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Small Cell Carcinoma- The beginning of my journey
It started simply enough, a cough. Actually just a tickle in the throat, but it wouldn't go away. Then it began to sound like a bark and there was some wheezing. Well, time to see a doctor because it's just not going away. You know its different. You've had pneumonia and bronchitis before, but this is different.
It is annoying and almost always there. Laughing makes you cough and walking makes you wheeze more. Something is going on. You're afraid you know what it is, but you don't want to admit it. You really don't want to hear someone else, especially your doctor, tell you what you think it is.
If you haven't guessed by now, this is about me!
A Trip to the Doctor
Normally a trip to the doctor is no big deal, but knowing somehow I had cancer made this trip a big deal. In our wonderful world of medicine and Obamacare, big business has taken over the doctor's office. While there are some advantages there are also strong disadvantages. My doctor retired a year ago so here I am with a new doctor in that ever expanding group that is owned by a corporation miles and miles away.
So, I call the new doctor who I've seen twice, and of course he's too busy to see me, but I can see his Physician's Assistant. That doesn't exactly float my boat. I'm afraid something serious is going on and I have to go to a PA I've never met before. Oh well, I really don't have a choice so I make the appointment.
His first diagnosis is post nasal drip but he doesn't like the wheeze. Really now? Haven't you ever had a wheeze so bad you can't walk across the street? I mean, doesn't that go with post nasal drip? After a nebulizer treatment with no results his next step is an EKG. My heart is fine but he wants me to go to a heart doctor for a stress test. I look at him and say, "how am I supposed to do a stress test when I can't walk down your hallway without wheezing?" Nonplussed he says, well, let's do a chest x-ray. Brilliant idea!
He calls me later to tell me there's a spot on my right lung. Probably a calcification though it could be an infection, a pneumonia he can't hear or cancer. He believes it is a calcification but orders a CAT Scan. (Thank God he decides to be thorough.)
Driving to Chemotherapy
Small cell carcinoma
Small cell carcinoma is well known as an aggressive, rapidly spreading form of cancer. It is called "small cell" because when viewed under a microscope the cells are small.
Carcinoma defines a cancer that begins in the skin or tissue of an organ, such as the lung.
There is no cure for small cell carcinoma, but it it known to be responsive to chemotherapy. However, it is also known to reappear.
So, I have the CAT Scan and after badgering him for the results I finally get a diagnosis. Diagnosis, a fairly large mass in my right lung and spots on my liver. He believes the spots on my liver are hemangioma's kind of like blood blisters. He says we'll concentrate on the lung for now. So now, I ask, what are we looking at? His reply, lung cancer.
Next step is a fine needle biopsy. I will leave out the fairly gory details of this type of biopsy where a woman's lung is accessed through her breast, use your imagination to fill in the blanks. The result is in fact lung cancer.
Next step is a PET Scan which gives a clearer and more detailed picture of the cancer. Once I have had the PET Scan, he recommends since we know it is cancer, an oncologist should review the test results and begin treatment.
I chose a cancer hospital, Memorial Sloan Kettering, which fortunately had a treatment center one and one half hours away. Even more fortunate, the doctor I chose is wonderful. So, on my first visit to my new oncologist I was to learn the full extent of my "lung cancer".
My lung cancer had metastasized (spread) to various locations throughout my body. Those spots on my liver were not hemangioma, but lung cancer. Seems I had cancer on my liver, pelvis, hip bone, cervical spine, lymph nodes next to my esophagus, and right gluteus. My doctor pointed out I had small cell carcinoma which is a rapidly spreading form of cancer. A chest X-ray done just two months ago showed no sign of the cancer and now it was all over the place. Not exactly encouraging.
The official diagnosis was a bit hard to swallow. It was apparent I was full of cancer. Just one short month ago I was fine with no thoughts of cancer. It was amazing how much my life was about to change with this diagnosis.
My doctor asked if I would be willing to participate in a drug trial. I said yes. Not only would it help me, but it could help others too, to me a win-win. She left the room to call about the trial. When she returned she said I couldn't participate. I asked why and she told me I would have to wait two weeks and I didn't have two weeks. Things were getting more and more real, unfortunately.
She then explained my chemotherapy protocol. I would receive two chemo drugs the first day, one the next two days, and a Neulasta shot on the fourth day. The shot was to help regenerate my white blood cells, helping my immune system. On the three days I received the chemo drugs I would also receive an IV steroid and antI-nausea drug. By this time I felt like we were talking about someone else, it couldn't be happening to me, but it was. This treatment will last until April. It seems like a very long time, but in fact it is only ten courses of treatment. Four days of treatment then two weeks off. Two weeks to recuperate I guess.
At the beginning of each course of treatment blood is drawn to check the status of my kidneys and a few other things. Then a meeting with my doctor to check my progress followed by my chemotherapy. All pretty cut and dry, except we were talking about me! I was about to embark on a chemo journey, a journey I had never dreamed I'd be taking. How did this happen to me? Well, let's be honest, all those years of smoking have brought me to this journey. Now, however is not the time for self recrimination, but a time for positive attitude and faith. The road ahead will not be easy. It will be fraught with fear and losses, but it will also be loaded with love and support.
How close have you come to cancer?
Do you or someone you know have cancer?
Side Trips Along the Journey
The first "side trip" on this journey was an issue with my kidneys. Seems they weren't producing enough creatinine. It is important to know how well the kidneys are filtering things like creatinine out of the blood. Increased creatinine levels indicate there are conditions affecting the kidneys.
You guessed it, I have increased creatinine levels. As a result my oncologist started me out drinking eighty ounces of water every day. While that may not sound like a lot of water, trust me, when you drink it every day, it is. When my kidneys were re-checked I was allowed to drop down to sixty ounces a day.
The next side trip along my journey was a bout of pneumonia. My oncologist was very vocal about monitoring my temperature. If at any time I thought I might have a fever I was to take my temperature. If it went over 100.3 I was advised to go right to the emergency room. Tell them I have lung cancer and I am on chemotherapy. She said they would know what to do and would start IV antibiotics immediately.
I had a port placed in my chest to facilitate all these IVs and give my poor veins and arms a rest. Once my veins were strong and easy to access, but chemotherapy quickly changed that. I was happy to have the port so that all bloodwork and IVs could go through the port rather than my veins.
Back to my side trip. The day after the port was put in I began to feel "flukey". Nothing in particular, just not right. That evening I thought I might be getting a fever. My temperature went from 99 to 101 fairly quickly, so off to the hospital we went. Five hours after arriving at the emergency room I was admitted with pneumonia. My stay was four days.
Oh, and don't forget the hair loss. Watching your hair fall like snow is the strangest feeling. Watching it thin is not unexpected so easier to deal with than a lot of other issues associated with this cancer.
The Journey Continues
I continue with my journey and chemotherapy. Since I have had two courses of chemotherapy I am scheduled for a CAT Scan to see if the chemo is working. My life has totally changed as it now centers around chemotherapy and doctor's appointments, not to mention fear of germs and more pneumonia. I know there is light at the end of the tunnel and that is what I concentrate on. God's will and mercy to get me there.
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This hub was started in November 2015, but took time and effort to finish. It is now January and things have remained pretty much the same.