Life in fits and starts

July 30, 2014

Milky_Way_LJCrokerThe last CT scan results were promising: after a showing a tumor growth rate of 48% between February 23 and May 23, the majority were stable, with a slight reduction in the primary. I agreed to remain in the clinical study, receiving the 8th cycle out of 17 last Thursday.
Because the study drug, MPDL 3280A, works via immunotherapy rather than by destroying any and all cells, the side effects are milder. The nausea, headaches and fatigue are less pronounced, but they still occur, rather unpredictably. The outcome of this has impacted my ability to proceed at what I’ve accepted a normal pace for nearly 60 years: full speed ahead.
My father was a driven, self-motivated, workaholic. Not only did he work hard at his day job, he always had personal projects going that he executed quickly and flawlessly. When my parents bought a new home, Dad didn’t just put in a lawn. He came up with a design for the landscape. He built a perfect,scaled-down replica of our new home and yard in balsa wood, planning every inch in detail. This was while he was fit enough to not only design the yard, but put it in himself. He moved and leveled earth, did all the hardscaping, and planted until we had one of the prettiest yards on the block. With a disdain of anything he deemed, “half-assed,” he constantly showed us that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing to perfection.
Back to the side effects of the drug I hope is saving my life. As much as I hate it, I no longer can complete massive projects around the house—or even small ones—in one fell swoop. Something as simple as replacing the weeds around our backyard fountain with Irish Moss takes days and days. I simply run out of energy. Sometimes, within an hour or two. And that’s on the good days, when I have enough energy to get out of bed. So, I’m learning to do things by fits and starts, as energy allows. No one on earth has a problem with this except me. Apparently, much of my self-worth is based on being someone who can conceive of, plan and complete tasks quickly. I know if my father were still alive, he’d be delighted that I was still above ground nearly 4 years after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Nor does my wife expect me to leap tall buildings at a single bound in my current state, if she EVER did. The battle is within myself.
New task just moved to the head of my To-Do List: focus on the big picture. Which will be completed eventually. In fits and starts.


Something to cry about…not!

May 22, 2014

Red RoseYesterday I underwent the second CT Scan since beginning my new cancer treatments, part of a Phase II study of a new Roche drug. The previous scan, on April 9th, was a disappointment, showing growth in my two existing tumors. I was assured that the new drug, being immunotherapy, sometimes took a few months to begin working. My first treatment was Feb 28, so perhaps the drug hadn’t had enough time to work.
We were hopeful about yesterday’s scan. While I had noticed some new symptoms, I hoped 4 cycles of the drug would help my body begin fighting tumors. Instead, the scan showed moderate growth along with 3 brand new tumors.
My doctor told me that I had a choice whether or not to remain in the study. Despite the less than happy scan results, since I feel relatively well, I could opt to continue. She promised they’d stay on top of the cancer by scanning me more frequently than the study mandates. At any time, I could say, ‘enough!’ and leave the study. Then they’d try another traditional drug on me. The kind that kills all cells, not just cancer cells.
Of course I agreed to continue in the study, and received today’s infusion without further incident, except for an unexpected bout of tears. It’s very rare for me to cry about my cancer. So far, I’ve cried only once: the entire day I was diagnosed, 3 1/2 years ago. The next day the tears were gone, and I was busily Googling “stage 3 non-small cell cancer.” Research generally cheers me up. Even if the news isn’t in my favor.
Today, the tears were short and angry. I have this great life right now. I’ve had time to grow closer to my wife, friends and sister. While I’m hardly prepared to run a triathlon, I wake up more excited about each day than I’ve been for years. So, now that I’m having such a good time being alive…I’m DYING?
Once my wife and Nurse Joyce got me calmed down, I noticed a young woman in tears by the nurses station. She was quickly surrounded by nurses, including Nurse Joyce. It seems the young woman had just found out her father’s cancer, which had been treated by numerous chemo drugs over the past year, wasn’t responding. They’re out of treatments to offer him. All that remains is just keep him comfortable and administer drugs to control the pain until he dies.
Here I was crying over scan results that weren’t to my liking, although I’m far from out of options. The young woman was crying over something real and finite: knowing that she would soon lose her much loved father. Between the two sad scenarios; I’ll take mine.
Yes, I wish 4 cycles of MPDL 3280A had already eradicated my cancer. Maybe the 5th will be the charm; maybe it won’t. Life is still sweet and without too much pain. And I’m not done yet.


Remembering Candy

April 30, 2014

candy_joyce
A month ago today, the world lost another feisty woman who just happened to have cancer. Meeting Candy McGowan 3 1/3 years ago in the radiation treatment waiting room was one of the silver lining moments of having cancer. We each had been diagnosed with stage 3B non-small cell lung cancer in late 2010, and prescribed six weeks of concurrent radiation/chemo. We saw each other every day during that time, and our friendship grew. Fearing her health would prevent her availability to her students, she’d given up teaching college. But she didn’t give up. As her cancer escalated to stage 4, it disrupted her life further, forcing her to rely on friends and relations more than she probably would have liked, but she kept up the fight. This year, she agreed to be on the control arm of a clinical study. She figured that even if she didn’t make it; others would benefit from what was learned.
I admired much about Candy: her tallness, her dry wit, her pride and work ethic. She was an interesting mix of activist, intellectual and SoCal beach girl. She had such an naturally dignified demeanor that I always wanted to call her “Candace,” which she probably would have snorted at, had she known. Our relationship was based on trust that we’d tell it to each other straight: no matter how bad the news, we’d never sugarcoat.
Candy outlived the 3 month life expectancy she was initially given by 3 years; long enough to get to know Brixton, the grandson she worried she’d never live to see born. Long enough for even new friends like me to rely on her like an old friend. And, although I never bullshitted Candy about her condition, I seem to have hidden how ill she was from myself. Her death came as a shock, and I don’t expect her family and friends will ever stop missing her.
The one thing I hope she was mistaken about is heaven, which, like many intellectuals of a leftish persuasion, she didn’t believe in. Candy, I hope you woke up there, surprised but delighted—at last—to be wrong.


Made it!

March 17, 2014

Joyce 60th
When I began writing this blog a little over 3 years ago, I really didn’t expect to actually make it to 60. But I did intend to make all the steps towards that age mean something, however far I made it.

Yet, here I am today, celebrating my 60th birthday.

In hindsight, the journey seems easy. It really wasn’t, but the love and support of my wife, friends and relatives has kept me buoyed up and on track. You really do learn who your friends are when you have cancer, and I’m very grateful to have so many devoted ones.

And, having arrived at this goal, my path has changed. I’ve been accepted into a phase 2, year long clinical study for a new immunotherapy drug called MPDL 3280A. Since the study lasts a year, I went out on medical leave March 1. Now my energy must be focused on getting better and allowing the treatments to work without the stress of managing 6 people. As fond as I am of my staff, this was a necessary change.

I’ll continue to fight this latest spurt of cancer by slowing my pace and giving the drug a chance to work. Just as a journey isn’t only the destination but all the steps that get one there, the battle isn’t just about beating the foe; but how one lives every day one is granted to keep fighting. And I’m still in there swinging.


Sorting through the clutter

September 6, 2013

©2013 L Joyce CrokerSummer 2013 turned out to be a roller coaster ride; from cold, windy weather to oppressive humidity and heat. There was plenty of good: relaxing on beaches with my Mature Ladies group, a short road trip through Utah and Arizona with my wife and my sister, and an excellent Labor Day weekend fishing trip 100 miles out to sea. But the bad moments were pretty awful. A tougher than usual six cycles of chemo, followed by the death of my mother and beginning the long slog through probate; topped by an upcoming reorg at work. All these events probably contributed to how I woke up this morning: down in the dumps.
Depression isn’t my cup of tea. When I’m upset about things beyond my control, I try to tackle something I can control. Today I’m working on my out-of-control home office, AKA, “The Computer Room.” There really are computers in there. And a couch, desktops and shelves. Unfortunately, everything is buried under six months of clutter.
As I excavated my way through said clutter this morning, I found the bag with my original ‘chemo kit.’ In addition to the ball of yard, knitting needles and half-knitted scarf, I found the paperwork given to me at my first chemo session in January of 2011. The documents warn of what to expect: hair loss, fatigue and nausea (check, check, check). What isn’t mentioned is the 12 – 18 months “with treatment” life expectancy I was given when diagnosed on November 26, 2010.
Reminded of this 33 months later, I’m suddenly not so sad. In all this mess of emotions, I’ve managed to un-bury gratitude. Gratitude for the success of the summer’s chemo, for amazing support given by friends and loved ones, for feeling well and excited about life most of the time. And gratitude trumps depression anytime.


Summer fun: are we there yet?

June 2, 2013

©2013 L Joyce CrokerSummer is playing footsie with us in SoCal. We have days of cool, overcast weather, then sudden bursts of 90° heat.

Along with the weather, my energy level has been sporadic. The first three cycles of chemo only robbed me of a couple of days of feeling fine. Three days of headaches, nausea and fatigue; doable and, judging by my latest scans, SO worth it.

Then cycles four and five came along. The fourth had me down and out for over a week; the fifth knocked me out for 18 days. Both stints included trips to the ER to rehydrate, the latter kept me in the hospital overnight. In between the excruciating headaches, sick stomach and energy level of a deceased slug, I found myself getting depressed. I began to lose perspective and imagine that weak, listless, chronically ill Joyce was somehow here to stay. This was unacceptable to me; I’ve always preferred the zippy, can-do version of myself.

Never one to suffer in silence, I complained to my oncologist before last Friday’s cycle six. She added preventative measures to my chemo regimen: zofran beginning day one of chemo to combat nausea, muscle relaxants for the violent, throbbing headaches and an extra B12 shot. The fatigue will probably return in a day or so. Now to concentrate on what these six cycles of chemo have accomplished. The new cancer at the base of my neck is gone; the primary tumor in my lower right lung greatly diminished, and seems to be dead or dormant. April 30th’s PET scan showed a possible new small tumor in my left lung, but the jury is still out and other doctors are being consulted.

Oh, and the sixth cycle is the last of this round of treatment. May 26th I celebrated my 30th month since diagnosis; not too shabby compared with the life expectancy of 12-18 months given when I was diagnosed November 26, 2010. Despite my whining about being stuck in bed for most of May, I never lose sight of my incredible luck to still be hanging out with my wonderful friends and family who have been so supportive throughout this journey.

There’s a saying I learned when I lived in less predictably temperate climes, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute.”

And so I shall.


Third time’s a charm?

March 29, 2013

©2013 L Joyce Croker I celebrated my 28th month of survival since diagnosis on March 26, but I was feeling a bit less celebratory than usual. A recent chest x-ray, ordered to determine the cause of increasingly severe coughing fits, came back with less than happy results. It seems my original, primary tumor, the one we hoped was dead, has resumed growing. We’re back in the business of fighting two tumors again. And fight, we shall!

I’ll undergo my third cycle of the new chemo drugs tomorrow, then another PET and CT scan after April 5th to see if the new drugs are working. In an attempt to diminish the coughing, I’m back on a high dose of prednisone. Not only have the painful fits that were preventing me from sleeping calmed, I have more energy than I’ve had…since the last time I was on a regimen of 60mg of prednisone per day. I still have cancer, but I’m merrily completing projects normally too tedious to contemplate. Example: all last Sunday was spent de-winterizing Maeve’s plumbing system (who knew she was even winterized), draining and sterilizing water tanks, etc. I actually kind of understand the sewage system (yucky, but necessary), and just what all those crazy water valves are for. Prednisone lends not only energy, but clarity in deciphering the most impenetrable of RV manuals.

My wonderful friend Tony will take me to chemo tomorrow, which I hope to follow with a late lunch at my favorite red-sauce Italian spot, Palermo’s. Then, Joan and I get to enjoy another Easter weekend in LA and hope that tomorrow’s chemo; the third cycle of the third line of chemo I’ve undergone since diagnosis; is a charm.

maeve_DV_joanie 001


Last year of the sprint

March 10, 2013

©2013 L Joyce CrokerAnother cycle of chemo down, one to go until they scan me to see if new drugs are diminishing the new tumor in my remaining, right supraclavicular node. The day of and day after chemo aren’t a problem except for insomnia from steroids. Usually by Sunday the frenetic energy starts dispersing and I can once again spend the night sleeping.

On this beautiful spring day in SoCal, the drugs and their side effects seem well worth it. Having passed 27 months since diagnosis, I am tickled to still be here. We’ll celebrate my 59th birthday next weekend during another road trip in our RV, Maeve. Joan, the dogs and I venture to Death Valley for sightseeing, photography and togetherness in a stark, bright landscape already up in the 90s.

Here’s hoping for starry nights and peaceful mornings on the kick-off weekend of my last year of Sprinting Towards 60.


Another bend in the road

February 9, 2013

©2013 L Joyce CrokerJoan and I traveled to Maui for our biennial 2-week vacation there. Awaiting us were leaping whales, rain forests, umbrella festooned drinks and ocean warm enough to bask in (even in January). This time we were relaxed into puddles of coconut butter by the 3rd day; a record! Then, on the day we were to drive that long, tropical twist that is the road to Hana, I checked my email to discover one I’d missed from my boss, Miss Z. She had just accepted a more lucrative job and her last day would be a day after my return to the office. Half way to Hana, as Joan and I slurped shave ice at a roadside stand, Miss Z called on my cell to fill me in. I was left saddened, but certainly understanding her decision. Oh well, Joan and I had another 10 days left in Maui. We vowed to focus on the present, not life after return to reality.

I returned to work on Tuesday, 2/5 after an early morning PET scan and a scant 3 hours of sleep the night before. The piles of work awaiting me didn’t surprise me at all. What did surprise me: how bereft I felt visiting Miss Z’s empty office and realizing the brilliant little fireball occupying it would soon be gone. It’s the complex relationships that sneak up on you; my 5 1/4 year working relationship with Miss Z went through many highs and lows (often in the same day). It wasn’t always a sunny relationship, but I’m grateful for what I learned throughout its duration. I’m also grateful that Miss Z and I avoided killing each other in a whirl of red hair, sparks and thunder.

I thought Wednesday would be better. It wasn’t. I started out rested and calm, intent on plowing through accumulated work, attending back to back meetings and calming down my somewhat alarmed staff. Then the email from my oncologist, Dr. B, arrived with not-so-happy news. She asked me to come asap to discuss a new treatment plan. Darn! More chemo…and just when I was digging having hair again.

Dr. B set me up today with a new plan, and part of it is exciting. There’s a new drug called MetMAb, now in Phase III clinical trials. Dr. B will bring up my case with the lung tumor board next week. If they concur, she’ll help me apply for the trial. Since qualifying will take time, I’m to start 2 new chemo drugs next week, Alimta and Avastin, since my last chemo session on the old regimen resulted in an emergency 3 day hospital stay. Her comment on giving me more carboplatin/taxol, “the next time would be death.” We’re happy my oncologist would prefer not to kill me. Yet.

So, I’m feeling like a survivor. So far, in the last 2 weeks we survived: the road to Hana, the loss of someone I was very fond of and a few vials of blood (not on the same day), AND the prospect of yet more chemo. But, there’s hope too. And hope, along with a modicum of curiosity, is what keeps pulling us down this winding, aggravatingly beautiful road.


Still waiting and happy to do it!

December 31, 2012

Caspar Beach before the stormMy MRI results arrived just before we left for a road trip to Northern California. The good news: no sign of metastatic disease (AKA cancer). The iffier news: abnormalities in both cerebral hemispheres that I can’t pronounce. (Foci sounds like some kind of pasta. Make mine al dente!) I’ll return to Kaiser twice in the next 2 months: a consultation with a neurologist on the 1/11; a PET scan on the 2/5. More stuff to get through, nothing to keep us from our Christmas road trip.
After a visit with my mother and sister, then a pleasant visit with friends near the Anderson Valley, we drove to Caspar Beach and stopped to wait out a rainstorm in our RV, Maeve II, for a couple nights. We were cozy sleeping and lounging in Maeve, but I prefer a stronger spray than her shower provides. So, it was off to the campground showers for me.
The prospect of removing my clothes to wait in the freezing shower room for—hopefully—at least warm water produced far more anxiety than last week’s wait for MRI results. Of course, for the shower, I was naked and shivering at the time…and standing barefoot on a cold, gritty cement floor. Feeding 4 quarters into the coin-fed shower produced a long, blissful HOT shower; well worth the goosebumps. Sometimes waiting brings happy results, sometimes not. Either way, it seems the best way to get through the unpleasantness is to just get through it.
©2012 L Joyce Croker
After the storm, we saw quite a few rainbows. Some of them were in unexpected places we passed; in sea spray off crashing waves; in mist rising off fern dells. We were able to take the highway all the way down to San Luis Obispo, which a landslide near Big Sur had prevented on the drive up. As many times as we’ve been up and down Highway 1, it never bores us. We stopped to watch elephant seals in San Simeon; something that’s become an annual ritual. Once again, it was worth the wait. Most importantly; we’re still here. Waiting for the next thing down this road we’re traveling.
©2012 L Joyce Croker


Knockity, knockity, bang-BANG Zzzzz!

December 14, 2012

MRI ScannerMy oncologist ordered an MRI this week to determine what might be fluttering around in my little brain…and to ensure the week-long headache I suffered recently was merely due to the flu.

This afternoon I spent about 55 minutes in the MRI scanner. It’s kind of narrow inside, but I fit splendidly. My little mantra of “Calm-m-m (breathe in), Rela-a-x (breathe out)” seemed to keep claustrophobia at bay, and the cacophony wasn’t as bad as forewarned. My MRI soundtrack seemed to involve everything from Japanese monks playing wooden instruments; to midgets with jack hammers; to the worlds largest vibrator. (Unfortunately, the vibrations were limited to the back of my head.) I kept my eyes closed and enjoyed the hour off from reality.

Another adventure in the world of medical technology, and price of admission didn’t even require a co-payment!


Staying on the ride

November 27, 2012

Joyce and Joan on the Bus2 years ago today I woke up from a medical procedure to some very bad news: advanced lung cancer. I was 56 at the time, and really didn’t think I’d change much at that age. Wrong! Cancer changed me, and most of the changes are quite welcome.

As the initial shock and grief faded, the positive changes began. I realized that even if I outlived the 12-18 month life expectancy I was given, life is very short indeed. Far too short to not enjoy every minute I have left to the max; far too short not to make sure everyone I care for is made well aware of it. Also far too short to hang on to anger, bitterness and disappointment long beyond the date of inception.

2 years later, I’m feeling fine; much better than I did when I got the awful news. I can breathe deeply and laugh hard without falling into a fit of painful coughing. The soreness endured through radiation treatments is less than a memory, and I got through nearly all my chemo sessions without discomfort or drama. My hair has defiantly grown back, twice as curly and a little bit darker.

Will the cancer that still lurks in my right lung get worse? Will I undergo more chemotherapy? All that remains to be seen. I’ll have regular scans every few months, hope for the best and enjoy this E-ticket ride just as long as they let me stay on.


The right place

November 20, 2012

Sunset at Doheny State BeacjJoan and I drove our new RV down to Doheny State Beach for a quick getaway weekend. We took along the dogs, provisions and books to lounge with. The high points: watching dolphins playing just off shore as the sun slipped into the sea; Falling asleep to rain on the roof, waking to sound of waves and a gorgeous sunrise. Low point: Joan’s attempt to release rainwater from our awning resulting in an unwelcome cold bath. (I woke to sounds of a giant splash outside the door and howls.)

All in all, the perfect weekend spent in the right place with the right woman. Life is sweet!


Autumn Leaves

October 6, 2012

Fall woods. ©2012 L Joyce CrokerAfter a wonderful, chemo-free summer, I’ve learned I’ll be undergoing scans of some sort (PET or CT) about every three months. The results are in from my 9/25 PET scan. The good news: no new areas of avidity (glowing from intake of radioactive glucose injected before scan; one sign of cancer). The news I took as “uh oh!”: the area around the primary tumor is glowing a bit more; a ‘minimal’ SUV (Standardized Uptake Value) of 2.9 in March has increased to a ‘moderate’ 3.7. Mostly, the results are good; the evidence is that the cancer hasn’t spread. But perhaps the tumor I’d hoped was dead is merely dormant. Should I worry about this? Probably not. If worrying cured cancer, it would have been eradicated millennia ago.

Other than the “Should I be worried about this?” note I have in to my pulmonologist, my intention is to focus on enjoying my favorite season. Joan and I will be joined by friends at Santa Anita today where we’ll bet on long shots and enjoy gorgeous views and cooler Fall sunshine. Tomorrow we’ll put up the Halloween decorations and Monday will be the start of another challenging work week.

In other words, I’ll put one foot in front of the other and enjoy my metaphorical walk through these ever-changing woods.


Summer Song

September 15, 2012

Summer was never my favorite season. When I was a child, I hated the hot, tense summers spent at home, longing to return to the less volatile school environment. This year the unexpected upturn in my health changed all that. This year, I loved, loved, loved all things summer.

Since day job deadlines didn’t allow me to take a real summer vacation, weekends have been filled to the max: barbecues with friends, beach trips with my ladies; capped off by the grand finale of a 2 1/2 day deep sea fishing trip over Labor Day weekend. The time with friends gave a safe place to enjoy ourselves being just ourselves, the fishing trip ended up being nourishing in all ways. Landing a 50lb blue fin tuna after a 40 minute fight was not only emotionally rewarding; it offered pounds of protein to share among my friends. And the gift kept on giving: when offered fresh yellowtail and tuna, our Nisei friend Ellen brought over nori and sushi rice, leaving us with platefuls of nigiri and maki. This too, to be shared with friends.

The whole summer felt like a huge, unexpected gift. Precious weekends were never wasted on worrying about things beyond our control. We were having too good of a time laughing with our friends, eating grilled goodies and lounging in the heat. What else is summer for?


That winning feeling

July 22, 2012

Ever since I received the happy results of “no malignancy found” from my June 8 bronchoscopy, I’ve been walking around feeling like I’ve won the lottery. Rather than winning piles of cash, I’ve won time I didn’t know I was going to have. Just as lottery jackpots come in finite amounts, it seems to me that the time I have left feeling healthy and energetic is also limited. Unlike winning cash, one can’t gauge how much time one has left by checking an online bank statement. The balance listed on my imaginary “healthy time” statement may be followed by weeks, months or even years. Whatever that figure might be, I don’t want to just blow through it and be left with nothing to show.

In the spirit of this, I’ve made a list. Rather than a traditional “bucket” list, I call this my “what it takes to make me happy” list:

  1. Making a point of hanging with friends who emotionally reciprocate; with whom it’s safe to share and who choose to to share their feelings and experiences.
  2. Being kind, honest and helpful.
  3. Walking away emotionally from angry, negative people rather than trying to fix them.
  4. Learning about other cultures, both contemporary and historic.
  5. Being a fair, tactful but frank mentor to my staff.
  6. Documenting beauty; through writing, photography and art.
  7. Refusing to run away from uncomfortable feelings or memories, yet also refusing to become stuck in them.
  8. Learning to accept people as they are, not as I want them to be.
  9. Refraining from self-righteousness and judgmental thinking; focusing on how I can be better not how others should be better.
  10. Really listening.
  11. Slowing down enough to enjoy the details of every day living.
  12. Taking delight in my wife and family.
  13. Giving back to the universe.

The best possible outcome

June 15, 2012

Water Lily ©2012 L Joyce CrokerJust about this time last week I was lying, sedated, on an operating table awaiting my third-ever bronchoscopy. I wasn’t very worried about the outcome, pretty much accepting further treatments would be needed if the primary tumor were found to be active. I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowing myself to imagine the best possible outcome.

Which is why news Dr. Goy phoned me with Tuesday morning completely stunned me: NO sign of malignancy. The tumor discovered over a year and a half ago apparently succumbed to treatment. No cancer cells were found; neither floating around in the fluid extracted from the bronchial wash, nor lurking in the three tissue samples taken from the site of the tumor. And, the only thing that lit up in my March PET scan was the lymph node they removed in April. I’m not certain that I’m cancer-free, but it’s looking pretty hopeful.

My first reaction to Dr. Goy’s call was to burst into tears. Then, I was afraid to be too happy. What if telling people the good news made the cancer come back? Then I’d look foolishly optimistic. I could imagine people whispering, “Poor dear, she was so hopeful, but look what happened!” When I caught myself formulating these thoughts, I gave myself a psychic whap on the head and posted the news to my best friends on Facebook. The stage of lung cancer I have is generally incurable; it may very well recur. I have no control over whether or not it’s gone for good. While I won’t be tossing out my headscarves just yet, for now we’re celebrating!

My wife is ecstatic, and says she’s looking forward to watching my hair turn white as we grow old(er) together. I’m relieved to have “radiation with concurrent chemotherapy” off my summer to-do list, unless future scans deem it necessary. I wasn’t aware of being worried about my prognosis, but I must say I’m feeling more relaxed in one sense. In another sense, I’m finding reserves of energy I haven’t known in years. I seem to be taking on even tedious tasks with a modicum of gusto. Without the limitations imposed by summer cancer treatments, that to-do list just got longer…and a lot more fun to tackle.


Endless Summer

June 6, 2012

Joan and I celebrated my “18 months since diagnosis” anniversary while on the road to Indianapolis. Now that we’re back from our road trip, I’m raring to hop back on the cancer recovery trail. Today my radiation oncologist met with me to discuss next steps. Happily, there’ll be no more radiation until he’s sure there’s a tumor left to radiate. Recent PET scans show faint glowing in the area of my primary tumor. It could be pneumonitis from last year’s radiation. Or, it could be cancer.

To find out what’s going on, Dr. Goy has ordered another bronchoscopy. While they’re in there, they’ll take a biopsy if there’s anything to biopsy. If not, they’ll use a bronchial wash to check for cancer cells. I hope to be unconscious during all of this. My last bronchoscopy demonstrated how much I don’t enjoy having a tube shoved up my nose.

Perhaps because my wife wasn’t along, Dr. Goy was quite frank about the survival rate for lung cancer. A year and a half ago, we had to drag the rather bleak prognosis out of him. I mentioned another doctor’s comment that nobody with stage 3B lung looked as healthy as I do, he concurred. He practically said, “(Hell, yeh), most people die within 12 months after diagnosis. Some live to 18 months, and only 15-20% are still alive after 3 years. Of course, sometimes things happen that current medical knowledge wouldn’t predict.”

My response to the “dead by 18 months” prognosis: I was never much good at following orders. Apparently, even my cells have a rebellious streak.

So, 18 months and change after my diagnosis, I’m looking forward to grabbing me some summer. There are waves to be boogie-boarded, ribs to slow-grill and friends to feast with before further cancer treatments. And, while it may not be the proverbial “endless summer,” I’m planning on living it like it’s the… BEST. SUMMER. EVER.


To wait or not to wait…

April 27, 2012

"Roses to smell." ©2012 L Joyce CrokerRather than agreeing to the “wait and watch” approach to the new mass that lit up in my last couple of PET scans, I sought a second opinion. The “Tumor Board” (a group of doctors specializing in cancer treatment) at Kaiser-Permanente reviewed my case and recommended surgery to remove the tumor, followed by radiation/chemo or straight chemo. Sounded like a plan to me! Despite the saying, “all good things come to those who wait,” methinks this doesn’t apply to tumors. Untreated tumors seem to just get bigger, and I have no desire to have a large, obstructive tumor inside my neck pushing into my throat and major bundles of nerves.

I checked in for surgery on Tuesday, 4/17 at 5:30am. Despite the hour, Joanie got her sleepy, caffeine-deprived spouse to the hospital right on time. I have no memory even of being wheeled into the O.R., so the drugs they gave me seemed plentiful and strong. After a night spent in the hospital on heavy antibiotics and more pain pills, then a bout of extreme nausea finally controlled with more drugs, Joanie took me home to spend the rest of the week recovering. Aside from the usual side effects of the anesthesia and pain medications, which wreak havoc with my digestive system, I emerged on the other end of the week eager to return to work. I haven’t been so delighted to drive to work on a Monday morning in eons. It was truly wonderful to be back; not nauseated, not in pain and reasonably alert.

The biopsy revealed that the tumor had grown since March and was metastatic adenocarcinoma; a new variety of lung cancer for me (my other tumors have been squamous). Despite variety being the spice of life, glad that the nasty little bugger is out! To zap any lingering cells, next is more concurrent radiation/chemotherapy beginning in June. This gives more time to enjoy having energy, hair, and a quick road trip to the Indie 500 with my wife and dogs. (My wife is a huge Indie-car fan.)

I wish there were a button to slow down the clock until new treatment begins. I want to savor every minute of feeling healthy and happy with my life…even the frustrating parts. This disease has made clear what I suspected all along: feeling all the way alive isn’t something one should wait too long for.


Hair today…

March 24, 2012

I just returned from a consultation with Dr. Katz, a radiation oncologist at Kaiser-Permanente. I wanted to know whether that new lesion in my right supraclavicular lymph node could be eradicated through radiation.

She agreed that we probably didn’t want to just wait and see, as another doctor initially recommended. She says the spread of the cancer from my lung to this particular node is a common pattern, and that cancer often keeps traveling…up. Radiation might be a good next step, but chemotherapy combined with radiation could be more effective. She’ll be consulting with other radiation oncologists next Tuesday, then get back to me with a recommendation.

Dr. Katz showed me my recent CT and PET scans. The new tumor is this scary little lump next to my throat. Apparently, it’s also very near nerves controlling my right arm, which could make surgery challenging. I’d prefer to remain in control of my right arm as long as possible, thank you very much. Give me baldness over a limp right arm, anytime!

The fun part was seeing the PET scan: a 3D, semi-transparent Joyce who could be rotated in cyberspace. It’s reassuring to see I still have a heart, along with other crucial parts. While the cancer is still visible in my right lung, it’s greatly diminished. As fascinating as 3D digital-me was, don’t expect to see her posted on my Facebook timeline.

Yesterday I had my first haircut since January 2011: really more of a trim. After a year of being completely hairless, I mightily enjoy having something besides my poodles to wash and comb. Unfortunately, if I have more chemo, I may be canceling all my hair appointments for 2012. Now that I know it’ll probably grow back, not so bad a prospect. The clean head ‘do saves LOTS of money at the hair salon.

So, hairy or shiny-pated, here’s to a cool-headed spring and summer…and another year closer to that 60 mark I’m still sprinting towards.