Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let's Talk About It

I've said before that we moved to Brazil with only two weeks notice because my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Stage Four Ovarian Cancer. I wrote about it somewhat on the How We Got Here page. I write Stage Four Ovarian Cancer with capitals because it feels like a proper noun. How could it not be? It's such a serious diagnosis and has turned the lives of five families upside down. There's no way that doesn't deserve caps. Actually, it deserves to be written in all caps and a bold font. 

When we arrived, she was supposed to have surgery to remove the tumors. But, her doctor decided that since the tumors and cancer were all throughout her body and she was in such a frail state, the surgery would have to be cancelled. She would have to begin chemotherapy without the surgery and just "see how it goes."

There is a controversial cancer fighting drug here in Brazil that my brother-in-law was adamant she try. Around the time of this article from Latin Correspondant, a petition from a lawyer was needed to obtain the medicine. My brother-in-law spent a few thousand reais and received permission for her to get the medicine. But, there was a long waiting list and a very small supply. The medicine came in November with a one month supply. By the next month, the University of Sao Paulo had run out of medicine. In April 2016, President Dilma legalized the production and sale of this medicine. However, the University of Sao Paulo shut down the laboratory of the chemist who created it. So, although it's now legal, it's unavailable. The very short version of the story is that the chemist, Gilberto Chierice, was creating and distributing the medicine without proper trials or approval. His skeptics claim that the compound is worthless and provides false hope for cancer patients. His supporters claim the compound reduced their cancer and saved their lives. It's my personal belief that if someone is dying, they should be allowed to try whatever treatments they choose. (And that's why I'm a proponent of medical marijuana.)

My mother-in-law took the miracle drug for one month in November 2015 and began chemotherapy the next month. She has been in chemotherapy on and off for six months. There are a lot of weeks where she is unable to receive treatment because she's too anemic, despite taking iron, eating iron-rich foods, and receiving transfusions. My in-laws are constantly researching how to obtain this medicine again and they found a report that claims two vitamins available on Amazon.com are the chemical equivalent of this medicine. We've been purchasing the pills, having them shipped to the US, and then re-shipped to us here.

So her treatment has been a combination of sometimes chemo, sometimes the miracle drug. There are periods where her health is great and periods where she is very weak and tired. She's also on a lot of pain medicine, so sometimes her good periods are marked by incoherence. The good news is that her tumors have shrunk a considerable amount and her doctor thinks her progress is very good. Whether that's due to the chemo or the medicine, who knows. No one wants to talk about it, but when we arrived her doctor gave an outlook of 6-12 months. It's been nine months and although her progress is good, her overall health is failing. At this point, it's just about spending as much time with her as we can.

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