Journal

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

I want to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!!  I am deeply thankful for you, my spectacular community of support, and I am thanking God for providing everything I have needed along this difficult road.  

I'm heading out to a treatment session in a couple of hours, but I'm squeezing in a little baking this morning, and I'm planning a nice, relaxing evening.  So despite having to get treatment today, I am determined to enjoy this wonderful holiday weekend! 

Please pray for me if you get a chance in the midst of all your holiday preparations!  I have to take a needle in the stomach today, so I could definitely use some love coming my way!  I am also hoping to recover relatively quickly so I can participate in all the festivities I have planned with my family.  But right now, more baking to distract me! 

Love you all! Warmest wishes for a happy, happy Thanksgiving!

xoxo,
Danielle
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Journal entry by Danielle Marois

It's another anniversary. One year ago today I received my full diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer:  Invasive ductal carcinoma, metastatic to the bone.  In other words, stage IV.  Boo.  
 
Last year on November 16th we received this terribly bleak news. It was an incredibly frightening and grueling day, full of appointments with specialists and genetic testing with the guy I call "Genetics John" at Hartford Hospital.  There was not even time to eat, so the breast surgeon who delivered the bad news gave me a chocolate cupcake they had on hand for an office party. I remember thinking, Well, I don't know how much longer I will be alive, but I'm alive right now and I'm going to eat the heck out of that cupcake. But receiving all of the disappointing results was super intense.  I could barely sit up by the end of the day. 
 
Before this date last year we had hope that the cancer had not metastasized and that I would go through treatment and the whole nightmare would be over within a year. That day shattered this hope, and even my primary care doctor confided to me later on that she felt deeply depressed when she saw my scan and biopsy results. Things looked bad. 
 
But I met Dr. Awesome that day. She stayed after hours to meet with me and lay out our plan to suppress the cancer.  She said, "We can treat this." And in the following weeks we started seeing remarkable results from the treatment, and from there the miracle of healing continued. 
 
I am overcome with relief and thankfulness today! I'm having a relaxing day, enjoying my family, and though this cancer journey is not behind me, one full year has brought a return to my normal activities. I am amazed by how normal my life is while still living with this disease.  The shattered hope of being cancer-free has not been nearly as crushing as I feared it would be.  Here are some highlights I am celebrating today:

  • The pain in my hips and in my rib, from the cancer that had carved itself a home in those bones, is completely gone.  My bones are healing wonderfully.   
  • The fatigue and difficult side effects have become manageable, and my tolerance of the treatment is continuing to wow my whole medical team.  
  • My hot flashes are FINALLY easing up a bit!  During the past month or so I started noticing that they don't seem to be as frequent or intense.
  • I can focus on living my life, not on the fear of death that was hovering so close to me last year.  
  • Due to the intense nature of my circumstances last Fall, I felt like I had missed out on the whole lovely season, but now I am savoring and enjoying it, fully present.   
 
I'm going out to enjoy a wonderful dinner tonight, in glorious contrast to the pain and fear I experienced a year ago.  That feels so wonderful and so life affirming. I am thankful to God and thankful to you for helping me heal and embrace life.  It has taken a lot of resilience to get to this point, and I know I have that due to God's protection over me and because of your love and support.  Hugs and love to you.  
 
With gratitude today and every day,
Danielle

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

It's my cancerversary! One year ago today, November 7, 2018, was the day I found out that I have advanced breast cancer. In acknowledgement of this anniversary, and in celebration of how far we have come since then, I've decided to share 10 recurring themes I've embraced over the past year. These are things I've discovered and employed in the days since my diagnosis. 
 
 
10. Get Your Groove On
The right music can help dissipate discouragement, promote contentment, and energize, soothe, or empower the spirit when you desperately need it. 
 
9. Express Gratitude
Being thankful and talking about the things I'm grateful for is the quickest route to cheerfulness.  Gratitude is essential!
 
8. Keep Your Friends Close
Excellent friends are instrumental in maintaining sanity when times get super tough. Lean on them. They want to help! 
 
7. Remain Optimistic!
Waiting for scan results feels like standing on the edge of a cliff, and you don't know which way the wind is going to blow. I'm not always good at this, but I've found that it's really important not to let my mind dwell on worst case scenario possibilities. Why not hope for the best? 

6. Pray and Read Scripture 
Praying and Bible reading gets my head back on straight and soothes the soul, and praying for other people is the absolute best way to get through periods of intense physical pain. 
 
5. Be Prepared
Bring distractions, music, a friend, or husband to appointments. Call ahead to see if Dr. Awesome is running behind to reduce wait time. I have a checklist of comforts and essentials to bring with me that I review before heading out the door!

4. Let the Ugly Out Sometimes
A cancer diagnosis is like being drop- kicked into Hell and having to army-crawl your way out.  It's definitely okay, and even healthy, to express your deepest, darkest fears- even if only in a private journal.
 
3.  Don't Underestimate Sensory Comforts
A soft blanket, a favorite meal, fragrant essential oils, soothing sounds... when stuck in a low, sensory treats can make all the difference in making you feel taken care of and healthy. They definitely help turn things around. 
 
2. Own the Positive
I can live a wonderful, fulfilling life even with stage IV breast cancer. This is huge! And definitely worth celebrating. 

1. Trust God
God knows where I am and where I'm going, and He is always there with His presence and provision in whatever He has for me and my family. And it is safe to feel whatever I need to feel with Him. 
 
 
I know I've expressed this many times before, but thank you from the bottom of my heart for being on this journey with me. You all are amazing for reading my posts and caring about me and contributing to my well being in so many ways. I love you. 
 
Brad is with me today, and it's already so much better than last year when I had to tell him over the phone that I have breast cancer! 
And now I'm off to celebrate being alive and thriving, one year post-diagnosis.
 
Chinese food and pink cupcakes tonight. 😏
 
Love, hugs, and kisses, 
Danielle

Journal entry by Danielle Marois

I got through another treatment session this week, blood work, and an appointment with Doctor Awesome.  She continues to be "very pleased" with my progress and I have several great updates to share!  

It has already been six months since my last CT scan and bone scan, so ordinarily I would be due for those now. However, Doc Awesome is cutting me some slack in that department because each time she sees me, my exams reveal that I am getting better and better.  So she is letting me put off the next scans until after the holidays- probably mid-January. What a gift! Dr. Fixit will also be looking for those CT scan results so he can check on my spine several months post-surgery. 

Because progress has been steady, for the first time now, I will go three months without seeing Dr. Awesome.  And this will be the deal from now on: Excluding special circumstances, I will see her only four times a year. The treatment sessions every four weeks are easier to endure when the oncology follow-up appointment isn't tacked on too, so this is happy news.  We are definitely achieving the goal of getting the cancer to a boring state! 

Another astonishingly positive update is that I will only need mammograms on an annual basis from here on out! Like a normal person! (You know, a normal person age 40 or over... But whatever, I won't quibble.) While it is possible that this could change and Dr. Awesome could determine I need one sooner, and I will certainly have scans at least a few times a year, this felt like a major win to me.  We are managing the cancer in a much more predictable rhythm now, compared to the frantic, putting-out-threatening-fires phase we were in several months ago.  

She also pointed out that my blood work has been rock solid for just about a year now, so we can back off even more on the frequency with which I have those appointments.  It still shocks and delights me that my cell counts are terrific even after being on a chemo pill for almost a year.  After my December blood work (which I need to have before the scans) it will only be necessary to have a blood draw about once every three months.  I am so grateful for all of these small victories that add up to a great time of rest!!  

There is much to be grateful for, but of course there are always ups and downs and unforeseeable challenges.  I had pretty disconcerting pain earlier last month that my doctors are aware of and want me to monitor, but that has thankfully subsided.  Additionally my energy levels fluctuate, side effects get the better of me sometimes, and I get frustrated with my limitations.  But even in these challenges there are slow, steady improvements, and the overall trend is extremely encouraging. 

Next week I will be marking the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Amazing, everything that has gone down in the past year.  I will be celebrating survival and my very good quality of life and hope for the future.  It's such a strange, bittersweet time.  

I want to thank you for the encouraging notes and other kindnesses many of you have shown in the past month. Each one means so much to me and helps me get through the discouraging days. often it is all too huge to process and every once in a while I am utterly stunned anew that this is what my little family is dealing with.  But each gesture of love is very big to me too.  Each night when my son says his bedtime prayers he asks God to take away Mommy's cancer, and I believe that God is answering that sweet prayer a little bit every day.  Thank you for joining in that prayer, for holding me up, and for being light and sustenance in my life. 

Love to all my dear ones,
Danielle

P.S. My brain is SUPER fuzzy today- the writing struggle is real. I apologize for any clumsy wording or lack of clarity!

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 

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 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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