It seems that the past few times I have updated the blog, I have begun with “It has been a while since I have updated the blog…” and this is no exception. I personally have not had the best year health-wise and thus have been a bit of a slacker when it comes to updates, but as they say, “no news is good news!”
Back in March, I was able to travel with Gwen to Boston.
We had a great trip and had awesome weather for Boston in March. Gwen and I went to her appointment and then spent the day speed-walking the Freedom Trail.
Dr. Shaw was pleased with Gwen’s scans. As with previous reports, brain and abdomen were clear. Both of her lungs have several immeasurable spots that have been stable in size for several months. Since the scans have been stable, Dr. Shaw remains pleased with the current targeted treatment plan (Lorlatinib).
This past week, Gwen had another appointment in Boston. Gwen, Justin, and Callie took their time meandering up to Boston.
Again, the report was good – brain and abdomen were clear and those minuscule spots were still present but stable.
They will now be working their way on up to Maine to see the sights before heading back to NY for a few weeks.
Thank you for being such great supporters throughout Gwen’s journey (and for being patient with her slacker blogger).
It’s that time of year again! Are you aware, according to the American Cancer Society, it is projected that there will be over 234,000 new cases of lung and bronchus cancers in 2018 alone??? About 8,500 of them are expected to be in NC. Of the men and women with lung cancer, about 17.9% have never smoked.
For those of you not on Facebook and haven’t already seen, Gwen would love to help raise money for research on her specific type of lung cancer (ROS-1). Here is a link to her fundraising page: Gwen Strong – The ROS1ders .
I know it has been forever since I have written. Life has been busy and Gwen has been fairly healthy so there hasn’t been much to report! She ran in the annual LUNGe Forward 5K sponsored by the Lung Cancer Initiative of NC.
Gwen was the first female survivor to finish AND got first place for female in her age group! Justin won in his age group as well.
Here’s a shot of all the GwenStrong winners. We were well represented on “the podium.”
She had an eye appointment recently and things continue to look good there. Last week was “scan week.” I had the opportunity to travel with her to Boston. There are a few tiny nodules that are showing in her right lung. These apparently have been present on the past couple of scans, however they are so small that they were not noticed until an observant technician saw them last week and then the previous scans were pulled up to compare. However, these nodules were NOT present a year ago. Both Dr. Garst here in Raleigh and Dr. Shaw in Boston are not concerned at this time as these nodules could simply be a sign of some kind of normal inflammation that we would all occasionally get and never notice, but they will certainly be keeping a close watch on these spots over the coming months.
Other than that, the rest of her body scans were free and clear. Her brain continues to be clear of all the tumors that were present before, and Gwen is not reporting much in terms of side effects.
The FDA is getting ready to approve the drug that she is getting in Boston, which is cool, but it will likely only be approved for patients with ALK lung cancer even though the drug is clearly also working for patients with ROS-1 so the FDA should stop being stingy with their approvals. At any rate, Gwen would like to stay on the trial to continue helping ROS-1 research, so she will still have to travel up to Boston but may be able to go less frequently in the not-so-distant future.
It was a lovely day in Boston and we actually got to walk around some. The picture on the left is the view from the hallway outside the drs office and the pic on the right is said hallway. Gwen and I both just really like that hallway. It looks cool.
Hello again all! I have been a bit negligent in my updates, but as they say, no news is good news, right? If you are on facebook, then you have likely been keeping up with the goings on with Gwen. But if not… then here you go:
We have hit the road running with another school year after a full and amazing summer. Gwen spent time training for the annual Lung Cancer Initiative of NC LUNGe Forward 5K here in Raleigh. Her goals (other than, you know, fundraising to help the fight against lung cancer) were to A) run the whole time and B) to finish the 5K in under 35 minutes.
I am happy to report on Gwen’s behalf that she completed both goals AND that her fundraising team (#GwenStrong) was one of the top 10 fundraising teams! Thank you to all of you who supported her team from near and far. GwenStrong had a good showing in the medals as well with Gwen being the first female survivor finisher and Justin, Mom, and Dad all medaling in their respective age groups.
Just a couple of short weeks later, Gwen participated in another 5K! This one was a fundraiser at her school. Due to some favorable conditions, she was able to shatter her personal best time by about 4 minutes!
This week was a trip-to-Boston-week. She had scans in Raleigh on Monday and a check up with Dr. Shaw in Boston on Thursday. When we last got a scan report, we were told that she spot(s) in the brain scan were only noticeable to the drs. because they knew where to look (that’s how tiny they had become). This week, the scans were reported as being CLEAR. Nothing in the brain (I don’t think I will ever not feel tempted to make a joke here – sorry Gwen), and nothing in the lungs. No more lung cloud, no more pin prick tumors in the brain. Simply remarkable. The Boston skies were as beautiful as her scans.
Gwen feels very blessed. Thank you for praying for her, asking about her, thinking about her.
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. 🙂