Long-awaited: and… action!

Stella
Stella is a constant source of joy.

 

So – where were we?

My pulmonologist has been great. In fact, he’s the one who discovered my lung cancer. My primary care doc, who I’d seen for 20ish years — minus the several years I lived in New Hampshire — had dismissed the cough on the premise that I’d always had a cough. But the pulmonologist sent me right upstairs in the hospital where his office is to get a chest x-ray. It turned out there was a large mass in my right lung. So my new PCP treated me for pneumonia while the pulmonologist put me through a battery of tests and scans. Hence: cancer diagnosis, stage 3 adenocarcinoma of the lung, June 2018. I’ve had three surgeries (one removing almost half of my lung), one and a half rounds of chemo (eight treatments total), and numerous scans and x-rays. I’m mostly bald, way overweight from medications and lack of exercise,

It’s been a long haul, and to tell you the truth, I’m tired of it. I’ve been chastised on Facebook (though I’ve gotten a lot of non-judging support as well) for not being grateful enough, or positive enough, or whatever enough, and I’m tired of that too.

I quit smoking 40+ years ago but there are a lot of other possible contributing factors: my parents were both heavy smokers when I was a child, my first husband was a heavy smoker, and as an artist/designer I’ve inhaled all sorts of fumes, solvents, aerosols, photo developing fumes, and sprays all of my adult life. Or maybe it was just chance. Who knows.

I spent a couple of days in the hospital last month, after Sweetie took me to the ER. I was having trouble breathing (which has been a problem all along. but that night was the worst). They did a whole bunch of tests, of course, and sent the results to all three docs. That got things moving. I asked the pulmonologgist to step back into the case, and be my second opinion.

So now I’m in sort of a medical limbo — do I have metastatic tumors, or non-malignant lung inflammation? The latest PET scan — ordered by the oncologist but suggested by the pulmonologist — was interpreted by a radiologist to show no malignancies, The oncologist agreed to take me off the second round of chemo (which was horrible) and prednisone, at least for now. I have yet to see the pulmonologist to discuss next steps. His office rescheduled for next week. After that I see the oncologist.

Fortunately, I have a very supportive spouse. I don’t know what I’d do without him. And my friends have rallied ’round in all sorts of ways.

I’m feeling better without the chemo and prednisone, still recovering from those. Still weak and breathless. Haven’t made much art, either. Lots of intentions…

A metaphorical kick in the teeth

IMG_20190623_135912 (2)
Entrance to Winterthur, in June

Continuing from my last entry… With that first round of Prednisone I felt a lot better… until I tapered off it, and my breathing worsened again. A further CT scan showed the spots, or nodules, were still there in my lung. So I was put on a second round of the steroids, with the same results. But this time the scan showed a proliferation of the nodules, some outside the lung. That was the kick in the teeth (my dad’s phrasing). I’d been apprehensive about the scan results, but really expecting better.

It could still be side effects of the Keytruda — they can continue for months — but the Prednisone isn’t knocking it back. Or it could be a rapid metastisis — atypical of adenocarcinoma, but a possibility nonetheless. So the oncologist is putting me back on chemotherapy, on different drugs than the last round of chemo: five treatments, three weeks apart.

This round may be rougher — the list of possible side effects is daunting, and, as he pointed out, my health is not as good as it was the last time around. I run out of breath very easily, and my breathing is often labored. It sucks. It sucks for me, and for Sweetie. I’m struggling physically, and we’re both struggling emotionally. The death of Sweetie’s mother in June, at age 97, although expected and in some senses a relief, surely didn’t help matters.

Fortunately, a dear friend who’s a psychotherapist has connected me with a colleague of hers, and this is turning into a good and helpful relationship.

Chemo starts sometime in the next week. I’ll check in, in a week or two, as to how it’s going.

Big day done, bigger day coming up

I was so dreading the chemical stress test! My late mother said she’d rather die than go through another one. And it was highly unpleasant… but only for about five minutes or so. I expect that Mother’s heart was in much worse shape than mine, when she went through it. I had no chest pain, no severe panic, or effects other than breathlessness and a very uncomfortable (full? hot? cold? Hard to describe) feeling in my muscles. There was an echocardiogram first, then another imaging involving a radioactive substance via IV and a camera that circled my upper abdomen. The tech had no name for the type of imaging when I asked. Then the chemical stressor was injected through the IV. I was already hooked up for an EKG, along with blood pressure monitor (BP very high, as usual for me in a medical setting) and then there was imaging again 20 minutes later. Before the last imaging, they gave me a cup of black coffee — my choice of caffeine source — which seemed counter-intuitive to me, but which they assured me would help my blood vessels readjust and make me feel better. True. Nice that they also brought Sweetie a cup of coffee in the waiting room. He’s always there with and for me.

The administering physician asked me about my cancer and the circumstances, and opined that I was very fortunate that my adenocarcinoma had been caught at stage 3 — that often they go to stage 4 before discovery: too late, really, for treatment. (Many thanks again to my pulmonologist!) She wished me well in the surgery, and from that I’d gather that the test results were good. I get the official results in a couple of days.

When we got home I immediately took a long nap, then had some lunch and called my dad (who is doing well at home), and took another long nap.

So: I’m scheduled for major lung surgery – a lobectomy, removal of the upper lobe of my right lung – on Thursday 1/17. My oncologist thinks that there is likely little or no malignancy left in the mass in that lobe: mostly dead tissue which shouldn’t be left there.

Surgery will be way too early in the morning, and I’ll be in the hospital for 3-4 days afterwards, then recovering at home for a month or two. If all goes well, I’ll then be cancer-free.

And my show with Chuck Haupt at Cooperative Gallery 213 is coming up in March!

Final stage of healing… a big step

We saw the oncologist on Christmas Eve, and the surgeon’s NP on Boxing Day. The consensus is that it’s time for a lobectomy — surgery to remove the upper lobe of my right lung, where the cancer has been. The oncologist thinks there may be little or no cancer left there after the chemotherapy — possibly just dead tissue — and since it’s been proven, over time, that there are no outlying cancers, it’s time for surgery to remove what was there. The tissue/tumor is too large for radiation, he says, but contained enough to remove. And it should eventually improve my breathing capacity. (So tired of being short of breath!) Scary stuff, but successful surgery should leave me cancer free, and the remaining two lobes should expand into the cavity to give me greater lung capacity again.

The surgeon (the one who did my lymph node biopsy, highly recommended by the oncologist) is off for the holiday week, so I can’t be sure of the procedure or schedule until I talk to him on or after January 2, but the oncologist believes access to the lung will be through the ribs rather than a cracked sternum, and it will entail 3-5 days in the hospital afterwards and a 4-month recovery. Looks to me like the soonest I can get into surgery will be mid-January (after my Jan. 10 cardiac work-up, fingers crossed I pass that), and I have a show at Cooperative Gallery 213 scheduled for the month of March. Pretty close. I will probably need help hanging that, or worst case, may need to find an artist-friend who can take my place.

So until surgery I’m going to be painting like crazy — and maybe matting and framing as well — for the show titled “Other Times, Other Places,” with co-exhibitor Chuck Haupt.

Meanwhile, my 89-year-old dad is in the hospital with either an infection in a surgical site, or a gouty arthritis post-surgical outbreak, or both, following carpal tunnel surgery. Hope to see him tomorrow. It was so good to have him — and two brothers, a sister-in-law, and a nephew and SO — here for Christmas Day.

Waiting to heal

So there were no malignancies found during my abdominal surgery — such a relief! — and now, not quite three weeks out, the laparoscopic incisions are healing. I’ve had a post-op check-up with the gynecological oncologist in Syracuse (hardly worth the 60-mile trip — she barely looked at my surgical sites, didn’t even touch me, just chatted about what she did and didn’t find during surgery — but she did have admiring words to say about my oncologist here) and a consultation with my Binghamton oncologist. I’ll be having a CT scan on the 20th, to see what’s happening with the lung tumor, and then he’ll come up with a plan for further treatment, depending on what the scan shows. There are a couple of possible paths: extended modified chemo, radiation, lung surgery, or a combination of all or some of those. Meanwhile, I tire easily (as always, these days!) and my cough seems to have worsened. Trying to push myself a bit — I am SO fat and out of shape — but also give myself time to heal from the surgery; the official timeline is six weeks. And I still ache internally. It’s a fine line to tread. Am I being lazy, wise, or self-indulgent? So hard to tell.

Silver linings

“I understand you had an adventure yesterday,” my brother said when he called this evening. Why yes, I did. Sweetie and I made an early-morning road trip to Crouse Memorial Hospital in Syracuse, and I had laparoscopic surgery — a hysterectomy and an oophorectomy (uterus and ovary), and a look-see at my lower bowel.

The good news: NO malignancies, and nothing to be seen on the bowel (it seems the PET-scan anomaly was simply an anomaly — a scan artifact). No large incision. No long-term stay dilemma for Sweetie. What this means: no bowel re-sectioning, no ovarian cancer, no metastasis of the lung cancer. All good news!

As I understand it, this means a possibility of surgery for the lung tumor since it isn’t wide-spread. Or, alternatively, long term chemotherapy. But first, we wait. Six weeks before any chemo, and a shorter time for recovery from the surgery itself.

Not so hot, thanks, but getting there

I’m going to post this blog on Facebook and to my email list, in hopes that my friends will sign up to follow my blog, and keep up with my healing process. It’s going to be a longer haul than I’d hoped.

Once more with the lung cancer. Just now I’m emerging from the misery of the  chemotherapy treatment last Wednesday, so I’m feeling hopeful again.

I’ve gone through five sessions of chemotherapy, every three weeks, and my lung tumor has stabilized — but is nowhere near gone. Every chemo session seems to be worse than the last, in terms of nasty side effects. I do still have my hair, though.

For those of you just now being acquainted with my illness, in June I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the lung, thanks to an alert pulmonologist I was seeing for my sleep apnea and asthma. Also visible on the PET scan that confirmed my lung tumor was questionable activity in my left half-ovary (all I have, thanks to a couple of tubal pregnancies in the 1980s). My oncologist felt it important to treat the lung cancer first, with chemotherapy rather than surgery. A blood test he ordered showed that the ovarian activity was very likely (but not absolutely) not ovarian cancer. It could be a metastasis of the lung cancer, or unusual but benign activity. In any case, the chemo treatment protocol they’re using for the lung cancer would be useful on an ovarian cancer as well.

But here I am, at a medical standstill until I see a gynecological oncologist in Syracuse (60 miles up the road) in two weeks. She will most likely remove the ovary for biopsy, and will also check on a suspicious spot on my intestines nearby, shown by the latest CT scan. First I’ll have an ultrasound (what’s this, the third?) and a consult. A week later I’ll have a sixth chemo session, and we’ll see where we go from there depending on the OB/GYN’s recommendation.

Looking Up

In my last post I wrote about having lung cancer. Since then I’ve had two chemotherapy sessions, 3 weeks apart, and the evidence is that my lung tumor is shrinking. (Also, I don’t have a secondary cancer — yay!)

Side effects from the chemo have been fairly mild — after a session I feel good for a couple of days, then I feel like crap for a week. After that I feel reasonably good, though tired, for a week and a half. Haven’t had any nausea, though I have a bunch of prescription anti-nausea drugs, and my hair hasn’t fallen out. I’m feeling upbeat and positive, and I’m sure I’ll get through this.

I developed a really painful DVT (deep vein thrombosis) a couple of weeks ago — probably as a consequence of tumor shrinkage — but that’s under control now, thanks to yet more drugs.

My family and friends, and especially my sweet husband, are all really supportive, I feel bad about dragging my poor elderly Dad through this — he sits with me and my sweetie through each chemo session, we talk on the phone every day or two, and he drops in for a quick visit most Tuesdays and Thursdays (“How’s my little girl?”). Tomorrow I’m finally going to visit him, for the first time since I’ve been sick.

I couldn’t ask for a better, more supportive and nurturing sweetie than my husband. When I’m well again — I have three more chemo sessions to go — I’ll have to re-learn housework and errand-running! He’s taken it all on himself, and only occasionally gets cranky.

I haven’t been making art, but that’s coming. I dream about it. I sleep a lot.

News

Hi, friends –

Not very good news, I’m afraid – I won’t be able to mount my scheduled show at Cooperative Gallery 213 in August, due to serious health issues.

I have lung cancer (which is ridiculous, since I haven’t smoked in 40-some years) and possibly another cancer as well. The lung cancer is a type that mostly non-smoking women get. I’m having tests, scans, and appointments, and then I’ll be starting chemo on Wednesday. Prognosis is not as good as it was at first – it’s farther along and more widely spread. So everything is up in the air right now: not only shows and exhibits but classes as well.

I have a loving and supportive husband, as well as the rest of my family and my friends. I’m not being too terribly private about this, but hope not to see it go around on social media.

All I ask now is your good and health-giving thoughts — and prayers, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks!