Sunday, August 3, 2014

More New Beginnings

On November 17, 2010, when my new bone marrow came to live with me, one of my transplant doctors wished me, "New beginnings!"  (See December 5, 2010 post).  New beginnings it certainly was -- new chances, new opportunities, a new future.  Now that it's been almost 5 years since my Acute Myeloid Leukemia adventure began, my attention for the last few years returned to my 14 year battle with metastatic Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (ACC).

The radiofrequency ablation (RFA) to a left lung tumor on June 2, 2014 was an easy one.  Two days off from work and I could barely tell anything had been done at all.  As long as ablations take place in the lung tissue, away from any vital structures like major airways, the chest wall, the heart, etc., this whac-a-mole approach to killing metastatic tumors is pretty easy to manage.  But when cancer cells creep into the lining of the lungs, called the pleura, that's when things get complicated.

The pleura is like a slip-and-slide, providing lubrication between the lungs and the ribs to allow for expansion within the chest.  Once cancer cells start slipping and sliding in the pleura, they can take up residence anywhere, and nodules/spots/tumors are very hard to detect and contain.  Another problem is that the pleura contains lots and lots of nerves, which is why it's safer to kill tumors there by freezing them (cryoablation) rather than cooking them with RFA.  Even with cryoablation, it is difficult to avoid nerve damage to the really big nerves that run all along the spine (intercostal nerves).  A third problem is that ACC travels along nerves, making tumors in the pleura a really big pain, literally.

My current situation is that all the nodules/spots/tumors that now show up on my CT scans are in the pleura of both lungs.  We don't call them tumors until we can see over time that they're growing, but we're at that point now with some of the spots we've been watching, so it's time for a couple more trips to Baltimore.  This may sound like terrible news, but it's actually nothing all that new.  The new issue is that instead of having the simple RFAs that I've had in the past, I now need cryoablations that are likely to result in a 2-6 month recovery period for each one.

The plan is to first have 2 tumors in the left lung cryoablated (killed with freezing gas); this is tentatively scheduled for September 15th.  When I have recovered from that, I'll have 1 tumor in the right lung cryoablated.  As long as the remaining lung spots stay put and don't grow, that should do it for awhile.  Thankfully, I have a slow growing form of this very slow growing cancer.  I had a cryoablation in my right pleural last October, and it cause nerve pain for a few months.  This time, it will be on my left lung, where I already have chronic nerve pain from the last lung surgery 2 years ago.  This will be my 10th ablation to tumors 24 and 25, so as most of you know, this is not my first rodeo.  (I actively look for chances to say that!)  Looking at the big picture, things could be worse.  A lot worse.

The real news here is a different kind of new beginning:  I finally had to accept the fact that I'm no longer able to manage this illness full time while working full time.  With the ablations coming up, disability is a given.  The fractured wrist injury in February really set me back and triggered several long term pain syndromes that I thought were somewhat under control.  Now that they're back, I have no choice but to focus on getting as strong as I can for what lies ahead.

I've worked in the Litigation Department at Lowenstein Sandler for 15 years.  The firm has been the closest thing to a family I've had my entire adult life.  It's hard to process the fact that I'm leaving to go out on disability again.  I don't think anyone can find a more understanding, supportive, go-the-extra-mile, generous company, anywhere.  I'll have to put off my thoughts about this for another post, when it becomes real.

Several people have asked me if I'll be bored or what I will spend my time doing.  Well, since disability is not retirement, and pain is never boring, I'll be spending quite a bit of energy recovering from cancer procedures and coping with their side effects.  But I refuse to throw pity parties or become a daytime TV junkie -- well, maybe a little bit.  As I'm able, I will build my health as much as possible and contribute to patient advocacy projects with the Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Organization International (ACCOI).  I just returned from an ACCOI event for survivors in the heart of California's wine country.  You didn't know that cancer can bring such good times, did you?  I learned that I have some things to contribute and that my experiences can help others who are battling this really monstrous disease.  More on that in another post too.

My beautiful cousin, Niki, gave me an Easter lily a few years ago, which I planted outside my condo.  When the flowers fell off, the landscapers for my condo association cut it down.  I mourned in anger and eventually forgot about it.  About a month ago, I discovered that the lily had grown back and was in full bloom, bent and worn down from rough times, but still alive and thriving.  I thought to myself, "That lily is kind of like me.  Bent and worn down, but still here and determined to survive the rough times ahead."  This morning I realized that the landscapers came and cut down the lily again.  "No worries, it will be back," I thought.  This time I didn't get angry or sad.  I just smiled to myself.  The spirit of life has a way of breaking through.