19 July 2014
Here’s a lot of news all at once, but I wanted to let you know what was going on with me; a.k.a. How I spent my summer vacation!
So here’s the story: I’ve been up to my eyeballs in doctors and treatment since the end of May when, on the one warm day we had that month, I tried to cut the grass and it took me 2 hours to do 20 minutes-worth of mowing: I kept having to take breaks to catch my breath. I went to my GP and asked for a better inhaler than the one I’d been using from a bronchitis episode a couple of years before. He gave me a bunch of samples and then sent me downstairs for a chest X-ray. The next day (May 23 – I’m putting some dates in here so that you can get a sense of what a whirlwind of activity has been going on here!), he called me back and said, “We found something that shouldn’t be there, so I’m referring you to a pulmonologist (Dr. Gurses – rhymes with ‘nurses’), and he’ll clear it with the Ins. Co. for you to get a CAT scan to confirm what we saw on the X-ray, only with a better image.” The following week I had the scan (May 28) & met with Dr. Gurses (May 30), who had already cleared it with the Ins. Co. to perform a bronchoscopy, scheduled for Jun 4 (had to be at the hospital by 5:30 AM, with NO COFFEE!).
The results of the bronchoscopy showed lung cancer, but a somewhat uncommon version: small-cell carcinoma rather than a nodule or other kind of mass. Dr. Gurses was very optimistic that a two-pronged response of chemo and radiation therapy would virtually “evaporate” the cancer, and he referred me to Dr. Joe Nand – oncologist for chemo & hematology, and Dr. Gandhavadi – she specializes in radiation oncology.
[We had a slight reprieve from doctors & tests for the 10 days after the bronchoscopy, to do some further tests and let the Ins. Co. could catch up with the rest of the treatment plan. That break also meant I could get back to work to try and handle scoring & reporting for one of the largest test administrations we’ve had in 10 years… it’s been kind of hectic at work, too! A whole different story!
However, the week of Jun 16th we were back into medical testing, consulting, etc. On Monday (6/16) I had a PET scan, and an MRI on Wed. (6/18). But Dr. Nand called me on Tuesday, even before the MRI because he wanted me to know that the PET scan showed NO (zero, zilch, nada) spread of the small-cell buggers anywhere else below my head – not in my blood or lymph system. All completely localized in that one spot in my lung. I felt like 100 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. [In fact, I felt a little dizzy when I got off the phone… But instead of fainting, I did a happy dance – in my head at least!]
As it turns out, the MRI (which is the noisiest test on earth and is used to scan the brain for oddments) didn’t have an equally wonderful outcome: it showed that two little “gumbas” (that’s what Dr. Nand calls them) had relocated to my cerebellum – but only two. I met with the oncologists twice each that same week (6/18 & 6/20), once for getting radiation marks tattooed on my chest. So, about to turn 65 and got my first tattoos! Good thing I didn’t wait any longer, eh?
My diagnosis is small-cell carcinoma that is localized in my right lung, with two instances in my cerebellum. Small-cell cancer as opposed to nodules or tumors or other forms of “non-small-cell” cancer. (These medical folks aren’t very creative in their labeling!) The key word is ‘localized’ because small-cell C only has 2 stages: localized or spread. We got it VERY early! Only two instances of the cells escaped to my cerebellum, and that’s why I am getting treated with both chemo and radiation therapy.
I had my first round of chemo on June 23, 24, 25 followed by a booster shot to support my white blood count. It is working very well, though the exhaustion that hit me about 2 days after the last chemo treatment made me a walking zombie. The ‘walking’ part of that was my own fault. I should have known better than to try and lead a workshop when I looked like I was just going to slip off my chair and fall into a coma. [The folks at work have been awesome about all this! They sent in a pinch-hitter who handled the meeting beautifully, and they sent me home!]
Then, for the first two weeks of July, I didn’t have treatments of any kind except blood draws to check my white blood count, so I have continued to recover from the chemotherapy. Also, the protocols they use for chemo treatment these days include an anti-nausea cocktail that they infuse before they pump in the regular chemo poison, and it works beautifully. I have only been troubled by heartburn. No vomiting. What a relief!
The schedule of treatment is: round one chemo for the lung cancer (done June 23-25), followed by brain-zapping (started July 14) to make sure we get rid of those two little escapees. The radiation will be every weekday through the end of July. Then I get a couple of days off from all treatment, and on August 4, I do my second round of chemo, followed by 33 weekday treatments of radiation to my lungs (chest-zapping) to clean it all the way out of my system & make sure that it disappears and doesn’t return. (There is some talk about additional chemo, but that hasn’t been discussed at length yet. I think it’s an option at this point.)
I should be free & clear of all treatment and signs of cancer by the end of Sept. So it’s going to take all summer (should summer ever really get here!), but I’m going to get another 30-40 years out of this old body as the trade-off, which is something I can live with!
So now you have all the news that’s fit to print and still true… which is more than I can say for most news broadcasts these days!
Know that I am in very good hands and being cared for by professionals who are genuinely concerned about not only my survival but my quality of life. They like me and I love them. They are simply wonderful!
Update: August 6, 2014
I have just finished my second round of chemo therapy, and the difference this time is that I have taken the week off work and will go back next Tuesday, Aug. 12. So far, the timeline for tiredness is matching that of the 1st round, so I’m hoping that some of my energy will return faster by stressing less in terms of places to go – as if I weren’t already going places~!