The first week of the new year has only just begun and already, we have experienced every emotion possible... The new year started off with what we commonly refer to in our home as: "SCANXIETY" - the complete and total loss of composure and control of ones emotions, fears, sleep, and general sense of well being in the days and even weeks leading up to MRI & CT Scans to check on the progression of cancer. It is not just limited to the patient, it extends throughout the whole family.
This time around was no exception. If anything it was worse because, we had a little set back in December, the week of Christmas. Chris started having some complications from the meds. This prompted an Emergency Trip to ER at MD Anderson. Suddenly, everything that Chris had previously been able to digest and eat his body basically rejected. We thought he had Colitis (a known side effect of the drug combo) it turns out - it was just massive inflammation of the stomach due to the increase in T-Cells. As a result Chris' diet had to be altered drastically and immediately. No more dairy, wheat, fruit, acids, spice, beans, red meat, etc. of any kind. He was told to eat only very bland food. It has been a challenge. But, we've finally got it sorted out and Chris is eating again, thank goodness!
We met with Chris' doctors yesterday to discuss the results of all the test he did earlier this week. We were absolutely a wreck. All of our hopes and prayers have been riding on this new combination of drugs that Chris has had 4 doses of. If it's working, these scans and test will reveal whether everything that Chris has endured is helping him or not. You could not have seen two more nervous people... we sat there trying to read the face of every tech and nurse who entered the room to see if we could "read anything" in their expressions that might give us a result either positive or negative, (We could not. The poor guys probably didn't know) It was eerily quiet in that little exam room. You could have heard a pin drop. Finally the door opened and his doctor breezed into the room shouting out along the way... the most beautiful word I've ever heard...."SUCCESS!"
"What?" Chris and I said in unison...Surely we didn't hear that correctly. We asked again. "What did you say? What do you mean?" We were completely dumbfounded. She repeated "We have success" she went on to explain that when they got the scans back it showed a "Dramatic decrease in tumor size" The lungs - where he previously had 3 - 5 small tumors showed almost none. She had to point to a spot on the new scan where one had once been! We were struck mute! We could not catch our breaths nor find our tongues! In that moment we did not know whether to laugh or cry, jump up or sit down...we were literally in a state of shock. You have to remember that Chris' original diagnosis was very grim. All doom and gloom... The diagnosis was very aggressive Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma that presented in the left cheek, jumped to the subdermal layers to the left pituitary gland, jumped again to his right shoulder,then spread to multiple tumors in his lungs and along his spine. Now, they are telling us they can hardly see his tumors? This is just not possible....we were awestruck to say the very least.
At this point the scans show that ALL of the tumors are shrinking. His spine tumors are shrinking and beginning to repair themselves by calcifying over - just like his shoulder did after radiation. His lung tumors have almost shrunk to nothing and at this point there are no other visible tumors. This is a miracle drug if I've ever seen one. Speechless.
So, What's next? Chris will continue on with his scheduled treatments of the Opdivo infusions every two weeks for probably the rest of the year. His doctor feels very confident that by his March or May scans Chris will appear N.E.D (No Evidence of Disease) once this occurs the scans will spread out to every 6 months, He will have PET scans just to make sure nothing is "glowing" meaning cancer is still present. So long as he stays clear, she will discontinue the IV Infusions at that time. So, that being said - he may not have to go the full two years as originally stated.
The way she explained it to us is - he needs the IV Meds in his system to activate his T Cells to fight the Melanoma cells. They are going crazy in there right now, doing their job. They will continue to kill the Melanoma cells so long as they are giving the meds. After all the cancer cells are killed they continue to infuse the meds for another 6 months or so to "train" the T cells to recognize the melanoma cells on their own and kill them without the aid of the meds. This is the same practive the put into use to kill smallpox and chickenpox. Basically, training the bodies T cells to fight the foreign "bad" cells. She said every patient is different. But many patients are going 5, 10 even 15 years cancer free! She also said, Chris' cancer could return again in 2 years but, that if it did - we would repeat the process and who knows? Maybe by then there is something even bigger and better to cure Melanoma.
There just are not enough words to tell you how extremely thankful we are for all of you. Your support, love, and prayers, have carried us through the hardest of times...and now, to the happiest of times. We are thrilled beyond measure with this news. We are not only thrilled for Chris but for everyone in the Cancer Community. This proves that medical miracles and breakthroughs are happening everyday and that we must never give up hope.
As I write these words I have been conflicted and broken hearted all day. In the midst of our rejoicing I learned of a dear friends husband who bravely fought and lost his battle with cancer just last week.. Over the summer I had the chance to reconnect with her in the lobby of Md Anderson. She was there with her husband and I was there with mine. I just keep thinking of her and her sweet family being so devastated when my family is getting good news. I know our news could have been so different, and not a moment goes by that I don't thank my God and count each of my blessings one by-one because, I know all to well that our husbands, our children, our loved ones, and our tomorrows are not promised to us. I'm earnestly praying for those who didn't get good news tonight or didn't have the opportunity to receive these "miracle drugs" Please know we never once take it for granted.
Please keep my friend and her family in your prayers. Whenever you think of Chris just remember to say a prayer for ALL of those brave souls fighting the battle every day. Our story is far from over...Chris will have some complications and side effects from these "miracle drugs" and we still have many hills to climb ahead but, I am just thankful to be starting this 2016 year out on a positive note instead of a negative one.
May God Bless each of you, and from the bottom of our hearts - thank you!