Hello all y’all! Lots of things have been going on over the past several weeks. Gwen is still traveling to and fro due to her participation in the drug trial in Boston. She gets her scans done here in Raleigh and meets with Dr. G. here, too, but goes to Boston to get her meds and have her blood drawn.
After her latest scans, Dr. G. was so excited she called Gwen at home to talk to her about it!
February 2016 – Gwen’s lung “cloud” first appeared.
May 2017 – Gwen’s lung “cloud” has disappeared!
Additionally, of the more than a dozen brain spots (aka “mets”), only 2 are visible in the scans!
Her latest trip to Boston was made a little extra special when she was met at the airport by 2 of her good college friends, Kristen and Rhonda. Her friends accompanied her to the appointment where they took waiting room selfies, and it sounds like they did a bit of shopping, eating, and enjoyed their time together.
Gwen was given permission to go a whopping 9 weeks in between appointments this summer – quite a change from the usual 3. So, if you are keeping track at home, her next scans will be mid-August.
Today, we were able to celebrate Callie’s birthday with Mom and Dad who came back down from NY, Justin’s parents on their way up to NY, and several family members from VA. (According to Callie, it was the best birthday party ever).
Tonight was the annual NC Lung Cancer Initiative’s survivors event (the past couple of years was a breakfast, this year was an evening affair). Gwen is shown here with other survivors and also placing her handprint on the survivors’ tree.
Thank you all for your continued support, prayers, and well-wishes! They are working! We love you!
Happy spring! I hope you all had a joyous Easter! We are just finishing up our Spring Break and got to have a lovely visit with our sister Kristen. Gwen’s friends swung by from NY, too. Gwen, Justin, and Callie went to Florida to visit Justin’s parents (who work at Disney) for the first part of the break. Things have been busy around here… mostly for Gwen.
When last we updated, she was headed to Boston to see about getting into a drug trial for a different medication. The earliest she could see the doctor was the Tuesday of that week, I believe. They ran some blood tests and her white blood cell count was too low. She was told that the low count could have been a result of her Xalkori still in the bloodstream. Prayers went out for the count to go up. (A little boy a church added Gwen to his family prayers that day).
The prayers worked, because at the time of the next blood draw her counts were just high enough to qualify her for the trial. She began that Friday (one week after stopping Xalkori). The new drug is called Lorlatinib.
She needs to travel to Boston for checkups and to pick up her refills, basically, every three weeks.
At the end of March, she let her Raleigh Dr. know that she was experiencing some dizziness. Tests and scans were ordered right away (this was about a week ahead of when her next scan was scheduled anyway). It was determined that things were looking good and that the dizziness was some sort of lingering motion sickness from the frequent flying. You see, after that first visit to Boston, Gwen’s subsequent trips have just been day trips, like she’s some sort of fancy business lady or something. (You should ask her about the millionaire she sat next to sometime). Anyway, she is still having some trouble with this and hence was told NO spinning rides at Disney! None!
At her latest check up about a week or so ago, her scans were very, very good. Dr. G (here in Raleigh) said that she could not be more pleased with the results. The spots in Gwen’s brain are diminishing! The cloud in her lung is stable.
So this brings us to last week. Gwen and Justin drove back from Florida in time for Gwen to fly straight to Boston on Good Friday to see Dr. Shaw. The folks up north were pleased with what they saw, too.
Gwen did not run in the marathon. But here’s the finish line!
Gwen is also participating in a second trial. They are using her blood to see if they can develop a blood test to “diagnose,” if you will, ROS-1. So when she goes up north, they take a lot of blood from her. Hopefully they can learn some stuff from this trial!
Thanks to the many folks who have asked about Gwen (and the family). She is doing fine! As has been the case through much of this two year process, she feels great.
Many have wanted to know what the next step is (and when). Gwen called and left a message with Dr. Shaw’s office last Friday. Their office was closed Monday due to President’s Day which means she didn’t speak to someone ’til Tuesday. She has an appointment for the 28th. The person she spoke to told her that this would be to merely talk about the drug trial. Gwen was not satisfied by this notion as she really wanted some action to take place if she was going to fly up to Boston!
She finally heard back from Dr. Shaw this afternoon. The plan is to go through consultation Tuesday and some screenings maybe Tuesday or Wednesday. If she “passes,” the earliest she can begin the new drug would be next Friday afternoon as her body needs to be rid of her current meds for one weeks before beginning the new one.
The doctors running the trial will be notified that she’s coming, so hopefully things will be good to go and she’ll be able to return back home next Friday evening.
Many thanks to the organizations and individuals who have offered assistance with travel expenses. The offers and prayers are much appreciated and very touching!
It’s been a busy week in Gwen Land. She had a spinal tap yesterday and is having some residual lower back pain and headache from that today. I went with her to Duke today so Justin could work (according to the local news, we teachers are absent too much…).
So here’s what we did while we were waiting:
Anyway, the first appointment at Duke this morning was literally with a Brain Surgeon. We later met with another specialist for a consultation. Being that we were at Duke, we also met with their respective interns. Between all four of those intelligent people, we heard the same thing over and over, “We don’t know what’s in your brain.” I will fight the urge to make jokes here.
Since I was not present at the appointment on Tuesday, I learned some things today. Such as: in August, Gwen’s brain scan had some spots and no one mentioned anything. Apparently, if any of us got our brains scanned right now, we could have spots show up, too. This week, what alarmed the doctors was that there were about a dozen spots and some were in the same exact location as before AND had shown growth. However, if these were indeed cancerous, the expectation would be that they would react to the contrast in the MRI, and they didn’t.
It was the opinion of all four of the people we saw today that Gwen should wait 4-6 weeks, get scanned again, and then reevaluate. Treatment options for “If these are metastases…” were discussed (biopsy/radiation, etc). Also, the brain fluids from the spinal tap will be tested for everything under the sun to try to explain the spots. They said that the spots could turn out to be nothing…
Meanwhile, in between appointments today, Gwen received a call from Dr. G’s nurse (Duke-Raleigh) who had been in contact with Dr. Shaw in Boston. (Recall, she is a ROS-1 specialist). Dr. Shaw wants to see Gwen in Boston NEXT WEEK. (See previous note about teachers and “multiple absences” and you will understand that this gave Gwen a bit of a momentary panic attack).
Gwen was able to talk to Dr. G. tonight on the phone to discuss the Duke appointments as well as the idea of going to Boston. Dr. G. and Dr. Shaw DO NOT want to wait 4-6 weeks. According to Dr. Shaw, spots in the brain that do not react to contrast is something that she sees frequently with the ROS-1 patients (this is actually a question that Gwen tried to ask the doctors at Duke – could this be a different kind of reaction because of her type of cancer. They didn’t think so, but it seems that Dr. Shaw does, and she’s the ROS-1 expert). Dr. G. REALLY wants to get Gwen up there ASAP – she doesn’t want to take chances with Gwen’s brain. Apparently, Dr. Shaw does think that these spots are concerning.
There is a drug that Dr. Shaw can get Gwen hooked up with. Gwen really doesn’t want to leave Xalkori due to the fact that her body hasn’t resisted it yet (it is still working for her lungs), but this other drug has been shown to break through the blood-brain barrier. This course of treatment would also likely mean multiple trips to Boston.
We left the appointments today thinking we had one game plan, and then within a matter of hours, it was thrown out the window!
Gwen knows that, obviously, her health is the most important thing, but we teachers are a warped breed. Sometimes our first thought isn’t “I have to take care of me,” it’s “Oh, how am I going to be absent that much and make all those sub plans and grade all those papers and how will the kids ever be ready for the State Exam??” It is irrational, exhausting, and very, very stressful.
If you are the praying type, please pray for her to find peace with her chosen course of treatment, which ever that may be, and to find peace with putting her health first! And of course pray for her health and the wisdom of her doctors. 🙂
Well, our updates skipped from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, so I hope you all had a great holiday season and the New Year is off to a nice start. Gwen, Justin, and Callie took a lovely Christmas cruise with Justin’s side of the family and returned in time to spend Christmas day with the rest of us back here in reality. A few of us got to spend the holiday with a lovely stomach flu, so that was fun. Other than that, the holiday break was quite nice!
Gwen had her latest appointment with Dr. Garst today. The official report is that her lung “cloud” shows no significant change from November, however when you look at the scans, visually it appears improved! Her bone scan results were deemed “Stable.”
The results of her brain MRI showed “spots of unknown significance.” My response was, “WHAT??”
So, apparently there are some spots showing up in her brain… something on top and something in the back. When you look at the scan, these spots appear like cancer spots would appear on a scan, HOWEVER, these spots are not acting like cancer in that they did not absorb the contrast that Gwen took for the MRI like cancer spots normally do. Of course, like much of this journey, the doctor has never seen anything like it.
Thankfully, things are going to kick into high gear to try to figure out what is going on and hence what the next steps will be moving forward. On Thursday, Gwen will have a spinal tap to test her brain fluids. Friday, she has two appointments set up with two different “brain doctors” at Big Duke in Durham. Her scans will also be sent up to Dr. Shaw in Boston for further consultation. I’m not sure how much information we will get this week, but we will keep you posted!
Please keep Gwen in your prayers. Please also add, if you will, our cousin who had surgery last week to remove a tumor in her lung. Boo lung cancer!
Gwen had her latest scans yesterday. Much to the surprise of everyone, the scans came back showing no change! Gwen and Dr. Garst were both expecting to see growth in the lung cloud. The doctor said it was quite surprising, actually, that there had not been any change. Gwen had been preparing herself emotionally for a tumor to be forming and for the eventual change in medications. So, this is good news, for now. She will continue the current course of treatment (Xalkori). The rest of the scans looked good.
We were fortunate to spend Thanksgiving with our parents, my in-laws, and Gwen’s in-laws. Lots of good food and great desserts!
Our family has a tradition of going around the table (before we eat), and each person states what they are thankful for this year. Some of our “thankfuls” from the dinner table this afternoon, just to name a few:
That Gwen had a good appointment
That Gwen has such a large support system
Then we all ate like crazy. Another tradition is to go on a walk in a feeble attempt to make room for more food.
So we walked and then came home to eat some dessert!
We thank all of you for the support and prayers that you have given to Gwen. We hope that you all have had a fabulous Thanksgiving and may God bless all of you!
Today was the big day; the day of the LUNGe Forward 5K. Thank you one and all for your kind support and donations large and small. Team GwenStrong was recognized as the fourth largest as well as the 8th in donations. With your kindness and generosity, Gwen’s team surpassed her goal of $3000 by $1610!
And some of our runners took home medals again this year… Gwen (survivor racer), Justin (#1 in age group), Austin (#1 in age group), and Gennilee (#2 in age group). Callie and Lachlen got medals in the kids dash, too. Way to represent!
Here’s a mess of pics from the day. First was the introduction of the survivors. Gwen led the moment of silence. She is the one with the microphone.
Next was the mile run. We sent Lachlen off by himself and then got worried when people were finishing and he wasn’t showing up, so Kevin went and met up with him. It turned out he was right around the corner and said that “it worked out great” that we sent him alone because he made a buddy. (Some older guy).
And then they were off!
Stroller brigade: Penny and Emma, Mom and Dad with Callie
Dr. Garst on the right
And just a quick 22ish minutes later, Justin and Austin were back. Following not too far behind was one of our pastors, Bruce.
Justin overtaking this hand-holding couple at the finish.
Pastor Bruce praising the Lord he made it to the end!
Here is Gwen and Friend Kristen (not to be confused with Sister Kristen). In the first pic Gwen is waving to us.
Next came Will, Kenlee, Kevin, my parents, and a whole bunch of others whom I did not photograph (my apologies).
The last race of the day was a kids’ dash in which Callie and Lachlen participated.