Breathe Easy Lil’ Weezy

Dear Lil’Wayne fans,

I’m sorry if I mislead you. This post is in fact, not about Lil’Wayne at all. I just needed a catchy rhyming title. In order to not totally upset anyone that clicked hoping to hear some news about Holygrove’s finest, here is a gif of Weezy dancing in front of an Audi.

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In other totally unrelated news…

Thoracentesis is the WORST, am I right?!

Otherwise known as a lung tap, a necessary evil after noticing an increase in shortness in breath over the past few months. At first I chalked it up to not being active enough but then it became more frequent and intense in situations that it should not occur at all.

I had this procedure twice before a while back. It is necessary when there is excess fluid buildup (called pleural effusion) between the lungs and the chest wall. Below is the before and after of my actual chest x-ray. Fluid exists on both sides but it is far worse where I circled it in red.

*Please note that the weird gadget you see so clearly on the left side of the image is my chest port. I can’t be totally sure, but I don’t think that having a port is quite enough to make me a cyborg*

Overall they were able to remove almost half a liter of excess fluid in hopes of taking some pressure off of the lung to breathe easier.

Now, the last time I had this procedure I described it in graphic detail and even included a diagram to illustrate. I do recall that this was poorly received by family/friends/readers so instead I will provide a less gross, creative representation of what a lung tap is kind of like.

You know, like if my body is a Capri Sun pouch, and the straw is the tube in my back, and the weird melting kids are fluid being extracted…

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Better?

I must give credit to the best crew: Evelyn, Laura, and Sheila for sticking with me, playing relaxing music, trying to make me laugh whenever possible, rubbing my arms when I was crying or the discomfort was too much, and not giving up even though my body was not totally cooperating.

If anyone was listening outside of the door of that exam room they would be met with utter confusion as the mood bounced pretty quickly back and forth from rip-roaring laughter to hysterical crying with some whale songs mixed in.

I wish I could say that I woke up the next morning feeling total relief but unfortunately I am still pretty short of breath. Not worse than before but not better. The hospital contacted me when I got to work yesterday and urged me to go back to the hospital as soon as possible for another chest x-ray as it appears there may be a “loculation” (jelly like pocket of fluid that happen from multiple lung taps) or “pneumothorax” (abnormal collection of air in the chest cavity from puncture in the lung).

Totally freaked out, I had an involuntary ugly-cry in my office and asked Doug (or front desk advising SAINT) to reschedule my last 6 appointments so I can leave by 2pm.

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Ever the voice of reason, Doug reminded me that my health is priority no matter how busy work is. He found a way to reschedule ALL of my appointments for the day so I could head to the hospital immediately. I am so grateful to my colleagues that always step up to make my life a little easier during tough times.

On my way out I ran into Laurie, a colleague that oversees many offices in my division, and despite her busy day she dropped everything and gave me a ride to Women and Infants. Normally I would drive myself but I was too emotionally drained to be stubborn when she offered. I’m so glad that I accepted the help and we ended up having a nice morning together (considering the circumstances).

I was able to have a speedy x-ray and speak with a radiologist. Luckily, it does not appear that the lung was punctured. THANK GOODNESS! It does appear that there is pocket of air outside of the lung. Because that air is there and shouldn’t be, the lung cannot fully expand which lends itself to the continued shortness of breath.

Sheila and Evelyn suspect that when we did the procedure and were having trouble finding the “sweet spot” where the fluid is and hitting resistance, she hit a loculation (pocket of jelly-like fluid) and that is now where the air is. This is pretty much the best case scenario because it would mean the air is not escaping from the lung and that in time it will just resolve itself. What a relief.

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So that’s that.

At the insistence of my colleagues, I’m taking a few days off to rest and let me lungs do their thing and returning to work on Monday.  I feel guilty for not being there during such a high volume time but as Doug said, it’s not the end of the world and everything will get done. I am no good to anyone else if I’m not 100%. I’m physically and mentally drained. I definitely need this time to get centered and take care of myself.

I’m always reminded of a lesson one of my graduate professors instilled in us:

There is a reason on planes that you put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. If you can’t breathe, you can’t possibly help anyone else survive.

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Also- there is a new treatment plan in the works but to be honest, this post is long enough. I’ll keep you updated soon. What I will say for now is that I will still have two more weeks of Taxol before we switch to something else.

Countdown to real hair begins!

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All systems go: A new treatment plan in motion

What a day, nay- what a week.

At work we are in the midst of the course registration frenzy. During this time there are a lot of time sensitive concerns, a high volume of varying needs, and general stress. On top of that all I can think about all week is:

1.) I need to stop hacking a lung or I might turn myself inside out.

2.) What treatment plan will provide for me the best quality of life

3.) Pizza (because pizza is usually at the forefront of my mind).

My supervisors and colleagues have been very sensitive to my recent and ongoing challenges and stepped up in a huge way to ensure that I could rest my body and ease my mind. I didn’t realize just how necessary it was to just decompress until I got home, got into bed, and felt all my insides just ache.

STILL Fixing a Broken Squeaker:

Today was a big day. First of all, the coughing has gotten out of hand and although I had some relief after the thoracentesis, I underwent a second this morning. After performing an ultrasound on both lungs they determined that the left side was STILL worse than the right side and they again drained from the left side.

No Farva, that’s not Liter-Cola, it’s another full liter of my tumor juice.

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Sheila, my now fancy nurse-navigator, was a doll and went with me to observe the procedure and wiped the tears from my eyes and goopy nose while I periodically whimpered. The PA that performed the procedure was VERY good and although it was still a difficult procedure to endure, it wasn’t as traumatizing as the first time.

There is still some fluid boppin’ around in there but I can certainly breathe even better now. Slowly, we’re making progress. I just pray to the good heavens above that I don’t have to have this procedure done again anytime soon. Two in one week is enough torture.

The Treatment Plan:

Prior to draining the pleural effusion from my chest, I met with Dr. Robison to carefully weigh out all of the treatment options we have in front us. After great consideration, we agreed that we would try pairing Avastin (an antibody) and Taxol (a commonly used chemotherapy that I’ve had previously). There is research to suggest that Avastin in combination with Taxol yields more promising results than Avastin alone. The decision to start with a chemo-combination as opposed to Avastin on its own was also heavily influenced by the amount of fluid that has been collecting in my chest. The Taxol should do a good job of drying that up. Eventually we will be able to taper off the chemo and only use Avastin. I do not have a timeline for this.

The up-sides:

  • Will provide good quality of life
  • Minimal side effects
  • I DON’T have to take it at home (it will be an outpatient infusion)
  • Treatment will occur at Women and Infant’s in Providence (less than a mile from my apartment)
  • I already know that I tolerate Taxol well

Moderate-Bummers:

  • At least for the first few months I will need infusions once per week (still not as bad as the first time)
  • I may lose my hair again. But even so- I know I have a nice round head and in the grand scheme of things feeling well trumps having hair.

With all of that being said we are wasting no time! My first treatment begins next Friday and I plan to be there with the ever handsome and delightful Cory Tysoe. Little does he know that he will just have to just watch me pass the eff out once they toss some Benedryl in the IV (Benedryl naps for life!). Cory- you should probably bring a book…

So in short, it’s been a BIG week of mixed experiences and emotions but I’m still full of fire and will do everything I can to claim my life as my own and NOT cancer’s chew toy.

Mom, Dad, Adam, Cory, family, and friends (I’d be typing names for decades, sorry). Thank you for always having my back, always believing in my ability to be well, and helping me to navigate and endure the ups and downs of this disease.

So much gratitude…

Jess