Tag Archives: stage IV lung cancer

Gains and losses

I am currently dealing with a whole new set of treatment side effects. Fatigue, persistent nausea, mucositis, and weight loss.

Weight gain is a side effect of lorlatinib, and over the past few months my degree of activity had slowed down significantly. As a result, I was heavier than I ever have been aside from when I was pregnant. That extra heft around my belly is proving to be a good thing, as I dropped five pounds the first week of treatment with DS-1062a. Nice to know I have a little buffer.

Washing out of lorlatinib may be part of the reason I am so fatigued. However, there have been some good changes as well. The cadence of my speech has sped up noticeably–even Alice commented that I am talking faster now (adios John Wayne).

I had been on lorlatinib since May of 2014—likely longer than almost anyone else. Two years ago I began to experience what I referred to as long term side effects. Small blemishes would quickly become gaping holes which simply would not heal. Crusting is a known side effect of lorlatinib and that was the primary issue, as those crusts seemed to burrow into my epidermis. My oldest son, who I visited over Christmas, later shared with me that my skin looked like that of a drug addict–that it appeared I was rubbing my flesh away.

My nails were also an issue, particularly on my feet. Nine out of ten toenails became ingrown and even surgery would not make them straighten out.

Anyway, a week after my last dose of lorlatinib both my skin and my nails began to heal. I shall be left with some scars but my self esteem is improving as well–it’s no fun walking around with open wounds on your face.

Best of all is the impact on my cognition. Suddenly my thoughts are more dense. The best analogy would be thread count–I have gone from 200 to 500 in two weeks.

So life goes on, one set of side effects traded for another. However I am reveling in the joy of clear thinking, clear skin and the potential of an extended horizon.

xo

Billing: research versus stand of care

I was billed for my recent biopsy but evidently that was in error and charges will be reversed. On Tuesday I sat down with my research coordinator and we went through the procedures one by one to break down what was billed to insurance, and what was covered by the sponsor.

So here goes. Considered standard of care (and therefore billable) are these items:

Physicals

Skin exam

Blood work that is CBC (complete blood count) with DIFF or differential

Blood work that is comprehensive metabolic

CT scans that fall within SOC schedule (every twelve weeks)

And these are the procedures that are considered research only and which are expenses picked up by the sponsor of the trial:

Eye exams

Echocardiogram

EKG

Pharmacokinetics or PKs (all other labwork)

Urinalysis

CT scans done more frequently than every twelve weeks

RECIST measurements

Tumor biopsy

Drug

And so it is not as bad as I imagined per expenses expected to be covered by me, the participant. However, the language in the consent form is exceedingly vague (Standard of care versus research) and I would urge anyone participating in a clinical trial to have it spelled out ahead of time.

I would also point out that my travel, lodging (back to back late evenings with early morning appointments the next day sometimes make this necessary), meals and parking are still picked up by me. This is no small potatoes in a trial that had me at the hospital four out of seven days last week. In addition, should I suffer a side effect related to trial, any subsequent treatment shall be billed to insurance: ‘The treating hospital will offer you the care needed to treat injuries directly resulting from taking part in this research. These treatments will be billed to your insurance company. You will be responsible for deductibles and co-payments. There are no plans to pay you or give you compensation for your injury.’

It is good to know that the biopsy was not correctly billed to me which would have been insult to injury. However I am still angry that I am required to effectively donate tissue from an exceedingly invasive procedure (not once, but twice–and they had asked for a voluntary third biopsy). Evidently a small core sample was obtained for MGH and it was sent to pathology confirming cancer cells were present (duh). However, there is not enough tissue to, say, make mouse models. Or to run genetic sequencing with tissue to spare should it be needed later. Both of those things would be helpful in a complicated case like mine–three known secondary acquired mutations conferring resistance. The sponsor got the bulk of the tissue–any effort to acquire more would have been considered risky to me.

In the consent form I signed it is acknowledged that performing a biopsy comes with associated risks including this little nugget “There is risk of regional spread of cancer cells when the needle is removed from your tumor. Although very rare, there is a risk of serious complications (such as pneumothorax)…and death.”

Yeah, death does sound serious. But so does regional spread of cancer cells. Essentially the sponsor is paying for a piece of me, not an optional piece, but a required piece. I am glad that there is not associated financial burden but the physical burden is still huge. And if someone is going to be harvesting my tissue, well then by all means they should share that bounty with me, so that I too can benefit from my sacrifice.

Bottom line, ask questions, lots of questions. Of course it is difficult to ask what you don’t know, and even though this is my fourth trial, I am still learning. I would also suggest that consent forms could be much better at spelling things out–as they stand now, there are just too many vagaries.

Ultimately, I want some of my tissue. And a net zero balance per my expenses related to participation. I do not feel this is too much to ask. In an ideal world I would also be compensated for my time.

Just as astronauts are. πŸ™‚

xo

Scoop

I had a chance to speak to Alice today about my reaction on Tuesday and one of my questions was how common IR’s or infusions reactions, are. Not rare, but in the single digits as far as percentage.

So far I’m not doing a very good job of being unremarkable.

The good news is that we have the go ahead to try again. Plan of action is to stick with the pre-dosing of Allegra and steroids, but to also dose again just as we are beginning infusion. And to infuse at 1/2 the rate with Bendadryl administered intravenously simultaneously.

I’m going to be coming and going and am definitely not looking forward to a repeat of the Benadryl crawlies. My friend Gina sent me a weighted blanket and I will bring that with me on the day of infusion to see if it makes a positive difference.

In the meantime I’m feeling OK. Profoundly tired yesterday but I have to wonder if some of that was just coming off all the steroids. My fatigue is more low key today.

Onward. I hope this shit works. Particularly as this is mutation agnostic, and therefore potentially a viable treatment option for a large number of people.

I shall keep you posted πŸ™‚

xo

And so it begins

Milk thistle and dandelion tea plus a hella lot of water and I got those enzymes down more than forty points. So my biopsy was a go yesterday.

Happy to report that it all went smoothly and to my delight (the perks of a progressing cancer) the surgeon was able to go in from the side of my chest rather than straight through my left boob (no fun). This meant that A. I could watch the biopsy on a screen–not everyone’s cup of tea but I thought it was wicked cool–and B. my time in recovery was spent on my side rather than flat on my stomach; so much more comfortable.

It was a long, long day and big credit to my friend Diane who ferried me to and from. I am so very grateful for my incredible cadre of friends.

This morning a friend of Diane’s kindly picked me up at 5:30 am for the first day of the DS-1062a trial (‘DS1062aΒ is a trophoblast cell-surface antigen 2 (TROP2)-targeting antibody drug conjugate’).

Room without a view

I have now been at the Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies for almost five hours. In that time I have been weighed, had two vials of blood drawn, and the first of three EKG’s taken. I have also peed twice, napped, and met with Dr. Lin, my new oncologist now that I am on trial. Drug was finally released an hour ago but it is frozen and takes three hours to defrost, so infusion will not begin until one. Lots of hurry up and wait.

Last night I was pre-dosed with five 4 mg tabs of dexamethasone as well 360 mg of fexofenadine, both of which will be repeated just prior to infusion. There have been lots of reactions to this experimental therapeutic but fortunately I am entering trial after MTD has been established and they are getting a better handle on how to handle side effects. Also anticipated are some pretty gnarly sounding mouth sores (dime size, painful plaques) which could put a crimp in my dating schedule πŸ˜‰ I am to prophylactically swish with a steroid mouthwash and have a paste for when they emerge. I have been advised that I shall likely lose weight (those sores) and may lose my hair as well. And there have been some eye issues, so I have been using lubricating drops. Aside from that, fatigue and mild nausea. There is always a price to pay.

On a positive note, some of the side effects of lorlatinib have noticeably receded. My skin—a mess of crusty sores as of late, has begun to clear up and heal (hallelujah). I had to go off of statins because of my elevated liver enzymes and my cholesterol was through the roof last time (high 300’s) but hopefully that shall start to come down as well. The cadence of my speech is speeding up (‘So you’re not going to sound like John Wayne anymore?’ asked one of my friends) and I am already feeling more like me: Linnea pre lorlatinib. Less rage-y, more clearheaded. I like it.

So consider this installment one. More to come post infusion.

xo

Understanding the enemy

‘When there is dust rising in a high column, it is the sign of chariots advancing; when the dust is low, and spread over a wide area, it betokens the approach of infantry. When it branches out in different directions, it shows that parties have been sent to collect firewood. A few clouds of dust moving to and fro signify that the army is encamping.’ Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

My enemy, despite heavy artillery (lorlatinib plus carboplatin and pemetrexed) continues to advance. Hence the need for another approach. On Tuesday I have yet another CT scan in preparation for the upcoming clinical trial–it will be interesting to see if the fact that I am feeling better is supported by radiographic evidence. Either way, I think it is time to surprise cancer, which has grown both in size and cockiness.

7.1 cm is not my friend. Nor is lymphangitic carcinomatosis.

What the hey

I don’t know if it was the Captain Marvel movie (love me some scrappy heroine), the hot water with lemon that my friend Peter prescribed to start my day, or Jenny Ro’s bone broth soup. It couldn’t be the chemo, could it?

This girl has turned a corner. As of Monday evening, after a nine hour day of physical labor (I am crazy, but I needed to get the rest of my art stuff out of my old apartment), I have felt not good but GREAT.

Physically strong, almost zero wheeze (what’s up with that?), I am now of the mindset that I am going to live.

Powerful, powerful feeling, that. And just the boost of confidence I needed.

This weekend I am going to spend a couple of days in my new studio space. Making art. I could cry just writing that sentence.

This means I am likely to go another round of chemo prior to starting the clinical trial. As long as I wasn’t feeling any improvement, that was a dismal prospect. However, there is nothing I won’t do if I believe it is capable of knocking down my cancer.

Absolutely Nothing.

xo

It was

Me giving me encouragement: the Wall of Hope on floor eight of the Yawkey building at MGH. When I first started getting treatment, a secret goal was to one day appear on the Wall of Hope. πŸ™‚

A long, long day. But in the parlance of my kind (the terminally ill), a long day beats a short day all to heck.

First, my life is blessed with a plethora of goddesses. Childhood friends, my daughter, sisters, my many new friends, nurses, phlebotomists, counselors, medical doctors. Men are great and I love a heap of them as well but this group of women has been my consistent go to for the tough stuff.

One goddess was in tow yesterday, my friend Sally: pals since the fifth grade. I am beginning to realize how beneficial it is to have company at these visits, after years and years of going it alone.

I had an appointment with the goddess who takes care of me from the neck up (as I like to say), Mary Susan Convery, my thoracic social worker. She keeps my head on straight.

A quick trip down Charles St for a hug from my daughter (Sally is her actual godmother) and a delicious lamb sandwich at Tatte. And then a long wait in those spaces appropriately called waiting rooms.

Oh, the irony. Those of us to whom time is so precious spend far too much of it waiting.

Anyway, the action got started around four with a visit from the head goddess, Alice. Chit chat about how I am feeling (great for the moment, on that artificial steroid high, my dyspnea temporarily under control.) But I was eager to cut to the chase—how about those scans? She had read them herself and her assessment was that they were mildly worse than the ones in December. Now remember this is while getting chemo so bummer. Of concern is the lymphangitic spread as well as the fact that the slight amount of fluid in the bottom of my left upper lobe is also increasing.

Alice puts more store in symptoms though and mine are not encouraging. Definite downward trend. So we agreed that I’d go ahead and get chemo one more time (and possibly two, depending on timing and tolerance) in the hope that it is at least slowing down progression.

There was a bright spot though and that was in the form of options. I figured we were down to one–lorlatinib plus a mek inhibitor. But Alice described yet another possibility. That after all these years on TKI-s it might be good to take a break. Maybe let my cancer forget some of what it has learned. To try a novel therapeutic, one my cancer is completely naive to.

While getting infused I signed the consent forms for a phase I clinical trial for a drug called DS-1062a; an antibody drug conjugate which targets a protein called trophoblast cell-surface antigen2 (TROP2), which is found in copious quantities on the surface of cancer cells.

This sounds exciting to me–a fresh possibility. But it is going to be intense. First there are the necessary hoops to jump through in order to qualify, including a lung biopsy, heart scan, ECHO, and eye exam. And all that blood, blood, blood (30 teaspoons for the first three cycles).

Every three week infusions but the first week, at least two additional visits. And then for the subsequent nine weeks, I return to the hospital once a week, with a second lung biopsy at week two. It is going to be consuming–that is, assuming I qualify.

But it also has given me fresh hope (I love the luxury of choices).

Good thing. Chemo may not be kicking cancer’s ass, but it is kicking mine. My liver is a tad inflamed–Alice asked me if alcohol might be involved. Truth? Yes. Goodbye to that for the time being. Sally filled me with healthy fluids last night and this morning she made me oatmeal, hot lemon water, and a vegetable chicken soup. I am in good and loving hands.

So yes. Stability or response would have been the preferred report but this feels if not a door, at least a window. And that’s what I need. Fresh air and a bit of a vista to contemplate.

xo