Friday, October 23, 2009

Balloon crash

Jim and I had been flying high since receiving the report on Oct 7 that Jim was cancer free. A 10:30 p.m. call from the oncologist burst our celebratory balloon and left us deflated. In Houston, Dr. Rios had told us that he wanted Jim to take "a few" more treatments-adjuvant therapy--not an unusual plan, and that he would call us within a week to give us the exact plan. We were so elated from the good news that we minimized the repercussions of additional treatment.

When we got home from Houston, while waiting for Dr. Rios to call with the specific protocol, we gradually absorbed the idea of being cancer free and imagined our lives without cancer treatment. Jim said, "It will be so nice not be tethered to I.V.s. Think of the extra time I'll have to do other things." I had dared to envision making plans for dinner or a weekend away without considering how Jim might be feeling. After months (years) of dealing with unpredictable and often debilitating side-effects, we would be able to return to a somewhat normal life.

“Hey, what happened to our miracle?” I wanted to ask Dr. Rios on the phone. ‘Cancer free’ conversation had been eclipsed with talk of ‘remission’ and ‘possible progression’ and 'monitoring for organ damage' from the toxic drugs.

Now we were facing another three, maybe even six months of infusion with the same medications that have killed the cancer--but seem to be killing Jim in the process. The prospect was bitterly disappointing.

Nicole reminded me the next morning that the confusion is arising because there is no ‘treatment standard’ for Jim. Not many patients with his history are blessed with scans indicating no evidence of disease. Therefore, Dr. Rios has to decide on the best course of treatment with little or no supporting research. If there had been visible cancer remaining, we would have continued with a maintenance protocol until the tumors showed progression--indicating that the drugs had been rendered ineffective. But since there are no tumors, the question becomes: How do we know when enough is enough? Does he stay on the chemo until something returns? How much more of the chemo can he endure without organ damage? Should they stop the chemo now? Then when?

So we have to keep praying for wisdom for Dr. Rios, who hasn’t steered us wrong yet, and keep thanking God and giving Him the glory for the things He has done.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Hope

This is the second time in seven years we've been told that Jim is cancer free. The first time was after his surgery in 2002 when Dr. Rios told us that he was very pleased with the results of his post surgery scans which were clear of cancer. "This," he said, "is the beginning of a cure."

I didn't know enough about cancer at that time to recognize that news for the miracle it was. I didn't know how few people are able to have the surgery that puts them in that position. So many lung cancer patients are told, "It's inoperable."

I was unwilling to claim it as a miracle because I didn't want to appear naive. I had read that BAC was incurable and I believed it. I spent the next six years waiting for the other shoe to fall--and it did.

Now seven years later, we heard those magic words again. This time I am reaching out, claiming it as a miracle. Fewer than one percent of patients with stage 4 lung cancer survive for five years. Jim has had Stage 4 cancer for seven years. To be cancer free at this point means as Dr. Rios said 7 years ago: "This is the beginning of a cure." This time, I say why not? God can do anything.

"So call me a cockeyed optimist and say i'm incurably green but I'm stuck like a dope with this thing called hope and I can't get it out of my heart."

Yes, the cancer might come back, but--it might not. We have been given renewed hope and that in itself is a miracle.

A Miracle

I know I haven't posted much lately. I have been swamped between getting my book ready for the publisher and taking care of Jim during this last round of chemo. But I had to share this good news with you who have been such faithful prayer warriors. Jim was diagnosed with Stage 3B lung cancer in November of 2002. We were told at the time that fewer than 10% with that diagnosis survive for 5 years.

After some grueling treatment and radiation, the lung cancer laid low but he was diagnosed in 2005 with prostate cancer. Surgery took care of that. Then in 2008 he had a recurrence of the lung cancer near the spine. In March of this year another recurrence to the bone and the pleural lining of the lung. More chemo.

That brings us up to last week when he went to Houston for scans following his eighth chemo treatment. This is what happened.

When Dr. rios came in he peeked around the door and said,"Where
is my champion?" Jim either didn't hear him or simply didn't get the
significance of his the question.

He entered the room smiling and said,"There are some things that
medicine can't explain. My friend George Foreman said that education is
the beginning of moving away from God. But I think that as we learn
more we realize that we don't know very much." He turned to Jim. "God is working through

"I have no explanation for what has occurred but Dr. Stenoine and I
have gone over the scan results and there is NO cancer."

Jim and I sat there staring dumbly at him trying to absorb the news he
gave us. Finally Jim said,"do you mean it's completely gone?"

He started to cry and Dr. Rios left the room to give us time to enjoy
the moment.

When he came back in, I asked him,"So are you calling this a bona fide

" Depends on your definition , but according to mine, yes. I don't know
of any lung cancer patients who are cancer free after 7 years with
stage four disease and 2 recurrences. "

"What did you really expect to find today?" I asked.

"Well I would have expected further reduction in the tumor in the bone
but probably not in the lung."

Jim says he never expected to hear the words "cancer free" in this
lifetime. It truly is a miracle and evidence of God's healing power.

What a mighty God we serve. He is still in the miracle business.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

same old tune

This post is out of order. I actuall wrote it before our trip to Houston. It should go before "A Miracle" that I just posted.

I sound like a broken record playing a tune that even I am sick of. I have nothing new to write about "scanxiety." I would think that after almost seven years of countless scans and waiting rooms, I would have mastered the art of waiting patiently.

I'm a terrible hypocrite. After glibly offering advice to hundreds of caregivers on how to cope with uncertainty and fear, the "under toad" sucks me down like a novice swimmer who who overestimated her ability to stay afloat.

Here we are five days from a trip to Houston--at least number thirty--and I've just figured out why I am anxious. There is a MONSTER clutching at my ankles doing his best to pull me down into the murky depths of depression. The surprising part is that he hasn't given up--and even more surprising that I haven't given in. But I am as sick of writing about it as you are undoubtedly sick of reading about it.