Loving Friends


Michelle passed peacefully and quietly in her home this morning at 10:28 a.m. She was as happy and graceful in her last days as she was throughout her life. I join you in sadness and relief for her after this long fight with cancer. We will all miss her dearly. She was the happiest and bravest person I’ve known.

Thank you for your kind messages, letters and pictures. I read everything to her. Michelle loved all of you. Above all else, she wants you to be happy, happy for her, and happy for her family.

Because I want everyone to be able to see this announcement, I am temporarily locking her wall for just a day or so. I will open it back for you to leave messages or post pictures and videos in her memory.

A small, intimate memorial will be held in the coming weeks for close family and friends, but we are working on plans for a larger celebration of Michelle’s life to be held in January. More information will be available after we have time to grieve and plan.

If you want to speak with me, please contact me through Facebook, email me at brian@brianhowe.org, or call me at 360-201-8546.


Brian and Desmond

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Sad News About Michelle

Friends and Family,

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that the news we have to share is profoundly sad. In the spirit of Michelle, however, we hope you will find a way to find and feed the spark of happiness, just as she would. With that out of the way, here is the latest news from Michelle:

Dearest Friends,
I realize I haven’t updated since we found out about the brain mets, and I should make you aware of what’s going on. Unfortunately due to the serious progression in my liver, my oncologist has given me 1-2 months to live. I realize how incredibly shocking and hard to hear this is to hear. Because of this, I’ve started hospice care at home. I’m spending my time resting and getting a lot of time in with Brian and Desmond. Brian and Colleen are scheduling visits with just family, but if you would like to leave me a message I will be checking this site, or reading e-mail at michellem.howe@gmail.com.
Every single one of you reading this is special to me and I have so much love for you.

We know that many of you will want to say goodbye to Michelle in person. It is painful–deeply so–to have to turn any person away. It is an unfortunate irony that the magnitude of Michelle’s sphere of influence and love is such that it creates a paradox for us. We simply cannot accommodate everyone’s request, even some of her close friends and family. We will make sure that Michelle receives all of your personal messages, photos and videos whether you leave them here or send them to her email address.
You can send donations to Michelle’s favorite charity, METAvivor, in her honor at this link:


If you would like to directly contribute to our family fund, you may do so here:


If you need to contact me, you can call me at 360-201-8546 or send me a message through Facebook. We deeply appreciate all of your thoughts, prayers, love and cat videos.


Brian, Michelle and Desmond

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Brain has been breeched

Oh friends, what a shitty title to have to write. I have 8 tumors in my brain. The cancer has now metastasized to all the spots possible with breast cancer (bones, liver, lung, brain).

So let me back up. I’ve been taking pain pills for the back pain still and on Thursday Brian noticed a few inconstancies with my memory. We chalked it up to the pain pills, but then I also noticed I was having a hard time reading off and on. Friday morning Brian was talking to my nurse Betsy and mentioned those things and she chalked it up to pain pills as well. But she mentioned it to my oncologist who called back 15 minutes later and wanted to do a brain MRI. Just in case. I mean, ALL of us just thought we were all being just really careful and of course it wouldn’t lead to anything.

So Brian and I went in to the MRI at 4pm. It took about 40 minutes and the biggest inconvenience was the noise (its SO loud to get a brain MRI, you wear noise canceling headphones with earplugs!!). We got home around 5pm and then Dr. Rinn called with the results 15 minutes later. And that’s when the world came crashing down.

The results showed 8 tumors in my brain. All of them are under 1cm, so that’s good. And only 1 is causing swelling in my brain. And that’s where the neurological issues come from (the one tumor that is causing swelling). That one is in my right posterior cortex area. I immediately started on a round of steroids that will help bring the swelling down, which is good but makes it impossible to sleep a full night (or really even more than a few hours). And the doc told me I can’t drive due to a small chance of having a seizure. So I get to be chauffeured around for the time being.

On Monday we met with my radiology oncologist to discuss brain radiation. The best news out of that was I could do brain and spine at the same time. I was so nervous I would have to put my spine treatment on hold. But we decided on a plan of 10 treatments for the brain as well as spine. The brain radiation is whole brain radiation, meaning they hit all areas (due to where the 8 tumors are scattered). I have to wear this weird hanibal lector mask that they molded especially for me (I included a super cool picture example below) when they radiate my brain. and the STRANGEST thing is I see a blue light and smell a sulfur smell when they do the brain radiation. Totally normal, but I just think that’s so odd.

So I’ll be done with radiation on Friday, 11/6. Then we’ll come up with the next plan, probably back to chemo for my liver and bones (can’t forget about those!). I’ll get a scan on my brain in about 6 weeks so we can make sure the tumors have shrunk down and are not growing back.  I’ll have a lot more updates in the next few weeks, but I’m tired now and need to rest.

I so appreciate all of your thoughts and gestures lately!! I feel so loved. Brian and Colleen are managing my schedule and visits, so if you need our address or want to reach out they are the wonderful gate keepers. Colleen is at cofarley@starbucks.com. Brian is brian@brianhowe.org. More soon! xoxo



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Well the shit keeps on coming

Oh come ON!! You guys, the Howe’s need a break. Last week I finally went in to get an MRI done. It was a long journey as my oncologist said the fastest way to get a scan is to go the ER. Not the most comfortable place when you’re having pretty bad back pain.

But we finally got the MRI (of course not before hearing a guy on a real bad drug trip moaning and taking off his pants). I was rolled away to the sounds of “put your pants back on, sir”. ahhhh…the drama of emergency room.

Anyway, the MRI came back with bad news. I have two tumors that are dangerous close to my spinal cord. They are specifically at the T3 & T4 vetebra and the T9&T10. SO we have yet another plan that now involves radiation. I’ll start 10 to 14 rounds of radiation so we can shrink or eradicate those tumors. It should hopefully help my back pain as well (which has not really eased up much). I had my first treatment yesterday (yeah, they rushed it) and it was fine. Unfortunately about 5 or 6 treatments in I’ll get a burn on my esophagus (they are going through the front for the T3&4 areas) which will make my throat very sore and it will be hard to eat. I’ll get a numbing medicine that can coat my throat long enough to eat. But I’ll probably be drinking a lot smoothies and eating ice cream. Just like if I had my tonsils out! 😉  I have radiation every day for the 10 days and it takes about 10 minutes.

The other crappy thing is this means yet MORE delays in my chemo. I can’t have chemo and radiation at the same time. So I expected to start Gemzar (or as Kevin G. calls it, Gemzar and the Holograms) by 11/6. I’m just scared to go that long without chemo. I get nervous about my liver and if the tumors are having a big party and growing larger as we sit here with chemo. But it is what it is, so I have to make my peace with it.

I’ll keep ya’ll updated, but I wanted to make sure my extended team knew the latest. Sending love to you all! xo

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Well shit, here we go again

You guys, the last few weeks have been ROUGH! Despite the glorious pictures I posted from Hawaii, I was actually having a tough time. CPT 11 has kept me in near constant nausea which is no fun in itself, but the 6 hour flight to Hawaii set off my back spasms. I was okay for the first day, but then they started to get worse. So the nausea and back pain sadly affected my trip. I did however get in an amazing spa appointment and some great girl bonding time with Andrea & Colleen. And while I was in the ocean my back felt incredible, so I really enjoyed the perfect, turquoise, warm waves.

The flight back was pretty bad. Colleen took amazing care of me, but I threw up early in the flight and then was in bad pain the rest of the time. Colleen had thought ahead and arranged for a wheelchair to greet us at the gate in Seattle. As embarrassing as that was, I was so grateful for it as there was no way I could walk all the way to the taxi after the flight.

10 days later, I’m still in pretty bad pain which is way longer than my back spasms have ever lasted. Another issue is my cancer count (CA 2729) has shot up to 500 (from 350), so that tells us good ole CPT 11 isn’t really working. Brian and I went in yesterday to talk to my oncologist. She decided to switch me to yet another chemo (my 10th). This chemo is called Gemzar and comes with fewer side affects (hopefully, hopefully less nausea). And no hair loss, which makes me happy. She also gave me two more anti-nausea meds to try. My liver is a tiny bit compromised at this point from all the tumors, so that could be causing some of the nausea too. I went to the treatment center and received anti-nausea meds, pain meds and anti-inflammatory meds to hopefully help with my back. I felt better yesterday, but I’m back to bad back pain today. If it still continues next week I’ll probably go in for a MRI to see what’s going on in my back. At this point I even wonder if its a vertebra fracture from the cancer in my back. We’ll see….

I’m feeling pretty frustrated at this point and a little scared that we just can’t find a chemo that is getting to this cancer. I haven’t lost hope, but every chemo that we go through means that we’re running out of options to try. We’re heading down to meet with Dr. Slamon in LA (the big research doctor) to see if he has any other opinions or trials. Honestly at this point I just need ONE break.

But I have Halloween to look forward to which is Desmond’s very favorite holiday. And I’m sure we’ll get my back pain figured out so that won’t last much longer. And maybe Gemzar is the chemo that will finally work (it does have a pretty cool name). And I can always close my eyes and picture the warm, healing Hawaiian waters and believe that better times are ahead.


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More lung issues and Cpt 11 update

hi friends! I’m 4 treatments in with good ole Captain 11 and wanted to update you on the progress. This chemo is rougher than the last few I’ve been on. I’m pretty much nauseated all day, every day. I can manage this pretty well with my different anti-nausea meds, but its definitely taking a toll on my appetite. I’m also suffering from insomnia and just a little bit of diarrhea. All things I can control with meds, it’s just getting the right combo down which I’m trying to do these past few weeks. My fatigue is at a pretty high level (not helped by the insomnia), but I’m resting as much as possible between all these doc appointments.

The new development is fluid is back in my lungs. I guess a pocket of fluid was left in my lungs after my surgery in June. That’s fairly common with the pluerodesis surgery where the talc will sear around a little bit of fluid. It hasn’t bothered me at all over the past few months, but now it’s getting bigger and it has started to cause symptoms. I have a dry cough and weeziness in my lung when I lie down and I’m increasingly short of breath.

So on Monday morning I’ll go in for a procedure to drain the fluid out. As opposed to the more routine thorancentisis I used to get all the time, this one will be more involved because its in the middle of my lung lobes (the right lung has 3 lobes). So they will have to use a CT xray to go in exactly where the fluid is and use a larger catheter to get the fluid out. I’ll thankfully be asleep for the whole thing. It’s just a day procedure, so I get to go home the same day and just deal with some soreness in my side where they’ll go in.

I also got a color photo of the inside of my lung/lining from my June surgery. It’s pretty amazing to see the full cavity filled with talc power (and it’s French talc at that, oh la la). The sad thing is you can see a bunch of tumors on the lung lining. It’s not the prettiest image, but those tumors are staying steady so if Captain 11 actually works they may even shrink.

We’ll check my CA 27.29 (cancer markers) on October 2nd which will give us a good indication of how this chemo is working. And my next full CT scan should be early November.

In GREAT news, today was Desmond’s first day of kindergarten. I remember just sobbing on my therapists couch when I was first diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer saying I wouldn’t be able to hold his hand and walk him into Kindergarten. And look…it happened!! And I have every intention of being around to walk him into 1st grade too. He’s got an amazing teacher and Quincy (and another friend) are in class with him, so he is a very happy camper (and so is mama).

And Colleen and I leave on 9/27 for 4 days in Hawaii to visit our close friend Andrea. It will be 4 days of lazing on the beach, drinking some mai tais, good hawaiian food and a TON of laughter. I can not wait!

Thanks as always for continuing on this never ending journey with me. You all mean so much! xo

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Shitty scan results

Hi friends. We received the results of my PT scan yesterday, and it’s not good. My liver lesions (tumors) have doubled in size and I have 10 (!!!) new ones. The new ones are all very small, but still…fuck. I also have a few lymph nodes around the liver that are filled up with cancer. So the ibrance chemo is not working. On to chemo #9. I’ll start the new chemo, called CPT 11 (or as Brian refers to it…Captain 11), on Wednesday. It’s an IV chemo and I’ll received it once a week for 3 weeks and then have a week off. The most common side affect is diarrhea, so I have that to look forward to. Imodium will become my best friend. Honestly, I feel like an 80 year old with all of these various symptoms I’ve had to deal with.

Anyway, the bright side is the liver is a very redundant organ. Meaning only a small part of your liver is really needed to function. So despite having lesions throughout my liver, my functionality is totally normal. Looking at my (weekly) blood tests, you’d never know I have cancer in the liver. But the scary thing is you can’t let those tumors grow too big or it WILL start to affect my liver functionality. And that’s when I can get very sick or die. So we’re not going to let that happen.

The key is to find a chemo that actually WORKS for me. That’s been our biggest struggle in the past year because my fucking cancer is very aggressive and SMART and is thumbing it’s nose at these recent chemos we’re throwing at it. Hopefully CPT 11 is going to be the one that kicks ass. It’s mostly used for colon cancer patients, but doctors have seen some recent success with metastatic breast cancer patients, especially when a patient has been resistant to other chemo drugs.

I’m feeling a bit down about all this today and more than anything WEARY. I want a freaking break. I want something to work so we don’t have to worry so much. I feel like the cancer is getting the upper hand and I’m not down with that shit.

But here’s the good news…almost 3 years ago when I was first diagnosed with metastatic cancer my biggest fear was I wouldn’t be able to walk Desmond into his first day of Kindergarten. And in less than 3 weeks I get to do that. We go on vacation next week (Semiahmoo Resort and camping on Whidbey Island) and I’m going to convince Brian to rent a house in Portugal next year and travel around Europe as a family for a few weeks. So there are REALLY good things coming my way. And I have to believe we’re hit the magic bullet and find a chemo that will actually work against this damn disease.

I’ll keep you all updated. Thank you for continuing on this long and tiring journey with me. Lots of love…

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Lung surgery recap and new chemo plan

Hi all – for anyone who is interested in the nitty gritty details of the lung surgery, read on. The surgery went exactly as expected. Last Monday (6/15) I checked into the hospital, met with all the doctors and then was wheeled into surgery. It’s so bizarre how I literally can’t remember a THING about going into surgery. I guess that’s not a bad thing. I was under for about 30 minutes with a breathing tube (so I had a sore throat after the surgery). The surgeon made two incisions in my right side, a camera went in one and the tube went in the other. He then sprayed (no joke!) the talc throughout the lung lining. While he was in my lung he also took a biopsy so we could get a look at the cancer within my lung lining (which we haven’t done in the past).

After surgery I was taken to my room and slowly recovered. I was on a LOT of pain meds (diladid) so I felt okay. Usually I get sick after being put under, but my doc gave me enough anti-nausea meds that I felt okay. The tube from my side was pretty big and continually removed fluid from my lung while I was in the hospital for the 4 days. I was hooked up to an IV and the tube, so in order to go to the bathroom or walk around I had to haul around both my IV and my tube suction machine. Not fun.

The first night in the hospital was real rough. I started throwing up around midnight, which made my heartbeat jack up to about 140 beats/min (normal is about 60-70) and my oxygen saturation got pretty low. That made them call a code on me and a rapid response team rushed to my room. I had a TINY room, so to have 8 doctors and nurses in there at one time was quite a feat. They gave me an EKG and chest xrays and determined I wasn’t in any immediate cardiac distress. The whole thing was a bit of a blur to me and I just remember wanting to sleep and to stop being poked and prodded.

By Wednesday there was no more fluid draining from my tube so I was able to get the tube removed. Which was awesome in that I didn’t have a gigantic tube coming out of me but it hurt SO SO SO BAD to get it removed. They gave me 3 doses of diladid (which is just a shit ton of pain meds) and then yanked it out. ahhhh!!! It only hurt for about 3 seconds, but that was a long 3 seconds. I was still struggling with a rapid heartbeat and lower oxygen saturation, so I had to stay in the hospital through Thursday. But finally Thursday evening I was cleared to go home. I’ve never been so happy to sleep in my own bed and have a long shower!

What I haven’t written about yet is that the latest chemo I was on (eribulin) is not working. We did a CT scan before surgery which showed two more tumors in my liver. So yet again another chemo has failed after only a few months. So now I’m going to try a new combination of iBrance and Femera. IBrance was just approved in February by the FDA and shows a ton of promise. The doctor we met with in LA helped discover it. So we’ll see. I’m feeling pretty dishearten by all the set backs we’ve had lately and would love if we could find a medication that would work. Maybe this will be the magic combination. I guess we’ll know in 3 months when I have my next scan.

Thank you all for your well wishes and good thoughts over the past two weeks while I dealt with this lung surgery. My breathing is slowly getting back to normal and I’m taking walks every day to help expand my lung, so I’m definitely feeling like this surgery was the right action to take for my lung issues.

I’ll keep you all updated on the new mediations. Wish for good luck there! love, M

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Lung Surgery

Hi friends! Well, looks like we have another surgery to look forward to this coming Monday (6/15) at 12pm. I’ve had increasing fluid buildup in my lung lining (pleural effusion) that has led to getting it drained twice a week and getting over a liter of fluid each time. Not only is it just uncomfortable (and sometimes flat out painful) to get it drained, but it causes coughing and shortness of breath in the times between drains.

So we’re going to back to the surgeons table for another go at a solution. This time we’ll be doing a pleurodesis, which consists of putting me under general anesthesia, inserting a tube in my lung, and spraying TALC powder (I kid you not, like baby powder) throughout my lung lining. Then the lung lining will adhere to the lung so that no fluid can get in the space anymore. If you want to read more about it, this site does a good job of describing it: http://www.bmc.org/thoraciconcology/treatments/Pleurodesis.htm

It means about 4 or 5 days in the hospital to keep the tube in and also to stay on morphine (it can be a pretty painful procedure).  Best grandma ever, Norine, will stay with Desmond for the week that I’m out. I told Desmond and he was so excited that his Nana is coming for a week that he could care less that I’ll be in the hospital. I’ll have plenty of time to update Facebook next week to let you all know how it went. If you want to come visit, please reach out Colleen at cofarley@starbucks.com to coordinate. She’ll be able to keep track of how I’m feeling and if I’m up for visitors.

Send any good juju or love my way starting 12pm on Monday. Hopefully this will lead to a lot of relief in my lung!


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Eribulin kicks ass

Hi friends! Long overdue update. And it’s a good one!! The Eribulin chemo I’m on seems like it’s working really, really well. Yeah! The best news..I no longer have a lung effusion, meaning there’s no more icky cancer liquid in the lining of my lung. And that was after just 2 treatments of Eribulin. I also just got my CA 27.29 (cancer count) and it’s down to 90 from 121 just a month ago. I asked my oncologist if we can surmise that the chemo is working on my liver as well since my lung is so much better and she said a hearty yes. So all in all it’s just good, good news with this chemo. I had my 5th treatment yesterday (my red/white blood counts were too low to get it Friday) and we’ll just stay on this chemo as long as it still works. My goal is at least a year on this.

The main side effect is a fever two days after treatment and I’m pretty wiped out but a lot of that has to do with my low white/blood cells, which causes pretty major exhaustion. I’m giving myself shots in the stomach 7 days following treatment to boost those up. Wheeeee! It’s pretty amazing how much you can get used to with this “special” journey I’m on.

In other news, my lovely South Carolina family has been to visit over the last few weeks. It was just a huge treat to be able to show off Seattle and have some quality time with them.  This weekend, I’m headed up to Leavenworth for my yearly girl’s trip with 5 of my lovely friends. Can’t wait for that! And we booked our LA trip for the end of April with 3 days at Legoland and 2 days at Disneyland. Desmond’s going to explode with excitement!

The other thing I’m really excited about is I’m going to go back to work 2 times a week starting next week. I’ve been out of work since September (!!!) and I miss my work family like crazy. So I can’t wait to go back and dive into some fun projects and make myself useful. The 2 days a week will assure that I’m still getting plenty of rest and taking care of my body.

Thanks for all the well wishes and special treats so many of you have sent my way. It means the WORLD! xoxo

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