Juicing…in the spirit of Jack Lelanne not Bonds

Carmen's tumor marker

Carmen’s tumor marker

February-April 2013

Carmen is now on only 1 drug, Xeloda. We welcomed the idea of giving Carmen time to heal but at the same time wondered what this might do to her recovery. Dropping the seemingly stronger of the 2 drugs gave us some pause as we pondered what else we might do to battle her disease. So I began searching the net once again to look for anecdotal evidence of recoveries. Research papers and studies at this point were not very useful for me because I wasn’t looking to treat a multitude of people. My focus was on 1 person.

The amount of information on the net was overwhelming and difficult to navigate because it was so fragmented. But through my searching, I did find one thing that I could do fairly easily with little to no adverse effects on Carmen. It was juicing. Luckily Carmen had purchased a juicer about a year ago, still in the original packaging. It was conveniently next to the cake mixer, also in the original packaging, untouched, unappreciated, and unloved.

In late January her tumor marker, CA125, had dropped to 47. This was the lowest level ever and it followed the last Oxali infusion which made sense. There was a downward trend, albeit a not so steep slope. 3 weeks later (now without Oxali) this number jumped to 63. The downward trend was broken with this reading. We were disheartened, hence the search and the start of juicing. The vegetables that seemed to have the most nutrients and showed the most benefits were carrots, beets, celery, flax seeds, kale, blueberries, and apples. Would this make a difference? We obviously weren’t sure, but the worst it would do is make her healthier. So I began making these juices daily 2-3 times. At first it took some getting used to the taste, but after a week or so, it was actually good. Without missing a day we did it for about 4 weeks leading up to the 10th cycle of just Xeloda. We eagerly anticipated the CA 125 results following this cycle. The result was 48, a very nice drop, but still within the range that was established during the previous 8 months. So we faithfully continued non-stop until the next reading. The normal range is 0-35 keeping in mind she has never been below 47 while on 2 chemo drugs. I was hoping for mid-low 40s, but secretly wishing she would break 40. The result stunned us. It was 27. The drop in 6 weeks (from juicing) went from 63 to 27 which is steeper than the first 2 cycles of chemo which went from 91 to 51. We were amazed. No other variables were changed. The only 2 variables that changed were the dropping of Oxali (which caused the number to spike to 63) and the addition of the daily juices. I’m pretty sure that the dropping of Oxali was not the cause of the 27, so the obvious conclusion was juicing.

We were hoping this was not an anomaly or an isolated incident, or lab error. We needed more data points to confirm the benefits of this non-chemo approach. The subsequent measurements were 31 and 32. It looked to us like we had established a new range, which was within the “normal” range. Of course being in the normal range doesn’t mean one is cured of cancer. We knew she still had the tumors in her, but what it did mean (or so we thought at that time) was the tumor was making less of this antigen for whatever reason, which may mean it was being assaulted. All speculations I know, but seemed logical to me.

In April Carmen had another CT scan. As with all scans, the next ones become the most important ones. This scan in April showed no growth on any of her tumors and for the first time the large one was said to be “same to slightly smaller”. Did we turn the corner on this? I was desperately hoping we did.

We continued juicing thinking and hoping this would contain not only the tumors but also prevent stray cancer cells from developing in other areas of her body. All the scans up to this point showed no new growth in any other area. This was probably the best news that came from the scans. Although a secondary site was already established, the scans showed no other areas of growth. Truly good news.

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A New Year of Hope

Jan 2013 CT scan

Jan 2013 CT scan


January 2013

2012 came and went rather quickly. There were moments I thought time was at a stand still. It was difficult to imagine we would ever make it to 2013. Sure enough, here we are in January. The start of January meant Carmen was due to start her 7th cycle of Oxali and Xeloda and switch from Kaiser to Cigna so we could begin to go directly to the UCLA oncologist. The reason was to get better access to any new experimental drugs that Kaiser would have a hard time getting access to.

Her cycle began on 1/9. By this time her hands and feet were pretty messed up. She had a tough time buttoning the girls’ shirts or even picking up small objects with her fingers. Her feet were darkened, cracked, dry, and peeled constantly. The closest thing I can describe it to is a burn. It was difficult for her to walk for any distances, at least not without pain.

The other major event in January was her scheduled CT scan. It would be the 3rd one since July and the one we were anxiously anticipating. How would the tumors look? Her stomach pains were all but gone, so the ulcers were probably healed. And she healed extremely fast from the C-section, so her only real pains were her hands and feet and occasional leg cramps in the middle of the night. We took Olivia that day and finally took a picture. Seeing how well she was taking her chemo treatments we expected good results.

Well, the results were indeed good. Her stomach mass looked like it was still there but was rather ambiguous. The way it was described to us is that the mass is in the wall of her stomach so a tumor isn’t clearly defined. Therefore it was difficult to compare to the prior scans. However, it didn’t look like it grew. Her ovarian tumors however are defined so it’s easy to see progression or regression of this tumor. Her January scan showed that her ovarian tumor’s size remained unchanged. In the world of cancer, no progression is a good thing. We would’ve like to see regression, but this was much better than progression. We were certainly happy, but not completely thrilled. It seemed strange to us that the stomach mass looked like it responded well to the chemo treatments (size from July looked like it decreased), but the ovarian mass didn’t budge. I did read of other cases where the secondary site doesn’t respond as well as the primary even though they’re supposed to be identical cells. Perhaps these cells change ever so slightly when they settle down in another location. Who knows.

The Oxaliplatin does much damage to the nerves in the patients’ hand and feet so it’s normal protocol to drop it after the 7th or 8th cycle. So this would be her last Oxali treatment. Also throughout all of these cycles we were carefully monitoring her tumor markers. One in particular is called CA 125. This is a protein that is produced by normal cells, but that an ovarian tumor also makes. So when someone is diagnosed with an ovarian tumor, they begin to monitor this marker. The normal range is 0-35. Carmen’s very first one in July (baseline) was 91. Since then it bobbled between 50-60. The lowest she’s ever registered was 47 which was right after this last Oxali treatment. How would she do once we dropped the seemingly stronger drug of the 2 that she was on? Would Xeloda alone help to maintain and contain the cancer? I once again began my search online of other things people were doing to “assist” chemo in battling this disease because I wasn’t comfortable with how long it was taking for us to see (more) meaningful results.

So the journey continues…

Bittersweet 2012

Boni
2012 came and went with much fanfare both good and bad. On Memorial Day we lost our first “daughter” Boni. She was as close to a human daughter as a dog can get. She was born in Carmen’s parent’s home 10 years ago and has called Carmen her mom ever since. She’s been to Vegas, Detroit, Chicago, San Diego, Raleigh, Napa, San Francisco, Orlando, DC, Alexandria, New York, and of course LA. She’s lived in LA, Detroit, Raleigh, then back to LA. Sadly we had to say goodbye in 2012. Perhaps God was paving the way for what was to come for us in July, again both good and bad.

Halloween 2012
Halloween was tough. Her 4th cycle fell on 10/31. Talk about a trooper, she wanted to take the girls out for a little fun, against my wishes of course. We took the girls to the pumpkin patch in Torrance. We didn’t spend much time there, but enough to get a few good pictures. Ella has been Minnie for the past 2 years and will be until she’s married, with kids. Olivia wanted to be a kitty cat. Both incredibly cute. After some time there, I just wanted to get her home so she could lay down and rest but not before Ella had her chance to show off her Rose Bowl queen wave.

Future Rose Bowl queen

Future Rose Bowl queen

Thanksgiving was a little tough as well. Carmen had just started her 5th cycle that Wednesday so we had to skip my family’s side of festivities. I told her that we should just stay home and rest, but she thought in a few days she would feel better. Well, once again, I was right and she was wrong. Rest isn’t just for the physical body. Rest is also for the mind. Even when you’re sitting down on a couch, if you’re talking and conversing with others, you are not at rest. Needless to say, she paid for it. We’ll just leave it at that.

Christmas was very low key. We didn’t go anywhere or do anything special. Thankfully it was during her “off” week so she had enough strength to participate in family and friend gatherings. We also took advantage of our Disney pass for one last time. I knew it would be too hard for Carmen to walk all day long, so I got her a wheelchair. My sick wife finally came in handy because we got to cut every single line. We must’ve saved hours that day. Just in case people would question a healthy looking woman sitting in a wheelchair, she made sure her PICC line would show, ever so subtly. By the way, she had mastered showering with her PICC line. Since not showering was not an option (not sure why), she made excellent use of plastic wrap. I don’t think it worked because every time she got out of the shower her entire arm was damp. She was fortunate that her immune system was intact throughout all these cycles.

2012 was rough to say the least. But abundantly joyful at the same time.

Monterrey and Half Moon Bay

IMG_8250IMG_8107
December 1, 2012

We decided to take a break from the madness of everyday life, only to enter into even more madness of travelling with a 4 month old and 2 wild children in a minivan up the coast. We had always wanted to take the girls to Monterrey Bay Aquarium so we sucked it up and got in the minivan. We chose this date because it was the 2nd week of Carmen’s cycle where she felt good enough to go on a quick getaway.

We left the house at around 5am to take advantage of peace and quiet, and to avoid traffic. Audrey did us a huge favor by sleeping 4 hours in the van. Olivia and Ella were really good watching videos as Carmen and I enjoyed the drive.

It rained on the way there and when we got there. We loved it. The girls were excited as well because they got to wear their rain coats, well at least Mami was excited. IMG_8050

After a few days there, we headed to Half Moon Bay. By this time, Carmen’s stomach was feeling much better and aside from the fatigue of treatment she was doing really well. No one would ever suspect anything was wrong with her. In fact she was healthier than me as I kept getting sick throughout all of this.

Fun times indeed.

Cycles 2-5

August to December 2012

The subsequent cycles were all very similar. We would check in, get a room, and wait for the drugs. Carmen would bring her usual magazines and iPad so she could read and/or watch a movie. To this day, she has never opened up a single magazine nor watched a single movie on the iPad.

Besides the immediate side effects of the Oxali, there were others that manifested themselves a bit later. For the Oxali, as I’ve mentioned before, it was neuropathy. Carmen’s finger tips would tingle and sensitivity would slowly diminish. This effect was compounded by Xeloda’s side effect which was hand/foot syndrome. Her hands and feet began to discolor and peel. It was as if he was getting sunburned daily on the palm of her hands and the soles of her feet. Combined, these 2 drugs were making it difficult for Carmen to do simple things like buttoning up the girls clothes, or tie their hair, or picking up anything with her fingers. There’s a special talent that I believe only females are given that men, no matter how much they try, can not pick up. That’s tying girls hair in a pony tail. All of my attempts were met with “Oh, I guess it was daddy’s turn to get the girls ready today”.

During this time, Carmen was on a heavy dose of Prilosec for the ulcerated tumor in her stomach. As I understood it, it had ulcerated and was causing pain and discomfort. She had this before Audrey was born, but she just assumed that it was just part of the pregnancy and didn’t say anything. After a few months on Prilosec and chemo, her stomach pains subsided. Upon her next CT scan, it seemed as if her ulceration had healed and the stomach tumor shrank. Both really good signs. The only negative was her ovarian masses had not shrunk. On the positive side, it didn’t grow. Also another positive was that there were no new signs of growth in any other part of her body. We’re assuming that there may be a chance some cancer cells have spread to other parts of her body just waiting for a chance to begin growing. The chemo looked like it was keeping these guys in check. I believe her own immune system was helping as well. During all of her cycles she never needed any blood transfusions or any other boosters. All of her blood counts were in good range for her to receive treatment.

Audrey by this time was sleeping more than 5 hours a night. When she did wake up for food, she would quickly go back to sleep as soon as she was done. I had gotten used to waking up for an hour, then going back to sleep. She was an expert at burping. She did have a few stretches where she would throw it all back up after she finished the bottle. Those were not fun nights. But they passed.

All in all, these cycles actually became routine (maybe because we had become semi-zombies by this time).