Rosemary’s Battles with Cancer

Rosemary’s Battles with Cancer

My wife, Rosemary Braun, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. We were rushed into treatment.

Going into this we could not have imagined what awaited us; the many treatments, hospital visits, consultations, the multitude of awful side-effects, the emotional roller-coaster, how our young kids would react, the extreme fatigue, the support that was available to us through the medical community, through local agencies, and well as through family, friends and our faith, nor how much we would need and depend upon this support to get us through many of the days that lay ahead of us.

Rosemary emerged from this first battle cancer free (or so we thought), and also worn out.

This site depicts the saga at each stage of our journey, including the many communications we sent to family and friends throughout our ordeal, from the initial announcement that something was suspect, through each of the subsequent steps (e.g. consultations, decisions, tests, treatments, lots of side-effects, etc.). It does not “sugar-coat” what we went through but tells it as we experienced it (the good, the bad and the ugly). It was a very difficult journey.

Then there was a second cancer battle which started 1.5 years after the first battle ended. It’s details are also described here as they unfolded.

It is our hope that this practical and realistic description of our experiences might in some small way better prepare someone else who has been diagnosed with breast cancer or who knows of someone else who has just received a similar diagnosis. You can get through all the difficulties, but don’t try the journey alone!

This website is a journal of the communications we sent to family and friends throughout this excruciating period of our lives.

Start the Journey…

(Website by Doug Braun — Rosemary’s husband)

Chapter 1 — Tests and Diagnosis

Uncertainty played a big part in this initial stage of our journey.

This section covers the many, many tests that had to be performed during this diagnostic stage, and the resulting outcomes.

This was the first email we sent to our family and a few close friends. Then we sat back and waited for the emails and telephone calls.

The Lumps (August 4)

We wanted to inform you about a recent concern regarding Rosemary’s health.

Rosemary discovered a lump recently. We had x-rays and an ultrasound done, the results of which were suspicious so Rosemary was referred to a surgeon. We just returned from a consultation with a surgeon today (Thursday) regarding this situation. It is the same surgeon that removed Rosemary’s gallbladder in early June.

There appear to be multiple issues. There are two suspicious areas in the one breast, as well as a lump (and associated pain) in one of the lymph nodes under her related arm. All three areas are suspicious in nature.

A variety of tests have been scheduled for Rosemary over the next 12 days, the first of which is tomorrow (Friday) morning. They have scheduled these tests on an urgent basis. A biopsy has also been scheduled for these bad areas on Tue Aug 9th at 8:00am.

The surgeon will not know the results until all of the tests are done, but he believes that it is cancer. He is particularly concerned that it may have already spread to some lymph nodes.

He said that, in general, if cancer is limited to a breast that treatment is quite simple and has a high success rate. However, he believes that Rosemary’s situation might be non-standard and a different approach might be recommended after the test results have been examined. We will receive the results on Mon Aug 22nd at 1:45pm.

Obviously, we are in the first stage of the five stages of receiving negative news (“shock”).

However, we know that God is in control and we put our trust in Him.

We would appreciate your prayer support as we go through the next diagnostic steps and as a course of action is chosen and undertaken. Please pray: (a) for wisdom for the medical team and for us as assessments and decisions are made; (b) for a healthy outcome through God’s intervention, through medical intervention or otherwise; © for strength and peace for Rosemary and our family.

Thank you.

The Bone Scan (August 5)

Rosemary had a full body bone scan today (Friday). It was a 2-part test so we had to make two trips to St. Mary’s Hospital. Here is some dialogue from Rosemary regarding today and the test:

“One test down, 7,254 more to go! Just kidding. Hopefully not. Today’s test was painless. I had to go get injected with a radioactive substance, then go home and drink lots. Then 3 hours later we went back, and I had to lay on a bed for 35 minutes while a machine slowly moved from head to toe. The hardest part was trying to lay motionless that long. But I just closed my eyes and prayed and it didn’t seem too bad at all.

Thanks for all your prayers. Yesterday was very hard, but after a night’s rest things look more hopeful today. Nothing’s changed, but I feel more able to handle this, whatever may come. God gives me enough strength and peace to make it through each step and each day.” [End of Rosemary’s comments]

The biopsy is scheduled for this coming Tue Aug 9th. We need to be at St. Mary’s Hospital by 7:30am (I just love mornings!) and the biopsy is scheduled for 8:00am. They will be doing a biopsy of one of the two bad areas in the one breast, and a biopsy of the swollen lymph node under her arm. Our kids are being looked after from Monday evening until Tuesday mid-morning. We get the results on Aug 22nd.

We are really appreciative of all of the emails and phone calls of support and all of the people who are praying for Rosemary and our family. As one person said recently, “God is in control and He is still in the business of doing miracles!” The many words of encouragement from so many people have been very helpful.

In closing all I can say is that we covet your prayers on our behalf as we take it one day at a time.

The Biopsies (August 9)

The biopsies were this morning.

We arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital at 7:30am where Harold, who was assisting at the hospital, took us to the Minor Outpatient Department on the 4th floor. The biopsies were scheduled for 8:00am, but we were asked to arrive at 7:30am. Our doctor/surgeon took Rosemary a few minutes after we arrived (7:35am).

As it turns out, he was doing surgery at 8:00am, and he had squeezed us in early ahead of his surgery, just so the biopsies could be done as soon as possible (without waiting for a later time slot). So, Rosemary was having the biopsies at the same time as I was answering a bunch of questions at the admittance desk about the situation. I no sooner got done all of the questions and sat down in the waiting room, than Rosemary walked by a few minutes later; all done.

Rosemary did not like this morning’s procedures. Unlike the previous bone scans which were non-invasive; the biopsies were different, obviously. They were a bit painful and there is some lingering discomfort. But, she is glad that they are done.

From another perspective, having an invasive procedure done also brings another level of realism to the situation, which is not fun.

Rosemary’s next tests are on Tue Aug 16th at 11am. We don’t get any results until Mon Aug 22nd.

We would welcome your continued prayers on our behalf, especially for peace and comfort during this time of uncertainty, for a healthy outcome by Gods hand or otherwise, and for wisdom as decisions are made by the medical staff and by us in the days ahead.

Thank you for your support, your many kind words and offers of assistance.

More Tests Done (August 16)

Rosemary had more tests today; this time at Grand River Hospital. The tests involved an ultrasound of each of the organs in the abdomen area, plus some x-rays of the abdomen area.

[Aside: The most “exciting” part of the day was when Rosemary got lost within the labyrinth of hallways in the medical imaging area after they released her from the last test. A nurse found her and led her back to the waiting room I was in.]

This round of tests is now done. We find out the results of all of the tests on Mon Aug 22nd (in 6 days).

We would ask for your prayer support for peace as we await the results, for wisdom as the results are assessed and as a course of treatment is chosen, and for strength as we move forward in the path laid before us.

We would especially ask for your prayer support on Mon Aug 22nd at 1:45pm when we meet with the surgeon to discuss the results and the next steps.

Thank you.

Another Test Needed & Continued Uncertainty (August 19)

The surgeon’s office called today (Friday) afternoon and left a phone message for us when no one was home. Rosemary called back when she got home, but their office was already closed for the weekend.

The message said that our Monday consultation meeting, to receive the results of all of the tests, has been rescheduled (we don’t know to when). They have scheduled us for another test (we don’t know what test, nor when it is scheduled for).

We were to call them for the details, but since their office is closed, we have to wait until Monday morning to find out what is going on, and when. You now know what we know, which isn’t much.

This waiting is difficult for Rosemary (and the rest of us too). Please pray for peace and healing during this extended period of uncertainty.


Another Biopsy Needed (August 22)

We phoned the surgeon’s office to find out the latest developments at 9am when they opened.

The biopsy tests came back “suspicious” but not completely certain for malignancy. This is not uncommon for a needle biopsy. However, they need to know for sure for treatment.

Therefore they need to do another biopsy. It will be a “core needle biopsy” where the radiologist will be guided by x-ray during the procedure for greater control/accuracy. This method gives a better result. The biopsy will be done this Wed Aug 24th at 9:30am and will take an hour.

The “results consultation” originally planned for today has been tentatively rescheduled to Fri Aug 26th at 9:45am. This time slot still needs to be confirmed.

The previous biopsy was quite painful and Rosemary still has some bruising from it. But this is an important test so we move forward with it (again).

Please pray for healing, for an accurate and definitive biopsy test, for wisdom as the next steps are chosen, and for patience and peace as we wait for and then hear the results.

We appreciate your comments and your support. It makes the load seem a bit lighter to share it with others and to know that others are praying for us. Although we usually don’t reply to the many emailed comments and words of encouragement, we want you to know that we do appreciate receiving them.

Thank you.

Second Biopsy (August 24)

We went to Grand River hospital this morning for Rosemary’s second biopsy. The appointment was for 9:30am, but the Medical Imaging area was running behind. The “core needle biopsy” was finally done at 12:30pm. It involved using an ultrasound machine to monitor the progress of the needle and to guide the radiologist as they took some samples. The immediate area received a “local”.

It was an uncomfortable procedure but Rosemary is glad that it is over. There is some lingering discomfort.

Our meeting to receive the results was tentatively rescheduled from Mon Aug 22nd to this Fri Aug 26th. The surgeon’s office has not called back to confirm the Friday appointment as they said they would. We called this morning to see if it was confirmed, but there was just a temp at the office and they didn’t know anything about it. In addition, a technologist at the hospital said that biopsy results usually take a week to 10 days to receive. Maybe there are ways to expedite the results, otherwise why would the surgeon’s office book the “results meeting” for two days after the biopsy. We don’t know. The temp said that the regular admin person would be back tomorrow (Thursday), so we will call tomorrow morning to find out when we next meet.

On another point, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep the details of the situation from the kids. At this point they don’t know anything (other than there were a few tests being done), but Michelle is inquisitive. We don’t want to alarm the kids unless and until we have definite news and an idea of what procedures will be required.

It is sometimes difficult to just wait for the results. However, as someone reminded us earlier this week, “It’s God’s timing and He is in control.”

We ask that you pray for healing, for patience and peace, for wisdom for those making treatment decisions, and for wisdom regarding when, what & how to communicate with the kids in an age-appropriate manner.

Thank you.

Appointment Scheduled Anyway (August 25)

We called the surgeon’s office to confirm Friday’s appointment.

The receptionist said to come in for the appointment because the surgeon still wanted to talk to us, even if they don’t have the full results yet. She said they’re away next week (holidays), so that’s why they’re trying to fit it in this week. So we go as planned: Tomorrow, Fri Aug 26th at 9:45am.

We don’t know what we will be told at this appointment, but we know that the Lord will be there with us and that he will provide for our needs whatever they may be.

We would appreciate your prayers regarding this appointment (and also for healing).

Thank you.

Test Results (August 26)

We had our appointment at the surgeon’s office this morning to find out the results of the various tests.

As the surgeon had originally expected, Rosemary has cancer in two locations within the one breast and in a lymph node under her arm on the same side as the infected breast.

However, the chest x-rays, the abdomen ultrasounds, and the full body bone scan all came back negative for the rest of the body meaning that there is no evidence in those tests of any spread of the cancer beyond the affected region. Praise the Lord!

They don’t yet have the results from the second biopsy which was done two days ago. The purpose of the second biopsy was to extract a larger sample of tissue so that they can determine if the receptors of the cancer will be sensitive to (will respond to) hormones, and if so then hormone therapy will be another option available for treatment.

Rosemary has been referred to an oncologist and a radiation specialist for details and treatment. However, at a high level the treatment plan will probably be as follows:

Step 1: Use chemotherapy to attack the cancer, to reduce it and to stop it from spreading.

Step 2: Use surgery to remove the cancer from both affected areas.

Step 3: Use radiation in case any cancer remains after the surgery (any undetected cancer).

This is not the typical approach for breast cancer. Usually they perform surgery first and then do the chemotherapy and radiation. However, in this case due to the infected lymph node, they are very concerned about the cancer spreading further. The surgery and related recovery period would take 6–8 weeks before the chemo could typically start, and they don’t want to wait that long in this case before starting the chemo treatments. Therefore, they will probably be using the above-listed treatment approach (e.g. chemo first).

There are various types of chemotherapy and the oncologist will inform us of the details for our situation. We meet with them on Thu Sep 1st.

In general, the chemo usually involves approximately 6 months of treatment in repeating 3-week cycles. Everyone reacts differently to the treatments, but in many cases the first week after each chemo treatment involves significant side effects and reduced capability, which is usually followed by two ok weeks.

One possible positive side effect of having the chemo first is that it might reduce the size of the cancer and make surgery a downstaged operation.

However, our actual treatment plan will be determined by the oncologist next week.

Our treatments will be done at the local, recently built Cancer Center at Grand River hospital. We are told that it is a good cancer center and it has all state-of-the-art equipment.

We are also scheduled to meet with the radiation specialist on Mon Sep 12th for a 1.5 hour consultation.

We have felt your prayers — We had a great feeling of peace during the appointment this morning and after it. The combination of your prayers and in putting this issue in the Lord’s hands has raised a huge burden from our shoulders and minds and hearts. It is amazing how calm we feel in the midst of what we are being told and regarding the path laid before us. The Lord is a wonderful comforter. He is also the great physician and healer. We are in His hands as we take each step of this journey.

We don’t know what lies ahead for us. We expect there will be difficult times especially after each treatment, but we know that the Lord will be with us and He will provide for our needs. We also know that we have a wonderful support network of family and friends who will help facilitate our needs as they arise.

We are so appreciative of your prayer support and for answered prayer. There is no evidence of any spread beyond the known areas, praise the Lord. We have had peace and comfort through the uncertainty, praise the Lord. We trust that wisdom has been and will be bestowed upon the doctors as treatment decisions are being made, praise the Lord.

Many people continue to ask for suggestions regarding specific things to pray for. At this point, please pray for healing, for continued peace and strength as we find out the details and start treatment, for continuing wisdom as subsequent treatment decisions are made, and for wisdom as we try to determine what to tell the kids about Mommy and the upcoming treatments (once we find out the details on Thu Sep 1st).

Thank you.

Next: Preparations & Problems

Chapter 2 — Preparations & Problems

In the previous chapter we went through all of the many tests.

In the last visit, we were told that we had cancer “for sure” and that the medical oncologist would inform us of our treatment plan.

We prepared to receive the detailed information about our condition, what could and would be done about it, and what our options were (if any).

First Oncologist Meeting (September 1)

We had our first appointment with the oncologist today.

Our appointment was really a series of multiple sessions with the doctor and a variety of specialists and support personnel. In all, we met 10 different people non-stop during our 3 1/2 hours at the Grand River Regional Cancer Center (GRRCC) this afternoon. We also got our list of 23 questions answered and we received lots of handout materials to read.

For reference, there are eight types of breast cancer. Rosemary’s type is called a Ductal Carcinoma.

The overall treatment approach will be the same as the surgeon had suggested for this situation. Chemotherapy will be done first, followed by surgery to remove the affected tissue in the affected areas, followed by radiation therapy.

The chemo will done in 4-week cycles. A blood test will be taken on day 0 of each cycle (i.e. the day before each cycle starts). They have selected a cocktail of chemo drugs for Rosemary’s situation. Two chemo drugs will be administered intravenously on day 1 and day 8. The third chemo drug will be taken orally for days 1 through 14. Anti-nausea and antibiotic drugs will be taken throughout the cycle as well. So, two weeks on and two weeks off. The chemo cycle repeats every 4 weeks for 6 cycles (i.e. for approximately 6 months).

After a healing/rest period, the surgery will be done next. After a second healing/rest period, the radiation treatments will be done. Overall the treatments may take 10 months or so, but the timing will be adjusted as needed throughout the treatments so it is too early to really guess at the overall duration.

The first chemo treatment will be on Tue Sep 20th.

We have an educational session on Fri Sep 9th for first-time chemo patients (and spouses) to learn more about the details.

Even though the radiation probably won’t be happening until the spring, we have an educational meeting scheduled with our radiation specialist on Mon Sep 12th.

The social support person on “our medical team” gave us lots of good ideas regarding how to talk to age-4 and age-7 kids about the cancer, about the treatments, about the side effects, about how it affects them, about certain age-specific concerns that the kids will probably have, and about how to monitor and deal with any changes in the kids’ behaviour throughout this long process.

All of our appointments, treatments and support will take place at the local, state-of-the-art GRRCC facility, which is good. The people we have met thus far have been very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, and they let us ask as many questions as we wanted to on a wide variety of related topics.

Understandably, the day has been a bit overwhelming for Rosemary.

Thank you for your interest and prayer support to-date. Please continue to pray for us as we begin this phase of the journey.

When it Rains, it Pours (September 6)

What a day. “When it rains, it pours…”

In a regular dental check-up two weeks ago, the dentist’s x-rays found an infection under one of Rosemary’s teeth. It was under the same tooth that had a root canal and crown six years ago. Therefore her dentist referred her to a specialist for a consult. That consult was today (Sep 6th).

Since we cannot leave an existing infection in her body since her immune system will be diminished for many months, that only left two options and Rosemary didn’t want/like the one option.

So that left the option of an expensive “re-root canal” which basically involves drilling a small hole in the crown and extracting the old stuff from the tooth in session #1. Then fill the tooth in session #2 (which must be done approximately two weeks after session #1) and put a temporary filing over the hole. Then return to our regular dentist to have the temporary filing replaced with a permanent filing in session #3. And, because the chemo treatments will significantly reduce Rosemary’s immune system, all such dental work must be completely done before the first chemo treatment of Sep 20th. It was late afternoon on Sep 6th (today) when we had all of the questions answered. Do the math, it doesn’t fit when considering the two-week delay after session #1 and the usual scheduling delays.

I have made so many phone calls today between various doctor’s offices, care consultants, oncologist feedback/opinions/verifications, having messages passed, waiting for responses, calling other parties, coordinating activities/scheduling, and trying to get this to work out. It has been a very hectic, spiralling day.

And, the Lord provided. The dental specialist had a cancellation for tomorrow (Sep 7th) in which he can now do session #1. He also is available to do session #2 on Sep 19th early morning. Apparently, session #3 at the regular dentist can be done on the same day as session #2, so I hope to schedule the permanent filing in the afternoon of Sep 19th but I won’t know for sure until our dentist, who is on vacation this entire week, gets back Sep 12th. I checked with the oncologist to ensure that the dental work, freezing etc. done the day before is ok. She confirms that it is ok and that it could even be done on the morning of the 20th if needed, as long as it is done before the Sep 20th afternoon injections begin. But who wants to have chemo injections when their teeth are just starting to thaw….

Of course, if our regular dentist cannot do the permanent filing on the afternoon of Sep 19th, we will already be committed to this course of action and it will probably need to be treated as emergency dental work at the time.

Can we squeeze any more “issues” into the next two weeks?!?!

Both kids started school today. It was the first school day ever for Joel and we went to meet his new teacher today. Then after all of the above telephone gymnastics were done and the first two appointments made, due to Rosemary’s dental session #1 being tomorrow afternoon, we also had to arrange last-minute child care for Joel and arrange for Michelle to be picked up after school tomorrow by another parent, which has now all been arranged. *whew*

In other news, we had a very positive discussion with our kids on the weekend about Mommy’s sickness, that it’s called cancer, and informed them in very simple age-appropriate terms about the sickness and some of the upcoming changes. The kids had a few questions and seemed to take it very matter-of-factly and with great interest. The advice we received from the GRRCC regarding telling the kids was very helpful in preparing us for this discussion and in covering the questions that would have.

As previously mentioned, our education session for first-time chemo patients & spouses is this coming Fri Sep 9th at 10am.

As the treatments begin, some meals if available would be helpful. Joyce Greer has volunteered to coordinate meal planning until mid-September, and Neusa Barbosa has volunteered to coordinate meal planning thereafter. They have the meal details, dates requested, allergy info, etc., and will coordinate this very useful effort.

If you would like to provide an occasional meal, please contact Joyce as she is accumulating the list of meal volunteers. And thank you in advance for any assistance you might be able to provide.

A second mailing list has been created for child care, for being on-call on certain days, and for other practical non-meal support requests. Any child care or other non-meal requests will be sent to the second mailing list.

At times (like a few times today) things seemed a bit overwhelming as new layers of issues were being piled upon us. But our God is in control and He answers prayer. When we do everything we can in our limited strength, he does what we cannot do in His infinite strength. Thank you for your continuing prayer support. It is appreciated and needed.

Tomorrow is re-root canal session #1 of 3. These next two weeks are filled with so many unusual and preparatory activities. Please pray for Rosemary’s healing first and foremost, also for strength and stamina (we are both feeling a bit exhausted), for peace and comfort in the midst of the storm (especially for Rosemary), and for wisdom as we navigate through each day’s challenges.

Thank you.

Tumor Worse, Treatment Moved Up (September 12)

“A Sad Day”

The segments of Rosemary’s treatments, in order, are: chemotherapy (6 months), recuperation (1 month), surgery & recuperation (1.5 months), then radiation (1.5 months). Without any delays, the treatment regimen will be at least 10 months. Therefore, we didn’t know why we had a consultation booked with the radiation oncology doctor this morning since the radiation won’t be starting until approximately April of next year. However, we went anyway.

This oncologist also did an examination of the affected region and estimates the tumor to be larger than originally thought and to have infected a few more “nodal areas” (lymph node regions). It was previous classed as Invasive Ductal breast cancer, but now it is being considered Inflammatory Ductal breast cancer. It is Stage Three cancer (of four possible stages).

Our radiation oncologist conferred with our medical oncologist (while we waited in the examination room) and they both agreed that the chemo treatments should not wait until next week, but should be started immediately. The chemo treatments have therefore been moved up and start tomorrow (Tue Sep 13th).

You may remember that Rosemary has an infection under the one tooth that had a root canal done 6 years ago, and she started a retreatment of that root canal on Sep 7th. The re-root canal is a two part procedure and the second procedure cannot be done until approximately two weeks after the first procedure. Also, dental procedures, freezing, etc., cannot be done during the 6 month chemo treatment period. The second part of the re-root canal was scheduled for Sep 19th, the day before the chemo was going to start. I’ve had 4 phone calls with the root canal specialist today regarding what our options were. This is a complicated combination of circumstances. Based upon a number of factors, the only real option is to cancel the remaining re-root canal and to extract the tooth (a molar). Arrangements have just been made with our regular dentist (who is back from vacation as of today) to perform the extraction this afternoon at 4:30pm.

There are many arrangements that we need to cancel and/or reschedule now. I am also off work for today and tomorrow, obviously.

We were in the process of being psyched up for a Sep 20th start date. That previously looming Sep 20th “future date” or line-in-the-sand has seemingly engulfed us without warning today.

People often ask me how Rosemary is feeling. Well, with today’s news and the many resulting implications, we are in shock. It feels somewhat like being hit by a brick wall. Yet, we have put this situation in God’s hands from the beginning. We know that He will look after us and provide for our many needs, miraculously or through medical intervention or otherwise. Yet, it is still very difficult to hear these things, to digest them and to attempt to adjust life to accommodate these unwelcome circumstances.

Upcoming Events

Mon Sep 12th 4:30pm Tooth extraction Tue Sep 13th 12:40pm Pharmacist explains all drugs in detail, side-effects, etc. Tue Sep 13th 1:30pm Chemo drugs injected and ingested

We would really appreciate your prayers at this time on our behalf.

Thank you.

Next: Chemotherapy Treatments

Doug Braun
66 min
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