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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Frequent Flyer

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.

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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 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!

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Happy Easter!

Off to Bean Town

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!

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!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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!

 

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!

 

We Came, We Saw, We LUNGed

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.

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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).

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And then they were off!

And just a quick 22ish minutes later, Justin and Austin were back. Following not too far behind was one of our pastors, Bruce.

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.

Lastly, the awards assembly!

Again, many thanks for your support! The Lung Cancer Initiative of NC LUNGe Forward has raised $149266 as of this publishing.