Friday, September 25, 2009

WOW! CA-125 is down, down, down!

The CA-125 blood test we are following is DOWN to 170.

Right, one hundred and seventy!

Remember, in mid-July the CA-125 was 6700, and it has been decreasing ever since with Chemo #3, aka, Doxil®.

For more details go to earlier blogs:

9/24: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

9/6 : The Weight of the Wait

8/10: The new Chemo 'Joy Juice' is working!

7/24: A week since the hospital & Chemo #3

The plan is to continue with Chemo #3 and get the CA-125 lower, where it should be. I'll be happy with 5.

Note on photograph: The bag is almost empty. I have been given the full bag of the chemotherapy drug through an IV drip. There is no pain in the process, especially because my ChemoBuddies and I are having an enjoyable time chatting.

P.S., Did I tell you that while I was in the hospital (mid-July) and receiving my first chemotherapy treatment of Doxil® (Chemo #3) , there was no ChemoBuddy in the room. So I called my brother-in-law, Mike, and he accepted my offer to be my Phone ChemoBuddy.

Mike loved the title of being my ChemoBuddy. We must have talked for nearly an hour! (Perfect, because the first time I was given the drug it was given at a much slower speed, just in case I might have had a reaction.)

Well, here we are a few months later, and Mike has renamed himself to--ChemoMANNNN!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Tree of Blessings"

Tree of Blessings

an untraditional still life of the good things in my life

Michelle Leddel
September 2009
pastels, paper
approx. 14 x 16 inches

Created while in 'Cancer and Creativity Art Therapy Workshop'

Presented by Premiere Oncology Foundation and Beckstrand Cancer Foundation.

Instructor: Esther Dreifuss-Kattan, PhD, ATR

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Yesterday, with the support of ChemoBuddy Bruce, Kristin (the oncology nurse) and Dr. Van Scoy-Mosher, I received my 4th infusion of Chemo #3, aka, Doxil®.

The event went quickly and we were out 80 minutes later.

My next treatment will be in three weeks. As you can see I took my camera into the room AND that Doxil® is bright orange! By the time I walked out, the bag was empty.

Up until yesterday, the plan was to have a CT scan on my torso next week. But the doctor decided to wait until the CA-125 blood test tumor marker is lower. Tomorrow or Monday we will have the results of yesterday's CA-125 blood test.

Remember a month ago the CA-125 was 1005, a big, BIG drop from July 15th number of 6705. Great Progress, if you ask me!

Well, the above paragraphs refer to 'Yesterday' and 'Tomorrow' in the title of today's bog.

The 'Today' in the title is a photograph of what I look today. I got my hair trimmed by David in beautiful Santa Monica. That's right, he cut my hair today and then he took the photograph outside of Pomp Salon--all over looking the Pacific Ocean.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Hi and welcome to new and returning Blog readers.

Back in mid-July, 2009, around the time I was hospitalized, Eric, my dear step-son, suggested setting up a blog. He said it would facilitate communication and provide friends and family with updates on my progress.

Thanks to Eric, the webmaster, and the Santa Monica Apple store trainers, you are now reading these Blog entries. Thanks also to the cancer survivors outreach programs at The Wellness Community and the Premiere Oncology Foundation, both in Santa Monica, I have been able and inspired to transform my ongoing five-year cancer experience onto this Blog, "Michelle's Next Phase."

Welcome, step-in, and as Garrison Keillor says at the end of "Prairie Home Companion," radio program, "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Mandala to My Siblings"

"Mandala to My Siblings"

Michelle Leddel
August 2009
paper, glitter, glue
approx. 14 x 17 inches

Created while in 'Cancer and Creativity Art Therapy Workshop'

Presented by Premiere Oncology Foundation and Beckstrand Cancer Foundation.

Instructor: Esther Dreifuss-Kattan, PhD, ATR

My mother gave birth to seven children. Each of my brothers and sisters are represented by circles. The small white circle with glitter in the center represents Janice Marie who lived only two days. Recent genealogical research revealed the cemetery in Glendale where her tiny body was laid to rest.

The five remaining circles of colored tissue paper honor the uniqueness, creativity, compassion, and commitment of Patrick, Brion, Deris, Adrienne, and Kevin to family and society.

"Bird's Eye View of Cancers"

"Bird's Eye View of Cancers"

Michelle Leddel
August 2009
acrylics on canvas
approx 14 x 17 inches

Created while in 'Cancer and Creativity Art Therapy Workshop'

Presented by Premiere Oncology Foundation and Beckstrand Cancer Foundation.

Instructor: Esther Dreifuss-Kattan, PhD, ATR

"The Highs and Lows of Leg Pain"

The Highs and Lows of Leg Pain

Michelle Leddel

June 2009

flannel, yarn, paper, glue

approx. 14 x 17 inches

Note: See Blog, "The Next Specialist," August 23, 2009

Created while in 'Cancer and Creativity Art Therapy Workshop'

Presented by Premiere Oncology Foundation and Beckstrand Cancer Foundation.

Instructor: Esther Dreifuss-Kattan, PhD, ATR

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Evolution of Fear

When I was under going treatment for breast cancer five years ago, I imagined the hardest event for me to experience was receiving chemotherapy infusions (IVs).

In the process of having a stereotactic needle biopsy, wire placement, surgical lumpectomy, and 36 radiation treatments to my left breast, I missed out of the dreaded chemotherapy drugs and the rumored, not-so-pleasant side effects. By taking Arimidex® pills once a night for nearly five years post surgery, I was following the course of being cancer-free, so I believed.

However, 1½ years ago, with the detection and removal of a soft tissue sarcoma tumor below the skin of my thigh, I again missed out of needing chemotherapy. Surgery and radiation were all the doctors ordered.

The month following the sarcoma diagnosis, the third and unrelated to the earlier cancers, was determined through a diagnostic abdominal laparoscopy and laparoscopic biopsy.

Now, thirteen months later, after fourteen (14) chemotherapy infusions for peritoneal cancer, I’m giving loving, e-mail guidance to a dear relative who had her first chemotherapy treatment last week.

Note to the reader: The photograph of a basket with clipboards and paper was taken in "Writing Workshop" at the Wellness Community. Today twelve cancer survivors all addressed variations of the prompt, “The hardest emotional moments for me are…”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A ChemoParty without chemo

Hi Team,

ChemoBuddy Bruce took me to get my next infusion of Doxil® today but the oncologist decided it would be better for me to wait one more week. Bruce and I then went to Toast Bakery Cafe on 3rd Street, near Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Excellent food for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. As Rachel Ray might say, YUMMM!

The fresh baked bread and the beautiful tomato came from another ChemoBuddy, Patrick. He is my brother as well as an excellent baker of fresh sourdough bread and gardener of organic produce.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hair Chronicles on Canvas

Hair Chronicles on Canvas

Michelle NiƱa Jeannette Leddel

The opportunity to share my life through the length and styles of my hair seems important,

now that it is growing back

People have asked if I ever had long hair - Yes, during my college years

And, did I ever have short hair, of course

But the days of NO Hair in the summer of 2008 has had a profound impact

Thanks for being part of my life

Hair Chronicles on Canvas

acrylic paints on canvas

about 8 x 8 inches

May 2009


top left - baby, first hair

top center - short curly hair as child. There were times it was longer but difficult to manage.

top right - teenager with makeup and 'bubble hair style,' an attempt to straighten my hair

center left - hair style of the late 60's and early 70's

center center - hair loss after chemotherapy (aka, Chemo #1). I tried to always wear make-up.

center right - hair started to grow back but I kept my head covered with scarves and hats. Make-up continued to be important to apply on a daily basis.

bottom left - wig that I bought to match my hair, but I didn't wear it. I looked too old.

bottom center - The free wig I selected from the American Cancer Society. This was fun to wear and the only one of three that I wore.

bottom right - Will my hair come out again with the next cancer-killing drugs? I wonder.

Inner Child in the Pool

Recently my inner child was with me in the swimming pool. She wasn't quite sure what to think of the event, other than swimming has been a life long hobby.

I recently re-joined the YMCA, the Santa Monica branch this time, because it has multiple pools and therefore, almost limitless opportunities to develop my strength, flexibility, and endurance in the water. While there are endless other non-water activities at the "Y", I took the recommendation of my lymphedema doctor to return to swimming.

Since I know a good exercise routine should include a total body warm-up period, exercises for the upper body and lower body, stretches, and a cool down period, my inner child was ready for the structured playtime in the water.

"But wait!" I heard a voice in my head call out.
"My feet hurt! I know we are wearing water shoes and cotton socks to reduce the pressure on my feet when we walk in the water, but remember, they are swollen, swollen from the chemotherapy...I know the new chemo is working, but my feet really hurt!"

After a pause, the voice deep inside my heart softly consoled herself by saying, "I'll try not to focus on the pain, I love the water so much."

So we walked in the shallow end of the pool to warm-up. For 15 minutes I was humming songs to the beat of my marching legs and my arms were swinging to the rhythm of my steps. Every so often I checked my pulse to monitor my cardiovascular warm-up progress.

Next we were ready for the water toys. I put the yellow, buoyant noodle between my thighs. Now my feet didn't touch the pool floor. Then I got the two yellow thingees for my hands--something equivalent to water dumb bells or weights. We were doing arm and shoulder exercises. This was fun.

Another fifteen minutes quickly passed.

Next, I decided to swim some laps: freestyle, backstroke and sidestroke.

My inner child called, "This is Fun! I love this!

"Do you remember when we were in water ballet?"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Weight of the Wait

There have been numerous experiences in my life that have been based upon waiting. Some of these have faded into emotionless spaces and others bring strong, overpowering feelings.

For example, I don’t remember the days and hours I had to wait until my four younger siblings were born over sixty years ago. But I can visualize the endless moments I had to wait until I proclaimed, “I do!” in front of my family, friends and husband-to-be.

More recently are the anxiety provoking days of waiting for biopsy pathology reports. In the end, the waiting resulted in the answers to the signs and symptoms in my breast, thigh, and abdomen/pelvis during the past five years.

Waiting has progressed to the administration of chemotherapy drugs and the ever-frequent blood sampling from my finger. Upon the dutiful waiting period of seconds, I would be informed if my white and red blood counts were within range to receive the day’s chemotherapy drug infusion.

Less frequently, but equally important, blood was drawn from my arm to determine how my body was responding to the cancer killing drugs directed to the disease in my abdominal/pelvic region. For over a year, the cancer antigen 125 blood test (CA-125) guided the treatment team, my supporters, and myself. We have been distressed as the CA-125 results increased and overjoyed as the CA-125 numbers decreased. Since my last CA-125 test was last week and the results were fantastic, meaning the numbers were reduced by 2/3 of the previous test, I am out of the immediate wait-zone.

The plan now is to let the chemo do its job and retest the CA-125 in about a month. At that time a CT scan will be ordered, scheduled, and completed. And, depending on the day of the week I have the CT scan on my torso and upper leg, I will have to wait through the weekend for the results, or I will get the results on the following day.

Most recently, a magnetic resonance image (MRI) study was ordered by my newest specialist, the sarcoma oncologist. The pain in my thigh, once the site of a malignant, soft tissue tumor (sarcoma), needed to be investigated. The MRI was done on Monday and I would not get the results until my Friday appointment with the sarcoma oncologist. This delay was because the Tumor Board was scheduled to review my case on Thursday, and a pathologist was going to review my biopsy slides during the week.

On Wednesday, two days after the MRI, the doctor who has been treating my leg for the lymphedema swelling, called me. With the MRI study in her hand, she informed me that, “…there was something peculiar…” in the report and I was not to return to her until I was given a clearance from the MRI ordering doctor. End of conversation. That meant two days of concerned, frightened, emotionally heightened waiting.

Thursday, four days after the MRI, I was speaking to my oncologist of five years who is treating me for breast and abdominal (peritoneal) cancers. He too received the MRI results and said, “It looked good.”

Right! He said, “It looked good,” but when he realized I had not yet spoken with the doctor who ordered the MRI, no details were discussed. That is the responsibility of the ordering doctor, I’ve learned.

The emotional swing from fear, rejection, comfort, and fear continued until the Friday appointment with the doctor who ordered the MRI, the sarcoma specialist.

The results, in brief: 1) Sarcoma soft tissue tumor has not returned, 2) Age-related degeneration is in the lower spine, 3) Evidence of old knee injury, 4) Swelling behind the knee, and 5) A 1.6 cm spot (“area of increased signal”) in the area of the hip ball-and-socket joint.

A biopsy for the spot was discussed, but in as much as I will be having a CT scan in about a month to monitor the progress of the chemotherapy, the same CT scan should now include the monitoring of the 1.6 cm spot.

Furthermore, if that spot is cancer that spread from the abdominal area (metastasized), it too, is being treated with the current chemotherapy drug, Doxil®.

As I look to the immediate future, depending on the results of the next two finger-stick blood tests, the next administration of Doxil® will be in less than two weeks.

We will have to wait as the chemotherapy drug works throughout my body.

We will wait until the results of the next blood tests and CT scan are known.

Wait is a power-driven word.

September 5, 2009

Santa Monica, California