Those familiar with the sailing world know what that phrase means, “head to weather.” You’re putting the bow of your boat as close to windward as possible, or into the ‘weather’ that is working hard to send you leeward of your course. This heading sends you into the wind, seas, and usually the swells, so it tends to be a bit more of an uncomfortable ride. It tends to be colder, wetter, bumpier and swellier, adding stress to the vessels tender points, and stress to the sailor, too.
I’ve got my bow pointing straight into the weather right now. September 9th, I wound up in the ER for what I thought was a stupid asthma attack. Turns out my asthma attack had morphed into lung cancer, stage 4 at that. A few days later I was at UCLA, admitted to their cardio floor. There for just over a week, I had a bronchoscopy, lung biopsy, pulmonary lavage, PET and regular CT scans, a few echocardiograms, and was sent home. I returned just 24 hours later in a bad way. My pericardial effusion had escalated to full on tamponade, so I was sent on up to the ICU with a pit-stop in the cath lab for a pericardial centesis. The next day, a couple of PE’s, or blood clots were found in my left lung, so an IVC filter was placed to keep them and any others away from my heart, brain and lungs. The following day saw a lot more fluid on the right side, so a chest tube was inserted to drain that pesky fluid. That night I wasn’t doing so well, and intubation was considered, then rejected (of which I am thankful). 40 lpm of O2 was being sent in a grand vortex of wind down my nostrils to try to keep my body saturated. It was a difficult time. Finally, a decision was made to get me on some treatment to slow this tumor and the pesky fluid it manufactures down. I was started on Taxol IV, and we were shooting for the best. About 10 minutes later, one of the oncologists pretty much ran into my room and told the nurse to stop the Taxol. The molecular findings of my biopsy were finally in, and I mutated! Woo Hoo! Only about 2-4% of people with lung cancer have one or more of these mutations, and I was one of them. What this means to me is, I can be started on a targeted chemotherapy, and the drug of choice at the moment is called crizotinib. I take this big pill twice a day, and it’s job is to target the cancer cells themselves, isolate them, cut them off from moving and nourishment, and thus render them the ineffective little &;$*#2@ that they are. My mutation is an alk4, and this drug has proven to be a very good alk4 inhibitor. So, we started a day or two later on that therapy, and slowly but surely, my condition improved.
I stayed in the ICU a few more days, and was finally weaned off O2 completely, except when walking or sleeping. After moving to the pulmonary wing, I had a more easily managed chest tube put in, one that I was responsible for draining on a daily basis. A few days later, I was discharged.
Being back on Willow is wonderful. Such a beautiful, restful spot for me, full of dreams and memories and sea miles. But it’s hard, too. I find I can’t keep up with the very routine maintenance that needs to be done. My energy is sapped just getting out of the bunk and brushing my teeth. It takes alot of energy to take my pills (12 of them) and drain my lung daily. I’ve found it very difficult to eat anything, and that serves to take my energy. One of the medications that protects my heart drops my blood pressure, thus taking energy. The diarrhea from the chemo takes my energy. I find myself staring out my portholes thinking this isn’t good for the boat and it’s certainly not good for me. After two weeks of outpatient appointments, and feeling worse daily, I was sent back to the hospital, this time Santa Monica.
Originally admitted to the oncology floor, after 10 minutes there, it was clear my breathing wasn’t good enough to be able to stay. I was sent up to the telemetry unit and put on a morphine drip. The next morning, after some CT scans, a chest tube was placed in the left lung, so at least I had a matching set. Alot of fluid was pulled from it, and it made quite a difference. The placement of the tube in the left side was much more painful than the tube in the right side, and it kept me down for a number of days. My last few days on the telemetry unit were quite difficult, and on the last day, after being accused of “pain-medication seeking behavior,” I’d had it. I told the nurses I had no more pain, and was signing myself out AMA. Fortunately, at this exact moment, one of the oncology nurses arrived to give me my chemo pill and asked what happened. Within hours, I was down on the oncology floor. Within 2 days, the pain resolved, and I was off any pain meds. I would pre-medicate when I was going to drain one of my tubes, but that was it. The next day, I was told I would be released and arranged for Linda, my great partner on Rescue 10, to come on down and give me a ride home. All we had to do was drain that left lung and I was free! Except the tube was clogged. ARGHHHHHHHH! Another night in with more attempts, xrays, and CT scans to work on for the next day. I just wanted to go home. 5 of the last 7 weeks I’d spent ‘in the big house,’ and I was ready to get outta there. The next morning found me up early, and the nursing staff was ready to try draining that tube again. After using 3 bottles, SUCCESS!! A big ooey-icky (official medical term) clog finally passed on down the tube, and I was sprung!
I’ve been home for 2 days, and the future has lots of questions in it. Questions for me as to how to organize the next phase of my life, and questions for my docs as to what the heck is going on, and what the heck are we gonna do about it. My goal is to feel just a little bit better than I do right now, and to breathe better than I’m breathing at the moment. Both I feel are attainable; I just need help with the plan to make it happen.
I wouldn’t have made it this far if not for my amazing family and friends, old and new, who bolster me up daily with their love and encouragement. I’d love to try and list you all, but my addled brain would have me missing one or two, and I cannot dishonor anyone like that. Just know how much I love and care for you. You’re the BEST!