The past number of days have been another extremely intense period of time. In fact, they have been among the most intense of my cancer journey so far. The plot has really thickened with my health situation, although there are also some important, and hopeful, silver linings in the midst of what is happening.
The headaches I’d been having, which I mentioned in my last blog post on November 18th, unfortunately, persisted. In response, my medical oncologist (Dr. John Fleagle) ordered another MRI scan of the brain, which I’d been hoping to avoid. We already knew that there was small — but abnormal, and worrisome — lesion involving the thick membrane (called the “dura”) which surrounds the brain beneath the skull. Much to our dismay, the repeat MRI scan this week showed that the dura lesion has increased significantly in size compared with the last MRI on October 2nd. This is a very scary development because of the risk that it could penetrate through the dura and into the brain. If so, this would be an incredibly serious — even life-threatening — development. On the positive side, there does not appear to be any evidence of actual brain involvement at this time.
After an intense schedule of additional scans and treatment planning activities over the past few days, the lesion was deemed to be treatable with high-dose stereotactic (focused) radiation. I’m scheduled to receive three radiation treatments, one per day, beginning on Monday, November 24th. It took a lot of hard work on the part of my radiation oncologist (Dr. Marie Klish), her terrific team, and my medical oncologist as well, to get everything organized so quickly. I am very grateful for their amazing help and efforts on my behalf.
In advance of the radiation treatments, on the evening of November 21st, I also underwent a follow up MRI scan of my cervical and thoracic spine. This was to assess what is happening with the numerous spine lesions we’ve been treating for the past many months. I was able to review the MRI images with the radiologist and was relieved to see that, compared with the last spine MRI scan (also on October 2nd), the vast majority of the spine lesions appear to be stable in size. One very worrisome lesion in particular, involving the T3 vertebral body — which was noted to be pressing on my spinal canal on October 2nd — has shrunk significantly and is no longer pressing on the spinal canal. This was a huge relief.
These findings suggest that the spine lesions have responded well to the 2 cycles of Doxil chemotherapy I have already received. I feel strongly that the numerous other healing modalities I’ve been pursuing have had a very important and positive impact as well, even though, of course, I have no proof for this.
I am looking forward very much to having the upcoming radiation treatments completed. I’ve already received similar radiation treatments to six separate bone lesions since September 2013. These treatments are not easy to go through, and can be physically as well as emotionally exhausting. When radiating a spine lesion that encroaches within millimeters of the actual spinal cord — or, in this case, when radiating the skull and underlying dura — the treatments require patients to be tightly immobilized on the radiation table with a hard, moulded plastic mask that covers the face and neck. It is a surreal experience that I call “Start Trek Meets the Game of Thrones,” because of its application of some of the most sophisticated technology available in all of medicine … while being strapped to a hard, cold table, in an almost barbaric, medieval way, unable to move, while the whole procedure is carried out.
I am praying hard that this set of treatments will go smoothly, and will be successful.
After the radiation treatments are completed, I will have a two-week period of time to recover before most likely continuing on with more chemotherapy.
Confronting this enlarging intracranial lesion this past week was very traumatic — especially as someone who understands how dangerous and threatening intracranial tumors in particular can be. There are also potentially very serious risks involved with the radiation itself. I never imagined I would develop an intracranial lesion, let alone need to undergo radiation to my head. This lesion has definitely increased the seriousness of what I am facing, and forced me into an even deeper confrontation with mortality … and the ongoing reality of living in the unknown each day. There are parts of me that are quite worried and scared by this whole turn of events.
At the same time, I continue to feel a deep hope and conviction that I will respond well to these upcoming treatments, and be able to continue to receive, and tolerate, additional systemic treatment … and continue to live. My heart is filled with love and appreciation for the absolute beauty and preciousness of this life — even with its enormous sorrows, mysteries, paradoxes, insanities, and injustices. I remain deeply inspired by so many things I hope to be able to experience and contribute in this life.
Throughout it all, Kristina has continued to be such an amazing beloved support, ally, and love. I am so blessed by her presence in my life. I hope to share a special blog about her soon.
Meanwhile, I want to say “Thank You” again to so many of you who have reached out and sent me such incredibly beautiful, warm, and heartfelt expressions of love — especially in your comments and replies on this blog. I am very grateful and touched.