Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Nightmare Began . . .

Two years ago today, I went into the hospital for a biopsy on a tumor in the pleura around my lungs. On December 19, 2009 I had gone to my primary care physician because I was having trouble breathing and thought I might have pneumonia.  After listening to my lungs, she ordered an x-ray and the results showed my left lung was completely obscured by fluid. It was a pleural effusion and I was sent directly to the hospital and it was all pretty scary.  The next day they drained two liters of fluid!  It was obvious that something serious was going on and the following week I had a CT scan.  I got a call that my doctor had scheduled an appointment for me with a thoracic surgeon.  At that appointment, we saw the image of the tumor and the surgeon said it could possibly be mesothelioma or lymphoma.  At that point, I was very frightened.   

Two days later on January 14, I checked into the hospital for a biopsy.  Unfortunately, the biopsy led to emergency surgery because of massive internal bleeding caused by the biopsy. After all that drama, I was initially diagnosed with mesothelioma and had a very bleak prognosis. However, the bleeding and biopsy led the doctors to a different diagnosis of  plasmacytoma related to multiple myeloma. While a cancer diagnosis is never good news, this was a far better diagnosis than mesothelioma. Plasmacytomas are highly sensitive to radiation and chemotherapy and there are treatments for multiple myeloma even though it can’t be cured. After six days in the hospital recovering from emergency thoracic surgery that left about a ten inch scar and a ribcage that is still painful at times, I went home. Radiation started the next day.  

After 14 radiation treatments that got rid of the plasmacytoma, I had a bone marrow biopsy which showed that I had high risk myeloma.  The plasma cells were irregular with missing chromosomes and other abnormalities.  This diagnosis was quite disheartening and my husband and I  were stunned by the news. At this point, my oncologist said he was sending me to the “big boys” at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.  Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center which is part of SCCA has been awarded three Nobel Prizes over the years.  One of the Nobel Prizes was for pioneering bone marrow transplants.  I think that is why they can be called, the "big boys."   Read about it at:

After many screening tests at SCCA, I was scheduled to begin a clinical trial.  However, on the day I was to begin, my neutrophils took a nose dive and I was disqualified from the study.  This was extremely disappointing news.  My doctor at SCCA sent recommendations to my oncologist here and I began chemotherapy in May. My regimen was dexamethasone, thalidomide and velcade.  The side effects were minimal, but I did have some days that my oncologist called my “splat” days.  What a perfect description for how I felt.  I finished in August and started mentally preparing myself for a stem cell transplant.

Footnote:  I consider my oncologist here, Dr. Mark Coughenour, one of the "big boys" too!  He is wonderful and I am forever thankful that he was on call at the hospital and became my oncologist when this all began!  Another gift . . .

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