Thursday, November 19, 2009

Strength, courage and wisdom
And it's been inside me all along
Strength, courage and wisdom
Inside of me

Twenty-two weeks and 16 rounds of chemotherapy later, Karen is still strong. Sure, her body has been ravaged and her energy drained by the cumulative effects of nearly six months of a difficult regimen of chemicals, but today, as the final drops of Taxol dripped from her IV bag, she took the first steps toward getting "on the other side" of this journey. The same strength, courage and wisdom that she drew upon for her first chemo treatment on July 9th was still inside of her when she finished her final round of chemo today.

Looking at the two photos above -- one taken on her first day of treatment and the other on her last -- the toll of the experience is apparent. On the outside, chemo has stripped her of her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Her skin is milky-white and her toenails are falling off. But her smile remains, always, as does her buoyant optimism. On the inside and on the outside, she's been fighting cancer every day, never losing hope and inspiring all of us along the way.

Karen could have opted for a less intensive and shorter treatment protocol. But faced with a diagnosis of the more aggressive triple negative cancer that has a higher rate of recurrence, she never thought twice about participating in a clinical trial that required 16 cycles of dose dense drugs, including the trial drug, Avastin. After all, she didn't want to ever have to go through this again if there was any chance that she could knock out cancer for good now. Bravely, she said yes to the trial. In the end, she endured that long trial only to learn after the 10th cycle that she was in the 20% of the trial participants that received a placebo instead of Avastin, the drug added specifically for the trial. Disappointing? Greatly. But she can rest easier knowing that she received more chemo than she might have otherwise received with a standard treatment protocol.

Today was an important milestone in the cancer journey. Yet, in many ways, the last treatment was strangely anti-climatic. Oddly, there were no cheers or high-fives in the "infusion room." Of course, we were both glad to end this chapter. Karen is anxious to begin the process of recovery and healing. To grow hair. To rediscover the taste of food. To sleep well. To simply feel good. But first there is radiation treatment -- perhaps as many as four to six weeks of daily radiation. While it doesn't loom as threatening and scary as the the chemotherapy, it represents another phase in the treatment course. And so, the journey continues.


  1. You did it! All of you...this chemo was a family effort. I am so proud of you. A major hurdle has passed you. One more hurdle -- radiation -- but you will get through it. Keep fighting. We are all thinking of you. Kim

  2. Thanks for this blog! I recently found it while doing some online research. My 36 year old wife was diagnosed with an almost identical case in September. We have two daughters, ages almost 5 and almost 2. I wish no one would ever have to go through this, but it's nice to know that we're not alone. Thanks from one husband to another!

    Mike in Arkansas

    1. The odds are pretty well stacked against us - triple negative, younger, and with young children in the house. And as the husbands, it becomes our duty to keep the household together and become the pillar of support for wife and child(ren).

      Karen, the before and after picture is telling; those barren branches behind you ready for the winter are like the scorched earth that your body has become in the battle to rid you of cancer. But spring will come again and your body will heal with time.

      Brian, thank you for writing this blog - guys like Mike and I and millions of other husbands can relate... and support our wives or sisters or mothers (I'm going to keep hoping that by the time our daughters are old enough we'll have the technology and the epidemiology to prevent breast cancer.)

      I'm going to suggest other triple negative survivors or recent patients may find my wife's thorough treatment of the subject matter encyclopaedic:

  3. Brian and Karen, I just discovered your blog today. I was diagnosed with widespread metastatic breast cancer 9 years ago when I was 35 years old. This past weekend I was in Toronto, Ontario at the 2nd Annual Breast Fest Film Festival (yes! an entire film festival dedicated to breast cancer, and event put on by innovative Toronto group Rethink Breast Cancer). One of the workshops I took part in was about writing. I have a blog on my website but find it hard to make the time to write and the writing workshop has really helped. What got me looking on the internet was the fact that the writer who taught the workshop said she did a search - "breast cancer blogs" and said there were over 25 million results. I've googled many different breast cancer things in ny 9 year battle but this wasn't one of them...til tonight :) Yours was the 2nd blog I found tonight and I just want to say THANK YOU. Thank you for having the courage to share your experience with many you do not even know. To have a blog from the husband's point of view is much-needed and so helpful. I wish my husband had access to this kind of stuff 9 years ago when I was diagnosed. We are now living our new life - a life we never planned or wanted, and a life full of questions and unknowns...but we are used to it after all these years.

    It sounds like you are getting to a point that I recognize very well. The point where the "safety net" of your cancer centre is close to being pulled out from under you. It's a place you never planned on being, but it's hard to walk away from! This is an area that is often over-looked for patients. The transition in going from treatment to normal life. It's normal to feel some anxiety about it. So many times my husband and I just wanted things to "go back to the way they were before cancer", but it's easier said than done! Just continue to take each day as it comes and LOVE EACH OTHER, and enjoy every little moment of being alive. Cancer may not be what you planned, but it does bring many blessings.

    I'm going to put a link to your blog on my website. If you would prefer that I NOT, please email me through my website which is listed below.

    Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CANADA
    Blog page: Laughs, Loves & Losses

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  5. Karen,It's Crystal Hoy, Doug Hoy's wife. Just found out. You look beautiful and strong. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers as you journey through this unexpected path.

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