Thursday, March 5, 2015

Amanda survives past her life expectancy, and there's cake

Happy un-birthday to Amanda!

On February 28, 2014, we went to the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre in Halifax to get the results of a scan. As I wrote in a painful article here a few days later, the doctors told us her ovarian cancer had returned and the prognosis was not good:
Ovarian cancer tends to come back. We knew this. But we thought it might come back years later. YEARS later.

When ovarian cancer comes back within the first six months after treatment, it's worse. It means that it is not cured, won't be cured, can't be cured. It means it's resistant to the main agent used to fight it, which is platinum. Cancer that returns within the first six months is considered platinum-resistant. Throwing more platinum at it won't work very well, and is toxic to the body anyway.

The doctor figures Amanda has another year, maybe two, left to live.

That was a pretty awful time. That diagnosis led us to sell our home, leave our friends, and move half-way across the country to be near family in Amanda's last days.

But a year later -- she's still here. I'm so glad.

This called for a celebration. Everything from here on is bonus time, right?


We invited the extended family over for snacks and cake, then we went out to dinner at The Tasting Room in London for what might've been the most expensive dinner for two we've ever had. It was really good.



To update my previous post, I can report that Amanda is impressed with life without the ureteral stent. No more internal poking, no more internal bladder-scraping. Plus she's been able to stop taking the pee-less-frequently pill that had dried her right out.

The docs in London also prescribed her a different kind of painkiller for her post-chemotherapy joint pain, and after investigating some pretty scary-sounding potentially fatal possible interactions with her other meds, she tried it. First shot was great. Mixed results since, but it's great to see her mostly pain-free once in a while!

We finished watching Breaking Bad. Wow, that was a good show.

Scott and Amanda Simpson celebrating on the occasion of her predicted death

What's next? I haven't checked the calendar, but I suspect there's another scan coming up soon. I know that brings a lot of anxiety with it, but the past two have been encouraging. I'll keep you up to date.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Kidney, The Kid, The Echidna

The Kidney

The latest question about Amanda's health has been about her kidneys. Specifically, about one of the kidneys, which has been in danger almost as long as they've been doing scans.

Docs in Halifax noted hydronephrosis on one kidney, but opted not to do anything about it, even when they saw "severe" hydronephrosis. They figured a tumor was probably pressing on the ureter, causing urine to back up and damage the organ.

Docs in Ontario thought it wiser to treat it, and installed a stent going from her bladder to kidney through the ureter. The stent was drastically uncomfortable and added new symptoms for Amanda, which led to more prescriptions, which led to more side effects. On top of that, getting the stent installed and replaced was an agonizing ordeal, and easily the worst pain of the whole cancer journey, she said.
Pigtail ureteral stent. Imagine that wire tickling your bladder all the time. (Wikipedia)

It began to look like the stent wasn't even working. Another scan showed that the ureter wasn't been pressed on by a tumour -- it was being squeezed off by a mess of bowel and scar tissue.

The question became: is the kidney any good now, and if it's not, can it just be left alone? Amanda notes that she's not going to be taken out by a kidney problem when she's really facing cancer.

She went for a nuclear medicine scan. (Those are really cool, by the way.) It looked at how the two kidneys were actually functioning.

Turns out, the bad kidney had pretty much given up. Well, the body had given up on it. It put the kidney into retirement and shifted as much of the piss-making work to the other kidney. I don't recall the exact figures or what the different measurements mean, but from what I gather, she has 50% of the kidneys she started with, but the remaining one is doing at least 60% of the full job, which is, according to the urologist, plenty fine. Good enough for regular living and good enough for chemo if that's required in future.

Urology: Apparently it's all about cross-country skiing. (Photo: Mine.)

The atrophied kidney will stay. I guess it doesn't rot and stink and mess up the rest of the place. It just gets all saggy and sad and doesn't do anything. Many of us can identify.

That leaves a remaining concern for the other one: what if THAT kidney goes? Yes, that would be bad. Kidneys don't usually just up and fail for no reason, though.

So, after that update, it was down the hall at the hospital to get the nasty stent out. It took a few excruciating seconds, but she felt better immediately. No more weird poking inside. It's a good thing.

The doctor gave the stent to Amanda to take home and burn, or put in a shadowbox frame, or use as a twist-tie or whatever.

The Kid

Gordon is talking more and more. He's adding new words on a daily basis. It's fun to hear him communicate verbally. He's even putting the odd two-word combination together. ("Please sit.")

And "Pie" (shaking head no) + "numm numm" (his word for cats) to tell me about the Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens.

Not bad for 22 months, I understand.

Then, the other day, he added a new word which changes everything:



In the days since, he's...he's saying it a lot. His new favourite word. Oh, joy.

The Echidna

Echidnas, sometimes known as spiny anteaters, belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. The four extant species, together with the platypus, are the only surviving members of that order and are the only extant mammals that lay eggs.

The echidna has nothing to do with anything that's going on in my life right now.

More news to come soon, I'm sure.

"Oh, goodness. Who's paging me at this hour?"