Third Winter/First Spring in Boston

Hello all! I realize it has been a while since my last update. Things in Gwenland have been progressing well. She has recently had an eye appointment that gave a positive report on the remnants of the eye tumor. Every scan she has had has been clear.

This Thursday, I had the pleasure of accompanying Gwen on her most recent trip to Boston. It was my first time traveling to see Dr. Shaw and I learned lots of things that I would love to share with you all just in case you were ever curious about what it is like to be Gwen and in a drug trial in Boston.

Our time together started when she picked me up to head to the airport at 4:30 am. I thought it was sure to be a good day because neither of us overslept.

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Apparently, while waiting for boarding, it is a good time to do schoolwork. I personally felt that it was an un-Godly hour for doing work, but said that I was living “a day in the life of Gwen,” so we did school work until we boarded.

Jet Blue is a fairly nice ride. We caught up on our HGTV shows on the flight and got our choice of snacks and drinks. I learned that you can get multiple if you want. Gwen suggested getting juice and then a water for later but I didn’t listen to her.  We also did schoolwork.

Gwen now knows all the ins and outs of getting to the hospital via public transportation. We took the silver line (bus) to the red line (subway) and were in a ton of tunnels and it was rush hour, cold, foggy, and rainy, so it was very crowded. I just followed her like a puppy dog. Our first stop was to a bagel shop down the street from the hospital where we got some delicious breakfast bagels and I purchased a water because I had not gotten one on the plane.

We then headed to the hospital for Gwen’s bloodwork  appointment. Then we sat. And guess what? We did schoolwork.

Dr. Shaw’s appointments were running a bit behind, so I think we were finally seen a little after 11.

Gwen’s scans were clear! Dr. Shaw was super thrilled because of how very clear the scans are. The spots on her bones that have been there since the beginning are showing signs that they are still healing – which is awesome. Gwen has no signs of any side effects to the medication. The medication is hopefully going to be FDA approved some time this summer, which would mean that it would be available locally in the not-so-distant future.

Next, one of the ladies running the drug trial came in and ran an EKG (I think that’s what she was going) on Gwen.

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And then we waited until about 1:00 for the medication. There was some kind of hold up in the pharmacy… so we did more schoolwork.

When all was said and done, we ended up with about 45 minutes to “explore” Boston before needing to head back to the airport. I took a bunch of pics to document the fact that A) we did actually leave the hospital that day and B) it turned into spring while we were there.

After speed walking around Boston Commons where schools like to take field trips and the Public Gardens where they love statues, we headed back to the airport. I was amused by the fact that Gwen was adept enough with the public transportation system to be able to help some other travelers at the airport. Also amusing side note: people smiled at Gwen all day – no matter where we were. Maybe it was her shirt? 

We ate a quick bite at a sandwich shop at the airport and hightailed it to our gate only to find out the flight was going to take off a bit late. After a few other little mishaps (and more schoolwork on the plane), we finally got back to Raleigh about an hour late and caught the end of Lachlen’s first baseball game.

I hope you enjoyed this account of Gwen’s whirlwind Boston trips.

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Science!

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!

Holla! Praise!

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).

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This is Gwen and me with Uncle Kip.

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!

Brain News

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:

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Grading papers like champs…

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. 🙂

Thanks, everyone!

Thanksgiving 2016

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!

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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
  • Modern medicine
  • Turkey (Callie)
  • Family
  • Teachers

Then we all ate like crazy. Another tradition is to go on a walk in a feeble attempt to make room for more food.20161124_160243

So we walked and then came home to eat some dessert!

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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!

 

Gwen Goes To Boston

Remember in my last post when I mentioned the ROS-1 specialist in Boston, Dr. Shaw? Well, Gwen got herself an appointment with her and went up to Boston. We just so happen to have a cousin up there (shout out to Liza!), so Gwen had free lodging and a chauffeur for her trip as well. Mom made the little hop from NY over to Boston to attend the appointment.

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This is Gwen and sister Kristen. (A pic with Liza would have been appropriate here, but I didn’t have one with just the two of them.) 

Here are the main takeaways that Mom and Gwen shared: Dr. Shaw is a genius, there are a lot of clinical trials on the horizon, cancer is complicated, Dr. Shaw and Dr. Garst will be collaborating (awesome!), Gwen will stay on the current course of treatment for now (Xalkori).

Okay, now the longer version. Remember that pesky lung cloud? On our last episode, the lung cloud was shrinking much to the excitement of the studio audience and the viewers at home. Well, it is Dr. Shaw’s opinion that the cloud of cells appear to be shrinking because they are really just becoming more concentrated and that their powers combined will become another tumor.

Now, before you get too worked up about this latest news, this is supposed to be not too upsetting… this is weird, I know. It is Dr. Shaw’s belief that Gwen’s body is resisting the Xalkori. She says that this is what happens when the resistance begins; a very slow progression (the cloud has been present since February). If a tumor forms, then it can be biopsied. If it can be biopsied, then they can test it to determine which mutation is present and therefore which medication can be used next.

So, Allisen, why did you say that she is going to stay ON the Xalkori two paragraphs ago? Gwen still feels fine and can breathe fine, so for now, it appears that the only part of her body effected is her lung. I guess we are going to hope for a tumor growth?? so they can biopsy it to help determine the second line treatment… so bizarre. Eventually, if needed, chemo will still be an option since she responded well to that the first time.

In the meantime, please consider joining Gwen’s LUNGe Forward 5K team, GwenStrong, even if you only participate from your couch. She’s harassed many of us on Facebook about it, already… The 5K takes place on September 25!

 

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Last year’s GwenStrong team; Dr. G in the blue raincoat.

Gwen’s Patchy Lung

School’s out for summer! Woo hoo! And also Gwen’s scan was today. I was able to go with her (and Justin) to listen to the results this afternoon, so you all are about to receive a firsthand account as opposed to the secondhand account you’ve been getting lately.

The scans showed that the cloud is slightly more dense than last month. The rest of her organs are clear, her other lung is clear, and her bone lesions look fine. The doctor referred to her lung as “patchy” (whatever that means) and the cloudy spots as “the cancer.” The cloud patches are not contained to one lobe of the lung therefore removing a section of the lung is NOT an option.

As I mentioned in the last post, Gwen is having some wheezing when she lies on her left side. This is apparently due to mucus getting trapped in “the cloud.” She has no other problems or symptoms, therefore the doctor told her that she can go climb the highest mountain she wants to!

As far as treatment goes, they are going to stay the course. Dr. G. says the other medication options out there right now aren’t as good as what she’s on now (sounds like there’d be side effects and such) and that in another 6 months there should be a few more medications that will be FDA approved that would be better options. So it sounds like, as long as there are no problems outside the lung and no symptoms, the Xalkori is still the way to go for as long as possible.

When the doctor left the room, Gwen said to us, “So I am basically fine, right?”

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Justin’s response was something like, “Well that depends on your definition of fine…”

Justin and I were thinking along the same lines… uh… You have a cancerous cloud in your lung… Not exactly what we would call fine?

But apparently Gwen had been so nervous coming into today’s appointment – she was preparing herself for the worse, so slightly more dense but all contained in the lung was “fine” in her mind.

Dr. G. wants Gwen to go away for the summer and to not be anxious about all of this (easier said than done), but she does want to see her the moment she’s back in town. So the next scan will be in August.

In the meantime, here’s to hoping for a restful summer for all of us!

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Gwen and Lachlen tubing real S L O W like.

We’re looking forward to seeing our northern friends! See you soon.

National Cancer Survivors Day…

…was yesterday. And we missed it. Sorry Gwen! But today, we celebrated by going to a survivors breakfast hosted by the Lung Cancer Initiative of NC. This was the second time Gwen and I attended.

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Don’t be jealous of my mad food photography skillz (I’m pretty terrible at this part of blogging). I remembered to take photos AFTER we finished eating…

Just so our lovely readers know, Gwen has a scan coming up on the 17th to check on the status of her lung “cloud,” which I learned today actually has a medical name. Do not ask me what it is because I cannot recall. A woman we met at the breakfast said that June 17th is her luckiest day of the whole year, so it will hopefully be a good day for Gwen.

But you guys, Gwen is nervous. She has been having some wheezing when she lays on her left side and feels like she has some shortness of breath when she is sleeping. Please send good vibes her way and pray for her!

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A very close-up photo of Gwen. Hi, Gwen!

(sidebar: Gwen’s doctor is currently at ASCO event which is the American Society of Clinical Oncology held in Chicago. This event is apparently a big deal in the cancer research world. We are hoping she comes back from ASCO with some cool information as we look ahead to a PLAN B for Gwen). 

At the breakfast, we also met the local woman whom had completed a safari in Zambia with her husband when, on the grounds of their hotel, was headbutted and sent 12 feet into the air by a giraffe! (For more on that story, see here). She is a 4-year lung cancer survivor.

The keynote speaker was a 2 year survivor who happened to have had the same surgeon who removed Gwen’s lung tumor (back in January 2015). The speaker has been on and off chemo and his kidneys aren’t going to take much more. He has had parts of his lungs removed and still has a tumor in his lung that they don’t have a plan for as of yet. He spoke to us about the whole “learning you have lung cancer” process. Listening to that part of his story was a bit emotional for me – perhaps because he had the same surgeon telling him the news that Gwen had. It just transported me back to January 2, 2015 in the tiny little room off the main waiting room. Truthfully, I just wanted the keynote speaker to stop talking. I couldn’t make eye contact with Gwen. But as I looked around the room this morning, no one else seemed emotional at all! These people are all such warriors! They are living this daily – it is in their faces 24-7.

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Here he is speaking to us. His “speech” is written on an envelope, BTW. Awesome.

Which brings me to his next point. Why are these “survivors” called survivors when they are still battling? They should be called fighters. Gwen and I liked that. Lung Cancer is a constant battle. Those who aren’t “in the know” get the incorrect impression that if you are a survivor, you are cured. There isn’t a cure. These “survivors” are still fighting.

This man’s body is tired, however, his spirit is not. He basically said that the cancer was almost a blessing in his life. It woke him up and got him out of his daily rut. He also quoted some Jimmy V so that was cool. It has given his life a purpose; to go out and bring awareness to this cancer, and that it isn’t about the quantity of his life, but the quality.

Wow. What an awesome outlook.

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Gwen and fellow survivors/fighters/warriors. Take in their faces, people!

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention little Callie’s third birthday which was this past week.

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She enjoyed a party with friends and family which included lots of time in a huge bounce house which explains the matted down hair in the cake photo. And the kids weren’t the only ones who had a good time…

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I may not be able to take pics of stationary objects like, say, food. But I nailed this one. 

Keep jumping, my friends. And steer clear of rogue giraffes.