Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who, Me?

February 10, 2009
I started having problems with shortness of breath in January of 2009. I was putting all the Christmas paraphenalia away down in the storage area of our basement, then when I would come back upstairs (like I have done about 20 million times in the last 28 years) I could hardly catch my breath. I knew this was not normal. I thought maybe I had asthma or a cold. Then I started to realize that I could no longer get air in my lungs while lying down to sleep. I started to prop up my pillows and attempted to sleep sitting up at a 90 degree angle. After 2 weeks, I went to see my PCP, Dr. Levine. She did an EKG, she thought maybe I had had a heart attack. No, the report was my heart was "fabulous." Then she sent me next door to have a chest x-ray done. I brought it back to her office shortly thereafter, and she showed me a huge shadow in my right lung. What the heck was it? I never thought once of cancer. How can non-smokers get lung cancer? I thought I was safe.
February 12, 2009
Dr. Levine's nurse Chris called a couple of days later to have me call the hospital to set up a CT scan. I couldn't get in until February 20.
February 20, 2009
First CT scan. Not a horrible experience but not what you would choose to do either. By this time I knew things were pretty serious. After the results came back, Dr. Levine called me at home. She said they couldn't tell for sure but worst case it is cancer, best case, an infection. She had set up an appointment with a pulmonologist, who shall remain nameless for reasons you will read about later on.
February 27, 2009
Met with pulmonologist. He reviewed the CT scan with me, never indicating anything but cancer. We scheduled a bronchoscopy that he would perform on March 3 at Intermountain Medical Center.
March 3, 2009
Reported to IMC for bronchoscopy. How fortunate for us that the nurse was Erin Walker, from our ward. It was so much easier to have a familiar face there to explain and comfort us as we started this journey. I seem to remember waking up during the bronchoscopy, I could not stop coughing and felt unable to get my breath. Later on in the recovery area, the doctor came in and showed us pictures taken during the procedure. It showed my right bronchial tubes nearly blocked. He said, it is what we thought-cancer. I called my mother to meet us at the house, and cried all the way home.
March 6, 2009
We went to the pulmonologists office to get the results of the bronchoscopy. He seemed very disconcerted and told us that somehow the bronchoscopy results were messed up--it happened somehow in the process of staining and identifying the cells taken in the needle biopsy. So the bronchoscopy has to be redone. Set up an appointment for the next Monday at 7 a.m.
March 9, 2009
Bronchoscopy #2. Equally as unpleasant, if not more so.
March 10, 2009
Scheduled PET scan. Another weird experience. Again, I am thinking through the whole thing, is this really happening to me?
March 11, 2009
I never heard anything from the doctor until 7 p.m. Finally he called, but I wished he hadn't. He just bluntly said the evaluations show it is non-small cell lung cancer, and it has spread to your neck, stomach, and liver. I can tell you we didn't get any sleep that night. We cried all the rest of the evening, and started talking about how to prepare for my imminent death.
March 12, 2009
Today we met the oncologist, Dr. Gregory Litton of Utah Cancer Specialists at the Cancer Center at IMC. He spent an hour and a half with us, diagramming the whole situation and explaining everything 3 times. The cancer is non-small cell adenocarcinoma, Stage IV. The original site was in the lower right lobe, then it spread to the lymph nodes in my chest. That area was what had increased in size and then blocked the bronchus. Then it had spread to other lymph nodes in my neck, stomach and near the liver. He explained that the cancer is not "in" my neck, stomach, nor liver, it is in the lymph nodes near them. We really liked him from this first appointment, and for the first time, I felt hope for my future.
March 20, 2009
Started chemotherapy today. I am receiving Carboplatin and Alimta, plus a biological drug called Avastin. Again, my infusion nurse was someone from our ward that we have known for many years, Ann Calder. I have been fortunate to be the recipient of many tender mercies, and I count Ann and Erin as 2 of those. They both have such a calming, competent demeanor that settles one down and says everything will be all right. The treatment went fairly easily. I can't say it was awful. I was very sleepless the first night though, had nightmares and bit the inside of my mouth. That was sooo sore for days. I felt a really strange popping sensation in my chest all night. I had nausea on Monday and Tuesday, but taking the Compazine made it go away quickly. I was late for work both of those days, but I made it through each day with a lot of understanding from my coworkers. About the 1st of April, my hair starts to come out. Especially in the drain after I shower. Poor Allen, he is very upset about this. I am more philosophical--I am reassured that it will grow back, and in the scheme of things, I don't really care. Hair is no longer that important to me.
April 10, 2009
Treatment #2. Went much easier this time. I am getting used to it. My blood counts are excellent. Many thanks to my Father in Heaven, his gift to me of this healthy body is helping me to fight these out-of-control cells. It is getting easier to breathe. I can now sleep on my back, or on either side with no problem breathing.
May 1, 2009
Treatment #3. More of the same. It is getting a little easier. I am walking each day and trying to keep up my stamina. Blood counts are still wonderful.
May 22, 2009
Treatment #4. Old hat now. I don't know if this will be my last treatment or not. In the infusion area, there is a special bell mounted on the wall that all those who finish treatment ring as they are leaving, and everyone claps. Even though I don't know if I will be back, the nurse had me ring the bell. Everyone cheered!
May 26, 2009
Went to IMC for CT scan and PET scan. I am very apprehensive. Will I find out that the cancer has spread some more? Do I dare hope that the way I feel so much better is the best indicator that the chemo has worked?
June 1, 2009
Met with Dr. Litton. He showed Allen and I the scans. The cancer that was filling my right lung had partially collapsed the lung, but the lung has now reinflated itself. The big original tumor site has disappeared-what is left appears to be scar tissue. The lymph nodes in the chest have shrunk to normal size and are no longer blocking the bronchus. Dr. Litton gave us copies of the scans and reports. We carry them around for days, showing them off like a new baby. No more chemo--we will save that for later if the cancer starts growing back. I will start a new biological drug called Tarceva on June 15. It is called an EGFR, an epidermal growth factor receptor.
P.S. I have lost about 25% of my hair.

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