I was not as nervous as you would think on April 23rd. Martin, my mother and I drove up to Dana Farber. All weekend I wanted plan for Poland, Barbados and Florida, as we brainstormed ideas of what could be attainable or possible.
I started to realize I looked pregnant… but that couldn’t be.
When the appointment began I noticed it felt like a routine visit. Everything went smoothly, but what were we focusing on? It was this: if I did nothing the outlook for me was living three weeks to a few months longer. So, is that my only option, I wanted to know?
No, I was told we can try a low dose chemo and see how it works. Since it is low dose, they said, it won’t do much harm, but we truly don’t know how it will work. It’s not a treatment we have used a lot at low dose and technically you are in liver failure, leaving you with limited options. Of course, the goal would still be to get you to be stable; however, this is a blind treatment. We don’t know if this approach will be any different than if we do nothing, and not have you connected to any IV pole. I’m 32 years old, I thought, how could I sit here and do nothing if there might still be something that might work and fight back against my liver metastasis?
I’m a fighter, a thriver, and I don’t give up! Just because I choose not to toss my hands in the air, I’m not oblivious to my current outlook. It does look grim. And at the same time, I’m seeing my husband grasping his thoughts, and watching my mom absorb this news.
Even though I don’t know what I physically can or can’t do, I want to choose to live for now. I’m not the kind of person to sit back and hope for a miracle with my legs up in the air.
So, I thought about it and said I would like to try the low dose chemo approach. Yes, it ties me to the chemo pole, but I haven’t had a long life and if there is a chance to extend it, I will raise my hand high in the air and try the treatment. The new chemo has me tired but so did the last one and so does my liver, so, really, what else is new?
My liver and stomach are very enlarged right now, and based on my scans and blood count numbers, I’m in liver failure. I have to pray and hope this chemo can shrink or zap some of the nasty liver cancer. Since I’m so uncomfortable I don’t go to many places right now, and because I wobble like a duck when I walk, it knocks the wind out of me. Your body does what it can to save itself. For me, the fatigue means I need to rest, and I respect that. Unfortunately, I constantly need help these days with everything because of all of that.
As for my Bucket List, it’s still there. It will just have to be taken step by step. Barbados is still in the cards, but Poland will be too much at this time. My doctors’ orders say small RV trips will be okay, but we will have to play Florida by ear for now, and make a decision closer to when that time comes.
We really do hope some local community members, friends and family will assist us in a local fundraiser. Or help me in sharing my GoFundMe page. Having peace of mind for my husband, my near-end preparations, and medical assistance is always welcome – and more greatly appreciated than you know.
My short rollercoaster ride could be coming to an end, but I am always hoping to remain on this ride a little longer. I would love your support for the reminder of the ride, and to help me make it less stressful for my husband, friends, and family.
How can you help?
When you get hit with cancer early in life there are several aspects you don't prepare for. Help us during the end of my rollercoaster but assisting us in our GoFundMe champgain or if your local to Connecticut help us with a local fundraiser.
Wow, this past week has been emotional and unreal. For the past several months I have noticed that thrivers would become quiet on social media, then someone would post news on their passing. I always wondered how so soon? But on Wednesday, April 17th 2018, I went for scans and an already scheduled doctor’s appointment. What I wasn’t expecting to hear is this: “We should start planning end of life discussions.” The nurse practitioner looked at me and realized how shocked I was for those words to pass her mouth. End of life?
Well, yes, I haven’t been having the easiest time lately, but its cancer it’s not always easy. It has been an extremely bumpy road between my recent hospital visit and other moments where I was seeing brighter days. The APRN looked at me and said “you still look as though you have more fight in you.” I said of course, but how do you process this? She said that on Monday, when your doctor returns, we will discuss all the options. She said there are treatment options but they won’t be easy; they could potentially do more harm but they could help, too.
Monday… 5 days away… do I count this as 5 days till judgment day?!? But I began to ask myself, how would I choose to live my life out if it’s only a matter of months. If I have 6 months to live what should I do? Revamp my bucket list and make as many memories as I can. This is not easy on a small budget, without my income and with a husband who building & working for a new non-profit. I have been assisting him with the non-profit while I have been well, but the truth is that we will need support to get us through the duration.
How do you plan a quick last run on a bucket list when currently your days are hit or miss? Since I’ve been struggling, I’ve noticed that the people who surround me the most are my family. So I would love to plan out three more adventures, one with my cousins and family to our pre-booked trip to Barbados with Martin for my cousin’s wedding. If I need a helping hand there, I’ll have family in the room right next door. The next would be to go to Poland, where Martin’s mother has her home. That can stand as home base in case I need to stay put in bed or just stay home and view the mountains from my mother-in-law’s deck with my mother, sister, and Martin & his family. Then hopefully I’ll go to my father’s home for short trips around Florida; once again with that as a home base in case I’m struggling. If by July flying is too much, then we have the RV Martin revamped last year that could take us down and up.
It’s a mixture of the power of distraction and the power of positivity.
But, still, Monday April 23rdis judgment day. If we choose treatment this could move the timing around, but I know I have to plan my memories and moments now.
If you are local to Connecticut and wouldn’t mind helping me put on a fundraiser like a pasta dinner, or just something simple and quick, I would love and appreciate the support! I will also update my go-fund me page soon if anyone would like to support my end of life planning. I’d also enjoy just hearing from you. You’ve heard my hopes and dreams now; I’d love to hear yours.
Next update will hopefully be posted between 4-24-18 or 4-26-18 pending on how I feel.
Over the past month my cancer has tested me emotionally, physically, spiritually and cognitively. This rollercoaster loop was like nothing I have experienced ever in my journey. My first summer in 2016 I had excruciating pain due to mets in my hip and collar bone, I was lucky and didn’t experience intense chemotherapy related side effects. For the most part I carried on life, blogging and volunteering at the Community Navigators the non-profit I dedicated a lot of myself too as I saw it as my legacy.
I never knew and don’t ever wish to know what I feel and felt over the past 2 months. The back pain started in February but it was similar at first to my liver spasms. Deep down I knew they were in fact different. Turing your pain into words is a very tricky thing to do for any of us, it’s just not simple. It’s like how did cutting your finger this time feel verse the time you had cut it two years ago.
I remember pushing myself to a meditation class with liver and back spasms, no idea what to come or the trials I will soon come to face. Cancer has never been a walk in the park, and I have become used to spasms to a degree but, like I said, nothing that my rollercoaster cart soon would circle me around to. I saw friends come and go as the pain, fear and sickness crept in. Some could handle Larissa slipping away, while others ran. By March, I knew things were going to be different -- I just didn’t know how. I knew I wanted to put off a scan because the last one didn’t show anything in December! How can cancer grow that fast? I kept asking myself…
But that decision too would be soon taken from me. I became too sick to drink, eat and basically function on my own. Then boom! An immense tension and power started play slinky with my spine, I held on to the counter with all my might and wondered will anyone come? After my husband came and launched me up, got me to the couch, had someone run and grab my heating pad, I shook from pain, fear and shock.
The next day = emergency MRI of my spine. I went to the outpatient MRI location but it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to do it there without pain control as laying flat on the bed would be excruciating and impossible. My mom sat in the other room traumatized as she heard me scream bloody murder. So to the ER we went, both me and my mom trying to hold it together for me. (I see this now but of course not in the moment.) I was immediately admitted which frightened me more: I’m in the wrong hospital, this isn’t Dana Farber, and oh no I’m at Hartford Hospital! What will they do to me now?
Finally, after lots of battles, Dana Farber was able to get me admitted to them. I remember closing my eyes during transport thankful to be on my way to a team of doctors who truly know my case all around. I went from hearing 10 back radiations to 1 at Dana. I was grateful to feel in good hands, pain management that was working and tests to continue to monitor me.
After having a team of doctors launch ideas around me, including me & my family, I felt safe and in good hands. No mention you will meet this doctor Tuesday, or this doctor Thursday, just a team of doctors who all wanted wanted one thing: Larissa to get better.
It took days to get my pain under control and my back to stop playing slinky. I knew I had little teeny tiny spots on my back but I never knew I grew lesions from the top all the way to the very end. I underwent radiation so I can continue to fight my liver mets. It wasn’t just back lesions I was battling -- my liver decided to hop into action too and blew up like an air balloon. We needed to act fast on both areas, so getting back to chemo was just as important. But the trick is you can only do one – radiation or chemo - at a time.
After my stay at the hospital, I went home with a very involved pain management plan and, if you follow me on social media, you would have noticed I held back on posting. It is not the easiest to post, make sense and adjust to a very involved pain management plan. I was definitely not looking my normal glam & shine self and in the first few weeks I barely saw sunshine. My first real day out consisted of Easter, we went to church, and we ate and I went to bed. But it was an accomplishment! My husband has had to be superman like he has never had to do before while standing strong - making sure I was eating, drinking, helping me clean myself up in every single way imaginable, not complain or melt down and Yes I’m happy to announce he still loves loves loves me! Somehow…. My mother who I am not always so nice to stayed strong to keep me afloat. My dad and my Aunt made sure I didn’t miss my Italian traditions: she battled her fear of dogs to bring me comfort. My mother in law flew from Poland to help take care of me and to make sure I was packing on pounds whenever she could get a piece of food near my mouth which, already 10 lbs lighter needed!
I look around at my family and I see just how blessed I am! There were moments I prepared my celebration of life and what is next for me. I struggled to hold onto hope and faith so much I really didn’t see a way out. I tried to prepare myself for the end. Then I asked my doctor is this my time? She said I don’t know but I think you’re getting better, it’s just taking awhile. I went home and looked at myself and realized the same thing: this is not yet my time. I might hurt, I might be uncomfortable, I might still experience more bad days versus good days but I’m still experiencing. Life keeps entering my eyes each and every day. Some days I WOW myself and maybe this chemo isn’t for me and the next will be. That’s ok. Maybe I’ll need more radiation and that’s ok too. But I’m not done fighting, I’m not done living! But I do pronounce April as Larissa’s Recuperation April so I can see my cousin get married in May!
No one said cancer would be easy, but no one can put into words what type of pain you can or will endure because everyone’s journey will be so different. I thought I felt cancer but now I know this stinky MBC has a lot up its sleeves and my living and loving life might be my emotional strength to arise in these dark moments. I ask people to be patient with me, I ask for your support and I ask for your endless love!
Metastatically Speaking Blogger: Larissa Podermanski
Two years with Breast Cancer. WOW can you believe that, it actually feels longer! I would never have thought two years ago today I would be enduring endless chemo treatments. I stopped counting around 60ish. I wouldn’t have thought some of my best friends would jump ship. And I would never have imagined this sickness, pain and discomfort.
Three years surviving Metastatic Breast Cancer means I beat the statistics. One more to go. But when did the timer start? Is it two years ago today when I received that dreaded call...“Larissa I’m sorry to inform you, it’s Cancer.” Or on April 27 when my whole body scan lit up like a Christmas Tree. Two years ago today I didn’t know I was Metastatic yet, no one knew...no one looked. There’s no question now I was along.
Two years ago today it was a warm March day. I remember standing outside on the phone with my dad in short sleeves and sweat pants giving him the news. The sun was high and warm. Dying was far from my mind. Women survive breast cancer everyday right? Yet, Pink Awareness doesn’t highlight MBC woman. I was 100% afraid, I was 100% unsure what the next 6 months would be like. But I wasn’t thinking: Life with cancer. For all I knew I would be a survivor after a double mastectomy, maybe chemo, maybe radiation…. Not endless treatments and several close calls.
These past several weeks I’ve struggled. And the struggles get harder each time. This time, I started planning my end of life. Two years ago if someone told me this is what I would be doing - I’d have said they were crazy. I delayed writing this blog because two years with cancer isn’t easy. It’s not easy to write this and even harder when your stuck in bed grasping the blankets, the pillow, you’re partner. It’s hard to do anything when you feel like a small boat in the middle of a major hurricane. You wonder - how long can I hold on for? When while I capsize? Two years ago I would never have imagined how life would test me.
Two years ago we were planning a family. Two years ago today freezing my eggs was an option. In less then forty days that option ceased. I see my friends popping babies out like Bruno Mars pops out hit songs...Martin really wanted kids. I’m now a small boat flooded with guilt.
Two years ago I proudly called myself a gym rat. Now I try and Cancer kicks me out.
Two years ago today was the last morning I woke up in peace. No fear. No pain No side effects. It was just a morning like any other morning, but I couldn’t describe it for you - I took it for granted. I would tell you that if you have a moment of peace - cherish it, savor it, remember it. But those moments aren’t always so easily apparent. It’s not until they’re gone when you recognize it for what it was. I don’t remember what peace like that feels like anymore. Maybe one day that memory will come back. Maybe one day I’ll do more than just remember...maybe I’ll feel it.
Metastatically Speaking Larissa Podermanski
As much as we hope that a treatment will last forever, it usually doesn’t. I have been lucky -- two out of the three treatments I have done have held strong for about eight months each time. But three treatments in less than two years can be discouraging because I will run out of treatments soon, unless more funding goes toward research for metastatic breast cancer.
The week in between Christmas and New Year’s I experienced body spasms but had no idea what caused them. I feared progression. I have been on this type of chemotherapy called Erublin since August 2017 and hadn’t experienced these side effects before. Since, when my cancer decides to progress it does so quickly, we pushed for a CT scan. Nothing. The scans showed nothing, which in cancerland is good news. The symptoms kept coming, with more intense spasms followed by a break. After the third round of spasms, I started to get sicker, nauseous, tired, weak and having immense ongoing liver discomfort and spasms. We hoped to not need to scan till the end of March or early April, but last week we got in the car and went up to Dana Farber for imaging.
Usually, when we go to Boston we make it a little special; we at least go out to dinner, but I felt so sick and nauseous the idea of doing anything other than laying down in our hotel room felt impossible. Sleeping has become an on-going challenge because once the medication wears off the discomfort and/or pain will wake me up and falling back to sleep can feel like a coin toss. Heads you will fall back to sleep, tails your loss. It usually falls on tails.
Tuesday morning we head to Dana Farber, nothing has changed; I still felt really bad. I kept trying to put one foot in front of the other, keep my head up so I wouldn’t lose my balance and keep an escape route in mind incase whatever sat in my stomach attempted to come up. As I wait after my scan for the nurse to “de-access” me -- that’s what they say when they need to remove your port needle in your chest -- my symptoms are getting harder and harder to hide. I sat in the hallway with my head against the wall as I listen to this older woman complain about routine annual tests and her hatred of needles. I thought about the time when I was afraid of needles, but can you please hurry up before I throw up all over this hallway?!?! More and more I listen to how small some people’s big problems are, but I remind myself I’m happy you don’t know my problems as I hope fewer and fewer people ever have to walk in my shoes; but hurry up!
After getting de-accessed Martin and I ventured upstairs where we play a game like I’m a 2-year-old; What do you want to eat? Nothing it’s okay…. Open up, you gotta eat… zoom zoom take a bite. Being 2 must have been so fun -- you didn’t even have to worry about feeding yourself. After a successful six bites we went upstairs to get my results. As normal, someone calls me in to get my vitals. How are you? OK, can I have a throw up bag and has anyone reported that the building keeps shaking? They really should have that looked at. Before I knew I was rolled into a private room because apparently the ground wasn’t shaking and throwing up isn’t a good thing. I felt so sick.
Soon after my doctor enters my room and gently gets straight to the point: Larissa, it’s progression and the reason why you feel this way is because of your liver. I felt so miserable I couldn’t cry or feel upset. I just begged for whatever could make me feel better right now. She explained we really need to discuss trying a new treatment today. New chemo right now? In cancerland you want to fight back as fast as you can so it can take effect and potentially you start to feel better again, so I said let’s do this. They first started with Ativan, which can help with nausea (but with less risk of constipation), then a huge bag of fluids which is a godsend, followed by my new chemotherapy: Doxil.
Doxil is administered once a month and is an anti-cancer ("antineoplastic" or "cytotoxic") chemotherapy drug. It is the drug doxorubicin encapsulated in a closed lipid sphere (liposome). Doxil is classified as an "anthracycline antibiotic." That couldn’t have possibly helped you understand because I don’t even understand it!
After Dana Farber helped put me back together again, the next day was not a walk in the park, but I wasn’t expecting to feel 100 percent; I just started a new chemo and would still have all these liver side effects until the new chemo kicks in. WARNING: There is no promise this chemo will work. I’ve been very fortunate that all the chemos I have taken have worked but it wasn’t promised. I will feel like crap until this chemo starts to work, if it works.
Larissa feeling like crap means:
I will rest a little more, I will do more from my chair and bed but I will not stop. I have exciting MBC stuff approaching and intend to keep it up. Martin and I plan to swing down to Florida in a few weeks and bring our little RV back up to Connecticut after swinging through Key West. By doing this we will be able to keep me mobile even though I don’t feel well. None of this will be easy on me, but staying home too much can turn into solitary confinement. Your thoughts start to haunt you, you begin a war of balance within yourself, your fear runs rampant, you become more and more irritable and you get sucked up into a black hole. Now even I know that that can’t be healthy? That’s not how to create a platform for yourself. But “resting” too much -- even if you need it -- can become hard emotionally, mentally and physically, and I completely can understand why some thrivers struggle to escape from the dark cloud.
I have returned to my local cancer center for fluids and help to get back to “tolerable” and I’ll probably be back for more next week. Cancer sucks, but it’s up to me to turn something sucky into something else even though it isn’t always a walk in the park. But I’m going to shine -- you can count on it. You might even think “How is she sick?”