Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 - the ongoing journey

Hellooooo Bloggies!

No excuses this time... I'm not even going to look at when the last entry was I put in my blog. I just know that this past month or so has had every sort of high and low imaginable. I don't even remember where I last left off, what I've reported on, and what I meant to but forgot, etc. So, some of this may be a repeat and other info might be brand new. Here goes... :)

I had been whining/complaining about this darn breathing problem. At first, it was every time I exhaled I would have this wheezing sound. Then it advanced to when I would inhale, there would be a gurgling sound that seemed to be caught in my chest... it wasn't something I could cough and release. It was driving me nuts! Of course, the explanation was that it was "bronchial spasms" which is very common for people who have chronic bronchitis, asthma, etc. Well, yes, I've had chronic bronchitis during my life but I had never experienced these bronchial spasms. But hey, as we get older, who knows? Alas, there's no cure for them... they will just go away on their own, in their own sweet time. But the problem is... I have not been having much in the way of bronchitis (had it just before the Christmas holidays, but that was the only time in over a year) and yet I had these bronchial spasms that wouldn't go away.

It was time for my oncologist to refer me to a Respirologist. Off I went to see (yet another) doctor. Well, he certainly wasn't hard on the eyes and seriously... are doctors all under the age of 25 now?? It sure seems that way!! But he was great! He certainly put me through my paces and put me through every respiratory test known to mankind... as well as the usual blood workups, CT scan, etc. It was Dr. Johnson who found an obstruction ... one of the tumors in my lungs was partially blocking my airwaves. This totally explained the problems I was having with the wheezing, gurgling and shortness of breath!! So he got together with my oncologist, Dr. Renouf, and they decided the best plan of action would be to have me see my radiation oncologist, Dr. Ma (who I hadn't seen since 2007)... and he agreed that we should go ahead with radiation and radiate the tumor that was causing the problem. 

That happened about 3 weeks ago. Now, Dr. Ma and the technicians all kept reminding me during the 5 days of radiation sessions, that the radiation would continue to work for about a week after we stopped... and then sometime after that week it's quite possible my symptoms will feel worse before they got better. BUT, the plan was/is that the radiation will shrink the tumor and then breathing will go back to normal... and that's what I'm counting on. Meanwhile... the week of radiation went smoothly, no reactions, nothing to report. The first two weeks after the radiation treatments, still no response/reactions. I even thought I was breathing better... but by then I was using a Nebulizer that I have borrowed from my father, which Dr. Johnston gave me a prescription for medications for it, as well, I have a heavy duty prescription narcotic cough suppressant in pill form. It was the THIRD week (last week) that the congestion came back fast and furious. I now have these coughing fits that, combined with shortness of breath, can literally take my breath away! Last night, I woke up from a fairly sound sleep around 1am, in a coughing fit and gasping for breath. Obviously, I could still breathe because I made myself sit up on the edge of the bed and immediately put the Nebulizer mask on and turned the machine on (it pays to have the medicine already set up in the machine for emergencies such as this). I did the fast relief medicine first, then followed by the longer term medicine (this is the same medicine that is in the puffers.. but more concentrated when done via mask/machine). I then took some cough medicine (liquid) followed by one of my prescription cough suppressant pills. That seemed to calm the coughing down (phew) and could crawl back into bed under the comforter. Should I mention here, my darling deaf diva schnauzer didn't bother to wake up and worry about her Mom... it was night time which is the time to be sleeping, thank you very much. Unless SHE is thirsty or hungry, there is no point in getting out of her warm bed

Anywho... today I'm breathing much better and the coughing is sporadic but nowhere near as bad as last night. I'm going to take this in my stride... after all, I couldn't tell you how many of the radiation techs as well as my radiation oncologist warned me not to be surprised, that this reaction is very common. The radiation, which is used to shrink the tumor also can do temporary damage to any tissue/organs in the near vicinity. Obviously, my airwaves are right there because the tumor was partially blocking them. It could have affected my esophagus as well... but so far (knock on wood), there doesn't appear to be any problem with the esophagus or throat (no problem swallowing). The airwaves have probably gotten inflamed, which means they will have become swollen, causing smaller tubes for the air to travel. This swelling should calm down over a few weeks, the tumor should shrink, and all will be well again. Dr. Ma has made an appt to see me on June 25... 5-6 weeks after the radiation and after any inflammation should have calmed down. SOOOO... long story longer, by June 25th I should be over the breathing and coughing problems :) 

Meanwhile... of course, it's never straight forward with me. Yet another scare! I noticed some weeks ago, a small lump on the left side of my neck, sort of just above the collar bone. It was one of those things where you notice it, but you aren't sure if you are just imagining it. It was not big enough, or obviously didn't concern me enough because I didn't mention it to my oncologist the last time I saw him a couple of weeks ago. But all of a sudden it DID become noticeable... and it certainly wasn't something I was imagining. I even had two friends, Michel and Toby, check (was hoping they'd say, "Oh, you are imagining things, that's nothing!), but neither of them said that! So I went to see my GP (Dr. Fay) at the beginning of last week. I think he tried to make light of it so that I wouldn't panic or anything. He said that since I had radiation in the area, it's possible that it has traveled through the lymph system and caused a lymph node to swell. It also could be a swollen gland. IF it was cancer, which is also possible, then I have already started my chemo treatment again and that is exactly what we would be doing if this had just popped up and was the only cancer we knew about. But we know I have cancer in my lungs and if this is a cancerous lymph node, then it will be treated with the chemo that I've started up again after a 2 month break (yesterday was only the second treatment since starting up again). Ok... I have got to be honest here. Finding this lump in my neck and how quickly it's gone from me not knowing if I could feel something to now where there's something there... that is obvious how quickly things can grow when not on treatment (IE: if the chemo stops working and there are no more options). That was a real reality check for me. I just assumed (I have no idea why) that IF the cancer were to spread and land somewhere else, that it would take another 5-10 years for it to actually grow into a tumor worth worrying about. WRONG! This happened in less than 2 months! 

Yesterday, I was getting my chemo treatment, so my oncologist came up to the 6th floor (my chemo tech had called him to explain I had found this lump and was a little concerned about it) to check it out. Of course, just by feeling it, he couldn't tell what it was... that would require a CT scan or biopsy. He said it would not be surprising if it was cancer because I had been off treatment for 2 months or so. But, if it was cancer, then it should respond (we hope) to the chemo. Of course, like anything cancer-related, it could take some time before we notice it shrinking. He says it's quite possible that this had been a smaller lump that I have had for some time. The CAT scans that I get every three months of of the chest and abdomen areas, so we would never have even caught this (it's not like you want to throw radiation at every part of your body, unless absolutely necessary) and there was never any reason to suspect there might be something going on in my neck area. That's one of the frustrating things about a Stage IV cancer... by the time a cancer has become Stage IV (meaning it has spread to a different area than where the primary cancer is), it is now "systemic". That means the cancer cells are/can travel anywhere in the body, through the blood and lymph system and land anywhere. 

Soooo... what is the plan?? Well, like I say, we have started the chemo again. Since we did have a two month break just recently (I needed the break so my fingers had some healing time, as well, both oncologists wanted me off the chemo while I had the radiation sessions), I figure it will take about 2 months to get back to where I was prior to taking the break... which will be around the end of June. We just recently had 2 CAT scans... one was my regular 3 month Abdomen/Chest scan and the second one was a different CAT scan of my lungs ordered by Dr. Johnston. So Dr. Renouf doesn't want us to rush and do a third CAT scan so soon after the first two... on top of the radiation I've just finished (Each scan has the radiation equivalent of 444 X-rays)... but my next 3 month scan he will also order that they do one of the left side of my neck. SHOULD the chemo not be effective on this lump, then yes, radiation would be another possibility. But I tell you... the realities of this horrible disease can be downright scary, even when I'm very good at compartmentalizing ... thinking about it, understanding it, and then putting it away so that it doesn't totally make my life miserable. 

There are so many things that I want to enjoy doing, time spent with friends where we are laughing and enjoying meals out, etc. And damn it... I plan on living life and not 24/7 worrying about the alternative... as much as it seems to love to rear it's ugly head. No, I'm not strong and brave... there are moments when I'm downright terrified... but when I write down what I'm going through, the understanding sinks in, and then I can wrap it up and put it in a drawer in my mental filing cabinet... then bring out the fun stuff and just deal with that. Call it denial, call it by whatever name people can come up with... but it's the way I cope ;) 

Speaking of coping... sooooo, let's put all of that away and what HAVE I been up to? Oh, I have so much that I want to do and yet, when I look at what I've done, it's pretty minuscule . BUT, I have found a place to hang my proverbial hat to help out on an ongoing basis. Some of you know the gals that run Carousel Theatre -- Carole, Jessie, Monique and Dani. They are so much fun and have done such a fabulous job of making Carousel the successful theatre company it is today... and might I add, the top Vancouver theatre company for youth! Anywho... I will be joining them on a part-time volunteer basis, where I will go in and help with various administrative projects. I love it! The offices are across the street from the theatre, down on Granville Island... so a quick, hop skip and jump over the bridge from home :) Check out their website -- http://www.carouseltheatre.ca/ 

I'm also thrilled to be involved with a brand new Canadian musical called Riverview High: The Musical. This is a musical that has been created locally by local Vancouver peeps! They have been workshopping it for the past couple of weeks and the will be doing the World Premiere at the Vancouver Fringe Festival this September. I will be joining the team as their Publicist and I'm thrilled to be involved with such a talented group of people!! Think the mid-60s, the Archie comic books and a combination of all the sitcoms back in the mid-60s... and all of that wrapped up into a musical that takes place at Riverview High :) So, life goes on... but golly gee whiz, it can stop throwing me these curve balls! I was never into sports so stop throwing balls at me!!! 

 Cheryl :) 

Some images from recent moments in my life ---

Bellini at the Keg on Granville Island... ahhhh, summer!!

Bridget in her seatbelt in the car... is that a cookie crumb I missed??

Eloise... the Radiation Machine that gave me 3 zaps, Mon - Fri for 1 week.

Watching TV is soooo tiring!! Maybe a cover-the-nose snooze about now!

Love this sign down on Granville Island... beware the wildlife!! (and they are serious!) :)

The wild life on Granville Island... beware!! They look innocent, but little do you know... thieves! All of them!!

The bridge I come over to come to Granville Island :)

Life on the West Coast is sooooo hard!!

This is on Granville Island as well... just behind the Waterfront Theatre.  Is it any wonder I (and so many others) love Granville Island??


Anonymous said...

Cheryl, I adore you. xo

Anonymous said...

Attagirl Cheryl! Love, KK

Anonymous said...

Hi Cheryl. Way to go girl!! The new thespian adventure sounds like fun! Always thinking about you.....Love and hugs!!!! Doug & Marilyn

Dee said...

Though it's been some time since we've corresponded (some silly and long forgotten FB disagreement), you've remained in my positive thoughts daily and I've not missed a word of your blog. I've learned a lot about "living" from it. For you, dear Cheryl... the very best wishes and "keep on keeping on, Girl! ..... Dee Teague