The Next Step May 13, 2013

Friends and Family,

Today we met with the oncologist and got the results of my latest CT scan. The cancer has grown, which wasn’t a surprise since I noticed a little more difficulty breathing. The unexpected part is that it looks on the CT scan like it has spread to my pelvic bone. I’ve had some soreness in my hip for the past couple of months, which has led to a limp, but until today I thought I might have pulled a muscle or strained a tendon in yoga. I thought that the limping caused my lower back pain, but Dr. Lopez-Chavez thinks that the back pain is also caused by cancer in the bone. I’m going to have a bone scan this Thursday to get better information. We should have the results by early next week.

Either way, what this means is that it’s time to start the next phase of treatment. But before I go into that, I have to tell you how GREAT this run has been! I have been off all treatment for the last 11 months. Whoever heard of a cancer that just sits there and doesn’t grow? The more time that has passed, the more grateful and excited I have been about how well things have been going. Every day where I haven’t had to start treatment meant that I won again. I won the grand prize of another day on this planet 335 days in a row!

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a huge bonus. Treatment is evolving so fast that stalling off the cancer for 11 months has given me a better chance of outrunning this cancer altogether. THAT has been the big picture in my mind. The longer I stay alive, the better the chances are that more treatment options will come along that will delay the cancer, or defeat it altogether.

One of the greatest gifts that cancer has given me is to teach me about gratitude. These past few months have been some of the best days of my life. Part of this is because I am grateful for every day, and part of it is because of one of cancer’s other great gifts: Teaching me to live in the present. I have spent very little time thinking about the next CT scan, and a lot of time thinking about how beautiful life is. It is amazing how wonderful life can be when you only worry about today.

To show you how well this works, I’ll tell you what it has been like for me. Last month Genevieve and I had the most perfect trip to Hawaii imaginable. We didn’t put on our shoes the entire trip, at least until we were leaving for the airport. We swam, body surfed, and took long sunrise walks on the beach. We swam in the ocean during a rainstorm, and the raindrop splashes looked like thousands of popcorn kernels bursting out of the water. We sipped glasses of wine at sunset on the six-foot bluff in front of the beach, and watched the sea turtles lazily pop their heads up every now and then. Back in Oregon, we’ve had the most beautiful, sunny, warm spring that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Every single day has been exhilarating. We capped off the entire spring of beauty by seeing the Dalai Lama on Saturday. He talked about how having compassion for others is even more important than religious beliefs, which is both refreshing and remarkable, particularly when coming from one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our lifetime.

On to treatment. Once this prescription clears the insurance barrier (within a few days), I’ll be starting Tarceva. This is the targeted genetic treatment that was touted as the next Wonder Drug when it came out nearly two years ago, just when I was diagnosed. I am one of the very, very lucky 12% of people with lung cancer that have the right genetic mutation for this treatment to work. If it works, it will either stop the cancer from growing, or shrink it. It may even shrink it completely, even in the bones. The chances are better for me than for most people that it can shrink the cancer completely because the tumors are so small that it’s easier for the Tarceva to attack them from all sides.

The biggest question mark is how well Tarceva works when you have TWO genetic mutations, which my cancer has. There is no research on this one. Yet. I am part of the research. I aim to put the outcome in the “plus” column, but at this point we have no idea how the second mutation will impact treatment.

The cancer grows by taking the blood from surrounding tissues. There are thousands of these little suckers. The Tarceva works by choking off the blood supply to the tumors, and by preventing the cancer from creating new veins in order to add new blood supplies. I like to visualize the tumors as if cutting off the blood supply turns them into dried prunes.

Here is where I’m hoping you will come in. I could really use your help, now more than ever, with any of the following: Send your positive thoughts and prayers. Think dried prunes. Ask for help from Jesus, Krishna, Allah, the aliens, or the Cookie Monster. Send positive energy. Send a candy gram, or send an email.

In other words, in any way you want to do it, in any form you can, send love. It’s the only thing I know that works no matter what you believe in.

Thank you so much for your love and support. In my heart I truly believe that your love is what is keeping me alive.