Stable, inside and out!

Stable scans = great news!

When cancer joined our life, we knew things were never going to be the same or what we dreamed of for our old age together.  Over the past four years we’ve built a new best life for ourselves, and have settled in to enjoy our time on earth, however it looks or long it lasts.  We take each bump in stride, and have been very fortunate that there’s always been a way to pick ourselves up,  dust off, and move on. Trying to stay healthy and well informed about health choices and needs is on the forefront, never taken for granted.

So when Coronavirus came around, we were as ready as we could possibly be.  On March 5 we had my day at Dana Farber.  On March 8 we did a comprehensive grocery trip, and then settled in a little more.  In fact, I’ve not been inside any dwelling except my own since March 8. Dan has visited his dad, but has been inside no stores, etc.  Thanks to full freezers and pantry, family, curbside, some online shopping, and “distance”  outside visits we’ve thrived.  My “go to” stores are now Merrill and Hinckley, Blue Hill Co-op, and Surry General store.

But of course when cancer lives with you and you’re in a clinical trial, oncology appointments must happen even if you feel you are doing well and think you’d know if there was progression.  I was allowed to skip my six week labs because I’ve been stable for so long.  Not so with my day of tests at 12 weeks.  In my world twelve weeks between scans is a long time.  (This trial began with every 3 weeks.)

But what about coronavirus?  Dana-Farber is safe.  But Boston isn’t safe, I watch the news.  We aren’t really going to Boston, we’re going to Dana-Farber.  Dana-Farber is safe.  Dana-Farber is in Boston.  And so it went for the two weeks leading up to the appointment. I talked with the trial nurse, who was working from home.  I learned that after my tests there would be a phone appointment, a conference call.  I learned that very strict guidelines were in place, and any appointments that could be postponed or done by Telehealth were not be conducted at DF.  Mine were not to be postponed. (Doing all tests locally would not be easier or as safe, we concluded.) Then, I received three calls in the two days leading up to my appointments regarding  COVID-19, asking me screening questions. So. Hmm. Huh.  No more excuses.  Not any sensible ones.  We would do it all in a day trip.  Dan was confident he could drive there, wait, and drive back safely.

So yesterday we went!  Got there in record time – no traffic!  Even though I felt unsafe, I do believe I was as safe as could be when at Dana-Farber.  Only the patient may go in (with very few exceptions).  This was a first for me.  Masks are a must when you leave the car.  Everyone is screened upon entering ( same questions as on the phone) the Yawkey lobby and given one of their masks.  “Sneeze guards” are around every reception desk.  ID is looked at, not touched.  Parking tickets are not validated – free parking during this time. (Usually $12.00 for day when validated at appointment.)  No clipboard with questions to fill out by pen, those are asked orally or prior to by phone.  Waiting room chairs are spaced 6 feet apart.  Everyone in the building wears a mask.  Some techs wear full PPE.  I went through my day. Elevator and hallway. Dana Building L1  Check-in 1.  blood work and IV in.  2. CT questions and get nasty drink.  Drink over 30 min period.  3.  CT scans.  4. Brain MRI prep (across hall from CT) Put clothes in locker, put on hospital top, pants, socks.  5.  Brain MRI, wearing my mask! (A big first.)  Even the squeeze ball has a disposable cover now. Done, get dressed.  6. Elevator and walkway from Dana to Yawkey 10.  7. Check-in for EKG.  Same COVID-19 screening. 8. Vitals taken, EKG done.  9.  Elevator to Yawkey 2, pharmacy.  Meds are ready! (That means labs were good.) No wait.  10.  Elevator to P5 and car. 11.  Sanitize phone, ID(only things I took) and shoes, change shirt.  Homeward bound, record time!  Dr. Janne and Nurse Dawn call shortly after we reach Maine.  Scans look good!  Labs are good too!  See you in August, call if you need anything.  And so it went. Lady Lorlatinib, my targeted therapy drug, continues to keep the beast controlled (34 months so far).  Our tears are of relief and joy, and maybe a little fatigue.  Mostly joy, thinking of a summer of gardening.

Boston residents were following safety guidelines.  Everyone walking on the street wore a mask even.  It seemed much safer than stopping for gas at a convenience store in Augusta.  Dan was safe, used a disinfecting wipe, sanitized, and we didn’t go near the store.  But people with no masks were streaming in and out one door, in each other’s face and space, handling the door and everything in the store, and … on and on.  All I can say is that we have decided it is solely our responsibility to keep ourselves safe.  As much as we hope others will follow the safety guidelines, we know many are not.  We can be sad, frustrated, bewildered, even angry (not worth my energy) at their behavior, but that won’t keep us safe – we will.  We must.  We have more life to live.

We’ve decided that every day now, during the time of coronavirus, feels like Saturday.  They aren’t Sunday, but they aren’t “work” days.  So they’re all Saturday!  Really though, I know that Monday – Friday our CDC Director, Dr. Shah, will give us the daily update at 2:00 PM.  (I know I can read it on the CDC site earlier, but I feel his presentation is important for Mainers to see.) Every day I hope to hear that no Mainer has died.  I am so saddened at the thought of anyone dying such a difficult death with no family there.  And sad for their families.  I cannot change that.  I can only help the greater situation by keeping myself safe, and asking those I know to do the same.  We do not want to have people die needlessly or to overwhelm our fragile health system. Avoiding outbreaks in nursing homes has to be our collective responsibility, doesn’t it?

Please.  Stay safe.  Wash your hands after going out or bringing things in.   Wear your mask.  Don’t touch your face, even if that mask is itchy.   If not for you, then do it for the grocery clerks and others you come in contact with.  Thank you.  If I see you wearing your mask, I’ll be smiling under mine.

This week we had new friends at camp – a Baltimore Oriole and a cardinal.   Tomorrow is  Saturday! Isn’t every day, except Sunday?  Sunday we will plant our garden, grateful that we’re together for another summer of finding joy in the everyday every day.  Here, at camp with our two spoiled dachshunds and four funny goats.  May you feel as blessed as I do.  Please, always have hope.IMG_2953

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Health Update (Good news)

No changes – that’s good news.  Last week we went for my day of appointments at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  If we had known of the COVID-19 outbreak in Boston I think we would have still gone, and in the way we did.  All day we practiced as much “social distancing” as we could, and used hand sanitizer frequently.  DF was already geared up for COVID-19, with doctors being told no business travel, online training, and a noticeable difference in greetings – no handshakes.  At DF they always have to take extra precautions in sanitizing, etc. because of the fragility of the immune systems of their patients.  So, after a very long day of driving (well riding for me) and appointments, I got the news that all remains the same, and picked up my trial medication (lorlatinib – 33 months) for another 12 weeks.

Staying positive is usually easy for me.  I’m definitely a “look on the bright side”, “glass half full”, hope-filled person.  But sometimes this cancer life gets me down, and my logical self says, “Understandably so”.  This blog is intended to share my experience to inform and help others.  It isn’t to paint a rosy picture, but rather an honest one.

I am grieving, as much of our peninsula community is, because this cancer beast caused the death of a beautiful young friend recently.  Inflammatory Breast cancer is another rare cancer, often diagnosed at late stage.  She, too, shared her cancer journey, hoping to inform, educate, and bring hope to others. It is inspirational reading. https://rosannamcfarlandsjourney.blogspot.com

All winter I’ve avoided crowds, not wanting to catch something after being hospitalized in early January. I can’t spend much time outside in the cold as it bothers my breathing.  I went to one basketball game for each of the grandchildren, and that’s pretty much it for large gatherings.  This is because of cancer. In the past I would have attended as many as possible.   So too I missed Rosanna’s Celebration of Life because of cancer.  Yet I was there by “being” with them, listening to songs on her playlist, reading Rosanna’s blog, praying for peace and comfort for her family.

And now, here we are – all of us dealing with a pandemic.  Other than the very real concern  about catching COVID-19 (I’m high risk, with a damaged lung and we are, umm, over 60),we’re much better prepared to work my way through the next months than most, I think. I just filled my trial prescription and won’t have to return until late May.  (Some friends in the cancer world are weighing the pros and cons of going to even necessary appointments.)  We learned how to sanitize everything when living at the Hope Lodge while I was having radiation at DF, so I feel safe in that respect.  We don’t have jobs that we will lose.  (Hoping the lobster industry will get bailed out like the cruise lines will.)  I have put myself under house arrest, no visitors.  (My friend Kathy and I will send each other interesting photos, and fun jokes and quotes.)  I can enjoy the coming of spring, being outside as much as I want. (Pussywillows are out here!)  I have 6 artist trading cards to make for swaps, a junk journal in progress for a friend, and two FB group  monthly art projects to work on.  And, I have Dan, two dachshunds, and four goats for company.  The best!  We have full freezers and cupboards.

I am still ever so grateful for this gift of time that I’ve been given.  All the hardships of living with cancer are just hardships right now, things I must deal with proactively as they come.  Living to find joy in the everyday EVERY day is a gift that I hope all who breathe can understand and enjoy.   I am grateful, too, that so many people are now taking this pandemic seriously.  (I wish our President and his administration had, and would.  But that is now for November.)  I’m grateful to the many front line health care workers.  This is a novel (NEW) virus that obviously spreads easily and rapidly.  Think about your elderly and high risk neighbors and relatives.  (My relatives and neighbors offered help to us and Dan’s dad.) We need to work together to not overwhelm our health care system. Social distancing, washing hands and sanitizing surfaces will help slow the spread.   Enjoy some extra time outside in the spring weather.

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A tale of three lives

Musings of living, living with  Stage IV lung cancer, a terminal disease…

I often feel as though I live in three lives or worlds.  There’s my happy life that’s filled with joy, love, family, nature, and crafting.  It’s the one I have some control over.  Then there’s the world around us, the “real” world, the one that is way out of balance and ever so scary.  I always say to not worry about things you can’t do anything about.  I’m worried, and all I know I can do is to vote.  It doesn’t seem like enough.  And finally, there’s  my cancer world.  Right now that world is just plain sad.  Sadder than sad.

I am lucky to be ROS1+ and to be in a clinical trial with a drug that has been keeping my cancer controlled for 2.5 years.  Over the past four years I’ve become friends with many in the lung cancer community.  This life too is filled with love and hope. In the past two weeks several people I know have died or made the choice to begin hospice care.  When over 400 Americans die every day of this disease, I guess it’s not surprising. I’ve not “met” any of them, but we are friends through Facebook, the ROS1ders, our blogs, and advocacy. This is beyond sad.  It is unnecessary .  If lung cancer research was funded at the rate of other cancers, maybe they would still be here, like me, living with lung cancer.  Or, maybe if their PCPs had taken their  symptoms seriously, before the disease metastasized, maybe they would have been able to be cured.  But no.  I hope their transition was peaceful and filled with love.  I grieve for their families, especially their children.  My third world, my cancer life.  Please urge your representatives to work to increase federal lung cancer research funding.

In reality these lives of course intermingle and I must find a balance that works for me.  Just as anyone who needs to deal with the many aspects of their life.  I feel blessed that I’ve been able to simplify my world significantly .  I can’t imagine living with Stage IV cancer and treatments while working and raising young children, but I’ve friends who are.  Please keep them in your thoughts and your prayers.

I continue to play.  Here are some photos of my latest paper bag journal and a page in an ephemera folio I made.  Love to all.

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Lesson learned!

Living  with cancer, even when you’re feeling relatively well, is trickier than I realized.  The good news is that I’m on the mend and back to feeding goats and crafting.

On the very day that I should have been celebrating four years of LIVING with cancer, I found myself in the hospital.  Ugh.  A simple infection turned into a three day stay being observed and cared for in the Special Care Unit.  Huh?!  How could that happen?  Well, I have cancer you see, and even though it is my med that controls the cancer, it is my job to take extraordinary care of my body and mind.  I think I forgot that in all the fun of the holidays, got overtired and kept going as I always had, and the next thing I knew I was sick, really sick.  An ordinary infection that decided to creep into my bloodstream took advantage of my body focusing on making conditions optimal for my med, and being distracted by the holiday festivities.

Two ER trips, CT scans of chest and head, EKG, who knows how many bags of IV fluids, IV antibiotics, heart monitoring, chest x-ray, blood work and more blood work, and on and on. I must say that I got the VIP treatment as a stage IV cancer patient.  I hope that everyone is treated so well.  I even got to practice using my spirometer!  The happy ending to this chapter is that everything is now okay.  I expect it will take me a while to get back to where I was, but I’m confident I will.  I did get some mighty good chicken soup delivered to me, and that sure is good for whatever ails you.  And, now I know.  Just because I’m feeling pretty good, that doesn’t mean I should push myself.  And now Dan can (and did) say, “I told you so!”  (In a very kind and gentle way.) Lesson learned.

So back I go to finding joy in the everyday every day here in our winter home, cozy and warm with Dan and the dachshunds. And, in case you missed it too – I have passed the four year mark of LIVING well with stage IV lung cancer!

When I got back to playing I made this junk journal out of a 6X9″ envelope, scrap paper and cloth, a cereal bag, odds and ends of cardboard, and a few buttons.  Pretty fun!

 

Onward we go! All stable

Last week we did our day (We left home at 6:00 AM, drove to Boston, and reached our hotel at 8:00 PM.) of tests and appointments at Dana-Farber and the news is all good!  The CT scans of my chest and abdomen are unchanged, the brain MRI is unchanged, the EKG was normal, the blood work showed that my additional cholesterol lowering medication is working. High (almost out of control) cholesterol is a medication side effect.  Everything else in my blood work remarkably is still always in the normal range. So has ROS1 hopped in his speedster and departed? Nope.  But he is currently still out of gas, stalled.  Not moving, not growing.  My hero, the Lovely Lady Lorlatinib is the real beast, in all the best ways.  While she may not be so kind to my body, we’ve learned to get along.  And she is strong, keeping her foot on little ROS1.  Doing her job.

Me?  I’m still playing, taking care of my mind and body, and finding joy in the everyday EVERY day, here in our winter home with Dan, our dachshunds and goats.  Filled with gratitude as we near the fourth anniversary of my Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis.  Looking forward to having the children, grandchildren, and Dan’s dad all together over the holidays.  Making memories.

Thank you for all the prayers you say for me and the positive thoughts you send.  I am grateful.  Love to all, from our side of the mountain.

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ROS1der Research

Dear Friends and Family,
The ROS1ders set a research fundraising goal for this month in honor of Lung Cancer Awareness month.  I hope you can help us reach it. $10.00 is what I’m asking you to contribute.  Four years ago my cough-cough led to a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis (Jan. 2016). You know my story.  Since then I’ve been on two targeted therapy drugs for ROS1 cancer. Neither FDA approved when I started them. Currently I am in a clinical trial. With each new drug the research scientists are learning more and more about the response to and of the ROS1 fusion. The ROS1ders are donating tumor tissue and more to this research. For me, there is possibly one more drug in trial when ROS1 finds a work-around to my current drug.  For others there isn’t yet another drug.

For you scientists in my “family”, here’s some information on the research. ROS1 PDX Study

Here’s what I’m asking of you – $10.00 If every one of my blog readers and facebook friends and family gave $10. to this research I’d have made a great contribution. I ask this as much for the young moms and dads in our ROS1der group as for myself. Sure, I’d love to stay around to watch the grandkids grow and to get to grow old with Dan is a dream I once took for granted. But there are young people in our group who need to live long enough to see this cancer treated as a managed chronic illness so they can just experience life.

So, $10.00. Please.  Thank you. Thank you for this and all your love, support, well wishes and prayers.  Thank you for reading this and every post.  Here’s the link to my fundraising page.  Corinne’s ROS1 page

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Free ME from Lung Cancer 5k

Today was a perfect day.  It’s easy to find perfect days when you look for them.  Today it was just there.  Team polepolebreathe.blog participated in the annual (our third) 5K benefiting  Free ME from Lung Cancer.  The weather was beautiful, perfect I think for running, and not cold for those of us cheering on the runners.  There’s a not too serious rivalry between mother and son that’s always entertaining.  My grandson barely beat his mom, but she placed higher in her age group than he.  A tie, I’d say.  As you’ll see in my selfie, I stood tall through it all, feeling blessed to have the team there in my honor.  I’ve been deciding upon a new important goal to strive for – the next thing I want to achieve on this journey.  Staying alive is a good one, but that goes without saying.  My goal?  Next year I hope to participate in the 5K.  If I slow-walked up a small mountain, I can finish a 5K.  And, I know team polepolebreathe.blog will be walking beside me or at the finish line tapping their toes waiting for my arrival. (They are runners after all!)  Join us – I expect it will be a perfect day!

 

 

My cancer journey so far (written for ROS1der Feature Friday)

 On Christmas Day 2012 Dan, my husband, and I were standing on top of Mt Kilimanjaro.  April 2015 we spent a few days backcountry backpacking in the Grand Canyon, hiking down and back up with 30 lb. packs.  By November 2015 I couldn’t go up the stairs without huffing and puffing, and I had a nagging cough. My PCP had put my symptoms (fatigue, headaches, the cough) down to stress as we’d experienced a house fire in August 2015.  Guess again.  I found myself taking a medical leave from teaching in November 2015. On Sunday, January 3, 2016 Dan took me to a walk-in clinic because I couldn’t breathe well.  The FNP saved my life by doing an x-ray.  How simple was that.

After a bronchoscopy biopsy and a PET scan in Maine, I self-referred to Brigham and Women’s and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.  They immediately did radiation as palliative care, trying (unsuccessfully) to reduce the tumor, and a liver biopsy to ascertain that the lung cancer had spread to my liver (and colon).  Testing for a gene alteration was done despite initial insurance denial.  Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is very adept at patient advocacy. My DFCI  doctor was so excited to give me the news that the cancer was ROS1+ and there was a targeted therapy drug to treat it. Hope! She said I’d do well in treatment because I was young and healthy! (I was 58 and dying.:) Something she said that day seared an image in my mind of nasty little ROs1 driving his speedster throughout my body and the TKI choking off the fuel.  Dana-Farber is a place of hope, caring, and expertise.  While researching ROS1 I found another place of great hope, caring, and expertise – the ROS1der website and FB group.  I am so very grateful for this forum.

I began taking crizotinib March 2, 2016.  After finding the right combination of anti-nausea meds and a good supplier of Imodium, I tolerated it well.  Within a week I was breathing easily.  While never NED, everything was greatly reduced and remained stable.  By summer I was swimming and exploring with our grandchildren at our camp. My scans were 8 weeks apart.

In March 2017 I began having odd headaches.  A brain MRI determined that ROS1 had evaded the hero crizotinib, crashing through the barrier and entered the lining of my brain. (Leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, shouldn’t have researched that one. The statistics available are outdated.)   Again DFCI offered hope.  I qualified for a clinical trial for lorlatinib, a TKI that does penetrate the blood brain barrier.  I stayed on crizotinib until one week before beginning lorlatinib in July 2017.  I gave up teaching to make keeping my body strong and healthy my priority.  Within weeks the cancer seen in my meninges was reduced by 80%, everything else remains stable.  My dosage was reduced early on due to painful neuropathy. I now have a brain MRI, CT scans, labs, and appointment once every 12 weeks, with labs at 6 weeks.  Twenty-nine months so far!

My days are filled finding joy in the everyday every day. In May I reached the first goal I set at diagnosis, attending my granddaughter’s  college graduation.  I recently hiked (slow-walked) a small mountain.  I try to tell anyone willing to listen about the prevalence of lung cancer and the importance of testing once diagnosed.  I write to local papers, and to local, state, and national officials. My family participates in the Free ME from Lung Cancer annual 5K.  I serve on a patient and family advisory board of the Maine Lung Cancer Coalition, and I participate in a phone buddy program, offering hope to others.  My blog, polepolebreathe.blog is named as a reminder that slow and steady wins the race. Pole pole means slowly in Swahili. That is how Dan and I followed our guide to the top of Africa one Christmas Day, one step at a time.  Always, always have hope.59233457353__C7F9845D-C46E-45CE-9B6B-667E849E2D3A

Extraordinary!

IMG_3932Tonight my feet hurt and I don’t mind. Even though I searched all year for the best hiking boots for neuropathic feet, I expected my feet would hurt some.  It was worth it.  My tolerance for what cancer and my meds are doing to my body has certainly changed over the 3.5 years in this journey.  Especially  with the neuropathy, fatigue, and “huffing and puffing”.  Funny what you can get used to. So too has my overall outlook toward expectations of myself.  I’m much more accepting of this change in abilities now, even as I continue to challenge myself to stay strong and healthy, body and mind.

In 2012 when we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, we did so because of a documentary in which they said that climbing the tallest freestanding mountain in the world is an extraordinary thing that ordinary people can do.  It is, we are and we did! I’ve never forgotten that concept.

Today I felt like an extraordinary person doing an ordinary (for most people) thing.  The cancer in my body is found in only 1-2% of lung cancer patients.  Remarkable (definition of extraordinary).  I have lived extraordinarily happily for 2.5 years since ROS1 entered my brain meninges.  Remarkable, given the (now ancient, but considered current) statistics on leptomeningeal carcinomatosis.  This morning I took this extraordinary body of mine on a walk through the field and forest to the top of a mountain. Not up “our” side of the mountain.  But up the “other” side of the mountain, the one with views of ocean, ponds, and the village.  Blue Hill Mountain.  Remarkable!

Much thanks to my daughter Mandy for doing this slow walk with me.  It was a beautiful day in every way.  Extraordinary!  See for yourself, and thanks for reading and caring.IMG_3953

 

 

Finding Joy in the Everyday

Sometimes I know people think it isn’t possible to find something to be joyful about every day.  And it’s likely some think that even more impossible for people living with Stage IV Lung (or any) cancer or with a serious, chronic condition.

I’m here to show you that’s just not so.  My belief is that everyone can find or make some joy in their day.  I hope to help others believe this is so.

Here’s some  info from my latest stable (since being on Lorlatinib 26 months) scans and MRI.  You can see I do have some challenges (not to mention side effect challenges), but also so very much to be grateful for:

In my lung from radiation: Unchanged left paramediastinal radiation fibrosis with ground glass opacity, bronchiectasis and architectural distortion.  No new or enlarging pulmonary nodule.
In my meninges (brain lining): Small posterior foci enhancement in the left occipital lobe with associated SWI foci again noted unchanged.
In my liver: Stable treated metastasis in segment 5
Okay, enough of that! My point is that it does not get in the way of finding and making joy in my day  Now here’s a look at my morning, just an hour of my morning yesterday.
 An hour filled with just a few of things I find such joy in.