My Double Life

The Mount LeConte Lodge in the Smokie Mountains is a special place only accessible by foot and booked a couple years in advance.  I had never heard of it, but when my Camino group was lucky enough to secure a reservation for July 7th, I jumped at the chance. Little did I know the hike would be on the heel of a new chapter in the cancer saga.

In May I had my first Gallium-68 scan (read about that here), which revealed disease not detected in my previous MRIs. I knew something was going on due to my blood tumor marker results and onset of facial flushing, a common symptom of Neuroendocrine and Carcinoid Tumors. My specialist, Dr. Edward Wolin, recommended Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT).  While PRRT has been done with much success for 20+ years in Europe, it is pending FDA approval in the United States. Fortunately, there is a clinic in Houston (Excel Diagnostics) who has been granted permission to perform this treatment. With Dr. Wolin’s help, I was able to get scheduled this week (July 10-14) after the 6-week waiting period from my last Lanreotide injection expired. Because the treatment is not approved, we are not sure if it will be covered by insurance and guess what?  It ain’t cheap. So, please stop here and join me in saying a prayer that insurance will do it’s job.

With the Mount LeConte adventure scheduled two days before the Houston departure, I contemplated if the hike was a smart idea and (quickly) concluded that as long as I felt good, I was not going to let cancer ruin yet another life plan.

At 6,593 ft (2,010 m) Mount LeConte is the highest peak in Tennessee and one of the highest in the Appalachian Mountains. I decided I should do a little training so I spent some time at Radnor Lake climbing up and down the ridges. During those hikes I felt awesome and ready for Mount LeConte, but on Independence Day, I was pooped after only 750 feet of elevation giving me reason to doubt myself. Backing down doesn’t compute in my brain so I told doubt to get lost as I packed my backpack full of gear and short acting Octreotide injections which I take three times a day now that my Lanreotide has run out.

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8:20 and ready to climb

There are a few trails to Mount LeConte and my husband and my(reluctant)self picked Alum Cave, which happens to be the shortest, but most difficult of the routes. Our group of four departed the trailhead at 8:20 a.m. It rained the night before and most of the hike was a walk upstream. Alum Cave is described as scenic but I couldn’t see anything due to fog. I was grateful for ignorance during the often stretches of metal cable on my right and an invisible drop on the left. It was hard. I was sweaty and tired, but 11:30 a.m. we strolled into the Lodge to find ourselves the first arrivals of the day. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, cancer.

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The Lodge was an experience! We were told to bring our own towel, which I incorrectly associated to a shower. When the receptionist bragged about a hot water spigot and flush toilets, I knew wi-fi was out of the question. It turned out to be a welcomed change of pace. Once the fog cleared, the vistas and quiet were appreciated. With sunrise came blue skies and a leisurely, but fast, descent from the top of Tennessee. At the bottom of the mountain, we packed up, stopped for lunch and headed home to our wonderful indoor utilities with enough time to re-pack for today’s (July 9th) departure for Houston.

I am so grateful to have spent some time disconnected in nature which provided me with the opportunity for noise-free reflection. This trip had me thinking about how I am full of contradictions and extremes. One day I am climbing mountains and the next day I am off for a cancer treatment. I am stronger and in better shape than most, but not healthy. I climbed up the mountain in the fog and down in the sun. I have no in-between. No average. No middle-of-the road. No even keel. I love this. I hate this. Who wants to be average? Me. I would love to be normal, but then again, I probably wouldn’t.

As always, prayers, thoughts and good vibes for the treatment to be successful are appreciated.  An offering to the insurance Gods would be welcomed too.

Upward and forward.

NET Friends – Stay tuned for blogs on my PRRT experience at Excel Diagnostics in Houston.

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A Day in the Life of a Cancer Patient

Last Thursday, I was driving to the Cancer Center for my monthly injection of Lanreotide and had an idea to photo document the day in the life of a cancer patient. Then I decided against it because I felt uncomfortable asking the staff for selfies of my activities and now, I regret it.

As I was leaving the hospital, I checked Twitter to see that the American Healthcare Act (AHCA) passed in the House of Representatives and I was flooded with so many emotions – fear, anger, worry, stress. Isn’t it enough I have to deal with cancer?

So, in lieu of a photo documentary, I still think there’s some value in posting the play-by-play of my day to provide a small glimpse of what illness suffers endure. However, it should be noted that in the big world of cancer, I have it pretty easy.

6:00 a.m. Rise, drink coffee, wake up, clean up.

7:00 Shower, apply lidocaine cream to port to numb the 3/4 inch needle phlebotomist will stab into my chest soon.

8:00 Out the door. What should take 20 minutes, takes 50 thanks to morning traffic.

8:50 Arrive, park and walk to the hospital.

9:00 Check-in, #1.

9:15 Check-in, #2. I confirm my address, insurance, emergency contact and complete forms, noting any new symptoms since my last visit, including a demographic section, where every month, I have to check the box indicating I am still white. I think these forms are dumb, so I stopped filling them out months ago.

9:30 Blood draw/Chest stabbing. As I’m walking into the lab, I tell the phlebotomist that my tube is the white one in the fridge. Yes, I have my own tube and section in the fridge.

9:45 Wait for the Nurse Practitioner.

10:15 A medical assistant takes me to an exam room and records my blood pressure, heart rate, weight and asks me the questions on the forms they gave me, which is another reason I stopped filling them out.*

10:45 Even though my appointment was at 10:00, the Nurse Practitioner strolls in late. She’s scheduled for patients every 15 minutes, which is completely unrealistic and why she’s late every single time. She asks me all the questions on the form I refuse to complete and confirms, “Yes, I still need the shot,” I’ve been getting every month for two years now.*  Cost of the 15 minutes – $252.

11:00 I make a side trip to the records office to get the disc from my most recent scan since I get to repeat this process with my specialist in New York City in a couple weeks. I fill out the form and tell the clerk I’ll be back in a couple hours.

11:15 Arrive at the Infusion Center, Check-in #3.

12:30 p.m. I’m called back to my infusion room. The medical assistant takes my blood pressure, heart rate and asks me the form questions…again. The nurse shows up moments later and asks me the same questions…for a third time.*

1:30 My shot finally shows up from the pharmacy but needs to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Cost of the shot – $18,397.20.

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The tiny pic doesn’t do justice to the needle, but trust me, it’s muy grande.

2:00 The nurse administers the shot. It is the thickest needle any of them have ever seen and is injected into my butt-hip area. It sometimes leaves a nice lump, so we alternate left and right cheek each injection.

 

2:02 I’m now in line to Check-out.

2:15 Pick up the disc of my recent scan.

2:30 Arrive in my car, check Twitter to see the AHCA bill has passed the house is a step closer to reality.

2:45 Arrive at home and call my Senators.

What the daily account does not include is the conversation my husband and I had at dinner, where we re-agreed to move our lives to his home country of France if that’s what it takes to keep me alive and well. For this, I am so lucky. Most sick American’s do not have this option.

What the daily account above does not include is waking up several times Thursday night and not being able to fall back to sleep because I was worried for my well-being and the well-being of other people who will go bankrupt and/or die because of this bill.

What this daily account above does not include is the emotional and mental side effects from illness.

I could use this platform to share my specific views on the debate, but I won’t. It’s all been said and I do not have anything new to add to the debate. All I can do is share my story with my legislators in hopes that it will inspire them to do the right thing for the citizens of the country which boasts itself as the greatest on earth.

If you’re impacted by illness (and who isn’t), I encourage you to contact your Senators. Share your story. If you’re not sure where to start or what to say, I recommend https://5calls.org/#about where they provide your representative’s contact information with scripts on what to say.

*The snark is directed at the system and not the staff.  They are simply following protocols and are 110% awesome.