Archive | October, 2011

The Writing on the Wall

The Writing on the Wall

The Writing on the Wall

I went to my first prostate cancer gathering four years ago, in Portland, Oregon, when I was fresh off surgery and unexpected news from pathology was still ringing in my ears: cancer in two lymph nodes. Entering the building, registering, and being handed my conference materials — I felt like a draftee reporting for induction into an army of conscripts.

That gathering was the 7th Annual Pacific Northwest Prostate Cancer Conference, and yesterday was the 11th, the fifth in my attendance streak. With time, I’ve come to value these get-togethers as important connections to my cancer community, as well as recurrent reminders that I am not alone. I’m always energized by my fellow cancerians, knowing the challenges and the struggles all face and seeing the strength and courage they display.

I must admit, however, that I’ve sometimes felt that much of the discussion was intended for others, not me. At the 8th conference, for example, on Sep 27, 2008, I scratched this fragment in my notebook: “Pelvic Lymph Node IMRT + Rad treat of p bed.” I just didn’t pay enough attention to take further notes of elaboration, what it all meant and why the topic was in play. It just didn’t apply to me and never would.

Today, of course, that’s exactly where my cancer journey has taken me, to that prescient scrawl — that writing on the wall — and I’m now 24 treatments into Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy of the pelvic lymph nodes and prostate bed.

Importantly, these gatherings also provide key updates on advances in the treatment of prostate cancer. In the past 18 months, for example, there’ve been four new life-extending drugs brought to market for men with metastatic disease that’s resistant to traditional therapies. And more are on the way. What is probably next, Radium 223, is on a fast-track for approval, if all goes well, in late 2012, early 2013.

But can the track ever be fast enough when a disease causes 34,000 deaths a year?

“Why wait for tests, people gonna die in a year?” one frustrated guy asked, somewhat angrily, at the 2008 conference. He was specifically anxious for abiraterone, a drug for well advanced, metastatic prostate cancer that the FDA eventually did approve…two and one-half years later.

That man, that guy in the back row urgently hoping for help — I can only wonder whether he was still alive when hope finally became help.

This Afternoon in Cancer

Oct 17 2011 Lupron injection

Lupron: Kim, mixing it up -- and getting the lumps out

A full afternoon at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance today: the daily radiation treatment, the weekly visit with the radiation oncologist, the quarterly check-in with my oncologist.

  • PSA test results came in at “undetectable,” which you’d largely expect, given my hormone-suppression therapy. Prior reading, in July, which was pre-hormone therapy, was 0.11. So that means PSA is down.
  • Radiation treatment #20 — check that box. I’m now solidly past the halfway point on the way to 36.
  • Another Lupron injection, which, with my Casodex pills, will keep my testosterone fully suppressed for the next three months. Upside: hot flashes in winter.
  • My oncologist said today’s Lupron shot would be the last for now. I’ll see him again in January for a quarterly check-up and a PSA test — but no more Lupron and no more Casodex after that.
  • And my radiation oncologist said he’s happy, which makes me happy, too. I reported to him that the few side effects from my salvage radiation have, so far, been mild and manageable.

And what, exactly, is salvage radiation? Bob Grindeland posed the question in his comment on my prior post, and that set me off to find an answer. I realized that while it’s a term I’ve heard, read and even used, I’d never pursued a medical definition. After all, “salvage” seemed to convey so much. Maybe even too much: say, the image of saving a ship from being battered on the rocks. But since Bob asked, here goes…

The National Cancer Institute defines salvage as “treatment that is given after the cancer has not responded to other treatments” — in my case, surgery.

The dictionary definition of salvage is more in the vernacular: “the rescue of property or material from potential loss or destruction.” Like salvaging a ship from being battered on the rocks.

Or salvaging me from cancer.

In the Rearview Mirror, Two Weeks

Shooting the radiation machine before it shoots me.

Today was treatment #10 (26 to go) — so two weeks of salvage radiation are now in the rearview mirror. All’s gone well, but…

It’s a bit early for side effects to set in, and exactly what they’ll be, how severe they’ll be and how long they’ll last — well, those are the uncertainties, all of them idiosyncratic to each one of us. However, they did caution me today to be prepared for some side effects: There’s no get-out-of-jail-free card.

Fatigue, though, is a given, but then, fatigue is cancer’s spectral companion and a hidden cost of its treatment.

I’ve now experienced one full cycle of the treatment protocol: Radiation every weekday afternoon followed by a rad onc appointment (on Mondays) and a blood draw (on Thursdays). The blood draw is for a complete blood count (CBC) to keep tabs on what the radiation to my pelvic bones may be doing to the marrow that makes blood cells. Thursday’s CBC proved to be fine.

This is a short post, just a reader-board update. The best news is: There’s no news.