Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sports, donuts and a battle against a Cone of Cancer

There seems to be an odd connection between Baltimore's sports teams making it to the playoffs and my radiation visits to this loyal, fan-driven city.  In January/February 2013 I was here for a month having radiation treatments to a stubborn tumor in the hilar region of my right lung -- a very dangerous area -- followed by a cryoablation to a large kidney tumor.  See 2/25/13 post.  It was a very stressful time, but I was distracted by watching the city whip itself into a frenzy with the Ravens going to the Super Bowl.  I'll never forget the sea of purple at Hopkins as I walked in every day to get zapped.  Everyone wore football jerseys and there were purple donuts and balloons everywhere.  I watched the game at Hope Lodge with my new found kindred spirits as we feasted on a spread of football food and, for the night, we all forgot that we had cancer.

Here I am again, back at Hope Lodge during the championship series with Baltimore now in a sea of orange, rooting for the Orioles.  Even more bizarre is that I'm staying in the exact same room I had last time!  The Orioles have to advance to the World Series, just so I can have an orange donut and witness the staff in different sports jerseys.

You may remember in my last post I mentioned that I would have to have radiation to an "area of thickening" that Dr. Hong saw when he performed the cryoablation in the lining (pleura) of my left lung a month ago.  He referred me back to Dr. Hales, my back-up pitcher (couldn't resist) whenever Dr. Hong doesn't feel that ablations are the safest option for whatever is going on.  The top of my left lung, or the apex, is shaped like a cone leading down to the rest of my lung.  This cone starts just 2 cm. down from the top of my shoulder.  This thickened area is like a caking that goes around the top of the cone.  Treating this Cone of Cancer should be done sooner rather than later because the pleura is like a 2 layered slip-and-slide, allowing me to breathe in and out without pain.  If the slip-and-slide gets stuck, well, then there's pain, not to mention cancer getting the upper hand.  

Dr. Hales told me that coming up with a treatment plan that kills the Cone of Cancer while sparing the healthy tissue inside the cone is tricky.  Is there any other way with me?  Sometimes I feel like my purpose is to challenge the medical industry's commitment to innovation.  

There are a lot of different types of radiation.  Some machines treat areas that are diffuse, like this Cone of Cancer.  Some machines are very precise, honing in on a very targeted area.  Both are used for a host of reasons depending on the type of cancer, the area in the body, the size of the target, the ability of the patient to tolerate the treatment, the dose that's required to kill the cancer and a lot of other variables.  The science is overwhelmingly complicated.  Dr. Hales and his team of physicists decided to treat me on a new machine that Hopkins just got last month.  The Versa HD (high dose, not high definition) was just launched by a Swedish company called Elekta in March.  It combines several types of radiation delivery methods so that I get precision and diffuse treatments wherever I need them.  Plus, the beams actually bend to treat areas like this cone, which has a messy shape, while protecting the healthy tissue inside.  I'll have 15 sessions total -- three down, 12 to go -- and I'll be home by the end of the month.

The effort of packing and moving to Baltimore was difficult, especially after last month's cryoablation.  I'm sleeping 10-11 hours a night (I know!).  Fatigue always sets in toward the end and after treatments, so I can't imagine my energy level a month from now.  I'll be sleeping as much as Sadie!  Oh, I miss my kitty.  She's in good hands with my neighbor, Michael, whose sons will hopefully give her a workout every now and then.  As for my pain, time will tell with that too.  Since the cryoablation and the radiation treatments are in the same area of my upper pleura, I can't tell what's causing what and what might be temporary as opposed to ongoing.  I'll just be glad to have the treatments over so that I can regain my energy and strength over the next several months as I slowly downsize for my move to Pittsburgh in the spring.  

For now, I'll keep rooting for the Orioles and stay true to my temporary home.  I'm told that they rally at the last minute, when things look really grim.  Who does that remind you of?  I'm determined that by the time I leave here, I'll have had my orange donut.