Cancer free II.

So I don’t have cancer. Again. My life looks incredibly different that the last time I wrote. Aside from not having cancer anymore, I own a gym now! We opened in January. Starting your own business from scratch is just as time consuming and draining as they say it is and yet it still surprises me how much time and energy it takes. My left lung, the one they removed half of, has expanded a crazy amount. According to my oncologist, it’s expanded to such an extent you “can’t really tell” I’ve had a lobectomy. My upper lobe has met the demands of my exercise and training and is filing like ninety percent of my lung cavity. My oncologist joked, “so you grow livers and lungs”. It’s incredibly remarkable! I did have radiation on the nodule they found last July. I had a scan 2 months ago that showed I have some lung inflammation as a result of that. I don’t notice it too much, occasional wheezing, getting short of breath faster than normal, longer recovery to catch my breath, stuff like that.

Treatment was a bit of a deja vu from the first lung nodule in 2018. I love my interventional radiologist. I was nervous for my initial meeting with him to discuss course of care and options of biopsy and radiation. The last time I saw him, he advised against the recommended treatment because there wasn’t one nodule but eight. It was the conversation that changed the course of my treatment at the time from radiation to six months of the worst chemo of my life and resulting lobectomy. Here I was, meeting with him to discuss a biopsy of the tiny .7 millimeter nodule in my lung, just like before. I was hopeful somehow this time would be different. Different from the first time where the biopsy didn’t give us any results, took two hours and collapsed my lung. Different from the second time where I was informed I had cancer all over my left lung. You would think I would have very negative association with him after all those bad circumstances, but I don’t. Medical professionals who are real humans are a gift straight from heaven. Luckily this time, there was indeed only the one nodule. My current lung nodule was closer to the bottom and outer edge of my lung, which unfortunately, meant there was more movement with my breaths so it was more challenging to get a good tissue sample from a biopsy and also a greater risk for a collapsed lung. Initially he was very skeptical about attempting another biopsy and “tagging” my nodule in the same procedure. You go for the biopsy first then “tag” the nodule. He explained, if the lung collapsed with the biopsy this time, we would need to return for a second procedure to “tag” or “seed” the nodule (see my post from 2018 Radiation). Once he realized I was fine with a second procedure if need be, his hesitation switched to enthusiasm about a second chance at a biopsy and being able to tag the nodule for radiation. I could tell he had a vendetta against my lung nodules and was confident in his ability to make both the biopsy and “seeding” the tumor happen in one procedure.

Lung biopsies are so weird. The propofol they give you to make you sleepy and slow your breathing puts a weird blurry feeling over the whole experience. They insert needles into your back through your ribs, so breathing feels strange, and slide you in and out of the CT machine while you hold your breath and breath shallowly to minimize movement. It always ends up feeling like a strange alien abduction dream. He took as many samples as he could before a little air got in and I developed a small pneumothorax. Those hurt so much! The worst part about them is waiting for them to resolve before you can go home. But, not only was he able to also “seed” the tumor in the same procedure, but he got enough of a tissue sample from the biopsy to say the nodule was indeed cancer and we dove headlong into radiation.

This cycle of radiation was with a different more specific high tech machine than my first cycle of radiation. I drove out every other day to Orange County (just over an hour drive) for my three sessions of radiation. I found out my skull is very lumpy at the back of my head and lying still without moving for a hour is a very challenging task. The first time I did radiation it was with a less specific machine, greater surface area around the tumor is radiated but the five sessions were only twenty minutes at a time. This time I would have less sessions, only three, but each session would be over an hour and the machine would be much more specific and only target the tissue within a couple millimeters around the nodule. Also the machine would lock onto the gold seed next to my nodule and match my breathing pattern.

The first session I laid down on the table and was told the machine arm with the laser would rotate around my body at all kinds of crazy angles to target the nodule. It would be important for me not to move as movement would disrupt the ability of the laser to lock onto the nodule. If only there were words for how hard it is to not move a muscle for over an hour. Before the treatment started I was asked what CD I would like played. (CD?!) She then read out my choices, Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble… etc. I think I chose the Beach Boys. Not that it mattered because one minute into track one the CD skipped. And children, I don’t mean skipped songs, I mean began having a seizure. So I’m laying there trying not to move and the CD is making the same sound over and over and over for the duration of my treatment. I was, luckily able to zone out and pretend it was just a sound the laser arm was making as it moved. The machine literally rotated all around me. Sometimes it would be over my hip a couple inches away from me other times it would be over my head six inches from my face, pistoning gently up and down as I took small shallow breaths. It reminded me of the robots in Iron Man that hold flash lights and fire extinguishers for Robert Downey Jr.. The other thing I noticed in the first five minutes of laying flat on my back and not able to move as a robot laser oscillated around me, was the back of my skull is not smooth. It’s lumpy. I mean, I knew it was lumpy because I can feel it with my hand, but not to this extent! How did this become a noticed thing during radiation you might ask? Well, as you lay there unable to weight shift or move all the weight of my head got pinpointed to the apex of one particularly bony prominence at the base of my skull. It hurts. The second radiation session I tried to cushion it with a french braid. No good. The third time I took a deep breath and asked if they could pad the head rest for my lumpy skull and they kindly obliged me.

Radiation is weird. I never saw a laser, it looked like weird robot voodoo, there were no outward signs anything was even happening. But somehow everyday I would leave feeling depleted and tired. The end of the second and third sessions I felt an ache in my chest near where I was told the nodule was. They told me it was normal because the nodule was right up against my ribs and I was just feeling the radiation in my rib bone. Cool.

That was it. Three hour long sessions and I was done. My tumor markers elevated a little bit, which never fails to make me a little nervous. The radiation oncologist also casually mentioned that he hoped the “other dormant nodules would stay that way” and my oncologist “had lots of other things she was keeping an eye on”. What dormant nodules and what other things? Turns out there are some “nodules” in my lungs that have been there for years and are completely normal in a person without a history of cancer. They haven’t grown, not even a millimeter, in the four years we’ve been doing scans. But it’s amazing the impact a side comment can have on your peace of mind.

I can say confidently the nodule radiated is already gone and not visible on any scans and my tumor markers have returned to normal. Here I am, cancer free again! It’s funny that something so small, seven tenths of a millimeters could disrupt my outlook on life as much as it did. I felt like God said to me, “You really think millimeters of cells means you aren’t healed?”. I answered, “maybe?”. Now I see how disproportionate my doubt was. That tiny nodule and three sessions of radiate made me doubt the very fiber of God’s character. How fickle hearted we humans are! Now I have an entire new arena to put God’s promises, words, and character to the test in. I started by own business and got a puppy! Life is definitely different and looks like a whole new set of adventures.

I have left coaching at the gym where I spent seven years of growth and healing to start my own gym. I am now a proud owner of Bridge Performance in Pasadena. A gym for small group training, community accountability, personal training, and physical therapy. We specialize in a non cookie cutter approach to fitness. Our goal is to provide a home for our community to find healing, wholeness, feel seen, serve and love. I can not wait to see the impact of this business on people’s lives! It is such a privilege to have a venue to share my heart and unique perspective on fitness and recovery with people. I feel like all the darkness and struggle has a place and a purpose in owning this gym! My favorite part about it is that it is so much bigger than I am.

What does the cancer journey look like now? Blood work every six weeks and CT scans every three months. Yaaaaayyyy! Stay tuned!