Friday, August 28, 2015

Hello from Pittsburgh!

It's been a while, I know.  This year started out with a bang with the breast cancer diagnosis, the cryoablation to a mystery tumor in my left side, the chaotic recovery that that caused, and the hunt for an apartment in Pittsburgh.  My plan was to post once things settled down after the move, but I'm having some trouble breathing and I had hoped to report a resolution to the problem in that post.  Now we're ending what has been a beautiful summer and I'm still looking for that resolution.

Mary found the perfect apartment complex for all my needs and Sadie and I are enjoying it very much.  It's a small one bedroom, but perfect for us with big windows in each room overlooking the Allegheny River and the Three Rivers Trail about 50 feet below.  Beyond the river is the Pittsburgh downtown skyline and the Convention Center.  Last night there was a massive fireworks show from the Rachel Carson Bridge (what I call "my" bridge), and I only had to walk onto my deck to enjoy it.

Less than a mile down the trail is PNC Stadium where the Pirates play, and beyond that is Heinz Stadium where the Steelers play. Since my lungs are limiting my physical activity these days, my deck is a great location for people-watching, on and off the river, as people run, bike, kayak, boat, jet ski and walk their dogs.     

Speaking of my lungs, I've seen doctors in Pittsburgh and at Hopkins and I've had every test to determine what is going on.  It seems that this may just be the result of cumulative scarring from the many surgeries, radiation plans and ablations over the past 9 years since I began my battle with metastatic disease.  I suppose it's the price I pay for playing Whack-A-Mole.  I'll see my pulmonologist next week and maybe he can think of a test I haven't had yet or a drug that can help me.  The good news is that I don't have an infection, collapsed lung, blood clot, heart issues or an obstruction.  There's also positive news on the research front. The National Cancer Institute just launched a huge project and both my hospital in Pittsburgh and Hopkins are participating facilities.  My new oncologist is submitting my name and I'm hopeful that I qualify, in spite of all my other cancers.  

The goal is to identify various immunotherapy agents that will jump start the immune system to fight cancer on its own.  You may have heard of some studies where researchers are using viruses such as measles, polio, even HIV, to accomplish this.  There has been enough success with some cancers, that researchers are starting to think that cancer will no longer be identified by the body part where it begins.  It will be identified by the genetic mutation(s) that cause a given cancer.  The first phase of the MATCH program is to genetically test a person's tumors for mutations.  Then the patient is matched with the immunotherapy agent -- which is not chemotherapy -- that will stimulate the immune system to respond and fight the cancer.  If I qualify, I may be in a trial with all sorts of non-ACC cancer patients.  The common denominator will be the genetic mutation, not the "type" or initial location of the cancer. The key to getting accepted into the one of the studies is having a mutation for which there is an agent that is currently being tested.  Now that I have a new immune system, courtesy of my donor, let's see what it can do!

The great thing about this project is that 2,400 facilities are involved, and patients will no longer have to travel several times a month to the trial city to get their medicine.  And since drug costs are covered by the trials, the financial hit that people take is substantially reduced.

My goal is to keep breathing long enough to take advantage of all this new science!  I am impressed and relieved at the care that I've received so far in Pittsburgh.  The doctors here actually read my cover letters and my 4 page Medical Summary, which is a commitment right off the bat.  Generally speaking, people here are extremely nice.  Maybe it's because of all the social and community events going on all the time. July brought Picklesburgh to my bridge, complete with live bands.  Maybe it's the crazy food.  They serve French Fries on salads, sandwiches and even pizza!  

I can tell by the foot traffic on the trail that there's a Pirates game tonight.  I have to say that this is a big improvement over my New Jersey neighborhood in the corner pocket of Maplewood, Newark and Irvington. And having Mary close by is like having a best friend, caregiver and personal assistant all in one thoughtful person. I never could have settled myself in without Mary's help.  And on the New Jersey side of the move, I owe a lot to Jim, Laura and all those who helped me downsize, pack, drive through Pennsylvania and reinvent my material self.  I threw away or donated at least 2/3 of my belongings, and this continued as I unpacked in Pittsburgh. If you ever want to leave a smaller footprint on the world, or just feel productive, call for a donation pick up.  It's a win-win for everyone. 

I hope everyone had a great summer.  Thanks so much to everyone who remembered my birthday.  It was so moving to know that I haven't been forgotten.  Here's to a new season of changes and opportunities.  I promise to do a better job of keeping you updated.



1 comment:

  1. it's encouraging to hear about the new study. my acc has been in remission for a year, but we're always watching what might be coming in the future


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