Scan days are always a little crazy. I don't sleep well the night before. I don't get breakfast. I have to drink the berry smoothie contrast yuck. I get stuck for a port access for the dye. I get to lie on a hard table with my arms over my head, intermittently holding my breath. Then I get to wait for results. I got exactly what I expected on this one - continued progression of all lesions at about the same rate as while I was on treatment. Which means, yes, that nothing they've given me since last August has done diddly squat to even slow this thing down. All those lovely side effects for nothing.
The real insanity of this scan day came at 10:30 with a call from my oncologist who had just gotten a call from the reading radiologist. The neck pain that has been getting gradually worse over the last couple of weeks is from the same lesion in the C5 vertebra that was radiated in December. It's bigger and is now encroaching on the spinal canal and has consumed about 50% of the vertebral body. So both of them are worried that I'm going to sneeze and become a quadriplegic and they think something should be done right this very minute. Well, hold on, guys and gals. The scan was done today because today's the day that worked in my schedule. We added the cervical spine to the usual chest, abdomen, and pelvis because my neck's been hurting me more. But I'm no different today than I was yesterday and we didn't have to talk to the surgeon RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE yesterday. Ugh. The orthopedic spine specialist who has been looking at my scans all along is out because he had his own neck surgery 2 1/2 weeks ago, but the radiologist called him at home, anyway, to make him look at the scans. He is blessedly in my camp on this. Yes, it's bigger; yes, it's encroaching a little bit on the spinal canal and vertebral foramen but not the spinal cord. But he's pretty sure nothing dramatically awful is going to happen right this minute. So he sent me for some plain films of my neck and to pick up a rigid cervical to use if I have a sudden increase in pain or any neurologic symptoms. Meanwhile, my oncologist is going to get a little second opinion from a neurosurgeon at Yale.
I am remarkably sanguine about this - not buying into the drama. Yes, my neck really hurts. And my low back and sacrum have become increasingly painful, too, by the way, but nothing structurally threatening there. A week ago my pain was easily controlled with 400 mg of Ibuprofen twice a day. Now I'm up to 600 mg every 8 hours and it's not holding me as well as I'd like. So I had already decided to ask for a pain specialist consult so I could talk to someone about making the move to narcotic pain control but hopefully in a manner that will allow me to keep functioning - long acting rather than short acting, keep awake meds if necessary, preplan for side effects. All things that pain specialists do much better than doctors who do acute disease management. I'm still going to ask for that. I'm also going to take a deep breath and wait and watch for a few days. My guy will be back in the office where he can look at comparison scans and the plain films I had today on Monday. My oncologist is going to have to suck it up and make some sort of educated guess about life expectancy because wouldn't you think any decision about surgery for the neck would have to take that into account?
Aside from the problems with the neck there's the question about what, if anything, to do about systemic treatment for the cancer. I'm going to have to let my oncologist calm down a little bit about the neck before I press him on these other issues. Hopefully we can discuss in some depth when I see him Tuesday. I'm going to want him to find out what phase I clinical trials I might be eligible for (so I can do my part to advance the science) at Yale and Memorial Sloan=Kettering. His office will be able to find out what my insurance will cover as far as post-fourth line treatment. I'm not about to spend thousands of my own dollars on something that is very unlikely to provide any significant benefit and I have very strong misgivings about asking my insurance company to throw good money after bad.
The radiologist was so upset when she called me this morning. She said, "This is just so disheartening." It's hard for me to believe, but I seem to be the only person in my little cancer world who understands (and has understood for many, many months) that this cancer really is going to kill me. The fact that it has allowed me to continue my life with very few sacrifices for this long is amazing to me and a great gift. We'll have to see how much more of that quality life I can wring out of this stone.
Meanwhile, the rhododendrons are blooming like crazy here. The next to weeks are a whirlwind of end of year recitals and concerts. Emma and Molly get here on Saturday and I still have our Texas trip to look forward to in July.
This week you can all just send strong thoughts to all these crazy doctors so that they can deliberate in a thoughtful manner and consider all of me and my life as they try to come up with recommendations for me. Then I can go to the crazy 8 ball and let it tell me what to do.