Keri's Metastatic Breast Cancer Story: "Keri Has Two Weeks"
My name is Doug Haberstroh, and we are reaching the end of the story of my wife Keri. For those of you who aren’t familiar with our breast cancer story, at age 25, Keri was diagnosed with breast cancer. We had only been married for a few months. After several courses of treatment, Keri’s cancer was diagnosed as metastatic. Treatments (radiation, more chemo) for the cancer that had spread to her sacrum were not working. Looking back at this e-mail we sent to our loved ones in 2006, it’s hard not to stir up a lot of memories, some good, some bad, all memories that will never be erased from my mind. The time is nearing, though, we have not been informed yet. Two days after I wrote this e-mail, I received the worst phone call of my life. The message? “Keri has two weeks.” I will end my words here and let you read this e-mail knowing what we did not.
Subject: Doublestrohs Updatent: Sunday, October 29, 2006 4:19 PM
Family & Friends,
Hello everyone, I’m going to try to take a shot at one of Keri’s updates to fill you all in on what’s been going on at Doublestrohs over the last couple of weeks and days. I know Keri has been pretty religious with her updates and e-mails so I will try to do the same to make sure no one is left with questions or confusion on our current situation.
To start off, a little bit about me; I finally got back home from good ole’ Montgomery AL two weekends ago from Squadron Officer School. That can be categorized as one of those experiences as saying, “…had fun, never want to do it again”. Learned a lot, met new friends, drank some beers, and graduated. End of story.
Moving on to the question that everyone is asking, as it should be, how is Keri doing? Good, but of course she could be a lot better, and some day soon, God willing, she will be. We’ve experienced some setbacks in the last couple of weeks and more notably in the last couple of days that we wish everyone to be aware of.
The Tuesday after I got back from SOS we had an appointment with our Doc so he could explain some scans to us which had been taken the Friday before. As a result of the new scans, and compared against the old scans which had been completed in March, he told us the tumor was growing and spreading out of the Sacrum region where it was first found.
There is really no way to measure the growth or get an accurate size of the tumor since it is located in the bone and all we have to go off of is the scan itself. What can be told though is that the treatment we have been going through since this past spring has seemed to have no reaction on the tumor. We have tried Radiation and multiple attempts at Chemotherapy with no significant improvement over the tumor or the pain itself.
What’s our plan of action now? Well that’s a tricky question with a lot of moving parts. Let me explain by stating that we are not giving up on our fight, and Keri’s will to beat this thing is stronger than anything I have ever experienced in my life. We have some choices that have been presented to us and some we are going to try while others we have both agreed to pass on.
First, our Doc said he would recommend us getting a second opinion or a fresh set of eyes on Keri’s situation and medical records, just to make sure we haven’t missed anything or glanced over that little bit of information that may hold all the answers. We’ve been presented with three choices, MD Anderson in Houston, TX, UAB in Birmingham, AL, or H. Lee Moffitt in Tampa, FL.
Our records had been sent to MD Anderson with the reply back that what we have been accomplishing in Panama City under our current Doc is the same thing they would recommend and they had no new course of action they could recommend at this time. So pass on MD Anderson. Next try, H. Lee Moffitt, which we have been approved for a site visit and they wish to review our records and Keri’s condition first hand. Our insurance and doctors office finalized the paperwork and we have been cleared for an appointment at their facility on 14 Nov 06 at 1400hrs. H. Lee Moffitt is located in Tampa, FL and can be found on the internet at https://www.moffitt.org.
We will most likely be driving the six or seven hours but have also been passed some information on a program called Angel Flight. I have been part of an Angel Flight mission before but I need to look into it a little more before a choice can/will be made. It’s a private flight there and back if we are approved.
Now let’s talk about treatment options and the past couple of days. It’s hard to find a starting point but I’ll try to make this logical and follow a coherent timeline as much as possible. After receiving the news that our current treatments hadn’t been affecting the tumor as much as we or the Doc had wanted we tried a new chemo drug called Gemzar.
I’m not going to go into the drug itself but if you do a search you’ll find more than you ever want to know. We received the drug this past Wednesday at a regular chemo sitting along with another bone-building drip, which was nice, because it changed our usual chemo sitting time from three/four hours to about an hour in a half. We had been briefed the side affects by the nurse and nothing sounded out of place compared to all the other chemo drugs we had already been on. We got home that night and everything was fine. The next day however Keri started feeling sick, her throat was soar and she just felt the crud all over her body.
We just figured it was a normal day after chemo, which takes about a day or three to get over. I know for some of you this is bringing up red flags, but going through a year and half of this, nothing at this point seemed out of place.
Now this is where I’m going to have to stray from the timeline just a little so the next couple of days can make sense. Last weekend Keri and I decided to have a tough talk about intentions. We wanted to make sure we both knew what each other wanted when “that time” comes so there are no questions left unanswered. And as many of you probably know, I am the type of guy that wants to get it done today so I don’t have to worry about it tomorrow and we can move on to better and brighter things.
So we had the talk and part of the talk we also filled out our Living Wills and decided to update our Wills and fill out DNRs for the both of us. In order to complete this paperwork however we needed the assistance of the JAG office on base. I was able to talk with the JAG office and have them visit our house so Keri wouldn’t have to travel to base and sit in their offices, instead she could be at home where she is comfortable.
Our scheduled appointment was this past Friday at 0900hrs, which is early in the morning for Keri but I promised her she could go right back to bed after they left, like I have much of a say when she can or can not go back to bed anywaysïŠ
Let’s get caught back up then, Friday morning Keri woke up with the same feeling of crud and soar throat she had Thursday. She was also talking about being light headed and a spell of dizziness every time she went to stand-up to get ready for the JAG members that were coming over. I told her to stay lying in bed until they got to our house then she could come out and sit in a chair or the couch while we were completing the paperwork. The JAG finally arrived, got set-up, and we started the paperwork.
Keri was sitting around the kitchen table with us helping me fill out and sign forms when she said I’m going to have to be excused to go lay back down. Not a problem at all. She got up from the table and started heading towards the bedroom when all of a sudden I heard one of the JAG members say, “huh, Sir, your wife”. I turned around in my chair just in time to see Keri stumbling and dropping her cup of water. I couldn’t get to her fast enough before she fell to the floor and at that instant I picked her up and laid her in bed.
She was scared of what just happened, as was I, and started trying to apologize and talked some non-sense. I had one of the JAG members call 911 and that ended our JAG session. 911 arrived and got her to the hospital where we just got home from last night at 1900hrs.
The Doc said her fall was the cause of a few different things, not eating enough (malnutrition), not drinking enough fluids (dehydration), and a bad reaction to Gemzar (our new chemo drug). Add those entire things together and we get a bad Friday. The way she fell caused some pain in her left shoulder, lower back, and right foot. So far the pain in the shoulder and foot have started to go away but her lower back and right leg are still in constant pain, not just because of the fall but because of how the tumor is sitting on some nerve endings and the fall just agitated it that much more.
As I stated, we got back home Saturday night around 1900hrs, but before we left the hospital the Doc put us on Hospice. Now this serves many good things for us and is not a negative as I first thought. I always thought of Hospice as an organization that helps you die, which it is and they are wonderful at it, but they also serve more than just that function.
They will help us with our pain medication and medications in general, they will make sure there is someone here at the house while I’m at work to help Keri, they will assign us a Social Worker that helps with Tricare and stuff like that so we don’t have to worry about it anymore or as much, they will be here for emotional support, and in the off chance that something does happen they will be here to help us through “that time” so there aren’t any questions left to the wrong people (police, fire, outsiders).
Right now Keri is on a portable pump that is attached to her life port and helps her receive liquid pain medication to combat the tumor and the nerve endings. The Hospice nurse will make sure her life port is good to go and her pain medication does not run out and is on the right setting and dosage as prescribed by the Doc.
Well, that’s that. I’m not done yet so take a bathroom break if you need it, I’ll stand-by till you get back…
So that’s been our last few weeks.
I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about some housekeeping that I need to pass along to all of you. Keri is very weak right now due to the level of pain medication she is on, but is gaining strength as the Gemzar leaves her system. I ask that for the time being if you are used to writing Keri e-mails now is probably not the best time. She does not check the computer because it hurts to sit in the office chair and concentrate on the monitor.
If you call you will most likely get the message machine, it is hard for her to get to the phone, so either leave a message which I can not promise will be returned with the amount of stuff we are going through right now, or write her a card or letter in snail-mail. She loves receiving cards and letters. That is probably the best form of communication right now.
Please call or snail mail, again e-mails are probably a bad idea. Between my work account, school account, and home account I get around to the home account only about three times a week, so if you do e-mail don’t expect a quick reply, I will get you written back but not in a timely manner. Also, not to be harsh, but our immediate families are coming first on the call-back list for the time being. Please bear with us, it’s busy.
I do want to say Thank You to all our family and friends. We love you all and thank you for all your prayers and support we are showered with every day. You are in our thoughts and prayers just as I’m sure Keri is in yours.
I hope this helps you all understand our lives right now and I will be sure to try to keep you updated as best I can.
Love you all,
PS. I am trying my best at this Thank You card thing but remember, I’m a DUDE, so forgive me for any social ROE (Rules of Engagement) I may be breaking.
Doug Haberstroh wrote about breast cancer for HealthCentral. Doug produced a reality-based comic strip chronicling his life with his wife, Keri, who was only 25 when she was first diagnosed with invasive/infiltrating ductal carcinoma. Keri passed away in 2006.