More Ups and Downs

For the past week or so, I have had a return of discomfort in my left side and a dry cough. Both of these are usually indicators that something is going on with my lung tumors and were the original symptoms that sent me to my doctor. My PA called today and said that my CEA is indeed up, and that’s a good sign that the tumors are growing – the CEA isn’t necessarily indicative of what’s going on, but it does work that way for me. So I will be scheduled for another CT scan in the next couple of weeks and then maybe meet with my onc doc to see what the new plan is going to be.

I also am having some neuropathy, but in a weird way. It’s only on my left hand, in the area between my 4th and little fingers. It started out feeling like I had a cactus spine stuck in there, but there’s nothing there. And there’s some achiness on the sides of the fingers around that area. I don’t have any tingling, numbness, or any other neuropathy symptoms. I thought it might just be arthritis, but my PA says that the chemo would suppress the inflammation response for arthritis, so she’s sure it’s neuropathy and not arthritis. Lucky me!

Today, the side effects started early with achiness and feeling generally out of sorts and a little weepy. I’m trying to stay busy with searching for and printing knitting and crochet patterns and plan to do some test projects, just to make sure I haven’t forgotten how to knit or crochet. It’s been such a long time since I’ve done either one. And I’m not sure how that’s going to work with the neuropathy; guess I’ll find out.

I’m not feeling very encouraged right now, even though I know most of that is the usual post-chemo depression. It’s always up and down. But at least next week is an off week, so hopefully I’ll have more energy then and won’t have side effects to deal with. It doesn’t help to hear the news that another member of our lung cancer community has died, even if it’s someone I didn’t know personally. Every death leaves another hole in my heart. But on the other hand, there is always news of someone reaching another survival milestone, or of a new drug that is showing promise in clinical trials, or a new treatment that has completed trials and is pending FDA approval. I try to stay positive, because wallowing in self pity doesn’t accomplish anything and just saps my energy. My hope is to keep going until there’s something that will be better than the current chemo regimens I’m going through.

So I’ll continue onwards and upwards.

Rough Week

The week since my last chemo infusion has been rough. It took about 7 or 8 days for my body and brain to feel normal again. I think that was mostly because of the steroids more than the chemo itself.

Friday morning, I woke up so jittery I thought I was going to jump out of my skin. I couldn’t sit still; I couldn’t concentrate or focus on much of anything. The upside of all that was I never had the severe fatigue that usually hits on day 3 and/or 4 after chemo. Although I didn’t have the fatigue, I still had the general malaise and brain fog that usually comes with the fatigue.

By Wednesday of this week, I was feeling better, and by Thursday even better still. So 8 days after the Alimta and all those steroids. In retrospect, I should have insisted that I get stepped down from the steroid push because I know what could happen. I don’t know why my team didn’t bring it up either, and I don’t blame them; I think they were too concerned in getting me through the immediate crisis to worry about afterwards. But since they think I need to up my prophylactic dose of Dexamethasone for next time, I’m going to insist they give me a schedule for tapering off whether I have another reaction or not.

Yesterday and today were the closest to a normal day I’ve had in a while. My hair is growing back and actually is long enough that it looks decent; I’m back to having to use my tweezers on my chin hair; my GI system is good enough to deal with extremely spicy Cajun food.

Life is good.

Weird Side Effects

Yesterday we met with my oncologist to get the results of blood work and the latest CT scan. The good news is that the tumors are stable and not growing or advancing. The not-so-good news is that my liver enzymes and CEA are still trending upwards. The other issues are my shortness of breath periodically – not related to any kind of exertion – and the edema in feet and ankles that is much more pronounced on the left leg along with a strange red, hot, sore, patch on the inside of my leg about half way up from my ankle. This seems to resolve slightly when I am taking the Dexamethasone and then comes back with a vengeance when I’m not taking the Dexa. So now the next step is an echocardiogram, a Holter monitor, and a brain CT w/contrast. I had a hard time with claustrophobia with the brain MRI, so he thinks the CT scan will be good enough. And we will wait 4 weeks before another treatment to give my liver a chance to recover from the chemo effects. And that will hopefully also bring down the CEA level, which he thinks could be because of the increase in liver enzymes. We’ll see.

Since my other blood work was fine, he approved me for the Alimta infusion as usual. We planned on being out by 3 and home by 3:30. Not so! The Alimta had just finished when I developed itching all over my torso, my head, my neck, and my throat. The nurse called my PA, who prescribed IV Benadryl, which stopped the itching for about 15 minutes before it started up again. Then I developed a rash on my neck and torso that itched like crazy. So to make a long story short, I ended up having more IV Benadryl and 3 different steroids IV. I had to wait until 5:30 before they would let me leave. None of the nurses, nor the PA, nor the oncologist, had ever seen a reaction like that itching and rash. Oh, and I forgot the lower back pain, which is a known side effect. The scariest part was the intense itching in my throat and nose – I have never had that before even with my worst allergy/hay fever attacks.

When the PA let me go home, she told me to double my Dexamethasone for last night and today. She said to make sure I had Benadryl on hand and to call 911 if my throat started closing up. Scary stuff! But I made it through the night without any further itching or rash, and had some decent sleep in spite of the jitters from all the steroids. I think I was just exhausted from not sleeping well the night before and the stress of the allergic reaction. She also increased my Dexa for next time to 20mg instead of 4mg before treatment. 

So the saga continues… 

Death is Personal

Every time I read of someone in my extended cancer family dying, I take it personally. And it hurts whether I knew them or not. So many of them I met through the blogosphere or Facebook and have not met in person. But I still feel I know them, and we support each other in our fight for freedom. And each death reminds me of my own mortality.

I know that each person with lung cancer is different and will respond differently to different drugs. And I know what the statistics show. I try not to focus on statistics, but it’s hard not to. I instead try to focus on the survivors who have beat the odds – those who have survived 5,10 years or more – and those living with NED (No Evidence of Disease). Lung cancer isn’t curable; I know that. But I want to know why isn’t it? What is it about this disease that makes it so aggressive and so incurable?

I read scientific studies; I read clinical trial results hoping for the breakthrough treatment that will knock lung cancer on its ass. I also read stories of ‘cures’ if I will only buy whatever the supplement or diet du jour is. And I get angry at the people that are touting these ‘cures’ and giving false hope to people living with lung cancer and desperate for a cure when there isn’t one. I have to admit that every time I see a new ‘cure’, I do a search for any scientific studies on whatever ‘it’ is; most of the time there are none. But once in a while, there are promising studies, and then they don’t seem to go anywhere. And I wonder why. What happened that the research didn’t continue when the early results showed such promise. Did funding run out? Was there a catastrophe with the research itself?

There is no lack of conspiracy theories to explain why we have no cure today. Many of these theories claim there is a cure, but the Government, or the drug companies, or someone out there, has decided they want people to die, or they can’t make money from the ‘cure’, or so many other ridiculous reasons.

Lung cancer can become resistant to the chemotherapeutic agents used as first line treatment. And even to the second line treatment. The most encouraging research now seems to be targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Targeted therapy is for a specific mutation, and immunotherapy is a way to trick the body’s immune system into attacking the cancer cells, and only the cancer cells. This is different than chemo where all fast growing cells are attacked, which is why there are GI side effects, and loss of hair, etc. But even these aren’t cures, and lung cancer can develop immunity to the treatment.

So for now I will just keep going. I will have blood work and another CT scan on Tuesday and will meet with my oncologist on Wednesday. And then we’ll see where we go from here. In the meantime, I will continue living with an attitude of gratitude as much as possible.

 

Another Holding Pattern

My team leader talked with my oncologist late on Tuesday about my shortness of breath and had me go in for a blood test called D-dimer. Without getting all technical, this blood test shows whether or not there are blood clots in the veins (that’s way over simplified, but good enough for this blog!) Karen thought since my shortness of breath wasn’t related to exertion in any way, it could be blood clots in the lungs.

The test came back higher than normal, though not by a lot, so off I went for another CT scan. Fortunately, the scan showed no clots. There was also no fluid buildup in the lungs or around the heart, no evidence of other inflammation in the lungs, and nothing that showed any reason for the breathing problems. My lungs and heart sound good. I’m glad it isn’t blood clots but wish there was some obvious reason for my symptoms – or maybe not. 🙂

So what we came up with is possible bronchitis from the horrible winds we’ve been having this Spring that are blowing dust, pollen, and other particulates all around and my breathing some of that into my lungs. Since bronchitis doesn’t show up on CT or X-ray, this is just a theory. So back to antibiotics to prevent any more serious lung infection from taking hold and a wait-and-see holding pattern again.

Status Report

The latest blood work shows that my white and red counts are normal and holding steady, which means my immune system is in good shape, and I have the green light for – sushi! Something I have missed so much since I started chemo back in November.

However, my CEA and liver enzymes continue to creep upwards, I’m having shortness of breath without exertion, and a dry hacking cough. The shortness of breath could be the Alimta, it could be allergies, it could by COPD, it could be any number of things. Same thing for the cough. But if they were caused by allergies, there should be a decrease on the days I’m taking the Dexamethasone, and there isn’t. The increase in liver enzymes and CEA could be related and could just be an effect of the chemo. So my next appointment will include another CT scan ahead of schedule. And if the symptoms get worse, I’m to let the team know and they might do the CT scan even sooner.

I’m feeling okay, so I’m thinking there probably isn’t anything going on with the cancer just now, but the symptoms are troubling anyway. I didn’t sleep well at all last night because of the Dexamethasone, and that med upped my pulse and BP today. But my O2 saturation levels are maintaining at around 97%, which is great.

So I’m basically in another holding pattern, but staying positive. And now it’s nap time!

On Death

I was asked the other day if being diagnosed with cancer had changed how I felt about death. And the answer is no. I do wonder what life will be like for my family and friends, but those thoughts have been with me for longer than I knew I had cancer. I can’t answer for everyone, but death is something I think about rarely. I’m comfortable with believing that death isn’t an ending but a beginning, and I know I have lots of living to do yet.  So I’m not ready to leave this world any time soon. Of course, I probably won’t have any control over when I die.

When I was first diagnosed, I was told that lung cancer isn’t curable just manageable. At that point I was certain this cancer would kill me, and I thought Stage 4 lung cancer was always fatal; the question is just when and how long I could keep it under control. I have since learned that it is possible to have no evidence of disease (NED) after treatment. And I know of some who have been NED for years. But there are also those whose treatment doesn’t work and who die early on with the disease. Part of the problem with lung cancer is it often isn’t diagnosed until the late stages when it has already metastasized. And the traditional treatments don’t always work, or they work for a little while then the cancer becomes resistant. There are some exciting new treatments out there that harness the  power of the body’s own immune system and others that target a particular DNA mutation switch – all fascinating. And options for clinical trials that may not have been available when I was diagnosed, which was just in October of last year.

I remember reading “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as an assigned book for one of my nursing school classes. Of course back then I had no sense of my own mortality. I saw patients die and I saw patients get well and leave the hospital. I cried with the bereaved families and rejoiced with new parents and the families of those who went home. And the five stages of grief stayed with me from all those years ago. Now I find myself going through those same stages – because those stages don’t just occur after someone dies; they can also be a response to a diagnosis such as cancer.

The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They do not happen in a linear fashion, so people don’t necessarily go from denial to anger then bargaining etc. The stages can occur in any order, and people can even sometimes skip a stage altogether. Some never reach acceptance. I seem to vacillate between anger and depression with a little acceptance thrown in there every once in a while. But mostly I’m fighting and convinced I can beat this, at least for a while, and determined to live my life the way I want to live it – not the life this cancer wants me to live. I never did just ‘go with the flow’; I was always the one fighting the status quo – and I still am.