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Journal entry by Kristen Carter

To my great surprise, my gastroenterologist took out my old stents but didn’t put in new ones! He said the oncologist believes the chemo is working to rid my liver of the tumor that was blocking my bile ducts, and when he (the gastro guy) went in there the ducts looked wide open.

That’s some crazy-fast healing! Thank my lucky stars, and the chemo. 🙏💖🙏💖
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Journal entry by Kristen Carter

Hi all,

Just a few things to share and wanted to keep in touch.  

First of all, in terms of side effects this week has been GREAT compared to last week. It’s the platinum drugs that whomp my *ss and thankfully I only get them every three weeks. This week there’s no chemo so next week I’ll probably feel aMAzing; anybody want to visit or meet in Boulder for lunch?

This afternoon I met with an orthopedic oncologist to see if he thought the cancer in my left hip warranted a surgically-installed brace. Thankfully the answer is no; while there’s cancer in the hollow part of my bones it hasn’t deteriorated the bone itself. Small blessings. 🙏

Tomorrow morning I’m getting new stents in my liver. The ones inserted five weeks ago have done beautifully but weren’t meant to be permanent. The brilliant doctor who did the last op will do tomorrow’s as well, and I’m not sure if he’ll do another temporary set or insert metal ones that will last longer. I trust his judgment and know he’s discussed it all with my oncologist.

In the meantime, I’ve been wrapping my head around my ‘new normal:’ living in between the moments focused on cancer. There are a lot more of those moments now and I’m honestly not 100% sure what to do with them! When I was first diagnosed in early May, I hung an “out for healing” sign on my website and told the people who get my newsletter that I was taking time off to take care of myself. Self-care + treatment + chemo recuperation is still pretty time consuming, but it isn’t the full-time job it was even a few weeks ago.

Up to now I’ve been watching a lot of HGTV and Netflix and doing NY Times crossword puzzles, but I’m starting to want to do more. I had enrolled in a three-month writing course that started the week I was diagnosed, and am going through the videos and writing assignments at my own pace. Unlike all the writing I’ve done before for clients, blog readers and the companies I’ve worked for, I feel like writing just for myself and am kind of excited about that. I feel like something’s percolating and I can’t wait to see what bubbles up.

I know some of my friends and family felt (feel?) scared about my situation and wonder how I’m able to be upbeat right now. All I can say is that I genuinely believe there’s reason for hope; that I think I’m pretty upbeat to begin with; and that, even if life were to end for me soon, I’d want to spend my last days/weeks/months being happy. No matter what, there’s so much to be grateful for.

To leave you with a laugh, here’s a photo of me today in my hospital bloomers and gown, off to get x-rays. I thought those blue shorts were so hilarious I brought ‘em home with me!

Oh, one more thing: Father’s Day, with three generations at our house, was beautiful and meaningful this year AND we laughed our butts off playing Cards Against Humanity. It was a risk playing it with all those ages and was ridiculously embarrassing at some points, but it was hysterical; I’ve never seen my dad laugh so hard. Priceless. 😊😊😊😊😊

We are so blessed, and I hope that the families torn apart at our southern borders are brought together as soon as humanly possible. No one should do that to children or their parents. 

Journal entry by Kristen Carter

Before each round of chemo, I get blood drawn (“labs”) so the docs can see how well I’m doing on a number of fronts: white and red blood cell counts, platelets, a bunch of stuff I don’t quite understand and, because of my particular situation, three liver function markers.

Thanks to my stents, the chemo and some combination of magic/grace/love/prayers/luck, today all three of my liver function markers were NORMAL. 

> Bilirubin, down from a high of 16.8 to 1.3 (normal = 0 to 1.5)

> AST/SGOT — an enzyme your liver makes that shows up in higher quantities in your blood if the liver is damaged — down from 102 to 26 (normal = 14 to 44)

> ALT/SGPT — a different enzyme as above — down from 145 to 49 (normal = 9 to 52)

There was a big “BooYah” and high fives in the nurse’s office!! 

Chemo went off without a hitch and so far I can’t feel it; side effects will kick in tomorrow when the steroid wears off. 

In the meantime, we’ve just gotten a few hundred drops of rain on our speck of parched Boulder County and there’s more in the forecast. It smells amazing, the wildflowers will love it and it will help protect against fires. Whew and hurray all around.

xoxo K

Journal entry by Kristen Carter

Hi all,

I’m grateful never to have been hit in the head or the gut in the ring, but imagine that afterwards I’d just want to go to my corner and have someone take care of me and say really encouraging things. “You’ve got this!” “Get back in there!” I’d probably be dazed and dizzy and my stomach might hurt.

That’s kind of what the past few days have been like.

Actually, Friday and Saturday (chemo day and the day after) were okay! It’s the steroid they give you with chemo. I even went out for lunch and did grocery shopping. Then Sunday though Tuesday I plopped in my corner — the living room sofa — and let Charles and Sarah take care of me and say really encouraging things. 

So many of you have been encouraging and I’m so grateful — I’ve loved all your notes and texts and cards. Thank you.

Today I got out for some errands and had to sit down a few times but am feeling much better. I’m glad they only give the carboplatin once every three weeks!

I can already tell something is happening; in other words, that the chemo seems to be working. One of the last symptoms to appear before I went into the hospital was numbness on the left side of my mouth and tongue; this was from a tumor pressing on my ‘12 nerve.’ It was difficult to eat or to talk clearly and Rs were really tricky (saying Kristen Carter was challenging!). Well, over the past week or so these symptoms have been easing significantly and I can eat and talk much more easily. Some of the pain I was having has diminished too. This isn’t a guarantee of anything in the future, but I’m a lot more comfortable and figure I may as well think of it as a good sign.

This Friday I’ll have just the gemcitobine without the carboplatin, and the chemo nurse says it has about the same level of side effects as Tylenol. I don’t know if she’s ever had it, and I’ll let you know whether she was right or not. 

:) Lots of love for now,
Kristen 

Journal entry by Kristen Carter

After the cancer whirlwind of May and a couple of weeks of R&R at home, tomorrow I start a “normal” routine of chemo — two drugs in week one, one drug in week two and then a week off, times six (to start with).

A few weeks ago I was praying for this opportunity, and now that it’s here I’m nervous about it — or, more specifically, nervous about the side effects. It’s wild the way we adapt to different circumstances — in my case, from simply wanting to live to now being scared of a bit of nausea. I’ve just been reading online about various non-drug ways to cope with the nausea, like guided visualization and accupressure, and learned that “anticipatory nausea” is a thing: some people worry so much about it that it makes them ill. I’m going to try to put on my big-girl panties and not be one of them — and to remember that this is all good for me, after all! Perspective is a good thing.

I’ve gained even more strength and stamina since coming home. Yesterday I managed four trips down and back up our driveway, which, if you’ve been here, you know is no small feat. It’s a long hilly walk at about 8,100 feet (approx. 2500 meters), where the air is kinda thin. I’ve also been eating well, thanks to Charles and Sarah doing almost all the cooking. I’m still down about 25 pounds since March, but at least I’m nourished now that my liver is working better again.

The stents have continued to do an amazing job, and my bilirubin count Tuesday was only 2.2! (Quick reminder, 1.5 is the top of normal and mine was almost 17 three weeks ago. I was the color of a Manila envelope and now I just look like I used a bit of fake-tanning cream.) Other liver enzymes are still elevated but trending downward. They’ll clear further as the chemo continues to shrink the tumors in there. 

The part of my body that has the most cancer is my bones, from my hips up to the base of my skull, including my spine and ribs. I’ve been asked why I don’t feel much pain, and I don’t know the answer. Just lucky, I guess. I feel a little achy in my left shoulder if I try to sleep on that side, and by the end of the day my upper back can be a little sore, but that’s it. We saw a wonderful oncologist for a second opinion yesterday and while she affirmed everything my first oncologist has recommended, she suggested that I get a a metal brace inserted (surgically) to prevent my left hip from breaking; I didn’t even know I had much cancer there. 

Fortunately, and of course this is all relative, my cancer is all the same kind (estrogen-receptive breast cancer) and will respond to the same chemo cocktail. I was worried that my bones would become thinned out and brittle when the cancer died off but have learned that in fact the bone calcifies and rebuilds. How cool is that? There’s even an adjunct medicine that can be added to my chemo that will help strengthen my bones.

If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me. I’m off to do driveway laps with Sarah, and I’ll let you know how it goes in the next few days.

xoxo K

Journal entry by Kristen Carter

First of all, it’s been a wonderful few days at home. I’ve gained strength and appetite and mental clarity and even some sass. All good signs.

Then today I met with the oncologist; we now have my pathology reports so can move forward to treat my specific form of cancer. Both biopsies (one breast, one liver) show breast cancer that is estrogen-sensitive, slightly progesterone sensitive and Her-2 negative, for those of you who know about these things. The bottom line is that there are many ways to treat this, including something as simple as hormone therapy at some point down the road.

To start, though, I’m still considered to be in “visceral crisis” — a term to describe organ failure and in my case applying to my liver. Although my bilirubin is down to 3.1 (!!!), it needs to be under 1.5 to be considered normal, and there are other liver function markers that need to come down too.

So... his recommendation (and that of the breast cancer board that consults on all patients at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center) is to start with a combination of two chemo drugs — carboplatin and gemcitabine — for a few months and then, as things improve, move onto the hormone therapy.

This all feels very do-able to me. The real crisis point for me was three weeks ago, when my bilirubin was almost 17, my bile ducts were blocked by a tumor, and without intervention I had just a few weeks to live. Thanks to the successful second attempt to stent those bile ducts (thank you forever, Dr. Raju), I was able to sustain a round of very strong chemo and live to tell you this story. I’ve been told that the new drugs are less nausea-inducing than the one I’ve already had, and I can handle that. Hair loss? Right now it feels like a big so-what. (I’m hoping it happens to the hair on my legs, while I’m at it, but don’t know if that happens.)

I’m thinking of the date of the stent procedure as a new birth-day, and everything going forward as part of my blessed second chance.

Love you guys, thanks for being on the journey with me.

💞💞💞

p.s. Next week I’m seeing another oncologist, very highly recommended, for a second opinion. Just to be sure.

Journal entry by Kristen Carter

Right this moment, life feels so good. Max is playing drums on his practice pads downstairs. Sarah and Charles are chatting in the kitchen. I’ve been hungry today and enjoyed several snack-meals. I’m in my favorite chair reading a good book. 

Two or three weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought this was possible. 

❤️🙏

Journal entry by Kristen Carter

I was diagnosed on May 4, 2018 with metastatic cancer that showed up in scans on my breast, liver and bones. And I thought all I had was hepatitis! (I had turned quite yellow.)

The docs believe the cancer started in my breast but we’re still awaiting final biopsy results two weeks later — I had the biopsy a week ago and don’t know what the holdup is. 

Five days ago, on May 11, I had a procedure to insert a stent from my liver into my main bile duct (which is blocked by a tumor), to try and reduce my jaundice. The oncologist tells me he can’t do chemo if the lever of bilirubin in my blood — which is what’s making me yellow — is above six; three days ago it was 13. 

This morning, May 16, I had an “eyes-to-thighs” PET scan, which will light up all the cancer and show us what we’re dealing with. 

You’re all caught up. It’s early days, we’re still coming to grips with it all. Despite the ginormity of it, we’re trying to stay hopeful, loving each other with all our hearts and looking for the good. 
Kristen’s Story
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