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!
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. 🙂
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!
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.
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!
Greetings all! We have returned from our lovely time up North, which means, sadly, that school is starting this week. We had a very nice summer with a lot of beach days, very little rain, and nice side trips and visits with friends.
We also attended a wedding in Erie, PA.
Oh yes, and Gwen had a birthday.
Upon our return, Gwen had her check-up with Dr. G. complete with brain scan; good news, her brain is still there and the scan showed all is clear. Also, she had a CT scan and a bone scan (it has been a year since her last bone scan).
Prior to discussing scan results with the doctor, Gwen asked Dr. G. about a ROS-1 specialist that some members of her ROS-1 facebook group have mentioned. Dr. G. knew right away about whom Gwen was referring and said that they could certainly set Gwen up with the ROS-1 doctor, Dr. Shaw, (located in Boston). She informed us that Dr. Shaw’s group is the group that discovered ROS-1 and that she would certainly be a valuable resource moving forward.
The CT scan showed IMPROVEMENT in the lung cloud! Gwen just knew it was going to be better. She had a feeling. The cloud has been present since February and got increasingly more dense through June. We compared today’s scan to the ones done in May and June and today’s looked better than both May and June’s scans! The cloud is still there, but it does look a bit less thick, if you will.
We then discussed her bone scan and compared it to the one done last August. (As a reminder, previous scans had shown lesions on her right hip and on her T4 vertebrae). The bone scan today did not show anything on the right hip OR the T4! There was a spot on the back side of her left hip, but Dr. G. wasn’t sure what that was. She continues to get shots every few months for her bones to help strengthen them.
Dr. G. remarked that Gwen was the healthiest looking patient she had seen all day! Such a nice way to wrap up the summer. Her next appointment will be in 3 months. There will be no changes in the course of treatment at this time.
On a separate, but related note, we hope to see some of you at the LUNGe Forward 5K which is being held September 25 this year (as opposed to November; avoiding election season). Gwen is famous because she is on their official publications.
Please consider walking or running with us on the Gwen Strong team! Or you can participate from your couch!
Thank you all for your continued prayers and support!