Gwen Pascarelli

First post: Oct 28, 2015 Latest post: Oct 16, 2019

                                                                                                          [This Story/summary was last updated Sept 2018.]

Welcome to my CaringBridge site, created at the very beginning of my "health crisis journey" to keep friends and family updated every step of the way.  Your support as you read and pray, and your words of hope and encouragement in the Comments (or the "Well Wishes" page) were and are much appreciated.

I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer in October 2015, just 3 months after my 50th birthday, and six weeks after starting a new job.  The cancer was spread throughout my abdomen (lower and upper) and was in several abdominal lymph nodes.  I went through a "tumor debulking" surgery which removed ~95% of the cancer, and then I started chemotherapy, which ran from Nov 2015 to May 2016.  The chemo successfully attacked the remaining 5% of the cancer, bringing my CA-125 "ovarian cancer tumor marker" protein in my blood back down to normal levels (0-35).  It had been ~2000 before surgery, ~300 just after surgery, ~165 before chemo started.  At the end of my chemo treatments, it had come down to a 4 and then settled to a baseline level of 13.

Alongside the cancer, I had to battle a separate extremely rare condition called chylous ascites, a post-surgery complication that developed right after the initial surgery but wasn't diagnosed until late December.  Fluid was leaking out of my lymphatic system into my abdomen for about four months until it was finally healed as of early March 2016 - Praise God!  I also developed some infections in March that put chemotherapy on hold for a month, but as of early April, I was feeling great, and as of early May, I was calling myself a cancer survivor (and an ascites survivor!  and a TPN survivor!  and a chemotherapy survivor!) and I walked in a Relay for Life (American Cancer Society annual fundraising event) in June 2016.  I am celebrating life!  And I am very thankful for all the people who have been -- and are -- praying for me during my battle with cancer, all along the way.  God is my joy, my strength, and my hope!

Within this journal are the details of my journey through treatments and remission and treatments again*.   I invite you to browse through my Journal, and join in the journey with me by "Following me" on this site.  Feel free to reach out to me with questions or for support and strength for your own cancer journeys/stories.

     * Yes, the cancer came back - it recurred in April 2017 (CT scan showed it growing in spaces outside my liver), 11 months after my 1st round of IV chemo had ended.  At that point, my diagnosis became "ROC" - Recurrent Ovarian Cancer - for which there is no known cure.  The recurrence confirms that the cancer is terminal.  

  This is how living with ROC goes:  The cancer cells are in your blood and lymphatic system and can travel throughout your body.  You fight the recurrences and the spread of the disease, but over time, the cancer cells "recognize" and "outsmart" (resist) the anti-cancer drugs that are used against them, and disease progression (metastasis) continues.  Once the cancer gets into your vital organs (e.g., tumors in lungs, liver) and/or disrupts your bodily functions (e.g., impacting the bowel, pancreas, spleen, heart, whatever), your survival timeline is nearing its end.

     I went through Round 2 of IV chemo [Apr-Sep. 2017] and that inactivated the cancer cells that had clustered around part of my liver.  I then took an oral chemo "maintenance therapy" drug - daily pills - for 7 months [Oct17-May18], and we watched for the next recurrence.  The cancer had started growing and spreading again by March 2018. ("nodal disease" was visibly active in >20 lymph nodes in a PET scan in May 2018;  ROC was in my pelvis, abdomen, AND chest cavity at that point; As of July 2018, I again had "implants" of cancer cells on the membrane that surrounds the liver (peritoneum) and new implants of cancer cells on the membrane that surrounds the lungs (pleura).)  I resumed drug treatment (chemotherapy - "Round 3") in August 2018.   

     From here on out, I will likely always be on some kind of anti-cancer drug therapy.  The ongoing treatment strategy is to change the drug each time the cancer progresses (tumors or "spots" of cancer have grown bigger or appeared in new places). That is usually interpreted as evidence that the cancer cells have "figured out" (mutated and developed resistance to) the drugs they have "seen".

     So here I am, living with ROC for as long as possible.  60% (of women with Stage IIIc OC at initial diagnosis) do not survive 5 years.  I am 3 years into it  (since Oct 2015) and still doing okay, managing symptoms and treatments and side effects, trying to live life as fully as I can, and I am hopeful that I will be in the 40% "statistic", be one of those survivors who are still alive 5 years from diagnosis.   I desire to reach 2020, seeing both of my sons earn their high school diplomas (my younger son is Class of 2020) and having a good sense of direction for their futures as adults, before I go.  Surviving more than 5 years would be "bonus", "beating the odds". 

    I am fighting this deadly disease's progression to live as long as I can here on earth, by God's love and mercy, until I am raised to eternal life in Christ. :)  Constant prayer support for the daily journey is much appreciated!  And prayers for a cure to be found, as well as believing prayers for miraculous healing by the power of Christ (deliverance from, eradication of the cancer) ... Keep lifting those prayers up to the Lord, too! Nothing is impossible for God!  Thanks!

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