Category Archives: progression

Bitch is back

When I awakened yesterday morning my first thought was that I would be getting bad news at my scan review later that day. And then my second thought was that if I was truly experiencing progression, Alice was already both aware of and on it.

Two for two.

Like some pernicious weed, my cancer is cropping up again in the same exact spots it always does. Nothing drastic yet—interval thickening and slight increase in size—but the concerning part is how quickly I have become symptomatic. That and the fact that I have now acquired resistance to three ALK inhibitors, with lorlatinib being the biggest hammer in the tool box and supposedly covering most resistance mutations.

Slice of me

So I’m up a bit of a creek. Last night I got a text from my youngest in which he said he was so sorry and then ‘I’m scared.’ I wrote him back saying that I was also sorry and scared but that I was strong and Alice is smart and we will figure this thing out.

At the moment I am staying the course on lorlatinib. We did discuss going up in dose but Alice felt I would experience no true therapeutic advantage while increasing troublesome side effects.

I will scan again in eight weeks and Dr. Shaw is looking into whether it would be safe to perform a needle core biopsy. One area is too close to the diaphragm and the other is inconveniently located underneath my left breast. The last time I had a biopsy it was straight through my boob (as uncomfortable as it sounds).

Hopefully that will be possible though as it could help us figure out possible avenues. Discussed so far have been radiation on the area furthest from the diaphragm and a combo of lorlatinib and some other agent.

Mostly I am sad. Feeling fine (not so very long ago) was absolutely amazing. I’m on a roll with my art/writing/gym/dating and I realize this is going to put a major crimp in things. In short, logistically life is going to get a hell of lot harder and I’m not looking forward to it.

Per the bigger picture, I’m trying to keep my head from going there. Focusing on what’s right in front of me is going to help me maintain my cool and my courage. And I’m gonna need them both.

However, I’m not in this alone. The outpouring of messages after I made a post on Facebook confirming progression has been astounding. As I left my appointment yesterday Alice and her PA Jen Logan both hugged me hard. And then Jen looked me in the eye and said ‘We’re going to fight this together.’ I know she means it.

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.

Me again

I would like to thank all my friends from INSPIRE for sharing your individual stories. I believe by speaking out you are empowering not just yourselves, but others who have been impacted by this devastating disease, lung cancer.

Now it’s time to update my own status.

I met with various members of my team last Wednesday. Due for a scan in two weeks, they bumped it up to that day after I described my growing anxiety over steadily worsening symptoms; cough, fatigue, and bronchorrhea.

Bronchorrhea is an uncommon symptom associated with the variant of lung cancer I have, mucinous bronchioalveolar carcinoma, and it is making bedtime miserable. The moment I lay down, my lungs start to crackle. For the next 30-40 minutes, I cough, hack and spit as I clear 2-3 ounces of frothy mucus from my windpipe. It is exhausting and at times frightening as well. There is no antidote for this sort of bronchorrhea, other than treating the underlying cause, the cancer itself.

Although some of my cancer is yet responding to treatment, it is likely that a new clone or mutation has been selected out for; one that is resistant to LDK378. This scenario is suggested by the appearance of my scans, as my cancer is returning in a very different pattern than it has previously. Rather than a gradual consolidation of diffuse nodules, much of what we are now seeing resembles billowing smoke, and is likely responsible for the bronchorrhea. However, the only way to confirm this hypothesis is to retrieve some cancerous tissue.

Fortunately, a biopsy is now considered doable and a core sample shall be removed from my left lung on 12/12/12. In addition, I will take my last dose of LDK378 on 12/11 and one week after the biospy, I will start chemotherapy; four rounds of Alimta/carboplatin followed by continuous maintenance with the Alimta alone.

When I underwent chemotherapy in 2005, I had a port installed. As it is a foreign body, there is a risk for infection and there are now a limited number of antibiotics that I can tolerate, so at least initially, I shall forgo the port. Should infusion through an IV prove too difficult, we will reconsider.

So that’s the scoop, from the medical perspective.

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.