Archive: July, 2013
Two contradictory things I have constantly heard since this odyssey began were that I need rest, and I need to stay active to build my body back up. Taking it easy and pushing myself a bit. Sounds like a fun moving target to hit, eh? “Do enough to stimulate healing, but don’t do too much that it inhibits recovery.” Piece of cake, all I need to do is know exactly how much is enough and then get as close to that as possible, without overdoing it.
As you can probably guess, hitting that sweet spot is difficult enough in a vacuum, much less in my reality. After dose #5 (the day before July 4th) and through dose #6 (this past Thursday), the activity level rose quite a bit. We had some of celebration moments that I wrote about previously. We did a trip back to Jersey and spent a week at the Shore, bookended by visits with family and friends. We celebrated Tommy turning one year old in New Jersey (twice) and Florida (once). I even pushed a bit and asked the doctor if it was OK to scuba dive… four hours after I got off my buddy Fred’s boat, 23 lobsters in tow between us. (There is a two day mini-season down here before lobster season officially opens; think Memorial Day levels of activity, except under water). The “ask forgiveness, not permission” thing applies to cancer treatments, apparently.
So for most people, this would be a ridiculous three-week stretch; for the Sharpes, it’s just called summer. Or, at least, that’s what it used to be called. I have pushed things more since the 46 percent shrinkage scans came back, and probably could have used a reminder that I need to be a little less liberal with the “stimulate healing” thing. Unfortunately, I got one this past weekend.
So when you are faced with the reminder that life is short, and can be much too short, what do you do when the reality of discovering if there is an afterlife becomes a looming possibility? Obviously, the first concern is keeping the grim reaper at bay for as long as possible, through whatever methods necessary. When tough medical diagnoses are given, though, it is impossible not to think “What if this is it? What happens next?” For many, including myself, that process leads to talking to God. So… how does the Lord respond to pleas from the oncology unit?
For starters, I should probably lay my religious cards on the table. A practicing Catholic (Italian Mom, Irish Dad from the greater Philly area – really, what did you expect??) actively involved in the St. Sebastian parish here in Fort Lauderdale, I went to Catholic elementary and high schools, kept my faith going through and after college, and have become more spiritual as life has progressed. Having in-laws that live three houses down from our church doesn’t hurt either. I’m not overly evangelical or a Crusader (hey wait, I went to Eustace…); religion and faith have always been more about my relationship with God than spreading His word.
This ordeal has, more than anything else, slightly altered the nature of my faith, what I ask from God and what I provide in return. Things like asking and granting forgiveness (there’s a lot of asking), really listening to what is said every Sunday morning for an hour, and how to apply just one small message each week to my life; these have become priorities. That whole “Golden Rule” thing was always something I believed in but didn’t execute with consistent regularity; now, I look for opportunities to be that person and, by example, bring Christ’s peace into the lives of others. Now that I have a small voice, it is part of that opportunity to help spread the message of God, of believing, of having faith, though I don’t need a pulpit or Scriptures verse to do so. I just need to be me. Sounds so simple, right?
So the initial results were verified and guess what? In a few days, my tumors went from being “about 30 percent less” to 46 percent shrinkage. Pretty amazing, huh – 14 percent in one weekend! At this rate, we’ll be cancer free before Labor Day!
As Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend”. The tumors didn’t actually shrink any more, the measurement methodology for the study classified them differently than I had. Merck takes the longest measurement of each of the five “target” (i.e. biggest) tumors and add those numbers together as the total target tumor size. I went down from 26.1 cm to 14.0 cm; hence, the 46 percent regression.
So with tumors shrunk nearly in half, how would you have spent a holiday weekend? Make sure to include “get dose number five of potentially life-saving immunotherapy” on there somewhere (in my case, on July 3rd). Here’s what the Sharpes did to keep that smile on our faces.
After writing forty-some blog posts, the one that REALLY matters should be a breeze, right? Just tell everyone if PD-1 worked, or if it is on to Plan C – easy, huh? As with everything during this almost-yearlong odyssey, things aren’t always as easy as they seem.
Friday morning, we got the CT scans, and pestered just about everyone at Holy Cross to have them read before the weekend (sorry, valet guy, I thought you might have some pull). We even stopped on the way home from lunch to request the scan CDs, and were told they had not been “read” yet. The difference between a small cancer center and a world-class one like Moffitt is that scans are done and reported on in a few hours at Moffitt, as there are multiple resources that spend all day reading and reporting scan results.
For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time in the radiation wing of your local hospital, scans are fairly involved. Between the prep work (no eating, drinking a white Barium cocktail that needs a lot more “cocktail” and a lot less Barium), the actual scans, and then getting the images to a radiologist who reads them and compares them with prior scans, THEN sends them to your doctor who also reviews them… it’s not like you just hold up a picture of a couple of x-rays side by side. Even at Moffitt, where they process dozens of these a day, this takes time. Besides, this isn’t something you really want them to rush.