So tomorrow is the big day; my fifth needle core biopsy.
Rather like a space probe, the purpose of this procedure is to look closer; to learn more about the nature of my cancer so that we may make informed treatment decisions.
My very first biopsy was the most memorable. Four days earlier I had heard the word neoplasm for the first time. In the days hence, I had read up on lung cancer. The statistics were dismal but my differential diagnosis had left room for other conclusions–a recalcitrant pneumonia or a fungal infection.
When they wheeled me to the biopsy room, the patient before me was a prisoner; cuffed and accompanied by two officers. The physician who performed the procedure first marked the point of entry with a black dot–a dark star of a tattoo. As he guided the needle between my ribs he studied the image on the CT scanner and remarked ‘I am almost certain this is a fungal infection. There is no way a young non smoking woman such as yourself could have lung cancer.’
Post biopsy I was to lie still without speaking for several hours. This was made more difficult by the fact that one of the attendants recognized me–she had been a clerk in a store I patronized–and she, apparently unaware of my restriction, kept trying to engage me in conversation.
The next morning my world turned upside down, when I learned that the radiologist was so very mistaken. Young, non smoking women such as myself could get lung cancer.
My next biopsy was almost three years later. It confirmed metastatic spread and I, a IB at diagnosis, was restaged to IV. However, we would also learn that I was positive for an EMLK 4-ALK fusion gene; ALK+. Four months later I went from having no options to enrollment in my first phase I clinical trial, for crizotinib.
Three years later, prior to enrolling in a phase I trial for ceritinib, I was biopsied yet again, in order to better understand my mechanisms of resistance to crizotinib. An acquired secondary mutation, S1206Y, was identified.
After progressing on ceritinib, I had yet another biopsy. The hope was that I would be positive for PD-L1, making me eligible as an early participant in a clinical trial for immune checkpoint inhibitors. Disappointingly, I was not, however it was revealed that I had now acquired yet another secondary mutation, G1202R. This particular mutation was more problematic than S1206Y, as it conferred resistance to all available ALK inhibitors and it was at this point that I returned to chemotherapy, carboplatin and pemetrexed, until lorlatinib (which shows efficacy against G1202R) became available in trial. Some of the tissue from my biopsy was used to attempt to start a cell line as well as build a mouse model of my cancer, but neither proved successful.
So, here I am, once again at a crossroads and seeking direction. Tonight I will sleep at my friend Diane’s house and in the morning she will drive me to MGH. I look forward to the anesthesia (yeah, I’m kind of a sensory freak and I’m not gonna lie, I like going under 😉 ) but I dread the part where you wake up with a dry mouth and then have to lie there unmoving/not speaking. If the biopsy is uneventful, I will go back home with Diane. However, every other time I have suffered a partial pneumothorax (collapsed lung)–a ticket to one night’s stay in the big house.
It is what it is. I am a traveller who’s had a long run on a clear stretch of road; for that, I am exceptionally grateful. Now it’s time to get my bearings and to figure out the best path forward.