Recent Health Updates: Exercise

I had a PET scan, and appointments with my family doctor, thoracic surgeon/respirologist (who may do a biopsy) and oncologist recently. Good news all around! (Which may not be 100% precisely accurately remembered / communicated here.)

First of all, you may already know this bit of background I’ve been on Lorlatinib (a targeted therapy / cancer-fighting pill) since 2018. In 2020 we noticed progression so we radiation on those pesky spots, but that didn’t work as well as we’d hoped it would. Our next plan (still in 2020) was to keep the Lorlatinib and add Pemetrexed (IV chemo). This continued for 24 cycles, but in February 2022 I was admitted to hospital with shortness of breath of unknown causes. In Spring 2022 the experts determined that I was doing very poorly, likely due to the Pemetrexed, and stopped IV chemo for a treatment break. I continued on the Lorlatinib, but after an appointment with my oncologist very recently, we have decided to take a brief treatment break to see how I do on no treatment for a little while. Please note: these are just treatment breaks. 

My family doc has agreed to look into what may be causing the shortness of breath, since it’s not necessarily cancer, which is great news! My oncologist also is referring me to a specialist who may be able to help with this.

The thoracic surgeon / respirologist said the PET scan revealed there is a small spot which may be measurable disease that he can easily biopsy if needed for the clinical trial. He also said that shortness of breath is natural since my lungs have much smaller capacity because of the scarring from cancer, the treatments, pneumonias, etc. This could have been discouraging, however when I asked what I could do to maximize what I’ve got and live as well and as long as possible, his answer was inspiring! This expert said that exercise makes a difference. Exercise is helpful – even when suffering from shortness of breath and in need of oxygen – and will influence all aspects of health. It doesn’t have to be at the pace that we might think. He encourages, for example, walking at a slow pace where we can still have a conversation with a friend and breathe. It matters that we keep pushing ourselves, at a slow pace, and it will help us to live longer and better.

Survivorship can be challenging. We need to remember that we are stronger than we think we are and by pushing ourselves a little, at a slow pace, and asking our friends to support and encourage us, we can potentially live longer and better.

Very grateful for Andrea Redway, for coming with me to the thoracic surgeon and also taking notes! (Everyone needs support and an advocate.) Still grateful for the cake made and brought by the awesome Vanneste sisters back in 2017 for our outreach table for World Lung Day. What a great surprise and generous gift that was! August 1 is World Lung Cancer Day. What is your Cancer Centre doing to celebrate?

#hope

Also very grateful for the ALK group who hosted a zoom call recently with people from Nuvalent, the biotech company developing the drug that I’m hoping to gain access to, potentially through upcoming clinical trial later this year. (Very grateful for Nuvalent.) One of the things I love about this trial is that the team has worked very hard to make it as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. So, for example, you can have had multiple prior lines of treatment. You could be 107 years old. You could have ALK cancer, but not specifically ALK lung cancer – even rarer. You can even live in Ottawa Canada.

(Note: most pictures here are pre-COVID.)

So much gratitude!

You may already know I had a very rough time healthwise in the Fall of 2020. We added radiation to the targeted therapy drug with hope that this one-two punch would knock out the progression I was facing, but sadly it didn’t do the job. I got pneumonia, suffered more progression, started chemo then got pneumonia again. It was a difficult time, and it became hard to keep up with walking the (large) dog twice a day. I was very weak and tired, could not swallow hardly anything, and had no appetite.

I’m so happy to say that I’m doing much better now. I continue to feel a little better each day, and am very grateful! I haven’t had any further swallowing appointments or procedures, but gradually I’m able to swallow a slightly increasing range of soft foods. The chemo is definitely working to kill the cancer, and it’s not too hard on me.

I seem to have settled into a rhythm each three week chemo cycle, and the side effects seem to be getting more manageable. Every three weeks I have about five rough days, when I feel extremely tired and experience side effects like nausea, general unwellness and a rash.

We are given a prescription for pills to counteract the nausea, to be taken as needed. I’ve used them a few times, but generally find that the anti-seasickness bracelets (that I also used to reduce morning sickness during my pregnancies) take the edge off enough for me to manage. Combine that with eating frequent small meals, and I feel quite well. The nausea only hits for a few days out of a three week cycle.

I’ve worked at being proactive, preparing for the phases of the cycle as best as I can. I take steroids for three days around the day when I get chemo, to help keep my body from reacting too strongly to the chemo. The rough days are largely a reaction to stopping the steroids. I make sure to plan to eat well and keep hydrated. I prepare foods in advance that will entice me to eat when I’m struggling from loss of appetite. I greatly reduce my expectations about what I’ll be able to accomplish those days, though I do find light exercise and phone calls with friends energizing.

I’ve been using aloe vera to help with the rash, and last cycle I applied it preemptively, before I had any rash symptoms, and did not get much of a rash at all! My skin was only a little pink, and not hardly itchy! Now the nerd in me is thinking we should do research on this, dividing patients into randomized trial groups to see if it was the aloe vera that worked, or merely gradual lessening of side effects, which is common as the body adjusts to a new treatment. I’m so curious, but I don’t want to experience the itchy rash again so I plan to apply it preemptively again next time!

We’ve been the recipients of so much generosity and kindness. What a difference that makes! Thank you so much to all who have brought or sent flowers, food, masks, food, prayers, food, lovely cards, kind thoughts and words, or food. We have been strengthened and uplifted with the love and support of so many. Thank you! So much gratitude!

I’ve also had the great gift of getting several sheets of exercises from two different oncology physiotherapists to help improve breathing and some trouble with my neck / shoulder region. I’m grateful to be seeing some improvement. It’s hard to know how much is the multiple sheets of exercises that I do every day, and how much is the cancer mercifully shrinking away. Either way, so very grateful.

I’ve been very busy with lung cancer advocacy, like the ongoing work as patient representative for the Canadian Cancer Trials Group Lung Site, 3CTN, The Ottawa Hospital, International Lung Cancer Foundation, and new connections with research teams in other cities. There is so much to tell you about how The White Ribbon Project is growing, and how people have stood up to raise awareness and proudly represent in eight Canadian provinces already! So exciting! Also continuing this month I’m part of a team exploring how to accelerate new drug approvals for people with lung cancer, and continuing conversations with a YouTuber who wants to help raise awareness about lung cancer. There is so much important work to do. It takes a team!

I’m so very grateful for lung cancer research that is helping to keep so many lung cancer survivors alive so we can do the things that matter to us.

More research means more survivors.

Research is life.

Research matters.

I really want to make sure you know I’m alive and quite well, doing a little better every day, and oh so very grateful.