Yesterday was one of those kind of mystery checkups with the oncologist. A nurse, a resident and a doctor ask you how you’re feeling. I’m feeling fine but I’d really like some concrete evidence that the cancer is gone. They can’t tell you that, at least not yet.

Basically I’m in a holding pattern until 3 months post-radiation when they will do another PET scan, some time in January 2021. I’m told that any testing sooner than this may produce incorrect results due to the residual effects of the radiation, so it’s waiting time.

Now I’m fully believing that I’m healed but who wouldn’t like a little measurable confirmation, after all that’s what testing is all about.

With the checkup comes a blood test which is slowly showing improvements. Last month there was a big dip in the white blood cell count. The doctor wasn’t worried, but I didn’t like it .

OK, here comes the technical part. The normal WBC number is 4.5-11. Good news this month is that it’s coming back up!

White Blood Cell Count

Other key indicators in the blood testing are holding steady or dipping a bit.

Normal HgB is 140-180 and normal Platelets are 140-440, so still a ways to go. I’d like to see some steady improvement which will come. I guess I’m just a little impatient. 🙂

LDH is supposed to be in the 120-230 range so things are looking good here.

My oncologist says “You’re doing really well”. She said that most of her patients that have had this type of cancer and gone through the treatments I have are not feeling as well as I am and are not out riding a bike or exercising the way I am at this point in their recovery. This is very encouraging. I told her that my goal is to recover all my fitness to my pre-cancer state and more. Seems like a reasonable goal to me. Ps 103:1-5

As I write this it’s snowing outside but it wasn’t that long ago we were enjoying the fall colours at the lake. A few photos for your enjoyment as we head into snow season.

Radiation +8 and Resting

Fall Sunrise at the cottage

Here I am, eight days after the last radiation treatment and generally feeling pretty good. Some side-effect symptoms have shown up but are quite manageable. The 1st was a couple of days ago when I noticed some discomfort while swallowing. Then yesterday it was joined with some feelings of heartburn/acid reflux from time to time. Additionally, there is an occasional sensation of “something going on” in my upper chest area. All of these things are apparently “normal” and will resolve over time. My energy is still pretty good and I’m riding the bike fairly regularly and started up my indoor training plan for both biking and weight lifting. OK, so weight lifting has just had one day so far, but hoping to keep it up. 🙂

When you have a cancer diagnosis, you tend to spend a fair amount of time thinking about it, at least I do. Not fearful, but it’s always rattling around in my brain, sometimes it’s pretty front and center and other times it’s just a deep background awareness, but generally lurking somewhere.

You get the diagnosis or doctor’s report and you think about that. You wait to meet with the oncologist, and you think about that. You hear about the treatment plan, and you think about that. You wait for treatment to start, and you think about that. You’re in treatment, and you think about that. But then treatment is over. There is a pause. There is nothing pending, nothing pressing and it’s easier not to think about “it” for a while. This is where I am now. There are some oncologist meetings coming up and a likely PET scan in mid-December, but there is a lull, a time where it’s easier to not let “it” occupy so much of my thoughts and emotional energy, a resting. Resting feels good. Time for some normal life, well as normal as it can be with that “other thing” going on.

Fall Colours off the deck on a calm Saturday afternoon on the Thanksgiving weekend

Radiation Treatment – 5/5

And we’re done! Yahoo!

I’m feeling quite good with no side effects at this time. In fact, I celebrated with a 76km bike ride with my Wednesday cycling group after my treatment.

FROG is what we’ve named our group, Fast Retired Old Guys. I’m the youngster and the other two guys are 71 & 75!

To be fair the doctors and staff said that side effects could show up and “may increase to a maximum within 7-10 days following completion of treatment”. I’m telling them to not bother showing up at all 🙂

On another related topic I’ve received some additional blood work results. We were surprised in the decrease in WBC (not good, 4.7 – 11 is the normal range for the white cell count) but, in consultation with the oncologist they are “not worried” and results “can fluctuate”. I’m all for steady positive progress, but this is what it is.

At least these guys are holding steady or going in the right direction.

I probably won’t post much on the blog for a couple of weeks until after a follow-up visit (date TBD) with one of the oncologists. Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving. We certainly have much to be thankful for!

Radiation Treatment – 1/5

Today was the start of radiation therapy, the first of a five day schedule. I’m not sure if I’ll post something every day as the treatments are all identical, but we’ll see what comes to mind over the next few days.

In and out in under 30 minutes! These guys run a tight ship and they were very friendly and nice explaining everything that would take place in advance. Things like when the machine and/or table would move, what sounds it would make and the fact that I’d feel absolutely nothing while it was happening.

I arrive and get changed into the standard hospital attire for getting x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans etc. all of which I’ve had several of over the last 2 years. A few minutes in the waiting room and then they usher me into the therapy room and introduce me to the team, and the machine.

The lights were up for this photo but when I arrive it’s dim mood lighting, a fairly relaxing vibe. You hop up on the table, which is draped with sheets ( not naked like in the photo ) and position your arms out of the way over your head in the purple-looking supports. They use a laser alignment system to line me up with the dot markings previously applied to the sides of my chest. Then they all leave the room. Hmmmmm….

The first thing that happens is a couple of arms come out of the machine and take an x-ray. The operators then use this to make some further refinements to my positioning by remotely adjusting the table. Then the process starts and the head of the machine comes closer and rotates around me. In about 5 minutes after entering the treatment room it’s all over. A little hard to describe but to get an idea, check out this video that one of the staff recommended when I was taking my photo.

My Radiation Treatment from Thomas Ashley on Vimeo.

The person in the video is receiving radiation to his head whereas mine is to the chest and no, I didn’t have to wear any sort of protective device on my chest.

As with all medical procedures they tell you about all the things that can happen, the “side-effects”. In general they are supposed to be quite minimal compared to chemotherapy. Things like skin irritation, think fairly significant sunburn. Coughing from irritating the lung because the tumor is close to the lung, difficulty swallowing again from irritating the esophagus, as its close by too. The radiation beam is focused and targeting the tumor but, there is some spill over. For the super techie my treatment is Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT).

Some fairly intense prayer while the process is taking place as so much is out of my control, actually everything about the treatment beyond saying “yes” or “no” is outside my control but God has got this, guiding the staff and the machine to do it’s job without damaging the rest of me. Thanks for all the messages of encouragement, prayer and support as we go through this last part of the journey.