"From chaos comes confusion, and from confusion, clarity."
Looking at these stages I believe that I've been able to remove myself from the chaos and am now deep into the confusion. Clarity will come in time. It's only been a week since I found out that the disease is making progression rather than regression but it feels much longer. I lost all concept of time and space for a little while there and am just now coming out of my recluse.
Craig and I traveled back to New York last Thursday, took in the massive NYC St. Patrick's Day Parade, the new play "Good People" by one of my favorite playwrights, and had a long meeting with my lymphoma specialist at Sloan, Dr. Moskowitz.
She gave us further information about my disease status and pulled up my PET Scan pictures so that we could view the cancer in raw detail, visualize what it is that I'm working on eliminating. It has returned in my chest – the same spot to the right of my trachea just above my heart, my sacrum, pubic and hip bones, my back and a rib. As hard as that is to swallow, my disease is not considered "high volume" at this point. Though, we need to put a stop to the growth.
Dr. Moskowitz suggested I consider a clinical trial being hosted at Sloan-Kettering for PLX3397 as well as as a clinical trial at MD Anderson in Texas that is combining Panobinostat (LBH589) with Everolimus (RAD001). Although each of these drugs is in very early development and even more immature in their use against Hodgkin's lymphoma, there is a bit more data associated with the MD Anderson trial therefore that seems, at least right now, to be the best place to start. She has secured an appointment for me with Dr. Anas Younes, a world-renowned specialist in novel therapies and clinical research for lymphomas and the lead on this particular study.
So, Craig and I are hopping a plane to Houston, Texas on Monday afternoon to see what we can glean from this doctor's expertise. Who knows, he may suggest a completely different protocol or trial once he looks at my specific case. All three drugs that have been at the top of the list are oral chemotherapies which target different proteins suspected to be active and present in the growth of Hodgkin lymphoma. Unlike SGN-35, which is very close to FDA approval, these drugs are only in Phase I or II trials meaning that scientists are still trying to figure out the highest safe dosage and the drug's efficacy.
I am incredibly impressed with the amount of investigational drugs that are out there being tested against refractory Hodgkin's. That gives me a lot of hope for options and that "key" that I am seeking, though of course it is a little scary not having a lot of data on their safety in humans. My biggest hope is that the first one we try is the one that gets me into a solid remission. This is why this initial decision is so important and why I've been pouring over any information that I can get my hands on.
The Hodgkin lymphoma community (the refractory one especially) is a close knit one and I feel so fortunate to have so many people out there willing to help me out with this decision and connect me with the smartest minds out there. There are very helpful lymphoma web forums, Facebook pages, and fellow patients' blogs. I've made many friendships along this journey with others going through similar experiences and it really set in this week how much they have my back. Before I even got to the lymphoma board, others were talking about my case and asking for suggestions of where to point me.
Fellow Hodge warriors and stem cell transplant survivors have forwarded my situation/case to their oncologists, offered to connect me with appointments, spoke with me by phone and extensive e-mail conversations, sent me helpful links and encouragement. Big, big thanks to Bekah, Tiffany, Steve and Jen, Nancy and many new people that I've "met" from all over the nation that have taken the time to contact me about their experiences with these trials and transplants. Ethan Zohn, my friend and Survivor: Africa winner has been absolutely instrumental pulling every connection of his for me filling my inbox with recommendations from lymphoma specialists from LLS, Livestrong, Stand Up 2 Cancer, National Institutes of Health, Gabrielle's Angels and more organizations.
I also met today with my local oncologist, Dr. Dailey, who has been with me from the beginning. It was so helpful and calming to hear his thoughts and careful consideration of my situation. He is supportive and thoughtful in his gentle guidance. I realize how fortunate I am to have so, so many advocates.
And it's not just those who have provided medical advisement over this past week, but once again, the incredibly outpouring of love and inspiration and encouragement from friends, family, and complete strangers. It is that huge web that keeps me afloat especially when I am completely tapped out of strength myself. I feed off of that energy from others and am so grateful for that support which has stood the test of endurance over the hills and valleys of the past nearly two years. You help me to climb back up again.
Recovery from this set-back has been difficult, but I'm pretty sure I'm on my feet again. Much credit goes to my husband who I've now started calling "Clarity Craig" and of course Sammy who's snout is there nuzzling my arm to pull me out of bed every morning. And of course, my parents who swept me away to the Connecticut shore for a walk along the water and the first lobster roll and swirl soft-serve cone of the season.
My mental capacity is pretty tapped. My body is very tired. I can't be on any kind of steroids to alleviate the inflammation, sweats, cough and back pain that I'm having from the cancer growth as a course of them might preclude me from certain clinical trials. I do not want to limit my options any more than they already are. I'm coping through breathing and yoga, getting what sleep I can, and the assistance of a new seed-filled aromatherapy microwaveable heating pad that has become my security blanket.
I get weepy and I get angry and I get frustrated depending on what time of day it is. I cry often and haven't yet been able to talk about things without developing a huge lump in my throat. It probably goes without saying that there are so many lingering questions about the best course of action that it is tremendously overwhelming. It feels like I've fallen down a narrow dirt hole with my arms stuck over my head. From this awkward stance I'm slowly crawling my way out toward that light at the top, one foothold at a time, collecting a lot of dirt under my fingernails.
Vegetable and fruit pushing is ramped up to high intensity mode and so has eating in general. I do not have an appetite and I am losing weight so am making a very conscious effort to eat as much as I can and get in as many nutrients that I can – case and point the kale, cantaloupe, avocado, coconut water smoothie I am choking down right now. (It's actually quite delicious). I must do everything that I can to keep myself strong and healthy for whatever treatment course I face next.
More information is needed before I can make this decision but I know that going to MD Anderson, which is right up there with Sloan-Kettering for best cancer center in the nation, is the right move. We'll see what they have to say. On March 31, I once again become eligible for treatment as I will be 28-days off of SGN-35, a requirement for the majority of these trials. I want to be ready to roll when that date hits.
Big bonus, our good friends Betts and Brenna just moved to Houston this summer and are opening their doors to us. It'll be wonderful to see them and crash in their apartment. I'm especially excited to lounge by their complex's pool in the 80-degree sun. It is snowing here right now so the idea of flip flops and sunscreen makes me smile from my curly locks to my tootsies. It'll be a perfect balance to the numerous medical appointments and tests at the cancer center.
We've got to get to packing our bags – again. We've never been to Texas.