Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Judgement + IVF


The Bible has a whole lot to say about judging others, (a sprinkling of which you will find here) and it's pretty clear that it's a religious no-no akin to a diabetic drinking regular soda and ordering funnel cakes at the fair. So why, then, are religious people sometimes the most judgmental? I have to say, it's a huge turn-off, and one of the main factors that kept me away from organized religion for so long. It also has me questioning why I went back.

I can sort of understand the church itself taking a stance against certain issues...after all, someone has to. And some things are clearly right or wrong even in the secular world. You don't need a Bible or any of the 10 commandments to tell you that you shouldn't kill someone. But when a layperson then uses the church's stance to look down on another, well...that's a different story. Just who the hell (pun intended) do they think they are?

The church has been wrong before. 
Did you know that the Catholic church considered slavery morally acceptable, as long as the masters treated their slaves humanely, from day one until after the Civil War? That Galileo was condemned in 1633 for teaching that the earth revolved around the sun, not the other way round as the church believed, and the poor guy wasn't let off the hook until 1992? That the church taught sex in marriage to be a necessary evil for the procreation of children until the 20th century? (citation).
And they will be wrong again. Especially with new things that involve technology, like the IVF we are now planning. 

For those of you who aren't Catholic, let me tell you that the church is against this modus operandi for getting pregnant. We have already had someone vocal in their lack of support for what we're doing. Why? Well, some of their objections are as follows: 
  1. A child has the right to be conceived in the marital embrace of his parents.
  2.  IVF makes the child a commodity produced in a laboratory.
  3. The sperm used is usually obtained by masturbation, which the Church teaches is immoral. 
  4. Most of the embryos conceived die, are frozen indefinitely for later implantation, are used for research, or are discarded. 
You may think I'm making this up, but it's actually all right here, in the church teaching on IVF. Numbers 1-3 are laughable and so there's no need to even offer a rebuttal. But I take issue with number 4, which is purely just a lie. "Most" embryos don't die. And the ones that don't make it when fertilized in the lab, would not have made it had they been fertilized in utero. Its the same reason miscarriages happen: not all fertilized eggs have the right chromosomal or genetic components to thrive, whether they are in the womb or in the lab. It's not like there is some mad scientist who goes in there stabbing all of the 8 cell future humans. And even the church, who believes human life starts at conception, calls them embryos. 

And to the second part, that they are used for research: they cannot be without our written permission. Should we have any left over, we have decided we will not have them frozen "indefinitely" (impossible since you have to pay a yearly fee) or discarded, we will use them a few months after our first child or children are born. 

In couples with undetermined fertility problems, sometimes the egg is getting fertilized, but is not implanting. Or, the egg is fertilized, but not picked up by the Fallopian tube. Remember, it takes almost two weeks to actually become pregnant. One could argue that couples who continue to do this instead of seeking assistance are killing more embryos than if they went the IVF route.

So, back to my question: why are religious people often the most judgmental? With my background in psychology, I would hypothesize that judgmental people are insecure, and people who feel bad about themselves often feel somewhat better judging others. These same people may also be more inclined to cling to a religion. Or, maybe they're not more judgmental, they're just more vocal about it. It is, after all, somewhat normal to judge in some ways for survival, the focus of countless studies done on in-groups and out-groups. We've all done it. Or maybe, religion can sort of create that in those who may otherwise not be very opinionated about it. I guess only God knows. 

But all of this does have me somewhat reluctant to call myself Catholic, lest I be confused with people like them. But, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and I have to remind myself that, as my husband says, no one "owns" Catholicism. And, both of our sets of parents are in full support.

I should have sympathy for those who feel the need to judge, not judge them for their judging. I also have to remind myself that many of my friends, even those most pious, don't have a judgmental bone in their body.

I'm quite excited about our decision, and my appointment tomorrow. And if there is a God, I know he will be more than pleased with my route to becoming a Mom. Especially if it means that my Mom gets to realize her dream of becoming a grandmother.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Good news! Bring on the Cyber Knife! (And then to balance it out, some bad news...)

Stanford Hospital & Clinics
I am so excited right now! I just found out that Stanford University Medical accepts my Mom's insurance. They have a treatment option - the CyberKnife, that may be our next step.

Mom has responded so well to her gamma knife radiation for the treatment of the cancer in her brain, that it left me wondering if she could have the same treatment for the tumors in her body. Did such technology exist? Every area and new lesion that has appeared in her brain has shrunk when zapped with the gamma knife, yet the tumors in her lung, adrenal glands and surrounding her pancreas went right back to the size they were prior to treatment when she took a break. And, she is nearing her "lifetime limit" of that chemo.

I asked her neurologist if she could have the gamma knife in her body and he explained that gamma knife is specific to the brain, but there is the CyberKnife. Not surgery like the name implies, both gamma and cyber are essentially the same: they pinpoint radiation to the target area to stop the growth of the tumor. The difference? Your brain is completely stable and doesn't move, so they can deliver a higher amount., requiring only one treatment. They screw in a mid-evil looking device to her skull and lock her into the machine, which weighs approx. 44,000 pounds. This ensures no movement and targeted delivery to the lesions. 

Well, your body is different. There is more movement, from your heart pumping to your lungs expanding and collapsing. They cannot ensure complete stillness, so they cyber knife delivers less radiation per session, requiring a course of treatments. He doesn't use the cyber knife, and there isn't even one at UCI Medical or even Hoag! But, there are CyberKnife centers, listed HERE. With excitement and new hope, I started searching some of these, such as the Pasadena CyberKnife Center.

But, we don't just want any old center for Mom...we want the very best! This is, afterall, her life that we are talking about. Nathan has a cousin who is a doctor, and here's what she had to say: 
The only reason why I would recommend going to Stanford University instead of the Pasadena cyberknife is at Stanford University they would bring your mom's case to a tumor board- meaning that doctors from all different specialties (oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, pathology, and thoracic surgery) would review her case, her labs, her pathology, and determine collectively what is the best treatment for her...whether the cyber knife or a combination of cyber knife and chemotherapy. Also it appears that at Stanford University, they are experts at treating patients with the cyber knife. They have already treated 2,200 patients. Meaning they know what is the best dose and what side effects to anticipate.
I thought this sounded amazing, but realized a place like Stanford might not accept her insurance. Yesterday, I emailed them and also the center in Pasadena. This morning, I had two responses: one from Pasadena stating they were not contracted with TriCare, and one from Stanford saying they did! The one possible snafu is that this technology is so new, that sometimes, insurance companies do not want to pay for it. But not to worry! If her insurance company denies us, I will fight and appeal. This is common, and there are tips found here.

It's impossible to convey just how excited and hopeful I am having learned all this! Since I'm off all summer, I can totally make the 6 hour drive up there with her for treatment, stay in affordable local hotel that offers a discount to patients, and drive her home the next day. We would likely have to do this 10 times, but so what! I'd drive around the world for her, and that's not even possible!

Prior to finding this out, I was so worried about ending her chemo treatment with the one that was working, and having to go on another one that might not work or at best, just slow the growth. Now, there is a chance - a big one - that she could come off chemo and have those little bastard tumors zapped into oblivion. Or, at least shrink in size and not grow. We could be looking at years here! 

I am elated! And this news comes on the minimum day Friday before Spring Break! Tomorrow morning, Nathan, Trevi, Mom and I pile in car in the morning and make the 14 hour drive to stay at his parent's house 30min outside of Eugene.

And.........just when this blog posting was going to end on the happiest of notes, and as a perfect illustration of the roller coaster ride we are all on, Mom just left her neuro-opthamologist appt. and called to say that results of her spinal MRI are in and they did find a lesion on the 6th nerve that comes out of the spine. This is the cause of her double vision, and likely means that she has cancer now in her spinal fluid. 

What does this mean? Well, the chemo only gets the body, and the gamma knife only gets the brain. So, now...she is going to need to go in for surgery to have a portacath (port) put into her head so that a different type of chemotherapy can be administered directly to her spine. And with this, a lot of uncertainty and a whole host of questions: what will the side effects be? Will it get rid of it completely? This breaks my heart, because she has been through so much and we just can't seem to keep ahead of this.

But you know what? There will be no doctor's appointments for our entire vacation in Oregon, and we will get a ton of time together to cook, crochet and talk. And that's something to be thankful for. We will deal with the rest of it when we get back.