don’t have to impress each other and it’s so nice to have her around. I can talk or not talk, fall asleep or be demanding and she's cool with it. As going to an actual ocean/beach would take way too much out of me, we spent one day together set up on a blanket, me under an umbrella, at a little pond beach in my town. It was so nice to be out enjoying some sun and summer breeze amid the pine trees. We made our own “beach” experience. She’s been so helpful and thoughtful in so many ways.

I just started driving again – short distances – for the first time in weeks and that feels good. Every day I am getting a little more strength. But it’s taken a while to get here and I’m still far from perfect. Tuesday marked three weeks since the start of IVAC. It is as brutal as they promised. Even since being home I have been so weak. I could barely walk up the stairs for the first few days and taking a shower and getting dressed was a big accomplishment for the day. I would need to go to bed afterward. The nausea has lingered and the fatigue is phenomenal. I really have to pace myself.

I barely have an appetite, but I do have overall body aches and some pain. Yes, in my damn hips. It’s nearly impossible to know if it’s pain from cell death, pain from the Hodgkin’s flaring despite the harsh treatment, pain from my bone marrow working hard after the Neupogen shots. I try so hard to stay in tune, but things are all over the place right now. But what I do know is that it is nowhere near the pain I was in pre-treatment and I’ve also still been remiss of high fevers, so this must mean something!

Same goes for the palpable lymph nodes in my neck, which I touch no less than 129 times a day. Some days I feel that they’re growing, others that they’re shrinking and even others that new ones are popping out. It’s certainly difficult not to let paranoia take over.

We’ve been watching my blood counts closely. My white cells are great – high in fact. My reds are low, but no more than usual. It’s my platelets that are lagging. At most recent check, they are 59,000. It is unsafe to do a second round of IVAC until I am closer to 100,000, especially knowing how low my platelet level dropped and how minimally effective transfusions were after the first round. If I don’t have enough reserve there could be life-threatening bleeding complications. Dr. Dailey and I also agreed that I should get my body stronger before more treatment. I’ll get my counts checked again tomorrow and we’re tentatively aiming at starting up Monday.

However, if I am having Hodgkin’s symptoms, then we need to strongly consider not doing another round of this. It would not be worth putting my body through that extreme toxicity again. It is very dangerous. We’re going to see how I feel.

In the meantime, we’ve been back and forth with the haplo-transplant team at Fred Hutchinson in Seattle. My parents, brother and I are all getting our HLA typing redone and having to get special bloodwork done to be sent back to them so that they can determine who of the three of them would be my strongest match. The doctors there are in touch with Dr. O and everyone is working so that if I do hit a remission and I do decide that I want to do a third transplant that all is ready to go as quickly as possible.

I haven’t gotten any closer to making that decision. I don’t think I’ll be able to until I see the results of my PET Scan post cycle 2. That’s going to reveal a whole lot. And, whatever way it goes, each scenario carries a whole lot of baggage. No evidence of disease? Great, but that leaves me with a huge decision to make. Do I go for transplant, which could potentially cure me despite the very real risks, or does it mean that I opt for much less toxic, novel therapies in clinical trial that will give me quality of life but we have no idea how much life if the remission starts to slip away. The chemo didn’t work? Does this mean it’s over? I was told if IVAC doesn’t work, nothing will work. Do I continue to pursue more trials if and when something opens that I haven’t tried already, or do I just focus on comfort and quality of life, spending time enjoying it instead of in and out of the hospital all the time? I’m predicting a pretty hellish time leading up to that scan and have no idea how I’ll stay sane. One test has the potential to seal my fate.

But before I deal with all of that, I first have to somehow gear up to knock myself down to zero again just when I’m getting a little glimpse of feeling better. It’s that old scenario of knowingly placing my palm on a hot burner. It will hurt. Isn’t this the definition of insanity? Banging your head on the wall continuously and expecting a different outcome? Well, this is one final bang, one big hopeful push that for once I will have a different outcome: instead of growth, retreat. 


  1. You are SO incredibly amazing! Whatever decision you make is the RIGHT one for you... for all of you. Feel at peace with whatever path you take. Sending you best wishes to feel well and in synch with life. You are SO special to all of us who follow your writings and your life.

  2. Sending positive thoughts and prayers that his chemo is kicking cancer's ass!! You are a true warrior and I believe you will win this battle against this ugly beast! Your husband, family and friends sound like an amazing group of supporters! I am so happy you have such good people around you to see you through this!!
    Stay Strong!! I keep you in my thoughts and prayers and will say an extra prayer tonight that this chemo is working for you!

  3. Love you!! - Michelle

  4. You are more human than human. I would love to say I have the strength and determination you do as well as your outlook on life. You truly see the glass as half full no matter your circumstance. One day I will come out of this tortoise shell and be more like you Karin! You are my hero and I will continue to pray that our Healing Army Warriors kill this beast called cancer. Much love to you!!

  5. Hey Karin,
    You said you barly made it BUT you did! Make It! Kudos to you, Craig, your mom & sister and the many others in your support team! It is so important Craig can step up and be the heavy and knows when to give you the nudge that is needed. Going into the dark hole is not a good place to be!
    This is the best time for you to surrender and let other really help you in every way. This is the time for you to focus on your mental and physical health. That is your job. Sleep and let your body heal. Sleep can be a good thing, embrace it. It gives your mind a rest from all you are going through. I look forward hearing from you. You will know what your next step will be. You are intuitive well informed and in control of all your choices regarding your treatment. Laugh when you can, relax as often As possible, let those who can help you do just that. Let your guard down. It's okay to be surrounded by people who will carry you when you just are too weak. You will not be down too long! There will come a time when you may need to help them. If you have the fight in you then fight Karin. You have been down before, knock out and dragged down before. I will be cheering you on in spirit. I want so much for you to complete your goals in life. You have so much to offer others. With a loving hug to a special blog friend.

  6. the big bad wolf is at the door again and for some unknown reason your 'house' though filled with love, strength and what so many have thought to be the 'brick house' --- it has not been. that big bad wolf has huffed and puffed and blown your other houses down and you've had to run like crazy to the next one --- well here you are in the 'brick house' and that big bad wolf can huff and puff all it wants but this time it is made of brick and will not be blown down. and you will be safe and sound finally.
    we all hope and believe this to be so for you

  7. Thinking of you and hoping that each day is a little better, and a little brighter!Sending love, light and strength.

  8. God bless you, little precious girl. You are in my heart and prayers. Love,Irene