I attend a caregiver support group and the topic of the cancer “merry-go-round” comes up quite often. Patients and caregivers alike carry the medical (and emotional) toll associated with the seemingly never-ending cycle of scans and treatments, scans and treatments, scans and treatments... some folks call it a treatment treadmill or a hamster wheel; whatever you want to call it and however strong you may be, over time it wares you down.
We have not posted an update here since July, since before the big liver surgery. A lot has happened since then. The liver surgery itself went very well. The entire right lobe was resected, the tumors gone! The surgeon did a phenomenal job (Alexis still gets comments about how good her scar looks!) This surgery, more than any other, really brought Alexis to her knees. She took a real big hit physically and cognitively. What started out as fun & games with the loopiness from the anesthesia & the pain meds turned into some seriously scary days ahead. We were all caught somewhat by surprise by how long it took her to come out of the ‘fog’ and how long the recovery process took. She was in the ICU for 5 nights and overall spent 19 days in the hospital, requiring physical, occupational and speech therapy. I guess after 17 rounds of chemo the body doesn’t “bounce back” quite as fast as it used to, especially after a MAJOR surgery such as this one. It’s only recently that we fully began to comprehend the full extent of the damage that this chemical warfare, this chemotorture has wreaked on her body.
The liver has fully regenerated and the first scan post-surgery looked very promising although Dr. Fojo said we have some "cleaning up to” do. A small tumor popped up on the caudate lobe and radiation was recommended. Alexis completed 5 doses of radiation on her liver on October 25th. It would have been nice to rest and fully recover from the effects of radiation but this treatment treadmill just doesn’t stop. Lung surgery was next on the horizon as one tumor in particular was growing dangerously close to the chest cavity, too close to the heart. Waiting to “finish up” the liver before moving on to the lungs was not in the cards, not when you’re playing against ACC.
Alexis underwent a VATS procedure today at New York Presbyterian. VATS stands for video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery. Another modern medicine miracle -- through two small incisions between the ribs, they use a camera and surgical tools to collapse the lung and perform wedge resections on the tumors. When they’re done, they inflate the lung back up as if it were some sort of balloon, stick a drainage tube in you and after a couple of days send you home. Walla! Easy peasy, right? The main tumor that was taken out of the left lung today (the “bad actor” as they called it) was the size of a golf ball; would it have been any larger, they would have needed to take out the entire top lobe of the left lung. (By the way… who knew the left lung is divided into two lobes while the right lung has three! The left lung is a bit smaller than the lung on the right. This extra space on the left leaves room for your heart.)
In any case, VATS went well today and the surgeon was overall pleased. He cautiously reminded us that we are not out of the woods by any means just yet… that there is still a long road ahead as more mets remain in both the left and right lung and we still need to get 100% clarity on the liver. It’s a slow and methodical approach. The merry-go-round will have to keep turning a while longer as if 17 rounds of chemotherapy, 5 doses of radiation, 4 TACE procedures and 6 surgeries weren’t enough. Alexis, the professional cancer fighter that she is, keeps proving everybody wrong… a true warrior through and through.