Port update and today’s advocacy highlights

Several people have asked how things are going with the port, so it seems good to tell you that it’s going well! I’ve had chemo through it twice now, and having it changed the whole flavour of the chemo appointment. Instead of wondering with some measure of dread how many pokes would be required before success, each time the nurse had success on the first poke. Such relief! No more heating of the arms, no more slapping or pressing in search of sneaky veins. Both times the nurse simply inserted the needle into the port and all was well. Such relief!

Full disclosure: it hurts a little when the needle (for chemo) goes in. But so much less than when the nurse has to poke around for the vein. There are several pain relief options which could be used. Also, the phlebotomists at the Cancer Centre lab need to poke for blood draws for the blood test that we do every 24-48 hours before treatment, since they are not authorized to use the port. Blood draws don’t tend to hurt, and usually work on the first attempt.

Advocacy highlights: Great day today! Two significant conversations this morning to tell you about: one with someone diagnosed with lung cancer looking for support. She is interested in doing some advocacy also. The other with another person diagnosed with lung cancer who has set up a meeting for us with her MP to attempt to move access to Lorlatinib further forward. We spoke this morning to discuss strategy and make specific plans for this upcoming zoom meeting. I really appreciate being teammates with people who care and who appreciate the value of being part of a good team. Advocacy and life go better with good teammates.

Of course there were many more things on the agenda for today, but those are two being highlighted for today. Those and also this lovely card which just arrived from Martina, another good teammate and fellow cancer research patient representative good teammate. What a treat to receive such a thoughtful gift from a good teammate! #blessed #grateful #team

Disappointing News

One advantage of needing help getting into the cancer centre is being allowed to bring a friend into my appointment with the oncologist. I’m very grateful that I could bring dear friend and awesome lung cancer survivor advocate, Andrea Redway, into the little room to talk with the oncologist about test results. It means a lot to have her ears and wisdom, and know that she will feel free to speak up with questions and ideas. (Of course I ran it by the oncologist beforehand.)

Part of the disappointing news is that there is no news from the blood biopsy that was sent to Canexia lab in Vancouver BC. Just because they didn’t spot any cancer info doesn’t mean there is none present, similar to the way we don’t find a chunk of chicken in every spoonful of a bowl of chicken soup.

My awesome oncologist looked back over several ct scans, comparing multiple scans rather than merely the most recent to the one previous scan. When he put five scans in a row, it became clear that it looks like slowly progressing cancer growing. Disappointing news.

We control what we can control.

There are several potential options to consider choosing. I would love to participate in a clinical trial, but unfortunately the cancer is growing in a way (without “measurable disease”) that does not meet criteria for the trials that we’ve looked into so far. Currently I don’t qualify for any trials that we’ve found. I’m very grateful for the team who have influenced our thinking, including patients, survivors, caregivers, doctors and researchers, very thankful for those who have offered input to guide our choices. My oncologist and I have been communicating with each other, and including the thoughts of other experts.

A big shoutout to Colin Barton and the ALK+ Research Acceleration Committee who are made up of patients, survivors and caregivers. They not only stay on top of cutting edge research related to the type of lung cancer we’re affected by (ALK+), but also drive research. They are a brilliant bunch who also care.

Another big shoutout to our Canadian team of doctors and researchers. Through years of advocacy it has been a privilege to get to know and partner with many top lung cancer researchers, surgeons and oncologists from across the country, as well as around the world.

My oncologist reached out to several people including Dr. Alice Shaw, MD, PhD, also known as the Queen of ALK. Dr. Alice Shaw remembers me as the Canadian advocate who chased her from the escalator and interviewed her for this YouTube video at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting in Atlanta, 2019. #AACR19

Dr. Ross Camidge spoke to the importance of testing to find the most appropriate treatment. Here he is at an event in April 2019 at The Ottawa Hospital where Dr. Paul Wheatley-Price obtained permission for me to invite people to be part of a special presentation to patients. Dr. Camidge also fielded questions from people across the country who were able to participate remotely. Dr. Christine Lovly is another top ALK doctor/researcher who genuinely cares about people and remembers us. They are part of our lung cancer team, and they are terrific teammates! So very thankful! (I also included a few photo’s below from our ALK+ family summit in Atlanta in August 2019. Such a great gift to be with these amazing people.)

But back to the news… my oncologist has asked a thoracic surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital about doing a procedure to get a biopsy to test. I’m waiting to hear back. Waiting is hard, but we can only control what we can control.

In the meantime, we continue the same course of treatment which is holding back much of the cancer, and we also take symptom management steps ahead. This seems to be a slowly progressing cancer, and being slow is a mercy which we’ll take.

The pain and symptom management clinic at The Ottawa Hospital gave an appointment next week. Research shows that people whose symptoms are well-managed tend to live not only better, but also longer. I’ll take it!

Yesterday morning I presented a White Ribbon to my awesome respirologist, Alyson, who came by to replace the oxygen machine which had started beeping. She has listened to a lot of advocacy talk about lung cancer, is very informed and empathetic. She goes above and beyond. Very thankful for her.

#hope

This just in! A call from the doctor’s office for a phone call appointment to discuss the potential procedure on Friday afternoon, April 29. (I asked and they don’t have a cancellation list.)

Testing and Treating Lung Cancer

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2013, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre tested for two specific kinds of (non-small cell) lung cancer: EGFR and ALK. How thankful we are that they routinely tested for ALK because knowing my specific diagnosis has made a huge difference in terms of my treatment. Because we knew specifically what kind of lung cancer, we could choose the best treatments which have kept me going for over eight years! How thankful we are for testing and treatments.

During those eight years, advances in lung cancer research have been outstanding! Now we can treat so many more kinds of lung cancers. It can be challenging for hospitals to keep up with testing, to keep testing for all the treatable types of lung cancer. I’m happy to report that now The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre tests for eleven specific types of lung cancer: PD-L1, EGFR, ALK, ROS1, RET, KRAS, BRAF, HER2, MET, NTRK, and PIK3CA.

Clinical trials can be the best way for some people affected by lung cancer to get the newest treatments, so testing must be aligned with treatments available by clinical trials or compassionate release programs.

Lung cancer research will continue to offer increasing treatment options for people affected by lung cancer. As more advances in the testing and treating of cancer arise, it matters that hospitals ensure that testing aligns with available treatment options.

How many types of lung cancer does your cancer centre test for?

(Note: this testing can also called by other names, for example: biomarker testing, molecular testing, precision oncology, tumour testing, genomic testing, … )

#ResearchMatters

#ChooseHope

Ottawa Lung Cancer Support Group

What is a cancer support group worth? Who can place a value on a group like this? We can encourage each other, support each other, lift each other up. We can help each other know we’re not alone. Together we can hold onto hope. Imagine what more we can do!

Together we are the Ottawa Lung Cancer Support Group. The Jelly Bean Gang. The Ottawa Circle. #LungCancerStrong

Here is how we looked on Zoom today. Due to COVID we’ve temporarily pivoted to the online world. Screenshot at 4:09pm EDT, shared with permission. Look at our faithful leader and all these beautiful lung cancer survivors, one on horseback, celebrating one year since diagnosis. Happy “Cancerversary”! Looking good, Ottawa!

Wouldn’t it be good if everyone affected by cancer had a support group to be part of?

#ResearchMatters

Research Matters

On Monday March 14, The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre lab drew blood to be analyzed by Canexia in Vancouver, British Columbia, to test to see if there is a treatable kind of cancer attacking me. We’re still waiting for results and holding onto hope.

Biomarker testing matters.

If the testing comes back with information about a treatable cancer, then taking daily pills could potentially turn my health around. Many lung cancer patients go from extremely poor health to feeling quite well in only a matter of days, once they start taking the right treatment (targeted therapy pills). This is what we are hoping for me. New research, as you probably know, is a game-changer for many people affected by cancer. We are hopeful that there will be some effective new research that will make a difference for me.

It’s possible that I may have to travel to get access to the pills through a clinical trial. We won’t know until we get information from the test. As many of you know, there can be challenges for people affected by lung cancer to get access to the life-extending treatments they need. Advocates fight for drug approvals and funding, for better access to clinical trials and for clinical trials to be offered in more geographical locations. Access matters.

Research matters – it matters for testing, for treatment options and for access to those treatments. Research matters, to me and to so many others, for people with lung cancer and so many other kinds of cancer. Advocacy matters! Research matters!

Getting our affairs in order

I’ve heard people talk so comfortably about end of life matters, but it was never easy for me. With practice it’s been getting better.

My parents were both diagnosed with cancer within one week when I was 20, and within a year they had both died. Those were the first and second funerals I went to. Before that time I did not know much about grief except what I had read in books. That was an incredibly difficult season and grief continues, though not like back then. I’m working to prepare my children for life after my death, even though we are holding onto hope that I will live for many more years. We have had some really good and important conversations.

It’s always wise to make sure our will is updated and the other important things are communicated and ordered appropriately, but at times like this we feel the need to be sure all the more. It’s generally best to involve a lawyer. Specifics vary from place to place, but in Ontario Canada, the main pieces are: will, power of attorney for personal care, power of attorney for property.

There are many resources in communities and online to help.

For some time I’ve been connected with Hospice Care Ottawa, and recently have started taking advantage of some of their services. I’ve been meeting with a grief counsellor regularly since September because I was feeling the weight of many griefs, and this has been very helpful. Lung cancer advocacy can be a heavy load. Those who are uplifting and supportive matter so much. They can make a huge difference.

Some of Hospice Care Ottawa’s volunteers participated in an advanced care zoom meeting, which was filled with good information and resources. They invited us to play a “Go Wish Game”, where you choose your top 3 out of 36 wish statements relating to end of life care. It’s challenging to choose only three, but the point of this game is to get people thinking and talking, and that it certainly did. Many others on the call have also found that having these kinds of conversations with family and friends tended to turn out a lot better than they were expecting. There are lots of good resources and great conversations to be had.

My word for 2022 is “rejoice”, chosen before 2022, before my health took a turn. It’s surprising how much joy there can be, even in conversations about end of life issues. It matters to me that people feel freedom to celebrate, not just mourn. We’ve spoken about grief many times. We acknowledge there is and there will be sadness along with a whole lot of different emotions, but there can also be joy and laughter. My desire is that in addition to sadness people will remember and celebrate the good and happy times.

My beloved three children mean so much to me. They have been living with their Mom having lung cancer for over eight years. They were only 6, 10 and 12 at diagnosis. Now they are 15, 18 and 20. We are very thankful for advances in research that have been a big part of the story, keeping this stage four cancer survivor alive all these years. What a difference research and good medical care has made, along with the support of some amazing people!

Our advocacy has been largely about working to extend and improve the lives of people diagnosed with lung cancer or other kinds of cancer. We’ve worked hard to support people and elevate the value of people affected by lung cancer and the importance of research. It is still possible that I can live on chemotherapy long enough for another discovery to be made and become accessible for me. This is what we’ve been hoping for.

This is how we’ve been living for the past eight years since diagnosis. Seven different lines of treatment: four different targeted therapies, radiation, two sets of chemotherapy … when one treatment option failed another one has always become available, sometimes just in the nick of time. Great timing of accessibility has helped keep me and many others alive. This rollercoaster ride has kept me and so many others going, and we continue to hold onto hope.

We celebrate researchers, fundraisers, primary care physicians, counsellors, storytellers, social workers, advocates, nurses, surgeons, administrators, oncologists and anyone who works as a good team member to help extend and improve the lives of people affected by lung cancer. These good teammates need to be uplifted and encouraged because the load can be heavy, the work can be hard. We are so grateful for those who encourage and uplift teammates. Together we can be a good team. We can drive change.

#AdvocacyMatters

#AccessMatters

#ResearchMatters

#ChooseHope

Inside scoop

This is awesome! The Ottawa Senators care so much about people affected by lung cancer that they set aside time to sign a stack of The White Ribbon Project ribbons to give to people newly diagnosed with lung cancer at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre. The Weir family is a major reason that The Ottawa Senators are part of The White Ribbon Project community.

Bill & Lisa Weir have made 400 The White Ribbon Project ribbons and given 370 of them out. They are very generous people who are giving with love, investing their time, talents and resources into people affected by lung cancer. They care. Their family is tremendously supportive. They have three grown children, twin grandsons and one due in July. Lisa is looking forward to turning 60 this year. Big milestones. In May 2020, Lisa was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Stage four. Both lungs. She started a clinical trial for her specific kind of lung cancer (KRAS G12C) in May 2021, and it’s working well. #ResearchMatters When she and Bill learned about The White Ribbon Project, they wanted to be part of it and reached out in the very early days to ask about making ribbons. By the end of February 2021 they had made 244 ribbons. Their daughter and son-in-law, Sam and Josh (who plays for the Senators), eagerly jumped on board as did many other family members, friends, teammates and more. What a difference their family and community is making for others. “In this family no one fights alone.” It’s so good to know the Weir family. They are kind people, good, generous and eager advocates, silver linings of lung cancer. Thank you, Weir family and extended community.

Dr. Paul Wheatley-Price is another important The White Ribbon Project community member. He is a medical oncologist who has stepped into an even bigger leadership role at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, giving out ribbons with love. He knows the story of The White Ribbon Project and the importance of love in the making and giving of ribbons. He understands the power of the Ribbon to gather, unite and uplift the lung cancer community in love. He came over to our home today to pick this new batch up. (Thank you to first born for taking pictures.) He was at the Ottawa Community Ribbon Build back in August 2021, and gave out a stack of ribbons to the newly diagnosed in the Fall and Winter. He has been showing he cares about people affected by lung cancer for years. He has played a key role in advocacy, and is a terrific partner in advocacy. He helped us get the first lung cancer outreach table on World Lung Cancer Day, August 1, 2018 at the Cancer Centre (and has continued to support them), and he helped Andrea and me with the annual patient-driven lung cancer patient summits that we held prior to COVID. Having someone like Paul be part of the team makes a phenomenal difference. Multi-disciplinary advocacy teams are powerful game-changers. Paul is a real door-opener. We are so glad he has taken on this important role with The White Ribbon Project, giving out ribbons with love in Ottawa.

Below are some pictures showing just a small portion of Paul’s tremendous advocacy (over years) for people affected by lung cancer. He is a powerful force.

Paul was part of Ottawa’s community ribbon build in August 2021.

Here is Paul today, picking up ribbons at our home. Thank you, Paul, for consistently going the extra mile.

The Weekend, The Sens, and Guy Lafleur

People are asking for updates, so it’s good to let you know that though there have been a rough few days, the weekend was a little bit better. It’s hard to believe it’s already Wednesday evening. A busy few days taking care of some important items on the to do list.

Another important health update: our awesome friend and neighbour, Chris, drove us to the Cancer Centre for blood work on Monday. Blood has been successfully drawn and sent off to be tested for some potential new circulating tumour DNA which might lead to a potential precision oncology treatment option. Now we wait. With hope.

Back to the week-end update!

The kids and I have had some very good conversations, and we spent time singing together on Saturday, with the middle child on the guitar. For years, a vocal chord has been paralyzed so it’s been challenging to speak, sing, etc. Lately it’s been gradually improving, and the past few days it’s noticeably better. Very thankful! Singing is nothing like it was before cancer, but it’s very good to have recently gotten back almost an octave and a half. So thankful.

Our wonderful church family brought three meals on Thursday, as they have been doing every chemo cycle for quite some time. For a long time before then, dear friends had been bringing food. We had asked for only one meal each three weeks, but suddenly realized that one meal wasn’t quite enough. That realization coincided with a call from one of the pastors asking if the church team could bring food for us. It made good sense (since our need had increased) to give our friends a break and switch to a bigger team. We are very grateful for the abundant generosity of our community.

Friends have been coming by with bagels, treats, additional meals, additional treats, additional bagels, additional treats, and more. We are blessed and appreciative. Thank you so much!

Here is a big treat from Sunday:

Canadian White Ribbon maker and fellow lung cancer survivor advocate, Lisa Weir came (from London Ontario) to visit us with her daughter Sam today. (Thank you to my first born for taking this picture.) The Weir family has made 400 White Ribbons – with love – as part of The White Ribbon Project. We have so much appreciation for them and others who have worked together as a good, kind, loving team to make and give out ribbons with love across Canada. Lisa has also been a great friend and strong supporter. She and Sam came with armloads of dinner for us. They are very kind and good, supportive friends. #grateful

This past year, Sam brought several armloads of ribbons from London to Ottawa to be distributed with love. She is awesome! Thank you, Sam. Sam is married to Josh Brown who plays for the Ottawa Senators. They are huge supporters of Lisa and others affected by lung cancer. Sam has also brought White Ribbons for the Sens to sign. Some have already been given (with love) to lung cancer survivors. Dr. Paul Wheatley-Price is coming by this week to pick up more to be given out to people diagnosed with lung cancer. #thankful

Ribbons made with love by the Weir family were given to Hockey Legend Guy Lafleur who is a powerful advocate for people affected by lung cancer. The Weir family had sent a bundle of ribbons to Robert and Melina in Montreal so they could give them out with love there. Seeing how Guy Lafleur (who had been diagnosed with lung cancer) was advocating for research motivated our team to get him a White Ribbon to express our appreciation for his good work. Reached out to Dr. Normand Blais at CHUM (we’ve both been part of Canadian Cancer Trials Group Lung Executive). Dr. Blais connected with M. Lafleur’s team and worked to make it happen. Robert and Melina brought White Ribbons to Dr. Blais who took them into the Cancer Centre. Here are the pictures. (Dr. Blais is on the right.)

Many of you know that Canada is a bilingual nation, with 20-25% of Canadians speaking French as their first language, including people pictured above. The White Ribbon Project is an international movement, and right from early days we discussed how important it is to make ribbon labels in local languages, and how we could best do this. The reason language matters is because language is love and The White Ribbon Project highly values love. We really wanted to make ribbon labels in French. We were not able to make it happen in time for this photo shoot above, but at the Ottawa community build in August 2021 we made the first French ribbons, many of which have been given with love. (Since then, Ribbons in other languages have also been made and given with love.) Here are some Ottawa build pictures from August.

Quick update

I’m at cancer centre getting chemo. I needed help getting in since my shortness of breath got significantly worse overnight. Thankful for the new lovely friend who drove me, the porter, the receptionists at the COVID questions table and at chemo, and my good nurse Jessica who went above and beyond. She rolled me in to spend time with (and give a The White Ribbon Project Ribbon to) fellow lung cancer survivor undergoing treatment here at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, Taylor Westerman, and even took the following picture:

Jessica offered to help after seeing us take this one:

Here she is flushing my brand new port, inserted two days ago. Right now chemotherapy is flowing through it, into my body, fighting and destroying cancer cells! So excited and grateful to be using the new port! I know I’m new to having a port, but so far so good. Not painful. Thank you port insertion team. Thank you Jessica!

And thank you to the lovely young woman who brought ice chips!

In case you missed it, my shortness of breath got much worse overnight. I’m concerned and have talked to the nurses and asked for additional symptom control and supportive care. We continue to explore treatment options and hold onto hope.

Hope matters. Research matters. Supportive care matters. Keep holding onto hope!