Category Archives: lung cancer survivor

How can it be that I feel so damn fine

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Nocturnal fog

Yes. Memory and financial challenges aside, this girl is good. Actually-absolutely amazingly goodie, good good. I guess I’ve still got that pesky cancer and I’m coming up fast on my fifty-ninth birthday, but I don’t feel the least bit ill and middle age? Meh.

Two months ago I joined the gym that my son August belongs to. Bless his heart, Aug has allowed his mom to tag along and has even become my personal trainer. I basically follow his workout routine (heavy on free weights with some machines mixed in) and just lift less. Same number of sets though and I get a kick out of the fact that I am shadowing a cut thirty-three year old male. And although I still can’t do either a full push-up or a pull-up (that will happen though), I can hold a respectable plank for three minutes, thirty seconds. For real.

The trick to going to the gym is making it a habit. I joined a week before August left for Burning Man and he figured I’d bail while he was away. Not. I got that routine established and once he was home I was all about it. One thing I just love about working out is that all that hard work pays almost immediate dividends—I was stronger by week two. Talk about positive feedback.

While acknowledging that chance and one of the best oncologists on the planet are key, I like to think that my lifestyle has contributed to my longevity. In addition to exercising one to two hours daily (walk + gym), I eat a healthy diet–few carbs, lots of veggies, almost no processed sugar. Organic everything when I can afford it. My biggest sin is alcohol (put that one in the pleasure category) but I drink moderately. And I indulge in an edible now and again but that seems more a plus than a minus.

I believe my immune system is now stronger than my cancer. And that belief is bolstered by this article from the NYT:

Given the abundance of cancer mutations in healthy people, why isn’t cancer more common? Dr. Martincorena speculated that a healthy body may be like an ecosystem: Perhaps clones with different mutations arise in it, compete for available space and resources, and keep each other in check.

Per my own ecosystem, I’m obviously doing what I can. However, I have another theory as to why I feel so fine. In addition to it’s cancer inhibiting properties, lorlatinib has an interesting side effect. When I first went on trial I was sleeping ten hours or more a night. Wild, vivid dreams but a deep restful sleep as well. On lorlatinib, if I don’t get enough sleep, I get shaky and feel like shit. So I’m highly motivated to make certain I am not sleep deprived. And although I no longer need ten hours, I now get a solid eight.

Prior to starting on trial for lorlatinib, I had spent most of my adult life struggling with sleep issues. Insomnia, restlessness, waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep, night terrors. As a result, during the day I was always exhausted. I mean, always. If I could find a way to take a nap I would but that just made the whole nighttime sleep cycle more screwed up.

Now I sleep like a child. Soundly. Lots of vivid dreams but I hardly move. If I have to pee in the night I fall right back to sleep and many nights I sleep straight through until morning.

This has had an astounding effect on how I feel. No longer am I yawning all the time and struggling to keep my eyes open. But better yet, I think this wealth of sleep has put my own personal ecosystem back in balance.

Once upon a time, everyone got more sleep, as the sun was our primary source of light. Now our circadian rhythms are subject to the influence of artificial light. I think sleep deprivation has a far greater influence on our biological clocks than people realize–resulting in a negative overall impact on our health.

My advice? Eat well, play harder and sleep longer. Your body won’t regret it.

xo

Let me introduce: Evan

Picture taken of my girlfriend (Anne) and I in Vail. March 2010.

My name is Evan Spirito. I am 24 years old and I have NSCLC driven by a mutation in my ALK gene. I was diagnosed in January of 2009 when I was 21.

The cancer originated in my left lung and, by the time I was diagnosed, it spread to my lymph nodes as well as a couple brain metastases. I had the brain mets “zapped” right away with proton beam radiation and then I started chemotherapy. I experienced good results on the Patel Regimen (Carboplatin/Alimta/Avastin) for 6 cycles and then remained on maintenance chemo for several months following. Unfortunately, my cancer started to come back in the spring of 2010.

The results of my genetic testing came back in the meantime and confirmed that my cancer was driven by the ALK mutation. I was put on the Crizotinib trial and again experienced good results with very little side effects. I stayed on the trial for about a year before my cancer once again showed progression in the spring (March 2011).

I started on the STA9090 trial next, however, it proved to be largely ineffective on my disease with the addition of nearly intolerable side effects. After about a month “wash out” period, I began my latest and current trial (LDK 378).

Linnea and I share the same oncologist (Dr. Shaw). She reached out to me a few weeks ago and we discovered that we had quite similar experiences/treatments in our individual battles with cancer. Linnea was about to start the LDK trial herself and, as far as I know, we are two of only a handful of patients currently on the trial.

I know that the many patients are hoping to join the trial soon and looking for more information on what to expect, so, I wanted to share my experience thus far on the LDK trial:

The trial is comparable to my experience on Crizotinib, which was the best/easiest treatment I’ve had to date. The first couple visits are quite long (as Linnea described in her latest post) but after that it gets better. You will dose once a day and go in once a week for lab work and a check up. I have not seen any noticeable side effects from taking the pill apart from one vomited dose in the first week.

For me, the most annoying part of the trial is the eating requirements. Fasting for 2hrs before and after dosing is no fun but if you work out a consistent schedule it will not be an issue. I tried, and may try again, dosing right when I woke up (before eating), then going back to bed for 2hrs before eating breakfast. If your stomach can manage, it might be worth a try.

In my case, it took a solid 7-10 days before I really began to feel the pill working. Sure enough, my first set of scans revealed a major decrease in my disease, which is very encouraging. Things were going rather smoothly until I suffered a minor set back in the form of a chest infection, but with any luck the antibiotics should take care of that and hopefully I’ll be back on track in another week or so.

While being treated for the infection, Dr. Shaw did notice “slight progression” in my disease; however, not enough to take me off the LDK trial. So, as of right now I will continue with the trial for as long as its continues to keep the cancer down.

I hope this little bit of information helps but I’m also aware that every situation is different. As always, take it one day at a time, focus on what’s important going forward, believe in the treatment and it will work!

Evan is an incredibly brave and strong young man (yes, you can get lung cancer when you are only twenty-one).  As the LDK378 trial is yet so nascent, there is very little in the way of anecdotal informational provided by actual participants.  He was kind enough not only to agree to meet me but to generously share his own experience thus far here. Hopefully it will prove useful to other ALK ‘mutants’ who may be considering the LDK trial.

Thanks Evan!