Category Archives: CT scans

Does it get anymore ridiculous than this

Really? A little bit of radiation is good for us? Tell me the EPA is not really on board with this: ‘Calabrese and his supporters argue that smaller exposures of cell-damaging radiation and other carcinogens can serve as stressors that activate the body’s repair mechanisms and can make people healthier. They compare it to physical exercise or sunlight.’

Perhaps chemotherapy is also good for our skin and maybe cancer itself is character building. I sure feel a hell of a lot better about my 101 chest CT’s now. And those 37 chest x-rays? Just icing on the cake.

Read the whole ridiculous article here, at STAT. And weep.

It was good while it lasted.

Stability, that is.

As any metastatic cancer patient understands only too well, what doesn’t kill you often just keeps trying.

I’ve been in this battle for so long now–more than eleven years–and most of that time has involved active combat with an ever advancing foe. But thanks to lorlatinib, my disease has been stable since June of 2014; my most sustained period of response yet. As a bonus, I’ve felt so damn good it’s been easy to imagine myself cancer free.

However, my scans have always told a slightly different story, with remaining nodules and opacities scattered here and there.

Lungs and Airways: The patient is status post left lower lobectomy for lung
cancer. There is a left lower lobe solid nodule on image 41 series 201 measuring
5 mm unchanged dating back to 5/14/2015. There is also subpleural patchy opacity in the left lower lobe image 63 series 201 that remains stable compared to 5/14/2015. There are small centrilobular groundglass nodules in the left lower lobe image 51 series 201 also stable compared to 5/14/2015 the largest of which measures 9 mm. There is a stable 2 mm right upper lobe nodule image 32 series 201. There is a stable subpleural groundglass nodule in the right upper lobe image 48 series 201 measuring 5 mm. A second groundglass right upper lobe nodule measuring 5 mm but is essentially unchanged from 12/10/2015 and 4/14/2016. A 4 mm solid nodule along the right minor fissure is stable. There are no new nodulesPleura: There is a small left basilar postoperative pleural effusion that remains essentially stable.

The words unchanged and stable are absolutely key here.

However, on my scan report today it was noted that one nodule had in fact changed size: There is a 5mm nodule on image 52 that appears to have grown since 5/14/2015 when it measured 3 mm but is unchanged compared to 3/6/2016.

Obviously it had escaped the notice of previous radiologists. However, upon reading today’s report, my oncologist Dr. Shaw reviewed the scans and agreed that this particular nodule had in fact enlarged and likely represented progression.

Nothing to panic about but a potent reminder that shit is still real.

Dr. Shaw is already talking game plan. We will scan again in three months. If the nodule continues to grow, we might biopsy in an effort to determine what the mechanism of resistance is. If it can be identified, I might be a candidate for a combination therapy of ALK inhibitors. As this is a solitary nodule and in my right lung this time, surgery is a possibility. So is radiation.

Stability may have been rattled but I’ve still got options.

And honestly, that’s the most important thing.

Hits and misses

From the inside looking out this morning

From the inside looking out Saturday morning

The blizzard rolled in right on schedule Friday, but fortunately, we were graced with a big dump of snow but never lost power; nature in all its glory is sometimes best appreciated from a snug environ.

I had my third infusion of pemetrexed/carboplatin on Thursday. As the last round turned out to be so manageable, we decided to ramp up the platinum a bit, and for the first 48 hours, I felt pretty good. However, yesterday I skipped my afternoon zofran and began ramping down on the dexamethasone as well. By early evening I was seriously nauseous, and experiencing some pretty intense heartburn and a headache. I took a compazine, and when that had no effect, added zofran and dexamethasone. Soon I was feeling better again–I can’t begin to imagine how difficult chemotherapy must have been before the advent of steroids and antiemitics. Thanks to an ambien, I was able to sleep, and hopefully today I can again back off on medication.

So—lots to share. I think I’ll start with the visit to the Avon Breast Center at MGH. After the concerning mammogram on Tuesday, a sterotactic biopsy was scheduled locally. However, I immediately contacted Dr. Shaw and asked about having a consult at MGH instead; if the situation required treatment, it only made sense to coordinate my care right from the start.

Well, the magical Dr. Shaw got me an appointment on Friday afternoon. Because of the impending storm, it needed to be cancelled, but they were able to squeeze me in Friday morning instead. Once there, I met with the surgeon, who performed an exam and immediately found a lump (that had been missed previously) in my left breast as well. And then I had some more mammograms done, this time using a 3D imaging machine. After a short wait, more close-ups on my right breast, and then an ultrasound of my left breast.

The conclusion: likely benign fibrocystic changes in the left breast and a 99.5% chance that the microcalcifications in the right breast represent non cancerous changes. So I won’t need to undergo a biopsy and instead will have a repeat mammogram at the Avon Breast Center in six months. The moral of this story would seem to be, whenever possible, (and particularly when your medical history is complicated), get yourself to a center with the best diagnostic apparatus available as well as the expertise to interpret those results.

So that was great, great news. A good thing too, as my scan prior to chemo on Wednesday was not quite as encouraging:  “Mixed treatment response with interval decreased groundglass opacity in the left lower lobe, though slightly increased let lower lobe consolidation and slightly increased mixed solid ground/glass opacities in the right upper lobe.

In addition, the results of the initial genetic sequencing of the ALK mutation are in (it remains to be seen if full genetic sequencing can be performed, as my biopsy  sample was quite small and will require a cell line to be grown in the lab—something that may or may not be possible). The secondary mutation that showed up post crizotinib (S1206Y) is nowhere to be seen. In its place is G1202A, also a missense mutation on the solvent front, but unfortunately one which confers a good deal of resistance to all ALK inhibitors. This will potentially limit treatment options, and the mixed treatment response may necessitate a change of course sooner rather than later.

I am focusing on the fact that except for the few days post chemo, I am stronger than I have been in months. In fact, although I still have a small amount of wheezing and an occasional cough, the copious amount of  nighttime sputum has disappeared. Hopefully the resolution of this troubling side effect correlates with the positive response. However, given the mixed response, I do wonder if there is a chance that the resolving groundglass opacity might have been an inflammatory response to the LDK378 (pneumonitis has been observed as a rare side effect in patients treated with crizotinib).

At any rate, there is no way to know and the important thing now is that I am feeling better. One more round of pemetrexed and carboplatin and then, unless a subsequent scans reveals significant progression, I will go on pemetrexed (Alimta) maintenance. One round, one week, one day at a time.

YES!

This one’s a YES!

On Monday I went to Boston for my six week CT scan. My mom, Evalynn and stepfather, Jim were visiting from their home in Utah and they came along. After having my labs drawn, Dr. Shaw and Margeurite (all time favorite nurse) were kind enough to step into the waiting room for a brief introduction. It meant the world to my parents, and made the day a special one.

That evening Alice (Dr. Shaw) called after having viewed the CT scans along with two radiologists. The results were a bit astounding–there appeared to be no significant change. This news caught me  a bit off guard as I had been preparing myself for anything except stability. Now I had the option of staying on drug for six more weeks. It took a couple of seconds to adjust my mindset (cancer really teaches you to think on your feet) before deciding yes, this was the obvious choice. As we ended our conversation, Alice cautioned that she would receive confirmation once measurements were taken and the actual report was written.

Yesterday Alice called once again; my scans were really, truly, stable. So, here I am, on the edge, but holding. And I am fine, make that better than fine, with my current status. I’m on a journey, and this traveler plans to take her time. It’s going to be back roads, blue highways and the scenic route for me.

Results

I thank each and every one of you for the comments as well as the messages I received. My appointment yesterday was late in the day, and after arriving home around seven, I had a cup of tea and opened some emails. Too tapped out to write, I drew a hot bath and then went straight to bed.

David was out of the house early, so after driving Peter to school, I sat down at the computer and thought I better get a blog up. Alice called (bless her) with some measurements and clarification and then I decided that what I really wanted to do was go back to bed. And I did.

Morning naps are the best. I awakened rested and with that pleasant sense of momentary disorientation…still a bit tangled in the brief dreams I’d just had and totally free of yesterday’s worries.

So. The reports from the scan are not a catastrophe. What was characterized in the previous scan as ‘These findings may represent mild increase in minimally invasive adenocarcinoma‘ is now ‘Increasing round glass opacities in the lateral portion of the left lower lobe and slight interval enlargement of a nodule adjacent to the right minor fissure are suspicious for progressive lung cancer.

Simply put, it is clear that I am developing resistance to LDK378. My cancer, that tricky devil, has figured out a way around yet another therapy.  The largest single lesion, which is actually a patchy ground glass opacity, measured 2.5 cm at its longest point on 2/21/12 and was stable from previous reports. On 4/03/12, there was a slight increase to 2.8 cm. The latest report, dated 5/15/12, notes an increase to 3.5 cm.

Clinical trials utilize a tricky algorithm called RECIST to measure response. The technique is planar, rather than volumetric and is based on averages from several target lesions. BAC, which is characterized by hazy infiltrates rather than clearly delineated solid tumors, is not given to easy quantification.

As Alice explained this morning, for the purpose of the clinical trial, my tumors are only minimally increased in size. This is important, because after a certain degree of progression has occurred, a participant will likely be asked to leave the trial.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the cows are out of the barn and although not yet stampeding, they are getting mighty restless.

So what’s next? Stay the course for the moment. Inquire as to whether or not Novartis would grant permission to return to a dose of 500 mg LDK once again; albeit with careful monitoring of liver enzymes. Monitor my physical symptoms closely; there is in fact a bit of wheezing in both lungs now.

We will also watch that 6 mm spot in my right lung with interest; perhaps it might become a candidate for biopsy whereas the ground glass opacities are fairly useless in that respect. A curious aspect of this particular recurrence is that although the cancer is cropping up in pretty much the same spot it has before, the appearance is slightly different; more haze and less opacity. And that 6 mm nodule appears to be an entirely different beast altogether, prompting me to ask Alice if it is possible that these two separate areas of apparent progression might be driven by individual (and newly acquired) mutations, each conferring their own mode of resistance. Intriguingly, but damnably frustrating as well, the answer is yes, that is possible.

In conclusion, I started on LDK back in September of 2011. Nine months and counting for an experimental cancer treatment is really quite good, and I knew when I signed on, that this would be a temporary fix. I hope to squeeze another few months out of it but if that’s not possible, there are options. Which in itself, is an amazing thing.

I told Alice yesterday that I’m planning on attending Peter’s graduation from high school. That will be three years from now. She thinks it could be doable.

That’s all I need to hear.