Be your own Advocate

Today I went to my PCP.  I’ve had a hard lump on the bottom of my foot that appeared as part of dealing with neuropathy.  Dr. PCP seems to think it is unrelated to my neuropathy.  She/he also thinks the nodules on and inflammation of my finger tendons is also unrelated.  Funny coincidence, both are caused by trauma, both involve inflammation, and both happened shortly after the neuropathy began in those appendages.  I know better, but at least today  Dr. PCP confirmed for me that it isn’t something more serious.  It wasn’t worth trying to convince Dr. PCP or to argue the point.  I will share my observations with my clinical trial team.

What was more traumatic was that I was in the room where I first was told I had a mass in my left lung hilum.  Sitting there waiting today was unpleasant, thinking back to January 7, 2016.  I’m not sure Dr. PCP knew what the hilum was that day.  If she/he did know then, she/he couldn’t explain it, having to look it up.  The hilum is the point of entry and exit to the lung.  KenHub explanation of hilum “Functionally, this means that the hilum aids the lung roots by anchoring the lungs to the heart, trachea, and surrounding structures.”  Left hilum, near the heart in addition to having an important job.

But, that was then and I’m here now.  And, I made the choice to stay with the PCP who missed my illness totally, despite my visits, calls, and pleas for help that fall. I am so grateful to the walk-in clinic FNP who had the good sense to do the x-ray that saved my life.  I stayed with Dr. PCP because of convenience.   I would not have stayed for my treatment, choosing to go to Dana-Farber saved my life.  I have hoped that this experience would help inform Dr. PCP about lung cancer symptoms, that she/he might listen more carefully to patients, that she/he would believe the patient when they are clear that what’s going on isn’t a long lasting cold.

But, today for the first time I felt angry.  Not because of the lack of, or misdiagnosis.  That’s every Stage IV diagnosed lung cancer patient’s story.  I forgave him/her that day he/she had to give me the news.  Today really started last week when I called to try to  see Dr. PCP.  I explained why I needed to be seen, and was told that Dr. PCP was booked into July.  Hmm, I thought.  Then I laughed.  It does seem like a funny situation for someone who is already past their statistical expiration.  (I inherited my mom’s sense of humor.) The receptionist must have been confused by my response, but then she did tell me that if I called at 7:30 AM any day I might get in to see my doctor or another.  So, I weighed my options and decided to call this morning.

So after waiting in the room with the unpleasant memory playing over and over for 15 minutes, Dr. PCP came in.  Once we completed the purpose for the visit, Dr. PCP asked how I was doing.  Since I hadn’t been in for quite a while I explained (as succinctly as I could) about the  leptomeningeal cancer progression, entering the clinical trial, and the success (80% reduction) of the new drug Lorlatinib.  Then came the part that I felt angry about (and is already forgiven and soon to be forgotten).  My PCP, the one who seemed interested, said, “Well, I think they send reports to us so why don’t we just schedule an appointment in six months to check in.”   He/she didn’t even know if Dana-Farber sent reports, hadn’t even peeked at my chart to see what was up before coming in to the room, had no process in which he/she checked on his/her patients with metastatic cancer, and he/she thought it would be nice to check in in six months.  And me?  Silly me.  I stopped at checkout and scheduled that appointment.

Recently I saw FB posts singing the praises of Dr. PCP.  Before cancer I would have said to anyone asking about this doctor that you’d have to do your own follow-up, that Dr. PCP doesn’t always call promptly with lab results, mammography reports, etc.  Now I would add that if he/she doesn’t care about my case enough to know if Dana-Farber has sent reports (of which there have been dozens in 2 years), then it seems unlikely that he/she is very attuned to the needs of his/her patients.

As we all know, but don’t always remember – you know your own body.  Pay attention to what it’s telling you, and advocate for yourself.  Ask questions, ask for explanations of test results and treatment options, ask for expert opinion, and if you don’t feel confident about any of it, seek another expert opinion. I feel blessed that we made the right choice for us by going to Dana-Farber .   They fill us with confidence in their work and with hope.  Even when the news is not so good, there’s no doom and gloom, and always hope.

Spring seems slow in coming here on the mountainside.  The goldfinches are now bright in color, and tom turkeys are in full strut, dancing for the hens.  Dan and our son are now over in the field daily working on getting the lobster traps ready for another season.  I am truly finding joy in the everyday every day with Dan, the family, our three little dachshunds, and Dottie and Matilda, our spoiled Nigerian Dwarf goats.  And, tomorrow night my children and grandchildren are taking me to see the Wizard of Oz.  Blessed.

 

Nice to be Loved!

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On November 5, 2017 in the very early morning my sister Nada was one of several family members and friends to make a two hour drive to participate in the annual Save Your Breath 5K Save Your Breath 5K FaceBook, a run to support Free ME from Lung Cancer.  It was her birthday.

A few weeks earlier Nada and her daughter Betsy had decided to get together a team in my honor.  Pretty nice!  The team was named for this blog, Team polepole.  And then, t-shirts were made for all eleven team members.  Not just any t-shirts, but hand tie-dyed t-shirts with polepolebreathe.blog ironed on each by Nada. Even nicer!

So on that brisk Sunday morning some of us ran and some walked a shorter distance.  While we were raising funds for Free ME from Lung Cancer, we were also showing support for the lung cancer community; those living with lung cancer, survivors of lung cancer, and also honoring lives lost.  It felt special, much like our family participating in the Komen run in my mom’s memory.  Only different.  Different for a few reasons.  First, our team was participating in my honor.  Wow. Second, while there were quite a few runners, there simply is not the same kind of societal support for the lung cancer community.  Humbling. Next year I’ll ask that we run/walk in memory of my dad too. We can now see beyond the stigma and understand.   It’s important that we try to teach others.  Too many are dying (433 Americans per day) because of that stigma.  Another reason that day was special?  My sister’s birthday of course!  I felt honored she chose to spend it in this way.  And honored that so many others did so too.

After the race Team polepole had breakfast together.  The busy restaurant was perfect for our noisy group.  The birthday girl polished off a large platter of strawberry crepes.  We’re in the business of making memories these days, and I’ve great memories of that day from seeing Team polepole and cheering on the runners to the breakfast chatting.

A final note – At the SaveYour Breath 5K I met Dave Eid, sportscaster at WGME in Maine. Dave’s wife Lisa is a fellow ROS1der, and Dave is on the Free ME from Lung Cancer Board.   Just after my grandson finished the race (beating his mom!), Dave had arranged for us to be interviewed: News interview

 

 

Advocacy and some ways YOU can help!

There are some great minds and dedicated people advocating on behalf of lung cancer patients. We need them and I’m thankful for the work they do.  Many times they’ve been directly impacted by the disease, like these senators have:  Bipartisan legislation introduced to study lung cancer in women

You can help by calling, emailing, or writing  your Senators and Representatives.

Truth is, until recently there were very few lung cancer patients able to advocate for themselves as most were simply fighting for their life physically and in the moment, with no ability to fight in other ways. (433 Americans die daily from LUNG cancer.) With such dismal survival rates, few saw a future past that initial shock stage, and had no opportunity to reach a point where they even could consider advocacy.  But thankfully there are those survivors such as Bonnie Addario and Debbie Violette who not only survived and thrived, but took on the challenge of advocacy. I’m grateful to Bonnie (Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation), Debbie Violette (Free ME from lung cancer ), other survivor advocates, family member advocates, and others who take up this challenge on our behalf. ROS1cancer research is being conducted through the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation

You can help by learning about lung cancer and sharing your knowledge with others.  Knowledge is power. Education is key.

And then, the elephant in the room.  Why, if so many more die of lung cancer than other cancers, is the funding so low?  It’s a sad, but easy answer.   There is the huge stigma associated with lung cancer – the thought that it is a smoker’s disease and we can simply eliminate it by not smoking.  Heart disease is also often caused by smoking – do we blame those with COPD for their condition and deny them research funding dollars?  Do we not help others with disease caused by addiction? And, come on folks, we all know that ALL YOU NEED TO GET LUNG cANCER would be… drum roll please… LUNGS, JUST LUNGS. We all have them, and even if you think you take care of them, you can get lung cancer.  I know.  And, we’re learning that more and more nonsmoking women are learning this the hard way – with a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis.  So many are not lucky like me, and there is no targeted therapy drug for them that keeps the beast at bay while the next drug is being developed.  No cure  in sight, but great hope for lung cancer being a managed chronic disease in the not so distant future.

You can help by ending the stigma.  If you learn someone has lung cancer, DO NOT ask if he/she smoked please.  They have LUNG cancer.  Why should it matter to you if they smoked?  They have LUNG cancer.  Would you ask someone with breast cancer what they did to cause it?  Of course not.  A little compassion goes a long ways, please.  And chances are, sadly, if they are a nonsmoker they’ll be quick to tell you so, either because they’re still surprised or because of the stigma.  I know I did.  It’s really so weird when here you are dying and you think you have to defend yourself in some way.  Now, after two years, I can either say nothing, note that all you need (LUNGS), or share that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Advocacy: public support for a particular cause.  So please – no more stigma.  When you share that someone you know has LUNG cancer, please don’t feel embarrassed for them.  Speak up for them.  Explain that 433 Americans die every day of lung cancer.  Explain that funding is needed.  Wear LUNG cancer awareness apparel and jewelry just as you would to show support for those with any other cancer.

If you’re in the Washington D.C. area on April 26 there is a rally to promote awareness.  The hope is to have 433 people in attendance.  Life and Breath Rally info

My lung cancer advocacy work: serving on a stakeholders advisory board to Maine Lung Cancer Coalition (MLCC) as they work on education, prevention, and screening; writing to my representatives; and I’m soon to have a final interview to be a Phone Buddy for Lung Cancer Alliance (LCA Phone Buddy Program).

Finding joy in the everyday EVERY day with Dan, the family, the three little dachshunds, and of course Dottie and Matilda, our Nigerian Dwarf goats.  That’s me!

 

Sharing the Journey

I can’t imagine traveling this cancer road alone.  No one should ever, ever have to.  I’m so very grateful that I’ll never have to.  In fact, my family has grown through this journey.  This struck me again today when the caregiver wife of a ROS1der posted a heartfelt and loving message to us all. While I’ve never met any of the ROS1ders, I feel incredibly close to them in the 22 months since I found the facebook group established for cancer patients who are ROS1+.  This family has nearly tripled since I found it, and is worldwide.

The ROS1der FaceBook group is a closed group (public site: ros1cancer.com), and I cannot share the details of that lovely post or anyone’s specific information, but  I can share what makes them my “family”.   Most, but not all, have lung cancer. Most, not all, have metastasized cancer.  Most, not all, have been on the drug  Xalkori crizotinib, my treatment hero, the reason I survived long enough to even call this a journey.  Many, maybe most, are younger than me, many with children at home.  Many have had treatments that I’ve not had.  Many are in clinical trials, some on the same drug as me (lorlatinb – hero drug #2), some on other targeted therapy drugs that are giving hope to ROS1ders.  All are either ROS1+ or the caregiver of someone who has ROS1+ cancer as required to be a group member.   Because of all we do have in common, there is always someone who understands, or can relate to, what another is experiencing.  Beyond that even, there’s just such a feeling of empathy and sincere caring about one another’s well being in the group.  In this group we share information, learn how different oncologists approach different topics, hear about procedures and tests as described by the patient, get the latest news on clinical trials and research, share tips about dealing with side effects and symptoms, options for and how to access healthcare/treatment, and so much more.

I’ve tried to think what it is that makes this family so very special compared to other organizations I’ve been part of and even considered family. I believe it is the never-ending optimism, the incredibly high level of HOPE, STRENGTH, COURAGE, and FAITH.  The people in this group have so many (not every!) reasons to feel and speak only doom and gloom, but not in this family.  Our fears, worries, and sadness can be freely expressed and we know they will be responded to with caring and genuine concern.  It is a safe place.  This is a difficult road to travel.  Love, compassion and support, research and answers, virtual shoulders to cry on and hands to hold are all offered.   Always, always with an eye on a future where, if not a cure, then treatment for managing cancer as a chronic disease, always HOPE.

My ROS1der family, a FaceBook group. Who knew I’d find such camaraderie in such a place.  Huh.  Another of the countless blessings that have come my way on this journey.  May every human needing such a place, find theirs.

Finding joy in the everyday, every day.IMG_3189.jpg

 

 

Dr. Pasi Janne, Dana-Farber, and Bonnie Addario, ALCF

Below is a short video of my oncologist with Bonnie Addario, both heroes.  He is the head of Thoracic Cancer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  She is a 13 yr lung cancer survivor who founded the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.  “The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (ALCF) is one of the largest philanthropies (patient-founded, patient-focused, and patient-driven) devoted exclusively to eradicating Lung Cancer through research, early detection, education, and treatment. ”  The foundation is doing some pretty amazing work with/for the ROS1ders. (ROS1 Global Initiative)

Dr. Janne and Bonnie Addario