The CA-125

9 Dec

Slate magazine has an interesting series of articles going now, written by Michael Agger, about the phenomenon of self-tracking. Agger examines the different ways that people self quantify, measure and track everything from diet to carbon footprint to moods, plastic use and commute to work. The articles ask how (and if) we can use this data to improve our lives. Readers are asked to contribute their favorite and most useful method of self-tracking. Check it out here.

I am totally a sucker for self-tracking. I’ve kept food journals, graphed my bicep circumference over time, used an iPhone app to chart my menstrual cycle, use not one but two Moleskine notebooks daily and literally got giddy with excitement over the odometer I put on my bike. Despite all this indulgence in the habit, my feelings about self-tracking have always been mixed. Isn’t there something a touch narcissistic about it? A little righteous? And does it actually make a difference in my life? Do anything constructive?

Now, cancer has opened up all kinds of fun and dubious methods for me to self track. This blog for instance or the three places that I keep track of my chemo schedule (refrigerator, iPhone, Moleskine), and, of course, my CA-125 level; my cancer’s fingerprint that is measurable in my blood. The doctors have been using this slippery little test to monitor my cancer and the progress of my chemo. I say slippery because CA-125 levels are notoriously tricky…an elevated one doesn’t necessarily indicate cancer, a normal doesn’t always mean you don’t have cancer and not every ovarian cancer even tests positive for this marker. Mine did, which is nice because now I have something to graph, which delights me.

It’s looking pretty good if you ask me. I’m trying to take it all with a grain of salt, exercise the “cautious optimism” advised by my doctors. I think we can at least say that my cancer is sensitive to the carboplatin and taxol chemo. My CA-125 level was down to 12 the last time we measured it. I can swallow that number, get my head around it. The normal range for someone with a history of cancer is considered anything below 21. There are no real conclusions to be drawn from this yet, it’s too early. But psychologically, I am delighted to watch that number march down each time we measure it. For what it’s worth, I plan on hammering that thing into a nice flat zero.


5 Responses to “The CA-125”

  1. Katre von Welby December 9, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    My dearest Bobo Zebra,

    The purpose of this post is twofold, the first being that I wanted to share a little story with you about something delightfully inappropriate that happened in class and made me think of you yesterday. (I’ll get to that later).

    The second is to comment on your post. I have been reading your blog over the last few months, in the library, at the breakfast table with my Dad, quoting you to friends at the gym. In the harried life of a first year law student, you are one of the things that reminds me to take pause and remember that all of the grades and tests and hours of reading — the yardsticks by which we measure ourselves — will only control our lives if we let them. As a human and particularly as a woman,keeping tallies consumes a laughably unreasonable amount of time. We count calories, we compare our waistlines and relationships and outfits to those of other women, we track our workouts, and our weight all day long. It’s actually pretty exhausting. I think it’s important to take a moment and laugh at the ridiculousity (I just made that word up) of our petty obsessions and just let go –see part two of this post. That said, your graph made my day. I choose to be hopefully optimistic about you every day. If anyone can kick cancer’s ass, it is most certainly you. However, I will have you know that there is strict liability for harm caused by dangerous animals, and so if you, a Zebra, kick cancer’s ass, Cancer can sue you and win. (sorry for the digression. finals mode.)

    I don’t know if I ever shared with you my very first memory of Colleen Kerrigan, but it’s a good one. So it was first grade and for some unknown reason, you broke into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and became very disruptive to the class. The teacher didn’t know what to do with you, so she put you in the bathroom and shut the door. After what seemed like hours (keep in mind I was 6, so my memory may be off) she opened the door, and you came out still laughing. I thought, “that girl is a horse of a different color.”

    So yesterday I was in my legal skills class, which is run by a professor who is the Ebineezer Scrooge of law school and decided to teach a full 2 hours about appellate briefs on the last day of class, knowing we were all in exam mode and no one was listening. Being the bad little monkeys that we are, we were all on facebook, and I posted the following as my status: “when I was at the dentist yesterday with metal instruments in my mouth and the dental hygienist accidentally spilled drool down my neck, that was SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS!” In the near-silence of Ebineezer’s lecture, my friend read what I wrote and laughed out loud, causing Scrooge to scowl and the whole class to stir. Then it happened, I burst out into uncontrollable laughter, releasing all of the tension of the past few weeks of cramming. The problem was class was still going on and I couldn’t stop. In law school these kinds of outbursts just don’t happen. I’m pretty sure I’m getting coal for Christmas for that one, but it was pretty cathartic, and my first thought afterward was of 6-year-old Colleen, the Zebra of a different color.

    So there you have it, I hope this has given you laugh at the ridiculosity of it all.

    Love you,
    Katre von

    • Mama-Zebra December 9, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

      I never got a call from that teacher!!! Thank goodness. As my dear friend and mentor Sr. Elaine Roulet says: Laughter is God’s favorite earth sound…

  2. Barbara Call December 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    Hey Collbeeny:

    did anybody ever tell you that you are a gifted writer; you remind me of your mother (which is of course a huge compliment). There’s something so encouraging about the charting Ca-125 levels getting you to wax eloquently. I wish I was in Connecticut (wierd for me to say) so I could come see you ~ as it is, I’m sending you all my love, B

  3. Barbara December 9, 2010 at 11:56 pm #

    Tell Katre to work a little harder on those law books! As a veteran of 20 years of practice, I can advise you that self-defense is a defense to battery, both civilly and criminally. You are thus free to kick cancer’s ass without adverse legal consequences. Given the circumstances, the use of deadly force against the cancer would be entirely justified, so feel free to kick the crap out of it, and perhaps even stomp it a few times for good measure as well!

    Much love from your little old lawyer granny

  4. Jonathan December 10, 2010 at 1:41 pm #


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