Roz reacted to Susan Cornett for a blog entry, Ready for yet another new normal
I haven't been on here much in the last few months, maybe a year. Work kept me much busier than usual but I *think* that is going to finally level out now that we've hired a new director and a couple of additional consultants. I also find it more difficult to break away from my work when my daily commute is now just a walk down the hall. I'm fortunate - and I know it - because I've been able to continue working without interruption. My employer has offices in CA, FL, NJ, OH, and TX and all of our offices were closed through May. They continue to encourage us to stay home through June and to come back at our new pace.
Now I have to figure out what this new "new normal" looks like for me. When do I return to the office? Should I return? When can I go see my parents? I know that we don't have a crystal ball but I'd love to have an idea of what's next. I take an annual beach trip with my girlfriends in September but I'm beginning to think that won't happen this year. Two of my friends have jobs that require them to interact with people all day. Even if I drive to our destination, they will all be coming off an airplane and possibly exposing me. I know the beach will still be there next year but this is one of those trips that I look forward to all year.
I see Super Doc in a couple of weeks and Super Pulmonologist in July. Hopefully they'll have some thoughts on all of this. Until then, I'll continue to stay at home. Ugh.
Please stay well, friends.
Roz reacted to Susan Cornett for a blog entry, 4 years!
Today marks 4 years of survival! By most standards, my path hasn't been as difficult as others. There have definitely been highs - when my hair grew back, my lashes grew in longer - and lows - two recurrences and a secondary cancer diagnosis. But as I say often - I'M STILL HERE! I tell my story to anyone who will listen. People need to know that lung cancer doesn't have to be an automatic death sentence. Does it suck? Yes. Will it change your life? Definitely. But you move forward, one step at a time. Forward is forward ,no matter the speed.
I am looking forward to the Breathe Deep Denton event in April. I enjoy visiting with the other survivors and bringing attention to this cause. I've also been asked to speak at a function in March so I'll be sharing my story again. The more the public understands lung cancer and all of its causes, the better our funding will be for research.
Most importantly, though, is this: I stumbled across this site one night when I was looking for answers. I have met wonderful friends - in person and online - here. Those friends have made this journey easier. Thank you, all.
Roz reacted to Tom Galli for a blog entry, Cursin' On a Sunday Afternoon....
We are "locked and loaded" for our fifth Transatlantic cruise since I was diagnosed with lung cancer. This Sunday, we depart from Ft. Lauderdale and fifteen leisurely pamper-filled days later, arrive in Southampton, England. Along the voyage, we'll visit Bermuda (a first), the Azores (an other first), Lisbon (been there), Bilbao, Spain (a first), and Le Harve, France (been there). And best of all -- no jet lag! We are serious cruisers and are thrilled to cross the pond in a brand new ship (Celebrity Edge christened in Dec 2018).
Once we arrive in Southampton, we'll pick up a rent-a-car and proceed to get lost driving on the wrong side of the road as we explore England's picturesque Cotswalds region. We really do love getting lost in countries where we can almost understand the language! Then, after a week of land touring, we fly back home to usher in our summer.
Vacations are important for everyone; they are vital for lung cancer survivors. I find I need about 7 days of state change that removes me from day-to-day life and stress. On the eight day, I float in a mental sea of serenity and on this trip, I do hope for calm seas throughout our voyage.
Stay the course...we will!
Roz reacted to DanielleP for a blog entry, The Simple, Profound Power of a Reset
Happy Monday, my friends!
(Yeah, I know, it’s weird, I said “Happy” Monday…it’s not necessarily an oxymoron…hear me out!)
I was always the kid who enjoyed the first day of school. How about you? The first day of vacation was pretty great, too!
There is great power in “firsts.” We are almost supernaturally (or superstitiously!) drawn to the gravitas of beginnings.
I remember very clearly making a circle of hands around my mother when she began her first treatment: my dad, some close friends, the nurses at the infusion center. Some of us prayed, some of us stood silent, some of us spoke whispered encouragement. I’ve heard similar memories from many patients and caregivers. No matter the words on our lips or in our minds, the sentiment is the same: there is great awe when we begin an experience, a journey, a season.
I’ve always thought that part of the particular joy unique to a beginning is the ability to cast off any detritus from the previous experience, journey, or season. If there is baggage or fear or angst (or anything else unpleasant) that is keeping us from advancing into the new moment, the changing chapter gives us permission to leave behind whatever we do not need—whatever will not service us as we move forward.
In that way, a beginning is also a chance to reset.
A couple of careers ago, I was a professional actor. I still do the occasional play, when the schedule is calm, and I recently closed a show with my small community theatre group.
During rehearsals, when there is a problem in a scene, or a snag in a set change, there is always one perfect solution: we reset. “Reset” is shoptalk for going back to zero: we literally re-set the scene (actors AND scenery), start the scene over, fix the issue, and then move on with renewed confidence. Like a bone that breaks and heals stronger at the point of fracture, a scene that has been reset usually turns out much better and smoother than it was before.
So, I’ve been thinking lately about the significance of beginnings and resets. That brings me back to Mondays…
Mondays are the calendar’s “firsts.” For many of us, it’s the first workday after a (too-short) break. For others, it’s the first schoolday of the week. For most of us, it’s the first day we can expect business-hours productivity after the hectic rush that is (usually) Friday afternoon.
And, for all of us, it’s the loop-point of the week. It’s the marker of how we count weeks backward or forward, between commitments and appointments.
So, it’s a built-in reset. It’s a page-turner. It’s a blank slate. It’s a chance to start over: whatever didn’t get finished on Friday didn’t destroy us, and whatever has to get finished this week hasn’t yet come due.
For those reasons, I love Mondays. They’ve become my mini-reset. From Sunday night into Monday morning (I’m an incurable night owl; I’m too old now to deny it!), I find poignant peace in the tiny resets I can enact around the house. I help Monday arrive with its blank slate by creating all the blank slates I can think of: leveling off the laundry pile, clearing the kitchen counter, emptying the sink, running the dishwasher, taking out the trash, refilling toilet paper rolls, cleaning cat boxes, loading drink cans into the fridge…
You get the picture.
I cannot emphasize enough how precious that time has become to me in the years I’ve been helping my parents. I now look forward to Sunday evening, which, in itself, is life-changing. Instead of fearing Monday morning’s potential onslaught of “stuff” to deal with, I try and push last week’s dirt into the bin (or under the rug, ha!) and set the stage for the week on my own terms.
I don’t know why waking up to a sink full of Friday’s dishes on Monday morning is so soul-crushing (knowing the "why" is above my pay-grade), but it IS. It just is. At some point along the way, I learned this: I learned that the sink full of dishes represented everything that did not get “checked off” last week, and that it now stood between me and everything I needed to accomplish THIS week.
This was one of the most satisfying epiphanies I ever had, my friends, because the problem was so easy to fix.
We can’t change our circumstances, and that alone is the source of most of our stress as caregivers. There is so much about our current situations that we would change if we had the chance, but since we can’t, we need to channel that desire for control into the mountains we CAN climb.
And that laundry pile over there is just the right mountain.
Roz reacted to DanielleP for a blog entry, The Pivot
“You know, I heard that green tea/apricot pits/jogging/apple cider vinegar/kale/broccoli/mustard greens/fresh avocados/yoga/this miracle powder/oil/salve/etc., etc., etc. will cure your mom’s cancer. You really need to try it. It worked for my cousin’s friend’s stepmom’s brother. Let me get you the information!”
If you have ever had a loved one with cancer, you’ve heard these offers. You know exactly how they sound. The personal heroism of a friend or neighbor or acquaintance or coworker, offered bravely to your face, can feel so affrontive and offensive. This is especially true when medical treatment plans are not working; when your loved one is especially vulnerable for any number of emotional or physical reasons; or—
wait for it—
when the person offering the miracle cure is otherwise uninterested, uninvolved, and/or unhelpful in the actual caregiving of the patient.
There. I said it. Do not come up to me offering miracles, period. I don’t have the energy to explain to you that, while broccoli is great and we should all definitely get more exercise, they alone are not going to abate the tumors in my mom’s lungs. I don’t have the emotional wherewithal to be polite to you while staring in disbelief that you yourself have fallen victim to believing some scheme.
And if you have not asked if we need anything, or brought us a cake or pie or casserole or loaf of bread in the four years since she’s been diagnosed, then you have an especially low level of credence or gravitas with me in terms of your interest in my mom’s well-being.
If you are a caregiver, you know exactly what I mean. We are on the same page right now. We are all preachers and choirs (or pots and kettles) at once.
But…that doesn’t mean we know what to do about these offers of help. As annoyed or hurt or exhausted as we may be, the fact remains that these are relationships we may need to maintain. Telling folks exactly how we think or feel about their unhelpful “help,” using all the words we want to use, is not exactly conducive to maintaining the relationships. So, we need a coping mechanism. We need a tool.
At some point, off the cuff, in one of my more emotionally raw moments, when faced with one of these offers, I let slip from my mouth: “you know what would actually be helpful?”
And, just as if in a sitcom, I jumped; surprised at my own words; time slowed to a crawl; I turned my head; I looked at my acquaintance, as if in molasses-slow-motion, terrified that she would be offended; and…
She looked right back at me, unaware of my sitcom-terror-moment, and said “what? What do you need? Let me help!”
And my world shifted from a sitcom to a Disney princess movie. Time sped back up, birds chirped, the sun came out, the clouds parted, and music started to play.
Well, that’s how it felt, anyway. Seriously: I was floored. Her genuine interest in helping had been proven, and I realized: she just didn’t know HOW to help, or WHAT to offer, so she had reverted to the only tip/trick/hack that she knew of on the topic.
My point is: as caregivers, we are so consumed by all that we have to do that we cannot imagine anyone in our lives or networks being oblivious to our reality. But, my friends, they are. All of our friends (and relatives and acquaintances and neighbors and coworkers) are understandably consumed by their own realities. When they occasionally can fall out of their own orbits to see what we are up against, it takes a lot of time to catch up with the status of things, let alone to study up on what we might need or not need. This is time that the folks in our networks usually don’t have, my friends. So, if they are aware of some one-size-fits-all grab-and-go panacea, of course that’s what they’re going to offer. These are, after all, unfortunately readily available and highly advertised.
Here’s the point: on that day that the skies cleared and my friend stopped in her tracks to ask what I actually needed, I learned that her heart was in the right place. Her intentions were good, even if ill-informed. And, I would venture to guess, that's the case 9x/10.
And so, the “pivot” was born. This became my tool, and I offer it to you here in hopes that you can make use of it as well.
(If you're a fan of the movie or musical "Legally Blonde," or if you love "Clueless" or "Mean Girls" or anything like that, this can alternatively be referred to as the "bend and snap." Don't ask).
The “pivot” is just the name I give to my blatant usury of the assumed good intentions of the poor soul who offers me snake oil. Here is the script:
Person: “I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s lung cancer. Have you tried making a smoothie from donkey fur? I hear that cures cancer.”
Me: “OH my gosh, thank you, that’s so nice of you to tell me. Hey, ya know, I’m really covered up on Thursday. Can you bring mom some lunch?”
BOOM. Done. Weapon deployed.
(The caveat, of course, is that you have to have a ready-made mental list of assistance that would be useful to you. Frankly, I think this is always good to have, so that you can always respond productively when folks ask what they can do, no matter how they actually ask the question).
Anyway: my favorite part of using the pivot tool?
You will *very quickly* separate the wheat from the chaff. You will immediately be able to gauge whether the person offering the unhelpful help was actually interested in helping, or only being unhelpful after all.
And, at the end of the day, they might actually come through.
Roz reacted to Tom Galli for a blog entry, 10 Steps to Surviving Lung Cancer from a Survivor
MY STEPS TO SURVIVING A LUNG CANCER DIAGNOSIS
Step 1 – Invest in sophisticated diagnosics before diagnosis
If you smoke, were a long-term smoker, or are in an occupation that exposes you to carcinogenic toxins (asbestos removal, auto mechanic, painter, etc.), I suggest getting a computed tomography (CT) scan, often called a CAT scan, of the chest once a year. Insurance now covers it and CT will detect tumors far earlier than a chest x-ray. Early detection of small tumors dramatically enhances your survival chances. I had a chest x-ray in January 2004 and was diagnosed with stage 3b, non-small cell lung cancer the following month. The tumor hadn’t shown on the x-ray; but at diagnosis, it was almost 3 inches long and ½ inch in diameter. The only symptom I had was coughing up blood the day before diagnosis. Learn more about early CT screening.
Step 2 – Choose a good general practitioner
Your general practitioner may be the manager of your lung cancer treatment. The GP likely will pick your cancer team and may need to do a little arm-twisting to get things moving. Therefore, there can be great benefits to having a GP who is seasoned and well known in the medical community. I prefer doctors of osteopathic medicine to medical doctors. I’ve found that in my experience the former treat people, not patients. I believe a good physician shows kindness, consideration, and compassion toward those in his or her care. These characteristics are essential. Be sure you know your GP and your GP knows you. Such knowledge and trust will give you a survival edge. There are great health care professionals out there.
Step 3 – Ensure your oncologist is a physician
A doctor has a degree in medicine and a license to practice. A physician is devoted to restoring, maintaining, and promoting your good health. My physician oncologist does a complete examination (looks in eyes, nose, and throat, checks pulse in the extremities, checks reflexes, listens to breathing and heart rate) every visit. He reviews and explains all test results and asks how I feel. He looks at me as I speak, and he listens and makes notes on what I say. He carefully explains medical treatment alternatives that may arrest the disease, and together we choose each next step. He never rushes consultations and, consequently, often is late to scheduled appointments. Because his tardiness results from spending time with those he treats, I know he cares about me and every other patient. These are some characteristics your physician oncologist should possess.
Step 4 – Learn about your disease
At diagnosis, I had no idea what lung cancer was. Moreover, I didn’t know what an oncologist did, nor could I spell the word! After diagnosis, I read everything I could find about the disease; a good resource is the www.LUNGevity.org website. Then I read medical journals, government reports, research papers, and studies. I made notes about things I didn’t understand and asked questions at my oncology consultations. My wife attended every consultation, procedure, and test to ensure every question was asked and answered, and that we understood the answers. You need to know about type, stage, statistics, radiation, diagnostics, chemotherapy, side effects, surgical options, and so much more. Your chances of survival are improved if you are informed enough to ask highly perceptive questions.
Step 5 – Acquire a sanguine attitude quickly
Cancer is a disease of death; lung cancer kills more than all other cancers. Your attitude toward treatment is, I believe, essential to survival. When you acquire a sanguine attitude, your treatment team will notice your optimism. They will enjoy interacting with you; they will care about you. I strongly suggest you read Stephen Jay Gould’s essay “The Median Isn’t the Message” to help you understand survival statistics and find optimism about what appear to be bleak probability of survival projections. Join a cancer blog or messageboard. I am a member of several where I can broadcast my complaints and protestations to people who understand and have useful advice for coping. Find cancer support groups and join one. Most people who treat you have no idea how you are feeling. But survivors in cancer support groups understand; they know how you feel—you’ll fit right in!
Step 6 – Any port in a storm
There is no such thing as “a little stick!” During procedures and treatment, almost everyone will attempt to gain access to your veins with an intravenous device of some type. All such intrusions are uncomfortable, and unless the practitioner is good and lucky he or she will miss more often than not. If your treatment involves intravenously administered chemotherapy, you likely will get stuck at least once a week. A good way to avoid discomfort and frustration is to ask for a port. Installation involves simple, low-risk surgery. Once in place, you need to keep the area clean and exercise precautions when bathing—but access to your veins is no longer a storm but a port in a storm!
Step 7 – Don’t believe the miracle cure
The consequences of a lung cancer diagnosis are frightening. For most, it will be your first serious encounter with the prospect of death. When you type “lung cancer” into Google, you will be bombarded by advertisement that promises miracle cure at considerable expense. There is no such thing as a miracle cure! Before you invest time (now precious) investigating one of these “too good to be true” remedies, check it out on www.quackwatch.org and discuss it with your physician. Oncology is a medical science. Procedures, drugs, and protocols are tested using scientific methods that are published and reviewed by peers and regulating organizations. When science-based breakthroughs are discovered, they are broadcast very quickly throughout the practitioner community.Read about Steve Jobs—one of the smartest technologists and businessmen the world has ever known—who delayed his cancer treatment.
Step 8 – Don’t try to tough it out
I am a retired soldier and believed I was man enough to handle almost anything. Cancer proved to be the “anything” I could not handle! I suffered a long time trying to tough it out before I admitted I was depressed. My physician’s response: “Of course you are depressed—how could you not be?” He prescribed appropriate medication, arranged consultations with a physiologist, and suggested I attend support groups. Unless you are tougher than I, you will experience depression. Admit it and accept help. Here are some other things you might try. Ask for the “freeze spray” before an IV is used. If claustrophobic, get a script for Xanax and take it shortly before scans. Even in summer, wear warm clothing to diagnostic and infusion sessions. Some areas where these take place are kept very cold. Many treatment centers have volunteers—engage one in conversation. Many are survivors or caregivers and have a wealth of helpful information. During consultations, I was so frightened I couldn’t rationally ask questions about results or next steps, and I certainly couldn’t remember what was said. Consequently, I never go alone to a consultation. I suggest if you can, always have someone with you too.
Step 9 – Become a calendar maniac
If you have a smartphone with a calendar application, become an expert in its use. If not, keep a paper “cancer calendar” to record information. Your life after diagnosis will likely become filled with scheduled appointments, and given the nature of the disease and intensity of the battle, these are appointments you don’t want to miss. For example, my chemotherapy cycle required an infusion every third Friday. I had to record three rounds of steroid medication taken every six hours before each infusion. I had a scheduled blood test every Monday following infusion. Nausea started Sunday morning and lasted until Tuesday. Joint pain started Wednesday and lasted until Saturday. If I took the nausea medication about an hour before onset, symptoms often were minimal. Furthermore, if I started pain medication a couple of hours before onset, my pain was manageable. I used the alarm feature on my phone to warn me in advance. Plus, there was life to live, and the calendar helped me avoid conflicts between my cancer treatment schedule and my life events schedule.
Step 10 – Choose to live
When asked about my cancer experience, I often tell those in treatment that cancer is a disease of life or death. I believe if you choose treatment, you are choosing life. And if you choose to live, do something with the life you are given. The “something” will be different for each of us, but doing whatever you enjoy or find fulfilling is so important. If you enjoyed an activity before diagnosis, do it afterward. Look at yourself in the mirror every morning. If you don’t see an expiration date stamped on your forehead, then enjoy the day and look forward to the next! Oh, by the way, your hair will grow back! Baldness is a beautiful badge of courage.
Stay the course.
Roz reacted to Tom Galli for a blog entry, The Cadence of Scan Days
"Count-off...One, Two...Count-off...Three, Four...Bring it on down now...One, Two, Three, Four, One-Two...Three-Four!"
My life is filled with counting. As a young soldier on the march, we counted cadence to stay in step. The rhythm of the cadence was an elixir to the mile-upon-mile-upon-mile of forced march in full combat load. They always scheduled the forced march on the hottest day, or the wettest day, or the coldest day of the year. One memorable march was the day after a hurricane! Weather or not, we marched and counted.
After diagnosis with lung cancer, my life embraced a different sort of cadence. There was the countdown to scan day, then time stopped waiting for results. One...what time is it...just ten in the morning...the clock battery is out...is it back...how bad...how many nodules...how big...ten-oh-two...mets in the bones...liver also...scan tech didn't smile...he saw something...ohGod.... Life just stopped waiting for results. Time stopped!
Waiting for scan results is absolute misery coupled with measured doses of agony and anguish, torment, despondency and gloom thrown in for good measure! Each day was a twenty-five-mile forced march that started but never ended. Cancer sucks but waiting for scan results sucks squared!
Stay the course.
Roz reacted to Susan Cornett for a blog entry, There are days....
Most days, the cancer is buried somewhere in my thoughts, my work, my hobbies - not at the surface. But there are days when it hits me right between the eyes. Cancer. How the hell did I get here? Is this really my life?
Wondering if anyone else has experienced this.
Roz reacted to LaurenH for a blog entry, Carole Baker's Story
My lung cancer diagnosis came as quite a shock to my family, my doctors, and me as I’ve always maintained a healthy lifestyle. I exercised regularly, ate healthily, never smoked, and enjoyed a variety of outdoor sports and other activities with my husband and our three children. I worked as a learning specialist for children ages K-8 and loved my job. Everyone I was close to commented that I was “the healthiest person they know.”
But in March 2011, after worsening back pain, I visited my physiatrist who ordered an MRI. I figured I had a disc issue with my back or created an injury from too much sitting during work. When I saw my doctor for the results, she was speechless; she told me my upper body was "riddled with lesions." I said there must be some mistake, that the scan was someone else’s. As the doctor insisted there was no mix-up and this was truly me, I felt as if the floor had given way under me, a feeling that never seemed to fade from my day-to-day experience.
I was 54 years old. A few days later, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer. Since I was an otherwise healthy, active, never-smoker, the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center predicted I would have the EGFR mutation, and the biopsy results proved they were right. The targeted therapy, Tarceva, shrunk my tumors, and with tolerable side effects, allowed me to continue leading a relatively normal life. I even took up sculling, a sport that I had always aspired to learn.
However, I was disappointed when only after 9 months my cancer figured out a “way around” the Tarceva, which is expected for targeted therapies (referred to as acquired resistance). Thus, began my participation in a series of clinical trials and chemotherapy, all with mixed results and, at times, difficult side effects, which forced me to retire from my work which I truly loved and still miss a lot.
One bright period during these trials was a 14-month durable response from a trial combining Tarceva and the immunotherapy drug called Nivolumab, also known as Opdivo. Unfortunately, after 14 months I had to be quickly removed from this trial due to adrenal failure and colitis. In addition, I have been taking blood thinners since the diagnosis because of a DVT that was found at that time, and a couple of years ago I had a brain tumor surgically removed. My latest battle is with Leptomeningeal Disease, against which I hope to beat the odds once again.
Throughout my treatment, I’ve taken advantage of different integrative health services to help manage symptoms and side effects, such as acupuncture, counseling, support groups, and meditation. I can’t say these endeavors were always helpful, but it was important for me to try to find alternate ways to manage symptoms, both physical and emotional. However, over time my stamina began to wane, and my sense of self efficacy began to diminish. It became increasingly frustrating not to be able to do the things I always enjoyed. The treatments and their side effects can wear you down.
Initially, I struggled to find camaraderie with other survivors who have the same mutation as mine. Social media has been particularly helpful, especially in the beginning when I was trying to learn about different treatments and find a community. LUNGevity, Cancer Grace, and Inspire, and Lung Care Alliance were all useful sources of information and support.
My husband has been a great support and care giver. Initially, he dug into the research to learn what treatments were in development, so we knew what was in the pipeline. Moreover, my children have also been there for me. Even though they’ve grown up and don’t live at home anymore, they still come to visit me as often as they can. It has been difficult for me to accept not being able to participate in their activities and lives the way I was able to when I was healthy. It has been a continuing effort for me to feel “a part of the game.”
If I could share my experience with someone newly diagnosed, I would recommend getting as much information as you can from credible sources and not being afraid to get second opinions. It’s best to be treated at a major cancer center even if it means traveling because the research experience, depth of knowledge, and specialists they provide are cutting-edge. I would also recommend participating in clinical trials if they’re an option, as well as trying to find people to connect with who are going through similar situations.
Since my diagnosis, life has been a roller-coaster ride of living with uncertainty and trying to function amidst toxic side effects. I try to appreciate the good days and keep active. This spring will be my seventh-year anniversary living with Stage IV lung cancer. I am grateful for those who are raising awareness of lung cancer as a growing epidemic in non-smoking women and am excited to share my story to help other patients. I am especially interested in helping to erase the stigma that lung cancer is only a smoker’s disease, and hopefully increase research funding to the level it should be.
Roz reacted to DanielleP for a blog entry, Hope? Sure, let's talk about hope! Hope is...well, what is it, exactly?
Sometimes, HOPE is a kitten.
Okay, okay, sure, I know, that sounds a little weird. And a little bit like a desperate attempt to pass a poetry exam.
Let me explain…
Hope is strong and confident. Hope can be fickle. Hope can be hard to corral, name, and predict.
Hope can be ephemeral, and hope is also everlasting.
Hope can be full of contradictions. Hope can take many forms, directions, shapes, and sizes.
You’ve heard the expression “herding cats?”
Hope is one thing that cannot be herded. It is inspired, it cannot be forced, and it is felt differently by different people.
And hope, like most emotions we encounter after lung cancer has entered our lives, can have a complicated duality. An ambivalence. A way of being prickly when it doesn’t fit in our hearts, and a way of busting our hearts wide open.
A way of showing up without telling us why it’s there, and staying with us, warm and fuzzy and comfortable and soft, exactly when we need it most.
And that duality and ambivalence is essential to its nature. It isn’t going away.
…Okay. You get it. Hope is like a kitten. I’ve gotten just about everything I can from that analogy!
But, that’s not entirely what I mean. Let me explain (some more). Let me show my hand.
By way of update:
My mom is one of the people for whom I am a “caregiver.” She has been living with Stage IV NSCLC for a little over three years now. She was on a clinical trial of an immunotherapy medication for just over two years. She’s coming up on a year of having not been on any active treatment. She left the trial by choice, after experiencing some vague side effects that were determined to be likely due to the treatment (more on that another time).
She is exhausted every moment of every day, to some extent. This woman who was always the most productive, vital, “type-A,” energetic soul I had ever met is now essentially housebound. Her profound lack of vim and vigor is the antithesis of her identity, and it has left her feeling robbed. Some days she feels like going out to lunch or running one errand; but there are usually weeks between these good days.
(Side note: we have long made her medical team aware of her severe fatigue, and it was determined to likely be a result of her treatment. Because every patient and every situation is different, please always make your loved one’s medical team aware of every side effect that is experienced, especially when these interfere with your person’s quality of life!)
So, with these long hard days of being stuck at home, not feeling like herself, one might imagine that she would feel glum, and downtrodden, and defeated.
The answer is: of course she does! She’s human!
(Trick question, with a trick answer…)
See, the thing is, that isn’t ALL she feels. Nope.
Lately, despite choosing to not be on treatment, and despite being overwhelmed in the way that only a very tired person who has gone through a lot can feel (I know you all understand), she has also felt…hopeful.
Which reminds me:
She woke up a couple days ago
You heard me.
KITTENS. She wanted kittens in the house. Kittens. Baby cats. Catlings. Cat blossoms. Cat kids. Cat puppies.
We currently have two grown cats. We worship the ground they walk on. We have had both cats and dogs in the past. Pet adoption is an important cause to us, and we tend to make a new addition to the family every 5-8 years.
Following our normal timeline, we have talked about adopting kittens a few times since mom’s diagnosis in 2015. But, 10x/10, she has decided against the idea, once even as I was literally walking out the door to head to the shelter. She has been on a scale somewhere between hesitant and heartbroken each time, and each time because she did not feel she could handle the joy that a new pet brings.
Let me repeat that: she felt she could not handle, or did not want to welcome, the particular joy that a new pet brings.
The joy of a new pet is like Spring: It’s promise. It’s a belief in a tomorrow.
Disclaimer, because I feel I have to make one: the decision to adopt a pet is a serious one, and should not be made lightly. We are very experienced cat owners, and we have gone through the cat-to-kitten introduction process many times over the years. In a caregiving situation, pet care should be particularly deliberately and honestly discussed, since caregivers may or may not have the ability or desire to assume those responsibilities.
But, in our case, that situation could not be more perfect. I mostly live with my folks as part of my effort to help out, so I am around (and, let’s face it, more than willing) to contribute my part to Project KittenHope. At the end of the day, the kittens will become part of the whole family, owned and loved by all of us.
When my mom declared that the haze had lifted and that she was ready to take this step, it was an automatic victory. It was a sign.
It was hope.
Thus: this week, into our lives walked a two-month old little girl cat and a two-month old little boy cat.
And, yet, those of you who are here reading this understand, not needing any disclaimer. Because -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------*-
…one of the kittens just typed that.
As I was saying: because you understand this daily tug of war, seeking and understanding hope.
So, the past few days, while welcoming our new additions, I have literally been herding cats…and herding hope. It appears where it will, often when least expected, and gives its gift of easy breathing and lifted hearts.
Just like the kittens.
This past weekend, LUNGevity hosted their National HOPE Summit in Washington, D.C.: an annual gathering of lung cancer survivors and co-survivors (caregivers!) that is regularly the largest such meeting in the country. It is part family reunion, part medical conference, and part survivorship bootcamp: fellowship with folks who understand what the lung cancer experience feels like; experts who inform the crowd on the most cutting edge treatment and diagnostic research; and tips and tricks for living one’s best life as a lung cancer survivor or caregiver. The event leaves everyone enlightened, invigorated, and aware of information and tactics that can introduce HOPE where there may have been none.
Thanks to the LUNGevity Foundation, May is officially National Lung Cancer Hope Month. We HOPE (see what I did there?) that you will join us every day this month in ongoing conversations about all the HOPE that is out there in the lung cancer field: new diagnostic tests, new medications, new genetic sequencing, new surgeries, new forms of radiotherapy, new places to turn for assistance, new clinical trials, new emphases on patient navigation, and more. (See LUNGevity.org for more of this. Seriously, it seems there is breaking news every day!)
We also HOPE that you will share with us those moments, long and brief and in-between, that give YOU hope, inspiration, and a reminder of why we wake up every day to advocate for patients: for new treatments, for access to help, for better resources, for more information, and—as LUNGevity says--for a world where nobody dies of lung cancer.
Roz reacted to Tom Galli for a blog entry, Lung Cancer's Painful Quadratic Equation
Early on, we learn Algebraic equations with only one solution. Then we encounter equations with two solutions -- Quadratic Equations. Consider: x2 + 3x – 4 = 0. This has two solutions: x = -4 or x = 1. Both are correct; one is negative and one is positive. Algebra students get very comfortable with solutions having a positive and negative outcome -- lung cancer survivors are less comfortable!
The positive outcome for lung cancer is extended life. But like quadratic equations, there can be negative outcomes that are less desirable. Mine is chronic pain. So to the question, how does one fit a negative outcome into the positive? No, Algebra does not help. But, for those in treatment or surviving after treatment, preparing for life with negative outcomes is helpful.
My chronic pain has two primary and many secondary causes. I have peripheral neuropathy -- numbness in fingers and toes including a burning sensation in toes and pain in the foot joints. It is a common Taxol side effect, and we informally call it “taxol toes.” Also, I have nerve damage caused by quite a few surgeries to my right chest that is chronically painful. How do I fit these negative outcomes into life?
My strategy is to tolerate chronic pain until bedtime. Then something must be done or I won’t sleep. I’ve cycled through over-the-counter, then prescribed sleep medications. Both worked for a while. Doc found a study suggesting a therapeutic effect for Xanax on chronic pain. He prescribed a 0.5mg dose at bedtime, allowing an increase to a total of 1.5mg. This relaxes me and makes me drowsy. It works about 6-in-10 nights.
A secondary cause sometimes drives pain above chronic levels. These are: chemotherapy induced joint pain; muscle cramps; stress, anger and excitement; sneezing and coughing; and flying on aircraft. The joint pain, an in-treatment side effect, required narcotic medication in every case to relieve. Reliance on narcotics has two downsides: an inability to think and function normally the next day and constipation. However, other secondary causes occasionally require narcotic medication to achieve relief. Because of the downside to narcotics, we’ve developed a couple of unique pain abatement procedures that may be of interest.
Our first strategy is to apply prescribed lidocaine transdermal patches to incision scars and or feet in combination with Xanax. Since lidocaine dosage is limited to 2 patches, my wife cuts them into strips and fits them along my incision scars, and applies them to my feet. A pair of tight fitting socks are stretched over my feet to keep them in place. When the offending pain spike is either in my chest or feet, a full 2-patch application is used. The patches are applied in time to allow the Xanax to work and I sleep, hopefully.
The next works only for feet and is a back-up strategy if lidocaine fails. My wife uses an ace bandage to wrap reusable frozen Blue Ice packs to the bottom of each foot. The cold is very uncomfortable for a couple of minutes, but in a short time my feet are numb and if I’m lucky, I sleep.
Muscle cramping is a long term side effect from chemotherapy. It stems from low Magnesium blood levels. I take at least 500 mg of Magnesium supplement per day. My oncologist would rather I take 1000 mg, but I suffer digestive system revolt. I learned that almonds provide 75 mg of Magnesium per ounce so I snack in lieu of a second pill. Regardless, I still experience one to two cramping events per day. When they occur anywhere near my feet or chest, chronic pain soars. There is however, no remedy for cramps. The worst occur in the middle of the night and wake me up.
Archimedes, the ancient Greek hydrologist, provided an explanation for why immersing up to my neck in a swimming pool eases incision pain. The upward buoyant force of the water offsets the gravitational pull on chest incisions thus minimizing pain. Almost every day our community pool is open, I spend hours in the water. This does not eliminate pain but reduces it noticeably. On leaving the pool, the normal level returns but it is very therapeutic. Lying in a bathroom tub, unfortunately, does not work because there is not enough water for complete submersion. A hot tub works fine, but there is no difference in pain relief from water temperature.
Flying in a commercial airliner also spurs chronic incision pain. Most airlines pressurize their cabin between 6,000 and 8,000 feet pressure altitude. This lower-than-sea-level pressure expands my chest cavity increasing incision pain. All commercial flights hurt but long flights are very painful often requiring a dose of narcotic medication in flight. Not flying is the only remedy. Those having thoracic surgery have long complained of incision pain after commercial air flights and cabin pressure is the cause.
Another secondary cause is extensive coughing and sneezing. Sneezing is particularly bad when it is a “surprise sneeze”. During the worst pollen events, I stay indoors and I try and avoid school age children to keep the chest colds in check, especially when school is in session. The last secondary cause I have the most control over: stress, anger and excitement. Admittedly, excitement is the easiest to control except when the Dallas Cowboys are playing my beloved Philadelphia Eagles. These two games a year are indeed stressful and since I live among cowboys, someone is going to be angry over the outcome.
My wife reminds me when I complain too much that I am lucky to be alive. What’s a little pain given the alternative. She’s right. Doc reminds me to avoid scheduling things in the morning so I can sleep-in late if pain interferes. He’s right. Football season is right around the corner and it is a good thing games are scheduled in the afternoon and evening.
Now if the Eagles start winning, everything will be fine!
Stay the course.
Roz reacted to LaurenH for a blog entry, Bill & Heather's Story (Part 1)
My wife, Heather’s lung cancer was discovered by accident. She was having an abdominal CT scan when the doctor noticed a small shadow on her lower right lobe. She subsequently had a chest CT scan. The Thoracic surgeon felt it was pneumonia scar but it was too small for a needle biopsy so he ordered a PET scan.
We went for the PET scan and the radiologist who did the scan also read it and told her immediately that she did not have cancer. (It was not until a couple of years later that I actually read the report which indicated that there had been mild FDG uptake in the upper left quadrant of this spot.) She started having follow-up CT scans every 6 months. On one scan, the report came back that the spot had diminished in size. We were excited because cancer doesn’t shrink but unfortunately not informed enough to know that positioning during the scan can make a difference. She was then moved to an annual CT scan.
Heather had her annual scan in July 2012 and we went to her parent’s cottage at the beach for a couple of weeks. When we returned home there a message on our machine to call the Thoracic surgeon’s office for her appointment. This was a new surgeon as the previous one had retired. She called the office and the receptionist said she was booking her for an appointment to see the surgeon because of the growth in her lung. The receptionist assumed that our family physician had informed us. I immediately called our family physician who was doing rounds in the hospital and asked him what was going on. He didn’t realize that the appointment would be set up so quickly and apologized and we made arrangements to meet at his office. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful family physician who we used as the center for all future appointments and advice.
Heather underwent a wedge resection on Labour Day weekend 2012 to remove her tumor. The tumor tested positive for NSCLC Adenocarcinoma and was scheduled for a lobectomy to remove the bottom lobe of her right lung. This operation was performed on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October, along with a wedge resection of a nodule in her middle lobe and Lymph node sampling from the mediastinum and hilar. She was Stage 3a T2N2M0 with metastasis in three different lymph node stations. All her lymph nodes also had vascular involvement. Her oncologist patted her knee and told her that she had a 15% probability of surviving 5 years. On New Year’s Eve, ending 2012, Heather began 4 rounds of chemo, Cisplatin and Navelbine followed by 25 radiation treatments.
This has been a journey with many ups and downs with a few scares along the way but she is currently stable and enjoying life.