Carrie was initially diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2013 at the age of 37 after feeling unwell for several months. She had all the classic symptoms; irregular menstrual cycles; bloating; fatigue, pain during intercourse; swelling in the abdomen. At the same time, she was hoping to become pregnant and after a referral to the fertility clinic and a series of tests, the cancer was discovered.
Carrie’s treatment began in June of 2013. After 3 initial sessions of chemo and surgery followed up by another 18 sessions of weekly chemo, the pathology report showed that she had primary peritoneal cancer (a sub-type of ovarian cancer). It was low grade, meaning slow growing , and at Stage 3C. Primary peritoneal and low grade serous carcinoma are both rare occurrences in the ovarian cancer world; combined with her age at time of diagnosis, this put her in a unique category. Her first follow up CT scan showed that 2 tumours had grown while she was on chemo, so she started another chemo cocktail. It took 6 months to complete the 6 rounds of this chemo; her system was really beaten down. The tumours had shrunk slightly but not significantly. It was still time for a break from treatment. Carrie ended up being in a state of stable disease for 3 years.
Carrie’s second recurrence began in August of 2017 after having many of the previous symptoms. She began her third chemo cocktail that fall and completed the 6 sessions in March of 2018. This chemo was somewhat successful but did not change her existing tumours very much so her doctors started talking about having another surgery. She decided to wait until the fall when she was stronger.
Carrie had her second major surgery in November 2018 which involved the complete removal of all visible signs of disease as well as the HIPEC component; this is where the abdomen is washed with a heated chemo agent. It was a very long and difficult surgery with a few unanticipated complications. The tumour had wrapped itself around her spleen so it was removed. They found disease inside sections of the small and large intestine so they had to cut it out. Towards the end of the surgery, Carrie became very unstable and they had to take measures to get her heart rate and blood pressure to where it should be. After surgery, Carrie spent a week in ICU and then recovery for another two. She developed 2 separate post-op infections that took about 7 months to heal.
The months following the HIPEC surgery were really difficult. The antibiotics caused a lot of side effects that kept her feeling quite unwell. She had a few hospital admissions in the early months following surgery because of her body’s response to the antibiotics. Once they figured out the right drugs to give things moved along well, until they switched her to oral antibiotics; her body did not like that very much. Once things settled down she continued to end up in the hospital but this time with partial bowel obstructions. Each admission meant not eating or drinking for several days while they used a combination of drugs and interventions to clear the blockage. In 10 months after surgery Carrie had lost 80 pounds.
This time period was full of clinic visits, blood test appointments and countless visits from Home Care nurses. She was being well taken care of but continued to be so sick the majority of the time.
In an effort to improve the issue with the bowel obstructions the doctors wanted her to try chemo again. They knew there was disease in the intestines at the time of surgery and it seemed logical to try and combat it with chemo. She had a session in June that made her feel better but it took a long time to recover. Her second session was in July and, fortunately, she was already in the hospital because her heart rate ended up dropping and she developed an irregular heartbeat. Extensive testing showed the chemo she was on in 2017/2018 had caused damage to her heart muscle and it no longer functioned at full capacity. This severely limited her opportunity for more chemo; it was much too risky.
In the fall of 2018 Carrie ended up back in the hospital again with another obstruction. Each new obstruction was causing more and more pain and her tolerance was getting lower and lower. The doctors finally offered surgery to repair the bowel sections that were causing the problem.
The plan for this surgery was to go in and repair the damage to the small and large intestines. The doctors were very clear of the risks and complications that could come up during this surgery - there were many of them. Once they opened her up they discovered her small intestine was full of adhesions; scar tissue and disease were binding the intestine together. They were not able to save a large portion and had to simply cut it out and remove it. The remaining section had to be painstakingly cut apart and repaired. They were able to reattach the small intestine to the large as planned.
When Carrie woke up from the surgery she was told that there was a high probability the bowel would leak and they could not do any further surgery to repair it. If it did leak, it would lead to infection which could lead to sepsis and then organ failure. They told her the bowel will never work properly again.
Out of Options
So this is where Carrie is today. Chemo is not an option; surgery is not an option. The doctors have offered her an oral drug that might slow the progress of the disease but eventually this bowel will cause her issues that will lead to the end of her life.
Right now, Carrie is still in hospital being taught the proper sterile procedures for handling and administering the liquid nutrition that she will live on going forward. Carrie no longer eats solid food and is struggling to manage fluids that are not water right now. It is her hope that she can heal to the point of being able to tolerate fluids such as juice or broth or even work her way up to puréed foods. Carrie has begun taking medical marijuana, which has already helped her manage and control the nausea and vomiting. Once Carrie is home, she wants to see her Naturopathic Oncologist to see if he has any treatment options that may help.
Carrie is looking for solutions that will make her time left as comfortable as possible. The naturopathic treatments are very expensive and not covered by any benefit plan. Let’s help Carrie get those treatments she needs.
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