Just call me Cleopatra, ‘cause I’ve been the Queen of Denial.

For a while now, I have felt so good – so practically normal – that I could pretend to myself that I’m healthy, and that this whole cancer thing is really just a mistake. (“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry, we got your medical records confused – whoops!”)

The vacation from reality has been nice, I have to say. Thank you for helping me enjoy it. The vacation, however, has come to a crashing end. IF YOU PREFER CLEOPATRA’S WORLD, READ NO FURTHER.

Because included on Beelzebub’s new side effect hit list, we now have . . .

  • Shingles! Yeah, baby, all over my torso, and they hurt just as much as people say. If you had chicken pox as a child, please run, don’t walk, to your nearest pharmacy for the Shingrix vaccine. For me, shingles then led to . . .
  • Neutropenia! – which sounds like a small musical instrument, possibly related to the calliope or autoharp, but which is actually an immune system malfunction. Which led to . . .
  • Shots to stimulate my bone marrow! Good times. Followed by . . .
  • A full day at the E.D. with pneumonia symptoms! – which turned out to be respiratory syncytial virus, or “RSV” as we in the inner circle call it. And which now means a stretch in bed with a crate of kleenex.

But all this pales in comparison to a potential game-changer. My new CT scan came back with a radiology report of brand new tumors. The report meant that my current second-line treatment of Doxil/Beelzebub, like its predecessor first-line treatment of Taxol/Carboplatin, was no longer effective and would be terminated. And that would be one more giant step down the path to “I’m sorry, there’s nothing further we can do.”

But law school turns out to have been worth it after all. I blurted out some questions. Was it possible that this CT or the prior one was misread? I mean, we’re talking teeny tiny spots on a blurry x-ray here. Did the same radiologist read both? Was it someone seriously experienced in ovarian cancer? Was it reasonable to get a second radiology opinion? My medical team said “absolutely.” Well, hallelujah, the second reading came back and was vetted. It showed no new tumors, and only a 10% growth of old tumors. A reading of less than 20% growth classifies me as having “stable disease.” And that means the Doxil/Beelzebub is working well enough to extend my life, so I get to keep it.

Because better the Beelzebub you know, right?

More importantly, even with the best of medical teams, it pays to advocate and question.

I hope you enjoyed this beautiful Christmas Day and Hanukkah in good health. Happy holidays and much love from the redhead and yours truly, who henceforth shall not be known as Cleopatra.

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