Category Archives: anniversary

Lung Cancer Awareness Month – it’s here again!

I always look forward to November. I love this month. Temperatures are mainly cooler … and when you live in Texas, that’s a very good thing. We are scorched for way too many months out of the year.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the food (we go traditional with turkey, cornbread dressing, green bean bundles, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, a family tradition of banana salad, corn, pies, yum!). I love the whole idea of concentrating on what we’re thankful for – purposefully thinking about what’s good in our lives, even things that don’t always seem so good.

Our family is very patriotic and many of my family members have served in the military. I love to celebrate Veteran’s Day and the USMC birthday and the day my son graduated from USMC boot camp.

And, it is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It probably drives people crazy, but I post every single day something about lung cancer for those who are my friends on Facebook. This year, I’ll be also posting something to the WhatNext pinboard. Everyone there has been touched by cancer of some kind so maybe it is overkill, but I’ll do it anyway.

Six years ago, November was a month full of firsts for me – first PET scan, first visit with an oncologist, first biopsy. I guess those aren’t firsts most people want to experience. Nevertheless, November of 2012 was full of those things for me. Lots of new memories. They seem like so long ago now.

So, I celebrate November and all I love about it. And, I celebrate that I am here another November to enjoy all that I love. I am among the lucky ones. I don’t know why and I am well aware that one of these days my time will run out, but until then, I thank my God and carry forward.

Reminiscing … The Day My World Shattered

My six-year cancerversary is upon us so I guess it has me thinking about the journey I’ve been on. I might have chemo brain that robs many of my memories, but I surely remember hearing the words, “You have cancer.”

Cancer … But What Kind?

While I already suspected that I was getting a cancer diagnosis because my primary care doctor (PCP) had ordered a PET scan, I didn’t know what kind of cancer. I was hoping against all hope that it was going to be thyroid cancer. After all, it was weight gain that had sent me to see her in the first place. It would make some sense that my thyroid had a malignancy.

While I waited for my diagnosis, I reasoned that we could just go in, take out the offending thyroid, prescribe some pills to replace the missing hormone, and all would be well. Cancer gone. Life restored. Carry on.

I hoped against all hope that I wasn’t going to hear that I had lung cancer. I had no reason to think that would be the case. I had quit smoking years before, I was more active than I’d ever been, I felt great. Really, the only problem I had was the unexplained and seemingly uncontrollable weight gain. Surely, I wasn’t going to be told I had lung cancer.

“The” Call…

My husband and I had just pulled up into the parking lot of an Asian barbeque restaurant when my PCP called me to finally tell me the results of the PET scan. My husband and I had been waiting not so patiently to learn the results of the scan I had undergone about a week earlier. So, I was happy … and scared … when my doctor’s name showed up on the caller ID.

The call didn’t last very long. My doctor told me that I had lung cancer. My heart sank like a ton of bricks. I had watched my dad die of lung cancer back in the 1970s. I knew enough to realize this was not a diagnosis anyone wants to hear. There was a (very) tiny sense of relief when she told me it was non-small cell lung cancer. I’d read that small cell was even more difficult to treat than non-small cell.

My husband was sitting in the driver’s seat of his truck, looking at me with questions in his eyes. Whatever my diagnosis was, it would affect many more lives than just mine, especially his. I wrote “lung cancer” on a scrap of paper and showed it to him.

I remember my doctor telling me that she’d set me up with an appointment the following day to see an oncologist. I was so grateful that (1) she had handled finding me a cancer doctor and (2) that I wasn’t going to have to wait except overnight to go see him.

Keeping Up Appearances

After I hung up, my husband and I sat in his truck and discussed the call for a couple of minutes. I shed a few tears. Then, we went inside to eat so that I could get back to work. I was really happy the call had come while I was away from the office. Processing the news away from prying eyes was definitely easier.

I remember sitting at that small table in the crowded restaurant, looking around, and wondering what secrets the other patrons had that no one else knew. Outwardly, no one would suspect that I had just taken a call that shattered my world. It was surreal to be sitting there, eating a meal as if we had not a care in the world.

And, So It Began…

And, so began the journey that has taken me to places I would have never guessed I would go. What an adventure it has been.

What’s your story? Will you share it with us?

A Day in History

Five years ago today, May 8, 2013, I quit getting chemotherapy. I have to say, it was a happy, happy day for me to learn that I would not be getting chemo any longer. Chemo and I … we didn’t deal well with one another. No matter how many anti-nausea pills I took, no matter how long I took steroids, no matter what, I was sick, sick, sick from my treatments.

I’ve never been a sickly person. At all. I didn’t even have a primary care doctor that fateful day when I finally went in to see why I kept gaining weight … and we discovered that I had late-stage lung cancer. I hadn’t seen a doctor for 10 years or more (yeah, I’m one of those people who definitely didn’t take care of themselves with regular screenings or anything else).

So, when I was so sick from chemo, I didn’t deal well with it. I don’t know, maybe even if I had been more sickly, I still wouldn’t have dealt well with it! There were times, many times, when I wondered if it was even worth going through the treatments. I was spending way too much of my very limited time (my oncologist projected 4 months before I passed away) in bed, too sick to eat or drink or do anything except try to sleep away the misery.

At the same time as I was celebrating the fact that I was getting a break from chemotherapy, there was definitely some fear associated with quitting treatments! No treatments meant nothing was being done to hold those tumors at bay. Sure, they’d responded and shrunk some during treatments, but that was because we were bombarding them with poisons!

My doctor hoped that I could take a break from the chemo and that the tumors would stay stable or, if they grew, would do so slowly. Unfortunately, as we would discover when I had my next scan, his hopes were not realized. All of the progress we had made against the tumors was lost during the short time I was not receiving treatments.

As I sit here today, pondering my life and the fact that I am still here, I am grateful that I was diagnosed with my cancer when I was. It is sobering to think that if I had been diagnosed only one year earlier, I would probably be dead.

Stop and think about that for just a moment. It is hard to think about. And, many of us have friends and loved ones who have succumbed to the disease, even recently. They were diagnosed too soon to be saved. Why? Well, partly because lung cancer is a really tricky disease. You often don’t have symptoms until you have only months left to live. So, doctors are faced with an uphill battle because late-stage cancer is really difficult to treat.

Another reason why we are still losing way too many of those diagnosed with lung cancer is because it is so very severely underfunded. Researchers are making such tremendous progress in finding new ways to treat this insidious disease, but they are limited by the lack of money available to them. It boggles my mind to think about what they could be doing if they had the kind of money that breast cancer or prostate cancer gets each year.

So, the purpose of this post is two-fold. First, I want to thank everyone who generously gives to help fund research. You are quite literally lifesavers. If not for your heart and your help, people like me would not have had cutting-edge therapies to try when chemotherapy quit working. Thank you, thank you, thank you! From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

The second is that I want to encourage everyone to give to lung cancer research. It doesn’t have to be much. If everyone I know gave only $5 or $10, it would add up to a reasonable amount of money. If they shared with their friends and their friends gave only $5 or $10, the cost of a Starbucks and a donut, the funding would begin to snowball and just think of where we might be in finding … dare I say … cures … or, at least, therapies that could help treat this disease as a chronic illness instead of the killer it still is.

It hurts my feelings and boggles my mind that I have so much trouble getting people to give to this cause. It hurts my feelings because I take it very personally. It’s MY LIFE I am advocating for! Opdivo is keeping me alive right now. But, when it quits working, there is not another treatment for me to try. Selfishly, I want researchers well-funded so that I have some more options when that time comes.

It boggles my mind because even those who contact me and want me to pray for or talk to a loved one of theirs who has been diagnosed don’t give toward finding better therapies. If not those who either have someone living with or who has died from lung cancer, then who can we expect to help fund life-saving research?

Where can you donate? A few of the foundations that I support are:

Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Research Foundation

LUNGevity (if there is a way to designate that you’re donating on my behalf, please do!)

Lung Cancer Research Foundation (where Free to Breathe merged) – I will be posting a link to a donation site on my behalf soon)

Lung Cancer Alliance (if there is a way to designate that you’re donating on my behalf, please do!)

Cancer Research Institute (not lung cancer specific, but cutting edge in immunotherapy)

 

FIVE YEARS!!!! Yes!!!! FIVE YEARS!!!!

You guys!!! This girl just passed her FIVE YEAR cancerversary!!!

When I was diagnosed back in 2012, my first oncologist thought I might live four months. And, yet I recently celebrated FIVE years of life after diagnosis!!!

Donna, December 20, 2017

The year 2017 was an eventful one for me. After four years of immunotherapy treatments with every CT scan showing tumor stability, a tumor in my supraclavicle lymph node (on my neck, near my collarbone) outsmarted the drug and began to grow.

I had to quit my clinical trial after treatment #98. I was so looking forward to getting my centennial treatment. I wonder how many people in the world have received 100 infusions of nivolumab (aka, Opdivo)? I wanted to be among the first.

There were decisions to be made after we got that fateful CT scan back. Initially, I was going to just move into another clinical trial. But, by the time I completed all of the requirements (ie., a biopsy to see how much PDL-1 was present), someone else got the spot I was hoping to fill.

My oncologist suggested that I go on chemotherapy for a time while we waited on something better to come along. I had done chemotherapy. I wasn’t anxious to do it again. To say the least.

I pondered on the idea for several days. I cried … and I rarely cry. I started getting depressed … and I am rarely depressed. I thought, I prayed, I researched other options, including potential clinical trials available in Dallas or Houston or anywhere within driving range.

And, one day I decided radiation might be a viable option. The tumors in my lungs were still stable. Only the one tumor in my neck was growing. It seemed to me that it would be an easy thing to radiate that bugger. (I wasn’t a candidate for radiation when I was first diagnosed because of the location of my tumors in my lungs.)

I spoke to my nurse practitioner about the idea. She said if I really thought that was the route I wanted to go, she would make a referral to a radiation oncologist.

My radiation mask and a wonderful
“lung cancer”
cross my cousin sent me.

My husband and I had an immediate connection with the radiation oncologist. We liked him a lot. And, we completely trusted that he would get the job done on that errant tumor, that I had nicknamed Wayward Tumor.

I had fifteen treatments. I will be blogging about those treatments if I will ever sit down and finish them. The treatments were easy enough. I was a little surprised by the severe fatigue that came around after the treatments were complete. It has taken several months to begin to regain my energy and even so, I tire and stay tired very easily.

Nevertheless, when I had my first CT scans since the discovery of the growing tumor, we got great news! Not only was the tumor in the supraclavicle lymph node gone … yes, for the first time in five years, that baby was no more!!!! … the one tumor in my lungs that the radiologist doesn’t call a scar shrank by half. That tumor had been completely stable for over 4 years, not shrinking or growing, just being.

I have been okay with those results … I’ve often said I was completely willing to carry the tumors around with me as I live my life as long as they just sit there nicely and don’t interfere. So, I wasn’t prepared to hear that it had shrunk significantly. Wow!!! You gotta love a CT scan like that one!!!

We didn’t do anything special to celebrate my five-year cancerversary. In a lot of ways, it was just another day. But, in my mind, crossing that magical line in the sand – it seems many stats are done for one year and five-year survival rates – was special. Very special.

I am well aware that people can and do get to fight the beast again after crossing the five-year mark. The fact is, I am still in active treatment. I have been in active treatment for the entire five years that I have known I had lung cancer. But, it is still celebration-worthy to cross a milestone that has been looming in front of me all of this time.

Next milestone in sight? 10 years, of course!!!!

Lung cancer is a bitch, y’all. It just is. But, it isn’t stronger than we are. If we keep a smile on our face, a song in our heart, and let hope consume us … we beat it. Every moment we do not dwell on cancer, we beat it. I am resolved to be happy and content every day that is before me. In that way, no matter what happens, I have beaten the beast.

Merry Christmas, Y’all.

 

A Year Later

I had chemo yesterday. Today I cleaned house … or started. It has really gotten terrible in the year since I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Even on weekends when I felt like cleaning, I was too busy. Getting that unreal news changed my way of doing things. I fill every spare moment with activity – fun activity!! Cleaning house does not qualify! 🙂

This was me a year ago (early January 2013):

I believe I had just had my second chemo treatment when this picture was taken. I was very, very sick. So sick that I sometimes wondered if “the cure” was worth it. It was because I would feel just awful for several days and then I would have two weeks or so where I felt pretty darn good (not overly energetic, but certainly good enough to be glad I was alive!).

While I was pushing the steam cleaner today for the first time since I learned I had cancer, I marveled at what a difference a year can make. Now, I have rarely let this disease really get the best of me, but how I feel today compared to how I felt when the picture above was taken has no similarity! Thank you, Jesus, for that!! Literally.

The following picture was taken of my little Barney dog and me at the Run as One agility trial last weekend. I had already participated in several runs (Cotton went with us on Sunday and she participated in two events; Barney in three … all five runs took place within a 4-hour time span) when it was taken.

A lot of people have no clue what I’m referencing when I talk about agility. The YouTube videos here were taken several months ago. I don’t have any videos from the last few trials. Nevertheless, these let you see what agility even is … and perhaps give you a new appreciation for the fact that I ran six runs on Saturday with Barney (and worked the ring throughout the day as well) and came back on Sunday for the five additional runs.

Anyway, if you had told me in January when that first photograph above was taken that I would be running in agility trials a year later, I would have humored you and said I hoped so, but I truly wouldn’t have actually believed it. I watched my dad die of lung cancer in only 6 months after diagnosis … a common fate for those with late-stage lung cancer. Why should mine be different?

I surely do not have the answer to WHY my fate has been different, but I praise God that it has been. It isn’t that I am afraid to die – I am not – and I sometimes even wonder why I don’t wish to rush it – Heaven is … well … Heaven!!! It is going to be so much better than life on earth. Nevertheless, I’m human and there’s lots of stuff I still want to do so I want the time for me to leave here and go on to my next life to wait awhile!

God is good. All the time! That is all.