Journal

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

It's breast cancer awareness month! (I'm super aware of breast cancer by the way. 😉) But it's wonderful that it is on so many people's radar right now to encourage regular mammograms (or if, like me, you're too young to have regular mammograms, going to your doctor as soon you notice anything fishy) and to create a larger community of support that contributes to the goal of one day eradicating this nightmare. 
 
For anyone affected by breast cancer, and those of us with stage IV breast cancer, this is especially hopeful. For stage IV patients, active treatment will not end until there is a cure. I have hope that the money raised this month will fund the research that will make defeating breast cancer possible for me and anyone whose life has been shaken by the disease. 
 
And the research is producing some amazing results. Last year shortly after I was diagnosed, I looked at the survival statistics for diagnosis at stage IV and read that there was only a 20% chance of surviving just one year. I chalk that day up to one of the worst of my life. And then my doctors told me that the research has been advancing at such breakneck speed that while those were the most recent statistics, in another five to ten years the numbers should be radically different. I will be one of those hopeful numbers. And then they forbade me to google anything about survival rates again. Ever. 
 
So for me, diagnosed at stage IV in November 2018, I'm already coming up on a year and now they are giving me the hope of decades. Decades! 
 
God had been so good to me and blessed me with healing, and at this rate the research will likely stay a few steps ahead of my disease, buying me more time until they find a cure. In support of this theory, I point to the class of drugs that my chemo pill falls under. It is a recent breakthrough that has given hope where none used to exist. The initial intention behind its development was to give stage IV patients with the same type of breast cancer that I have (ER-positive, HER2-negative, if you care to know), who had already been through all the typical treatments and who were out of options, another means of survival. And that is part of what continuing research makes available while we wait for the cure:  More options. These options can keep me alive and offer more treatments that are less damaging to my body than chemo infusions and radiation, which is huge since this is likely to be a very long term battle for me.
 
I would love to consider myself a "survivor," but as a stage IV patient, the title doesn't quite fit. So, like many others in my position, I consider myself a "thriver." I'm living, and living well, despite not being able to fully beat this disease. But thinking of the research that will be funded by the campaigns this month gives me so much hope that one day I will beat it. All the pink ribbons give me a much needed morale boost and an alternative narrative to my fears. 
 
So thank you for your support, for helping me to thrive, and for encouraging me in hope. I love you and thank God for you.  💗
 
Xoxo, 
Danielle 
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Journal entry by Danielle Marois

I know it has been a while since I've last posted, but as many times as I try to create a journal entry while I'm not in the thick of appointments, I never seem to be able to finish one.  It's like my mind is demanding a break from thinking about all of this while my body has a break. So here we are, already in October, and I'm recovering from treatment that I had yesterday.

Living appointment-free for a while is awesome.  It's like I can almost forget that I have cancer, and I truly enjoy having that space. I realized just how much of a mental vacation I had been enjoying when, yesterday at the cancer center, I started to have a bit of an anxiety attack in the stairwell on my way up to the third floor where the infusion center is located.  I found myself leaning against a wall in the stairwell wondering aloud, "Why am I soo anxious??" At that point we realized that while they had given me something to alleviate some of the anxiety- a pill that I pop religiously right before a difficult appointment- I had completely forgotten about it and so I didn't take it that morning. It never even occurred to me. I had mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand I was pretty happy that I had been thinking of the unpleasant things so little that I totally forgot about my typical "manage the stress" routine.  On the other hand I probably had a wild glint in my eye wishing I could take the edge off the rising panic.  But as it turns out, I ultimately did fine without any help from pharmaceuticals, and that felt like a triumph. I left feeling exhausted but relieved. This was my 12th treatment session, since we are coming up on a year from my diagnosis, and in retrospect I am glad that things turned out yesterday the way they did.  
 
I have the opportunity this month to get back into the swing of things to some degree as I have two more appointments coming up this month- neither should be terribly harrowing- and because I go in for treatment every four weeks, I will have another session and an appointment with Dr. Awesome at the end of this month. I will also be due for blood work in a few weeks.  It is so strange trying to balance my normal everyday mom life with being a cancer patient.  I'm absolutely still trying to get the hang of it, and it is always evolving as new decisions will inevitably come up in the near future as we manage my health.  But there are positive developments as well. In my weeks off from appointments, I have been managing to build up some endurance so I haven't felt quite as exhausted most of the time. I've been able to increase my level of activity and enjoy hobbies that I hadn't been into for months. It's nice that, in the months since being flattened by my diagnosis, my quality of life has been recovering little by little. And it is fabulous to have more energy.  What a difference this makes to me and my family!
 
In many ways I am improving, and in other ways the treatment takes its toll, but I am still grateful that overall my progress is wildly positive. I'm coping with the discomforts reasonably well. The hot flashes are still going strong with no end in sight, but I am just learning to deal with them and pay them as little attention as possible.  I still get mildly annoyed when it feels like the very lava of Hell is inside me, but overall it's something that has subsided into the background of my life.  Also at this point I estimate that I have lost about one quarter (!) of my full head of hair from the medications.  And ya know what?  It Hasn't. Made. A. Dent.  Basically my hair has simply become more manageable. It's kind of a perk- I'm just no longer breaking hair elastics when I try to put my hair up in a ponytail.  I'm also choosing not to worry about it thinning further.  I don't know... I just have a feeling that the situation wont ever really get dire. 
 
So this is where I am this month.  And while I haven't been able to write as frequently, I continue to think of my amazing support team and feel incredibly grateful for you love and support.  Thank you for continuing to express that to me!  I love you, and I will try to update soon!
 
xoxo,
Danielle

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

I had my appointment with Dr. Awesome today, and since I hadn't seen her in a couple of months we had a lot to go over.  But everything was very positive, and she continues to be very pleased with my progress!

Before this week I hadn't had bloodwork since June, but my numbers still look great, so I can go another two months without a blood test! Yay!! Additionally I can continue to see Dr. Awesome just once every other month since things are going so well, and of course my treatment schedule will remain the same.

Dr. Awesome seemed so chill today, like we have this thing totally under control and we're just doing routine check-ins now. It felt a little different to me this time, and I'm so grateful. Some of the stress associated with simply being present in the cancer center dissipates a bit when I am feeling secure in my progress. 

The thing that made me happiest today was Dr. Awesome mentioning that I will not need to have any more imaging done until after the new year!! 🎉  That is an indication of how well my treatment is working- and I will be able to enjoy the entire holiday season without having to gear up for scans!! 

After my next round of injections, I do have treatment scheduled for the day before Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving, and on Christmas Eve, with a couple of blood tests sprinkled in there. But even so it's not a jam-packed "cancer stuff" schedule in which I'll feel that I always have to drag myself to places I don't want to go. And after an appointment tomorrow, I won't have another cancer-related blot on the calendar for the next 3.5 weeks!! That feels completely freeing. I'm thanking God, planning great ways to unwind, and reflecting on how far we have come. 

I'll be taking it easy for the next couple days as I wait for the soreness from my injections to subside. But my spirits are up, and I'm so very thankful that no matter what may come later, I am well and thriving right now. Thank you all for your prayers for my continued healing. I depend upon them, and I love you so. 

Xoxo,
Danielle

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

I have enjoyed my time off from medical appointments, and I'm now heading into a week of five or so coming up:  Bloodwork, oncologist, treatment, etc. The usual suspects.  However I feel refreshed and ready to tackle these after having had a breather, and it looks like I'll even have *another* small break after this intense week in Cancerland.  It seems like we're balancing out now since I've turned the corner in getting the disease suppressed and more under control! And the hard appointments are definitely easier to get through when there's another break already in sight. 

I should be heading into an autumn of longer stretches of time in between appointments and more emphasis on the normal activities of life.  What a tremendous relief! Back in the winter and spring it felt as though cancer was always sitting in my lap, right in front of my face, demanding my constant attention. Now, with stretches of "normal" becoming more frequent, cancer is giving me some space. It has climbed out of my lap and is sulking in the corner, feeling neglected. Good riddance!!

I'll keep you posted on my appointments coming up, and in the meantime I hope you all have a lovely Labor Day Weekend! Thanks as always for your tireless support and care. Hugs to you! 
❤ Danielle

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

Guess what, my dear ones? Dr. Fixit is letting me off the hook!! 

Dr. Fixit called tonight to hear my plea for mercy in regard to the spine MRI. After asking me a few questions he, Lord bless him, has determined that I will not need to have this scan!!!  He said that since I have no back pain following the surgery, and since my treatment is working so well, he would not do anything differently based on results from an MRI anyway, so he's cutting me some slack here!! Woooooohoo!!!

Dr. Fixit will tell Dr. Awesome that he spoke with me and that he is giving this a thumbs up. He told me to contact him if I have any issues that develop down the road, and otherwise he will just take a look at the images from my next CT scan, which has yet to be scheduled.  

Is there dancing at my house? Oooh yes. And some bubbly? Mmmhmmm.   Singing at the top of my lungs?  Maaaaybe... 

I'm so grateful and so relieved to have some space from all this pain and stress. I'm wildly appreciative of your prayers and all the love that you send my way. God has been incredibly gracious, even in the thick of the hardest trials, and you have been right there with me. 

And with a big sigh of relief I can finally say, My summer break officially starts.... now!

Love you lots! 
 
Xoxo,
Danielle

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

Yesterday around noon I waltzed out of the cancer center after treatment, in minor pain, but feeling fancy free and ready to dig into summer fun.  That's when I got a call from Dr. Fixit's office to schedule a spine MRI and a follow up appointment at Hartford Hospital for the vertebroplasty I had at the end of June. Womp, womp. I had thought I would be able to escape without the spine MRI, so this is a disappointment.  I told his office that I would like to speak with Dr. Fixit directly to ensure that the MRI is absolutely necessary before I go ahead and schedule it. I am going to need a very compelling reason if I'm going to put myself through another one this month.  Fixit is out of the office until Monday, so they said he will get back to me then.  I'm trying to table that big question mark for now, putting it out of my mind until Monday. I will be speaking with my oncology pharmacist on Monday as well, so I'll just plan for that day to be a "buckle up and deal with cancer stuff" kind of day. 
 
It is disconcerting to feel the uncertainty that maybe I won't really have the break I was hoping for, but I am trying to focus on the other positives of still having a break from at least some appointments and bloodwork.  

For example, part of the appeal of having time off from appointments is that I won't have to submit each area of my health to be micromanaged!  Here's a glimpse of just how "under the microscope" every aspect of my health has been to my medical team:

Dr. Awesome:  It looks like you've gained a few pounds recently.  [literally. a few.]

Me:  uhh yeah, I was kind of hoping you wouldn't notice that on my chart...

Dr. Awesome:  We do expect to see some weight gain because- hormone therapy. But we really want your weight to remain stable, so while you don't need to lose any weight, we ought to be proactive. I'll have our dietitian contact you...

Me: okaaaay...thaaaanks....

So while I haven't yet spoken to a dietitian, I've given up my beloved macarons (the ones that taste like sunshine and happiness and freedom), and I've stopped pretending that my light ice cream is simply a calcium supplement. (I neeeeeed calcium!) But for this lovely summer month, everybody can just Back. Off. 😂  For crying out loud, I don't even remember what real ice cream tastes like!!

So other than taking my pills twice a day, and keeping away from sugar, I'm going to try my best to pretend I don't have cancer for the next few weeks. Or at least until I hear back from Dr. Fixit.  I'll keep you posted. 

Love, 
Danielle 

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

After an amazing weekend we just had, courtesy of some very lovely people who treated us quite generously, I am now anticipating going in for treatment tomorrow. In the last two days I've noticed the mental fog returning to some degree, and I'm feeling some apprehension. I'm recognizing the familiar stress of facing a very big needle that sometimes nicks a nerve or a blood vessel!  However, after tomorrow I will have a glorious four week(!) break from all things medical!!! This is the longest I will have gone without invasive treatments in 10 months. Whew! In light of this respite, I feel very hopeful that the mental fogginess will clear again, that the clenched feeling in my stomach will unfurl, and that I will breathe freely for a while knowing I have a comfortable space of time to recover further. 
Thank you so so much for continuing to pray for me and my progress, for cheering me on, and for encouraging me to have strength and courage. I'll be thinking of my fantastic team of support tomorrow as I traipse into the cancer center, listening to my upbeat "cancer playlist", and hold my breath while Sandra* wields that ridiculous, gigantic needle (don't look, don't look, don't look!). The thought of all of you will help me through! 💗
Xo,
Danielle 
*name changed to protect the innocent 😉

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

My mammogram turned out to be rather an ordeal with lots of confusion, waiting, and the radiologist requiring further imaging after I went through the initial test. But when it was finally over I got to see the radiologist who told me that they were able to capture all of the images they needed and that no further testing was required.  That was a relief! 
 
Then today I received a call from Dr. Awesome's office informing me that the imaging from the mammogram supports the results from the MRI- that there is substantial improvement and that the current course of treatment is working wonderfully. Thank you, God!! It was fantastic to get great news so quickly after this test!!
 
Can I just tell you again how good God has been to me and how grateful I am for your incredible kindness and love?  I would have thought that by now I'd be sitting in a corner somewhere, hugging my knees and rocking back and forth, but instead I'm making plans for the future and functioning with happiness and a reasonable level of sanity each day.  I've been supported, protected and sustained, and I've experienced miraculous healing. And on top of this God has given me many, many cherished ones. Thank you for walking every step with me. ❤
 
Xoxo,  
Danielle

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

Having had a much needed break from appointments and the opportunity to come up for air, I'm now getting ready to dive right back in to cancer world. My doctors compared this short break I've experienced to the break a runner would get in a marathon, stopping briefly to grab a drink of water.  So now it's time to get moving again.  This past week I had my "normal people" appointments- primary care doctor and dentist- and tomorrow morning I get back to the cancer appointments. This one is the mammogram, and we are very hopeful that the results from this test will correlate with the results of the breast MRI. We would absolutely love to hear great news again! A positive report from the mammogram would also solidify our plan to reduce the frequency with which Dr. Awesome will need to see me, and it should mean fewer MRIs.
 
I am still waiting to see if I will need to go through with the spine MRI, but now, a month out from the surgery, my back feels completely fine and I am healing up perfectly well. So I'm reeeaaaally hoping the follow-up spine MRI won't be necessary.
 
I loved having a break from appointments. It was amazing:  In many ways I seemed, automatically, to snap back into how I used to function before my diagnosis, which both surprised and delighted me. I jumped right into handling things at home and for my family that I did not have the mental energy to tackle before. My thinking was clearer. My sleep was better. I was sick and exhausted and uncomfortable from side effects far less frequently. I had assumed that my fuzzy brain and extreme forgetfulness was solely the result of being on a chemo pill, but now I'm realizing that the tremendous stress from continuous harrowing procedures, tests, and treatments had affected my ability even to think! I'm glad that now I am aware of the impact the stress had on me and on my general well-being so I will be able to recognize it and look for ways to neutralize some of it in the future. I didn't even realize how much pressure I was feeling until I had this break and it finally eased up a little. It was a quick glimpse of "normal", and I liked it!! And if the test results continue to look good, I'll be in for more of that fabulous normal, and all the awful cancer stuff should become less all-consuming over time.  Sign me up for that!
I'll be eagerly awaiting the results from this mammogram, and I'll share them with you when I find out. Next week I have treatment, and possibly another appointment, but it is still an easier pace than I've experienced recently, and August should be a pretty quiet month.  Finally!!
Thank you all for continuing to pray like warriors, and for caring about me and celebrating the good news with me. You have truly helped me get through so much. 
A million hugs,
Danielle 

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

The breast MRI results are in.  Drum roll please...
The scan showed wildly significant improvement!!!  Lymph nodes that had been abnormal are now completely normal, the lesion located in my rib (the rib that had been broken during the winter) is now much smaller, and most notably the mass in my breast is substantially reduced- as in, it's barely a tumor and more like dense tissue. Dr. Awesome said she is "incredibly pleased" with all of this wonderful progress!  This malignant nightmare is becoming seriously subdued!!  Thank you God!!!
 
At our appointment today we also discussed the surgery and (attempted) biopsy of the T9 vertebra.  Because the needle for the biopsy was so small, it seems that it actually missed the cancer, so they did not get a sample to analyze. Oh well. It was an add-on, "while we're in there anyway we might as well do a biopsy" kind of thing. So it's really not a big issue that we don't have that data. Dr. Awesome is also very pleased that the surgery went so well, that I have no back pain, and that we don't have to worry about a more serious problem in my spine down the road. 
 
And here's another piece of great news:  Because of the fantabulous scan results, starting now I will only need to have an appointment with Dr. Awesome once every other month! I will continue to go in for treatment every month, but not having the Dr.'s appointment on top of treatment each month will be a nice break. 
 
I also get more of a break from blood work;  blood work will not be necessary until early September! But one of the best benefits of the cancer becoming suppressed (other than the obvious, most wonderful, "This disease is totally not killing me" thing) is that, going forward (as long as the results from the mammogram I have scheduled for the end of this month correlates with the breast MRI results), we can now continue to monitor the situation via mammogram rather than breast MRIs!!  Ooooh this makes me happy.  To me, mammograms= piece of cake; MRIs= I'd rather eat tar. I will still probably need the spine MRI at the end of the month along with my follow-up with Dr. Fixit, but after that one it looks like I will have a good, long break from MRIs. Pop the bubbly! 
 
In addition to all this fantastic news, next week I have zero- count 'em:  Zero- appointments! I was really struggling with the intense pace and deeply challenging procedures I've been enduring, and now with the combination of the terrific report and a time of reprieve from rough ordeals, I feel like I can relax and grab a big, deep, delicious breath of fresh air.  Ahhhhhh!  So sweet.  I feel safe in a way that I haven't for a very long time.  And I just want to celebrate this amazing progress.
 
I feel overwhelmed with gratitude when I think about how much you have helped me and lifted me up, especially last week when everything felt too heavy. It must be true that the night is darkest before the dawn- right when I thought I couldn't take any more, the darkness finally lifted, and glimmers of light broke through. There is so much hope, and sweet rest from the rigors of battle. Amazing. 

Brad and I are thanking God with all our hearts, and we thank you for every bit of love and support you've given. We love you. Thank you for rejoicing with us!!
 
Xoxo,
Danielle 

Journal entry by Brad Marois

Learning that we had Stage IV cancer was (and still is) a tough blow.  We were absolutely stunned, and not a little frightened.  There was, however, a little bit of good news.  Although cancer was detected in Danielle's bones, it was not found to be present in any of her organs (aside from her breast and lymph nodes).  Even better, the pathologist reported that our cancer is strongly estrogen receptive (ER+); on a scale of 0 to 8, we're an 8.  This means that the cancer should respond very well to hormone therapy; if the cancer feeds on estrogen, then we can starve it by shutting down estrogen production.

The surgeon who discussed these findings with us sent us immediately from his office to our new medical oncologist, who he raved about, calling her "my favorite" and "the best in the state, possibly in New England".  In fact, she is the Director of Hartford HealthCare's Cancer Institute, breast program.  She went over the details of the diagnosis with us, explained what we know about the cancer and what further tests are required.  She also described the tentative treatment plan, pending results of genetic testing, bone scan, and bone biopsy.

From the breast biopsy we have proof that the cancer started in the breast.  This is good news because it means that there isn't a worse tumor lurking somewhere else.  We also know that it should respond well to hormone therapy, which is her first choice for treatment options.  That could change based on the results of the genetic test; if a genetic link is found, there are specific medications that are more effective.

Both our doctors did their best to encourage us.  Breast cancer research is incredibly well funded, and treatments are becoming ever more effective.  New treatments are being released practically on a weekly basis, and medical progress continues to accelerate.  We learned that the treatment we are currently considering is new within the last two years and has shown remarkable results in shrinking and healing tumors.  It may be possible for us to avoid chemotherapy and surgery, although it is too soon to tell.  We also learned that women with Stage IV breast cancer often live for decades on pills or injections.  We are encouraged to hear that breast cancer is becoming a chronic disease instead of a terminal one.

Despite this positive news, and our hope in God’s healing power, we are struggling with fear of the unknown.  Please continue to pray with us for full healing.  Also pray for relief from fear and anxiety, particularly as we undergo these last few tests before treatment can begin.  Our bone biopsy is scheduled for Monday at 9:30 am, and this procedure is especially scary for Danielle.
Danielle’s Story

Site created on November 10, 2018

Welcome to our CaringBridge website. We are using it to keep family and friends updated in one place. We appreciate your prayers, support and words of hope and encouragement. Thank you for visiting! 

On Wednesday, November 7, 2018 Danielle went to her doctor with a painful lump in her breast that we thought would be a cyst.  Her doctor, expressing concern, sent her for an urgent mammogram and ultrasound the same day, where she was told that she had breast cancer.  The next week was packed with a biopsy, MRI, and CT scan.  At the end of the week we received more bad news:  the biopsy confirmed that the cancer was invasive, and imaging tests revealed that it had spread to her bones.  We were suddenly dealing with stage 4 breast cancer at age 33.

Though we were shocked and frightened, we had a sense that God had a purpose for us in this situation, we are trusting that God will heal Danielle and preserve her life, allowing her to raise her little boy into adulthood.   


Danielle is a warm and spirited woman who cherishes her family and friends, and she has even continued to make them laugh in the midst of this difficult diagnosis.  She and her husband, Brad, the love of her life and her best friend, just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in July, and she is a wonderful stay-at-home mother to their enegetic and adorable three-year-old boy.  Danielle is also active in ministry in her church and is just starting a business as a part-time interior decorator. 

We are grateful to all of you who are offering your support during this difficult time.  The most important thing you can do to help is to pray boldly and earnestly for Danielle's full healing and for peace of mind.  The second is to send Danielle your notes of encouragement.  It has done us a world of good to hear from family, friends, and strangers who are all praying for us and lovingly expressing their support.  We know that we are not alone, and we look forward in hope with all of you.

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