My Personal Cancer Journey — Dubious Milestone

I will briefly interrupt my “Where in the World is Gary?” series for an update on my personal cancer journey. Yesterday I reached a new milestone in my battle with Stage 4, terminal lung cancer. It has been 21 months since my diagnosis, the event that dramatically changed my life. I have been extremely lucky in that I was found to possess a mutation (EGFR) which allowed me to take a new chemo pill called Tarceva. I called it my “magic pill” since it eliminated the need to begin standard intravenous chemotherapy. All I had to do was take a single pill, daily, until the cancer figured out how to circumnavigate the pill’s activity. That treatment successfully warded off my cancer, causing my tumors to shrink noticeably, for 18 months (the amount of time that Tarceva typically works in cancer patients).

Our next direction lead to another new chemo pill, Gilotrif, which also required the EGFR mutation, but an additional mutation as well. I began the Gilotrif program in July, but soon found that I did not possess the L858R mutation (even though 70% of EGFR patients usually do). At the same time, we found that my tumors were growing again, so the Gilotrif was totally ineffective.

We considered zapping the most recalcitrant tumor with microwaves, a process my physicians called oblation, but we discovered another tumor which had begun to grow significantly, ruling out this option. Thus we were left with the only other viable option, traditional chemotherapy. I should also report that, during the time that we realized that the Gilotrif was not working and the time that we began chemo, the pain (across my shoulders and neck and into my upper arm), a pain that I have not experienced since February of 2013 when the Tarceva kicked in, inserted itself into my life again. Sleepless nights and sometimes agonizing periods during the day caused me to begin taking the Oxycodone again. When I realized that the drug was not helping very much, we decided to add a Fentanyl Patch to the regimen. I am finally getting some relief from the pain and my nights have been a bit better.

Anyway, all of the above events have brought us to the day (Oct 9th) when I began chemo treatments and finally got to utilize the port that was inserted back in January of 2013 for this express purpose. I was actually looking forward to the chemo since I felt that we were basically doing nothing to control my cancer in the interim. On this “morning after” I can truthfully report that, so far, it is no big deal! I have experienced NO side-effects! Sure, my chemo cocktail included drugs to control nausea, but I haven’t even had a glimmer of queasiness. My energy level is just as high as it has been. AND, the entire intravenous program took only 50 minutes (I had visions of sitting in the lounge chair at the Cancer Center for 2-3 hours!).

By the way, this new program requires some dietary changes for me. I have been put on what is called a “Low Microbial Diet,” which is designed to reduce my exposure to bacteria since my immune system will be seriously compromised during the treatment. I am not allowed to eat raw fruits and vegetables, except for fruits with thick skins like oranges. Thus, no apples or grapes; no salads, etc. I cannot have cheeses with molds, such as, bleu cheese, or cheese that are not pasteurized. I cannot eat any shellfish, cooked or not — no more lobster or shrimp. Also, I am not allowed to eat deli meats, since they involved cutting with slicers which can harbor significant populations of bacteria. Oh well, small price to pay for a treatment that may be able to control my cancer.

Wish me luck as we enter a new phase of treatment, hopefully an experience which will extend my life for additional months or years.

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