Friday, November 18, 2011

Two Years to Life

As I sit here in Dr. Liao’s office, I am reminded of some of the hikes I have been on in the past.  I am sure you can relate.  You find a good hike in the trail guide, it says it is “moderate” but when you set out on the trail you find it to be a whole different story.  After several miles of a nice, gentle incline you suddenly find yourself climbing up a steep grade, huffing and short of breath.  Who wrote that trail description?  This was obviously not what you had anticipated!  Today we definitely hit one of those steep inclines we had not anticipated!

Following a difficult initial week post-chemotherapy, Steve began to experience a renewed sense of energy and health.  With each passing day he felt better, stronger, and more “normal.”    We were so grateful for a bit of a reprieve from the tumultuous roller coaster ride we had first experienced.  This morning he lifted weights, pumped off 50 push-ups, and crunched 50 sit-ups in no time at all.  He is even getting on the elliptical machine.  His leg is getting stronger and has shown great promise after his surgery and hospitalization.  He amazes me with his will power and determination to get back on track.

It’s been three hours since we arrived at Partner Oncology this morning for Steve’s second round of chemotherapy.  Upon our arrival, we had an unexpected visit by Dr. Liao.  He had received the results of the third tumor pathology that was done by the National Institute of Health (N.I.H) in Bethesda, Maryland.  The N.I.H. is the world authority on lymphoma cancer.  This is the final word and we would need no further testing to determine the final diagnosis. The N.I.H. pathology report confirmed the results from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance's report. 

Steve truly does have a rare form of low grade Follicular Lymphoma. It is low grade but not slow growing.  It is diffuse and not follicular.  It is small cell and not large cell.  So what does this mean?  Not much in terms of the phase 1 of his treatment.  He would still receive six cycles of Chemo, but unfortunately it’s not going to stop there.  If he had the faster growing intermediate grade large B cell Lymphoma, like originally thought and suspected, he would probably be completely cured after the chemotherapy.  But the low grade Follicular Lymphomas tend to recur.  Dr. Liao explained that after Steve receives the six cycles of chemotherapy, he will have to continue to receive the targeted therapy, Rituxan, every 3 months for two years.  Then he will be observed and tested every six months for the next twenty years or so.  With Follicular Lymphoma, they will have to keep a close eye on him because of the high rate of recurrence.  On the bright side of things, even though Steve has been diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma, he still does have a chance 30-40% chance of being cured after treatment.  It may not be the 80-90% we were hoping for, but it gives us hope because there is a chance.  We will continue to pray and believe in God for a complete and total healing.

Now I must be honest, this news did not sit well with Steve and he is still recovering from the blow.  We both were hopeful that we could move on with our lives after the chemotherapy, but now we have to accept a new reality.  Things will be different for us for this point on. There will be more doctors’ appointments, more tests and more treatment.  We will need to be watchful, vigilant and be sure to do everything to promote a healthy lifestyle.  Ever since Steve’s initial cancer diagnosis we have found that our love for one another has grown to new levels. This new twist to his diagnosis will cause us to be even more purposeful in how we chose to live our lives.  I know it sounds crazy, but I now see how cancer really can be one of the biggest blessings of all.  It rocks your world and helps you to live and love with more passion and purpose.  Yes, I too am disappointed by this news, but it is not the end of the world, it is the beginning of a new way of loving and living. 

We have suddenly found ourselves facing the reality of a longer and more difficult road to recovery.  The trail ahead is steeper and longer than hoped, so we will have to adjust our pace and make sure we have all the provisions needed for the journey ahead. 

It is now four and a half hours into Steve’s chemotherapy and he is sleeping soundly in his comfortable black leather recliner.  His white blood count this morning was down to 3.3 but Dr. Liao felt he was healthy enough to go through with the chemo anyway.  Steve will get fluids and another Nupogen shot on Sunday, followed by several more injections next week. 

Please pray that Steve will be protected from any virus or bacteria that could compromise his health.  Pray that he will suffer no ill side-effects from the Chemotherapy and that he will recover quickly from this second cycle of meds. 

I will update the blog if anything changes.  Please know that “no news is good news!”  Do not hesitate to call or text Steve anytime.  He loves to receive all of the encouraging notes and messages! 
I shaved Steve's head this morning before Chemo.
His hair was coming out in clumps and he just wanted it gone!

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