Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Changing my name to NED

As I lay in bed this morning, my semi-conscious mind tried to decide if I was ready to face today, a day which entailed finding out if my cancer was, in fact, starting to invade my kidneys as was suspected from my last CT scan. As usual, Jason was already up and taking care of the kids because, well, because he is awesome and because my sleep needs are now much greater than they used to be. I heard him bound up the stairs and say into the phone, "Let me check if she is awake." I was, and I was greeted by the cheery voice of my wonderful PA. "It's good news!" Not only are my kidneys clear, but all the bits of tumor that are left in my lung are dead. There is no evidence of cancer living in my body. I have achieved the holy grail of stage IV cancer, NED (no evidence of disease).


And it is Jason's birthday! He is quite the good luck charm. One year ago today I got the results of my first scan after starting chemo, the scan which would tell us whether or not my cancer would respond to treatment. Needless to say, a very important and very terrifying moment. 

Two years in a row of great scan results on your birthday, Jason! I got to double celebrate with this awesome crew today.

If you are not an inhabitant of Cancerville, you may be wondering why my CT scan from last week would show something different than the PET from yesterday. It helps me to think of the CT scan as a high-definition camera that takes black-and-white photographs of the inside of the body. It can detect every lump and bump, but it can only show what it looks like, and can't tell the difference between a live or dead tumor, scar tissue, cysts, etc. A PET scan involves injecting the patient with a radioactive sugar substance. It goes through the bloodstream for about an hour and every part of the body that eats up sugar will glow when the patient is in the scan machine. Cancer gobbles up sugar, as do muscles, which is why you are not supposed to engage in much physical activity for a day or two prior to a PET scan.

A fellow cancer patient told me that he was advised not to text while in the prep area for his PET scan. I thought about this briefly while the stuff was going through my veins, but I though just a little bit of time on my phone wouldn't be a big deal. Yes, there was a "no phones" sign, but I thought that probably just referred to talking on your phone. And technically I only replied to one text, the rest of the time I was just scrolling and reading. Fast forward to the end of my scan, when the technician slid me out of the scanner machine and said, "Were you using your phone in the prep?" Uh, yes. "Are you left-handed or right-handed?" Left. With a curt nod she turned and walked out of the room. A few minutes later she returned and said, "I just talked with the doctor. The muscles in your left forearm are lighting up, but he said that is just from scrolling on your phone. You REALLY aren't supposed to use your phone in there!" Busted.

This was my view as I drove off to my PET scan yesterday. 
Such a lovely bunch of well-wishers!

For clarification, these wonderful results don't really change anything. I still have to take my amazing targeted med twice a day (THANK YOU XALKORI!), and I still have to deal with the less-than-awesome side effects of the drug, and I still have to go back for scans every three months, and I still know that at some point the cancer will likely develop a resistance to the meds. Unlike many other cancers, such as breast and prostate, there are no markers that you can track from a blood test. I can't see if my numbers are going up or down as an indication of the state of my cancer. With lung cancer, the only reliable way of knowing (currently) is to wait until it is big enough to grow into a tumor visible on a scan. So, it is quite possible (maybe even probable) that there is some cancer left if there. But, for now, it is just fantastic to know that there is no visible cancer in my body.

And for the punch-in-the-gut portion of this post:
I asked Zander what he wished for when he blew out his birthday candles. 
"I wished that you and Daddy would never be dead." 
A strange kind of boogeyman enters your world when you become a cancer family. I've learned that the thing of nightmares can come from within my own body. We all face the same impermanence and chaos of the world, but a journey like this forces you to come face-to-face with mortality in a way that many others can ignore. I miss that ignorance, and it makes my heart ache to realize that my children will grow up never having known it.

I'm NED for now - and hopefully for a long, long time - but I'm forever changed by this awareness. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly makes me view this brief blink of time we get on this earth in a whole new way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

That's Great It Starts With An Earthquake

I was jolted awake by Michael Stipe serenading me with "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" and immediately remembered my sister telling me she had been listening to that song some 20+ years ago when our mom called to tell her I had been diagnosed with childhood bone cancer.

Really poor song choice for my alarm this morning, a day when I was waiting for scan results.

Two years ago today I had just returned from the AATE conference, where I had met all sorts of impressive folks, the leaders in the field of Theatre for Young Audiences, and had received an award as one of the up-and-comers.

And today I spent the day at the cancer center.

The results of my scans were mixed. The lungs look stable with a bit of shrinkage on the remaining spots (yay!) and the brain scan was clear (big yay!). The questionable area was my kidneys. There might be something suspicious on them, but they consulted with several radiologist and they couldn't agree if they were really seeing anything or not, so I am heading in for a PET scan next week to get a closer look.

They take away was don't panic yet. It might be nothing. I'll be busy celebrating my wonderful son turning 6 this weekend, so I will keep myself occupied with that. It was this same weekend last year that I was waiting for my first scan results after starting chemo, and I got pretty remarkable results on Jason's birthday (which is just 2 days after Zander's). I hope Jason gets another great birthday present this year. And maybe next year let's plan the scans on a different week.


This song has been going through my head, after the terrible news about Robin Williams. (He was my second choice for my Make a Wish when I was a kid, but Winona Ryder agreed - and we had a lovely day.) What a remarkable actor and comedian, and what a terrible loss to us all. My heart aches for his family and those close to him. I sure hope heaven is real, because he is someone I would really like to meet someday (but not for a long time).
The best of times is now.
As for tomorrow,
Well, who knows? Who knows? Who knows?
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love
As hard as you know how.
And make this moment last
Because the best of times is now.