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.

Hope for the Journey

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I talk a lot about hope. I often suggest it is something really important, essential even, to have when living in any type of difficult or troubling times.  (And I’m sorry to say that when you think about it, we are all living in troubling times.)  But while I know hope’s importance to me (and I think to everyone) and I can give examples of hope, I’m not really sure how to explain it.

The definition of hope doesn’t even hint at its potential power to give one something to look toward, work toward, plan for.  Oxford: a feeling of expectation or desire for a certain thing to happen  Ho hum. Cambridge English adds to that and usually have a good reason to think it might. Better.  A google search does a little better than that – huffpost.com says “Hope is an optimistic attitude  of mind based on an expectation or desire.”  Okay, good.  Get the idea of an optimistic attitude in there.  Much more than just a feeling.  Attitude is something one has some control over.

Here’s what I think. Hope is what gives one courage.  Courage to forge ahead in the face of adversity, courage to “brave the storm”, whatever one’s storm may be.  It is believing that a positive outcome is a viable possibility, a possibility worthy of reaching, of striving for.

Okay, now for a concrete indicator of hope.  In the clinical trial I’m currently in I have to have lab work done every six weeks, both at and in between my check-ups at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  Recently I got a standing order from my oncologist at Dana-Farber for this blood work.  When I saw that it was a standing order and knew I just did the first of 30 times in the order, hope flooded my mind, body and soul.  Forty-five months ago I statistically had just a few months to live. Dana-Farber gave me hope at that time for greater possibilities. Now I have a standing order for over three years.  Now, maybe all standing orders have that number, but I’ve never had a standing order on this journey because things haven’t been stable enough to think longterm for the same lab work.  It doesn’t really matter even if the standing order was for someone else’s convenience – it gives me HOPE! Hope that I’ll be here for another “whatever”.  Hope that my participation in this trial will help doctors and researchers better understand how to treat ROS1 lung cancer, especially when it has metastasized to the lining of one’s brain, or maybe how to prevent it from metastasizing at all.  Hope to have the courage to brave the storm with an optimistic, joyful attittude.  Hope.

I made the “coins” in the photo above to take with me this week when I travel for my check-up at Dana-Farber.  Playing with art materials is one of the many  “gifts of time” I’ve found joy in.  My pursuit of find joy in the everyday every day is quite easy.  I know this isn’t so for everyone.  So, in this small way, I hope to bring joy, hope, and courage to others.

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Riches Aplenty

The other day I wrote to someone that I wished I was rich so I could make a purchase.  Silly me!  I am ever so rich in so many ways.  What I meant and should have said was if I could afford to I would make that purchase. This item isn’t something I want for myself, but rather something I’d like to preserve for my grandchildren.  If I was actually wealthy, I’d want to help people in need.  I have all I need and so much more.  I do wish everyone had all they need.  So many don’t.

One of the greatest riches in my life is the support and love I receive. In good times and hard times I know there will be an abundance of love, and physical and emotional support, from my closest family and friends, when needed, as needed. This has been so throughout my entire life.  I hope they always feel my love, support, and gratitude.  I do wish every being could have such a life experience.

I think wishful thinking has its place, but actions are really what make a difference.  I’ve spent much of my life playing and working with children, beginning when I was a child babysitting for younger children. My resume includes being a mom, a nursery school helper, Sunday School teacher, Brownie Scout leader, a child daycare owner, an elementary school teacher of every grade level at some time (PreK-8) and several content areas (math, reading, writing, social studies, science), an elementary school teaching principal, a school volunteer, and a Gramma.  Over that time I know that I’ve positively impacted children’s lives. I know they certainly have enriched my life.  Just yesterday I had two teens and a preteen spend the day with Gramma.  We played board games, cut branches to haul to the goats, and had a spontaneous hairstyling session – all four of us!  Another of my greatest riches, playing with children.

I’ve been married seventy-one percent of my life.  I went from my parents’ home to the home Dan built for us, the home we live in now (when we aren’t at our Salt Pond camp).  During that time we raised two children, numerous pet children (dogs, cats, guinea pigs, gerbils, horse, goats, iguana, fish, hermit crab), and all the while worked (occupation type work that is) to make our life together what we want it to be.  Our marriage has not been work.  Dr. Phil once said what hard work good marriages were, that marriage doesn’t succeed without hard work.  I disagree.  I think good marriages, happy marriages simply require attention and time. Time together mixed with love, humor, and a sense of fun and adventure.  That doesn’t sound like hard work to me.  I believe anyone who experiences a wonderful, lasting marriage has experienced what has to be one of the greatest riches of their life. I know I have.  I can’t imagine how anything here on earth could be greater.  

Enough musings for today.  I just needed to correct or clarify for myself that “wish” comment.  I know I don’t have to wish for anything.  I have all I need.  Finding joy in the everyday every day, that’s me.  Everyday things like watching the sun rise.

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On to Cycle 35!

My warrior drug, the fair Lady Lorlatinib Lobrena, has proven to be strong. (Yes, she has a new surname. She has been FDA approved to treat ALK+ NSCLC -not ROS1 yet- and that is how she is now introduced.)  After two years she is still able to stay attentive, travel to the far reaches of my body, and sit on ROS1’s brake whenever or wherever he tries to take off in his shiny speedster.  We are filled with gratitude.

I waited to see the official report on my patient portal before writing this.  The report always shows up one week after my daylong appointment.  But at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute we do not need to wait and worry for a week to hear the news.  Here’s how Thursday, June 27 went –

We left home at 4:45 AM for the drive to Boston, arriving in time for Dan to have lunch before my first appointment. And then the fun begins:

1. Blood draw on Yawkey, floor two (two tubes for today, two bigger tubes for trial study)  and IV in (for scans and MRI). When the nurse flushes out the IV, I get that taste in my mouth.  I ask her how it get there so quickly, but she doesn’t really know and marvels at it with me.

2. Over and down to Dana, floor L1 to drink the nasty drink that no longer tastes so nasty – maybe because my taste buds are messed up or maybe I’m used to it now. (I take mine in water, no Crystal light lemonade for me.)

3. Dana L1 for chest CT scan and abdomen CT scan.  Yup, still get that taste in my mouth and warm flush that makes you think you’re peeing.  I ask the tech how that goes from your arm to everywhere else so quickly.  He says he doesn’t really understand it either.

4. Across the hall for brain MRI (45 minutes wearing the hockey mask, in the tube with loud noises surrounding my head) I forget, when the technician flushes my IV, to ask about that taste arriving to my mouth so quickly.  I’m sure this lady would have had an answer, but she was all business and I didn’t want to interrupt her work.  I’ll have to “google” it!  IV out when MRI is finished.

5.  Back to Yawkey, Floor 10 for EKG.  Good thing I remembered to shave my legs this time.  Those sticky things come off easier with no hair.  (Also good thing I’ve got no chest hair!)

6. Vitals taken (Yawkey 10).  No thanks, I don’t need a kilogram to pound conversion.  97% on the O2 – Yes! Way to go little lungs! Radiation fibrosis, partially collapsed lung – you are nothing in this strong body.  Must be all that hill walking to do the goat chores.

7.  Appointment with clinical trial nurse and doctor. (Yawkey 10) This is where we got the great news that Loralatinib is keeping everything stable. Even though we’ve only been there five hours, and did all of the above, they had the results.  My blood work report had even gone to my patient portal already.   With the oncologist, fellow, and nurse, we talk about the test results and the medication side effects. Even though it is the end of their work day, they take the time to ask many questions, listen thoughtfully to my responses, and try to problem-solve any issues (ongoing or new).

8.  Down to Yawkey 2 to pick up prescription.

9. Dan drives us to Seabrook, NH for the night.  It is more than $100. cheaper than staying in the city, and in the summer we can do this whole trip in the daylight.

And so it goes.  Until it doesn’t.  I am very aware of this gift of time we’ve been given.  Many with metastatic cancer do not have a specific gene fusion or mutation that researchers have found and developed a drug to target.   Even when there is a TKI like I am on, the cancer often finds a workaround very quickly.  The toll that the cancer and the medication take on my body is ever-present. We are always in the cancer world where words like “good” and “stable” take on a much greater meaning. But that is just how it is, and we move forward.  Grateful for what we do have, what we can do.  And filled with hope.  Always have hope. There is always much to be hopeful about and for.

The following morning, the day we drove home in a celebratory mood, was a day much like June 28 sixteen years ago when our son and daughter-in-law were married.  A beautiful sunny day, filled with hope for a wonderful future.  So too was it much like a day forty-four years ago.  The day Dan and I officially began our life together.

And now here I am, filled with gratitude and hope – finding joy in the everyday every day with Dan, our family, our two little dachshunds, and of course our goats.

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