Category Archives: Cancer

The Best Kind Of News

I last left you guys with news that I am cancer-free. Probably the best news a person who previously had cancer could ever get. However, I was still uneasy as I had yet to meet with my radiologist and hear if she wanted to continue treatment with several weeks of radiation. It would involve me going to the hospital 5 days a week and getting zapped in the chest. Apart from being inconvenient, radiation also carries a high risk of causing a secondary cancers down the road. For some people the side effects can also be worse than chemo.

Well the good news just keeps on coming, because the radiologist said she did not want to do radiation!! She said even though I have a residual mass in my chest, there is no sense in radiating it because they know from the PET scan it is not active cancer. Thank goodness for PET scans! She also expressed concern about the radiation field, which would have to go through both breast and lung tissue, putting me and a very high risk for breast cancer and more lung issues in the future.

The radiologist printed out a copy of my PET scans to compare “before and after.” The images are of my chest with my arms above my head. Top was done on June 30, 2011 before my diagnosis, and the bottom image is from last week, January 30, 2012.

On first glance, there’s a clear difference between the two! On the computer, PET scans are in colour and show a better distinction between tumours and organs. You can kind of see on the top image where the radiologist circled to show me where the original mass was. The lighter bits inside of it are the parts that “light up” as being actively cancerous. The other white bits are just bone. It’s a 2D snapshot of a 3D image.

Below is another angle, showing a snapshot as if you were looking through my torso from my feet. Again, consider it a 2D slide in a 3D image.

You can see in the bottom image where the radiologist circled as being the residual mass, which is 2cm. That’s down from a 14cm mass! She said I shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the residual mass becoming cancer again, and that it will take my body a couple years to absorb the dead cells it’s made up of.

I’m going in for another PET scan in about 3-4 months just to make sure there’s no new growth since ending treatment. After my radiology appointment, my mom and I immediately went to extramural to get my PICC line taken out!

I had this purple tube inside my arm for over four months. It’s inserted into a vein in my arm and goes all the way to my heart. It protected my veins while getting harsh chemo treatments through IV and also made it so I had less needles for my weekly blood draws. However, it also had to be cleaned every week, taped to my arm 24/7, and I could never get it wet. The PICC was a constant reminder that I was a sick person with ties to the hospital. Getting it taken out was like being unchained from cancer!

Getting the PICC inserted was the most traumatic experience, apart from my bone marrow biopsy. It took 90 minutes to shove in, and under 30 seconds to pull out. Go figure.

By chance, a few of my friends planned a get together for Friday night so we turned into a cancer-free/end-of-treatment celebration. They made me cupcakes!

Tiffany is a genius.

 And bought me beer!

As promised, I indulged in many drinks, went out to a bar, and stumbled home close to 3am.

It is SO incredibly weird to think that I am completely finished with treatment. I still feel the effects of chemo every day. I sleep a good 9-10 hours every night and my brain is still pretty foggy. I still wear a wig as my hair is only half an inch long.

You could probably tell from my last post that I was having a hard time grasping with the idea that I am cancer-free. I think that’s because I was still struggling with knowing I even have cancer in the first place. But treatment? That affects me immediately in a very real and tangible way. Finding out that I’m finished was the best moment of my life. I am tearing up now just thinking that I can start to put some space between me and this cancer debacle.

As for the for the immediate future, I am going back to work in two weeks. My bosses and coworkers have been amazing throughout all of this and my desk is still there waiting for me. I’m definitely nervous about getting tired being in the office for eight hours (and being there for 8am!). But, I’m lucky it’s a pretty non-physical, non-stressful job. I’m confident that even if it’s rough in the beginning, I’ll get the hang of it quickly.

I also have long-term plans of leaving the nest and getting a place of my own. I have had to give up A LOT of independence while getting treated for cancer, and I am really looking forward to getting some of it back.

Again, thank you so much for the continued support from each and every one of you throughout this entire experience. Being able to connect with people through my blog kept me from feeling isolated when I was too sick to leave bed. You were all a constant source of strength and hope. It takes a village to raise a child, and apparently it takes an army of friends via the internet to get rid of cancer!

The results are in…

…and I am CANCER FREE!

Waiting for the isotopes before my PET scan.

After finishing my scan on Monday, the doctor came out and asked me when I finished chemo. I replied “December 21st” and he said “Oh! Right before Christmas!” I nodded, remembering how uneventful it seemed being sick over the holidays and worrying if maybe the chemo wasn’t enough.

The doctor then said he looked at the scan and that “it looks like it’s all cleared up.”

I said “Really!? That’s awesome!” And then the doctor wished me luck and returned to his office.

The technician walked me to the waiting room where my dad was. She said the doctor rarely comes out and tells patients the results of a scan before giving his report to the oncologists.

I immediately told my dad the good news, we hugged. I then visited my Grammie who is staying in the same hospital, and ran into my older sister who gave me a cinnamon bun the size of my head.

The night of the good news. Buster wondering why I woke him up.

Despite knowing that my scan was clear, I still had a lot of questions for my oncologist. Unfortunately, when I saw him on Tuesday he hadn’t received the PET scan report yet, so I had to wait for any more details.

I spoke with my oncologist over the phone early yesterday and he confirmed that the PET scan showed no metabolic activity. That means NO CANCER (*fist pumps*).

However, there is still a “residual mass” in my chest. This is a very common occurrence for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients, especially those with bulky tumours such as my own (bulky means it’s larger than 10 cm in size. Mine was 14 cm, or 5.5 inches). Because the residual mass did not light up on the PET scan, it is not cancerous and not growing. My oncologist is fairly certain it’s scar tissue, and from what I’ve read, having a residual mass won’t necessarily increase my risk of recurrence.

Now there is the big question as to whether or not I’ll do radiation to further shrink that residual mass and zap the area that was once active. In the past, 6 months chemo + 1 month radiation was the norm for people with my diagnosis. However, the most recent studies have shown that radiation may not prevent Hodgkin’s from coming back any more than just having chemo. Radiation also increases the risk of getting a secondary cancer down the road. Something of particular concern because of my younger age.

My oncologist recommended that I don’t do radiation, but he’s leaving it to my radiologist to make a formal recommendation. The decision to get it is ultimately mine, but I trust my doctors and will likely do what they say. I do know that my oncologist is highly respected so there’s a good chance my radiologist will follow his recommendation, unless she isn’t as satisfied with my scan. I’m not sure how large the residual mass is yet.

I meet with the radiologist on Friday, so I will update you all on the radiation bit after then!

As of right now, my feelings are mixed. I’m elated to know that I no longer have a cancer inside of me, and that I can get my horrendous PICC line out!

The PICC is the tube hanging out of my arm for giving IV drugs and taking blood.

On the other hand, I am nervous about this radiation thing. I am nervous to start living my life dealing with the long-term side effects of cancer and its treatment. The cancer may come back, my lungs still feel off, the chemo can affect my heart, gall bladder, the list goes on and on.

Just because the cancer is gone, it does not mean the complications and emotions that come with it are suddenly gone too. I am definitely happy I was able to get rid of my cancer, but I much prefer to have never had cancer at all.

In the end, I do realize I’m lucky to have gotten rid of it at all. There are many out there who are diagnosed with less favourable kinds of cancer. But I am not fooling myself into thinking I will ever be the same again. I unfortunately learned the hard way that I’m not as invincible as I once thought I was.

I have a lot to say, but I will leave it there for today. However I can’t forget to give a big THANK YOU for sending so many well wishes, good vibes, prayers, and healing chants. Those of you who sent comments, messages, and tweets over the past few days, I am sorry I couldn’t respond to every single one of you. But please know I read and appreciated every single one. Also, thank you to the silent readers who also sent positive energy my way. I am not too hippie-dippie when it comes to this stuff, but I will take anything I can get if it will help keep the cancer away!

There is certainly still more to my cancer journey, but I’m sure we can all agree that the worst is now hopefully over.

Scanxiety

Today, a plane will take off in Toronto carrying radioactive isotopes destined for Saint John, New Brunswick.

At the same time, I will be in the car with my dad heading for the same destination.

Once we both arrive, the isotopes will be injected into my veins. I’ll sit in a dark room for close to an hour as they spread through my body. Nothing to read or do, as a stimulated brain can create a false image.

I’ll then lay on a PET scanning machine and move in and out of it slowly for around 30 minutes.

The radioactive isotopes will react with the sugar in my body so areas where there is metabolic activity will light up in an image. Any spots that light up are considered to be actively cancerous and growing.

Source: CENTRE JEAN PERRIN, ISM/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Last time I had a PET scan, in July 2011, I had a spot light up just above my heart. Cancer wrapped around the superior vena cava that pumps blood into my heart. Another spot was located under my right arm and removed in surgery shortly after.

Today, after six months of chemotherapy, I am desperately hoping there are no bright spots on that image. That would mean I am cancer-free and require no more treatment. If there is still evidence of activity, my doctors may decide on 4+ weeks of radiation, which would consist of direct a ray of radiation to my chest for 10 minutes, 5 days a week. Then there’s a possibility that it could be worse…

I have always been optimistic about this cancer thing, but I enter today’s scan considerably less optimistic. I recently noticed I still have visible veins on the left side of my chest. Previously, those colourful veins were a sign that the cancer was squeezing around that big vein that goes into my heart and restricting blood flow. I’m scared that is happening again.

I likely won’t get the results today. I meet with my oncologist tomorrow and then my radiologist on Friday. That means I should know the results of the scan tomorrow, then what the remainder of my treatment plan is by Friday. Hopefully.

The last five weeks since finishing chemo have been a little snippet of what going back to my “normal” life could be like. I am ready to go back to work, get a place of my own, travel, and spend more time with friends. Having to get radiation will likely put all of that on hold and have me feeling sick again. I’ve been preparing myself for radiation ever since my diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready or willing. I would love so much to get news that this is all over starting today. But I’m uncharacteristically pessimistic about this one.

As a result, I am graciously collecting well wishes, good vibes, prayers, and healing chants from all my internet friends. You know where to send them. Thank you. I’ll let you know the results as soon as I know!

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