In consultation with her physicians at UCLA, Abby has decided to stop the clinical trial, which was causing a whole lot of suffering for her and a whole lot of not working on the cancer. We also recently learned that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in her chest, which is causing serious lung problems.
In this very hardest of times, the many ways that family and friends and neighbors have been helping are such blessings, and have come into sharp focus as what love and life are all about. The already-amazing husband who has grown into an even better partner, father, and caregiver. The parents who pick up their adored and adoring grandchildren at school and keep the house stocked with groceries and the doctors on their toes. The “food fairies” who drop off meals prepared with skill and love. The friends around the world – some of them flat broke – who nonetheless send money for housecleaning. The grandfathers – ages 95 and 96 – who provide all kinds of support from across the country. The brother who spends his weekends letting the nieces and nephews hit him with boppers and jump on him in the backyard trampoline. The high school classmates who organize fundraisers for breast cancer research. The old friends who fly in for some quality time. The locals who help with playdates. The list goes on and on.
Abby is not feeling up to much writing or visiting, but she is reading everything you send and appreciates the many memories, expressions of love, and healing wishes you have shared. (Note from her ferociously protective sister: she is too polite to tell you directly, but if you believe that she is at fault for her cancer or its progression in some way, keep it to yourself. I promise you it is not helpful.)
We will keep you posted on next steps in this journey as we know them. Also, this happened:
Meet Elsa Freeman Larsen. Because what’s the fun of having the toughest year of your life if you don’t get a puppy? She’s a foster dog for now, but is fast wriggling her way into everyone’s hearts and all the nooks and crannies in Abby’s backyard…
After celebrating Merlin’s 45th birthday and a family get-together for our Dad’s 70th, during which the only photo I managed to snap was this shot of Abby reading to the girlies, Abby entered a clinical trial at UCLA at the beginning of April. The study drug is a kinase inhibitor, combined with Cisplatin chemo.
Abby has been taking every possible moment to enjoy time with family and friends, hike, do yoga, and get her strength back before starting this next round of treatment, despite coping with rib pain and severe coughing, which seem to be after-effects of the radiation.
Thanks again to everyone for your emails, texts, Facebook shout-outs and help in SO many ways. With Abby likely to experience some rough side effects as the chemo treatment kicks in, we’re opening up another round of sign-ups for housecleaning support (best mental health intervention ever!).
Over the past year, since we first learned of Abby’s condition, much has changed. But one thing has not – her husband and life partner, Merlin Larsen. This challenge is difficult for all of us, Abby most of all, but he is the one that has most supported her through this trial, going on countless visits to doctors and hospitals, taking huge care of their children, working whenever he can to continue to support themselves financially, and more. He moved a 500 pound hot tub on his own over 100 feet and over uneven terrain from a neighbor’s house. He took Owen on a father-son trip to Joshua Tree. He taught himself welding and metal cutting and built a home workshop in order to start a business at home so that he could spend more time with Abby and the kids. He has dealt with my hovering, ever present family with the utmost patience and goodwill.
Abby could not have chosen a better dude. He is the rock in her life, and we are lucky to call him our brother, son-in-law, and friend. Thank you, Merlin, today on your 45th birthday, and for what we all hope will be many more years together.
The two lovers spent last weekend healing at the Esalen Institute. They sent us this selfie from Morro Bay.
“Oh, I just taught myself how to cut metal so I could make this for you. No big deal.”
Abby is grinding through the chemo-boosted radiation with her usual toughness and aplomb, and in good spirits with the end of this treatment (two weeks left) now in sight. The next step will likely be immunotherapy of some kind, and our Dad has been coordinating a huge research effort to identify the best clinical trials, with the help of some family friends who are cancer docs and epidemiologists. We are so grateful for the village of support that has gathered around in this time of need!
The end of THREE WEEKS of school vacation is also in sight, which will give Abby and Merlin – not to mention every other grown-up with a kid in LAUSD – some much-needed time to rest and recover. We were so happy to spend the holidays quietly together as a family, and see friends and playmates as well. We also took the kids ice skating:
Yes, it was 75 and sunny at the time. Friends in the frozen north (south, east…ok, everywhere but California), try not to hate us…
We celebrated Abby’s birthday this past weekend with cake and playtime.
The little girls dressed her up in paper chains:
The boys helped by getting out every single toy in the house just in case anyone wanted to play with them:
And Papa Jack and Unka Dan braved the wilds of Chuck E Cheese on a rainy Saturday so the boys could play the slots, the girls could nap, and the rest of us could sit on the couch and sip tea. Merlin had to work but Josh fixed him a dinner care package of Chinese beef ribs, tofu and veggies, and various other yumminess.
A few weeks of relative normalcy have been great – especially with the latest round of treatment starting this week. Abby will be having radiation five days a week for seven weeks. Her medical team has also recommended weekly chemotherapy that will boost the radiation’s effects. This is of course a total bummer and we are all keeping our fingers crossed that the side effects will not be as bad as they were with the systemic chemo.
Huge thanks and shout-outs to the local families who have been dropping off delicious meals and the out-of-town friends who are sponsoring grocery gift cards and weekly housecleaning. All of you have made this difficult journey so much better with your practical generosity, thoughtful words, and love beaming across time and space!
What’s more fun than a playground full of preschoolers? Family and friends gathered to celebrate Julia’s third birthday on Sunday, complete with treasure hunts, healthy snacks, and Papa Jack reprising his role as The Monster Who Chases Small Squealing Children. Abby has been recovering well from surgery and enjoyed hanging out with guests and kiddos of all ages while sporting what could now be called a “statement haircut.”
Abby is out of the OR and recovering quickly! After a four-hour surgery yesterday, she had a calm night and is up today and walking, eating regular (well, hospital) food, and reading the scores of wonderful text messages, Facebook posts, and blog comments you all sent. Thank you so much for the love and support!
She will come home tomorrow, and she and Merlin are having “dinner and a movie” at the hospital this evening – with two kids, you gotta take those date night opportunities whenever you can!
CHEMO IS OVER! Man, that last round sucked. But Abby is clawing her way back to health and we’re all digesting the news from the latest MRI, which is mixed. The bad: chemo didn’t do much to shrink the damn tumor. Another small cancerous spot appeared in her lymph nodes as well. The better: the chemo still probably had some systemic prophylactic effects, another PET scan showed no signs of metastasis to other parts of her body, and all her lymph nodes on that side were scheduled to be removed anyway as part of the surgery. Also, the breast tumor appears to be mobile, which is a good sign – it means they have a better chance of getting clean margins and the surgery will likely not include taking parts of the chest wall. And this is kind of cool: this kind of breast cancer doesn’t spread to the other breast, so she only has to have a mastectomy on one side. (Side note: we have been learning *a lot* about all the research and knowledge about breast cancer. Who knew?)
Surgery is the next major hurdle, most likely with radiation to follow. It is scheduled for November 7th, and neighbors and fellow parents from the elementary school have already signed up to bring over 10 days of meals. LOVE this community! Abby really feels so supported.
After surgery we will know a lot more about the pathology of the tumor and what the next steps are. Also, we can start the really important work of planning Julia’s 3rd birthday party (Nov. 21) and Owen’s 7th birthday party (December 10th). Bouncy house, anyone???
So when you’re Abby and Merlin, and a whole bunch of your friends are these supercool artsy peeps, and they totally love you, they come up with ridiculous lunacy, complete with pink ribbons, to send support from the east coast aka the Frozen North.