Well, so much for the trifecta of adding the T-vec injection to my radiation and Keytruda treatments! I’m glad I gave it a go, but I only made it through two T-vec doses because I ended up with flu-like symptoms each time that took almost two weeks (each dose) to overcome. With each dose I woke up during the night with fever, aches and pains, and nausea. I wasn’t able to keep anything down for a few days, and then I had to regain my strength and appetite. As if once wasn’t enough, I did it again with the hope that it wouldn’t be as severe, especially if I pre-medicated. The other factor was that with my first dose of T-vec I also had a first dose of Xgeva to fight against potential bone loss from my radiated left hip tumor, and its first dose can cause severe aches and pains. Well, there was no Xgeva injection with my second dose of T-vec, since I get Xgeva every six weeks and T-vec every three, which we hoped would lessen the side effects. While the aches and pains seemed to be less severe, with the nausea it wasn’t enough to continue with injections. We switched to radiation to zap away the leg tumor since I’ve had good responses to radiation in the past. I had four treatments one week apart in July and the tumor has spent the rest of the summer melting away – it’s a beautiful thing!
The New Challenge began very subtly on July 4th. I sat down at my laptop to type and experienced weakness in my left hand – my fingers didn’t want to fully cooperate. I actually checked the mirror for any facial droopiness and did the tests to check for stroke. Luckily, no stroke symptoms, but I knew something had changed. Over the next few weeks I noticed a change in my balance and the weakness grew to encompass my entire left side. Brain MRIs confirmed edema on my brain’s right side around the site of last year’s (June and September 2015) gamma knife treatments for a brain tumor. The post-tumor site did not light up on my March PET/CT scan (“no FDG avid focus or suspicious lesion”), but had a change in my June PET/CT scan (“Hypodense lesion of the periventricular white matter superior to the right lateral ventricle is increased in size measuring 2.5 x 1.6 cm without FDG avidity, likely representing focal edema within the location of known metastatic lesion best seen on prior MRI dated 4/18/2016”), and the doctors don’t know whether it’s radiation necrosis (dead tissue from the 2015 gamma knife treatments) or tumor growth in the exact same spot. The “spot” has grown from 1.4 cm on July 11th to 1.7 cm on August 5th to 1.8 cm on September 2nd, so at least the growth is slower! (Note: 1 cm = .393701 inch) However, the perilesional edema has decreased, likely related to the steroid treatment I’ve been on since July 29th. I started with high doses of steroids (16 mg/day) and have been weaned down to 4 mg per day for the past few weeks. Today that dose has been reduced to 2 mg a day for a week and then down to 1 mg a day from there on out. I’m quite ready for this reduction and hope to potentially regain some of my tastes and smells!
Why now? It’s been a year since my gamma knife treatments. The doctors are puzzled too. It’s possible that the immunotherapy I’ve been on every three weeks since last June (infusion treatment #22 yesterday) has had some effect. No one knows. The other unknown is whether the “spot” is radiation necrosis or tumor growth with no way to know without a biopsy (unless it lights up on the October 5th PET/CT scan). Hopefully it’s radiation necrosis and the continued steroid treatment will continue to lessen the edema. Time will tell! (I wish I had more patience!!)
The plan moving forward: I’ve met with my neurosurgeon and discussed laser interstitial thermal therapy as a best possible treatment. Resection is another option but is more invasive – we still need to discuss this as a viable option since my oncologist seems to favor this. I favor less time in the hospital! A decision might be made after the PET/CT scan plus another brain MRI (October). My neurosurgeon, radiation oncologist, and oncologist have all been discussing my case and keeping up-to-date on test results. The ultimate decision will be between my neurosurgeon, Bill and me.
For now I’ve been busy with occupational therapy (OT) for my hand and arm movement, and physical therapy (PT) for balance, gaining strength, and walking. OT has helped to regain some finger movement and grip strength, and PT has improved my gait. I’m not sitting at home wringing my hands, but am enjoying each day for whatever gifts it brings and every day delivers if I allow myself to be open to it. I’m quite thankful!!
Treatment since May 13th (thank goodness I retired!):
- 6/01 – labs, doctor, infusion plus 2nd (and last!) T-vec injection
- 6/07 – dermatologist
- 6/22 – PET scan, labs, doctor, infusion
- 6/24 – radiation oncology appt.
- 6/30 – radiation simulation
- 7/07 – radiation planning
- 7/11 – brain MRI
- 7/11 – 1st radiation of right pretibia
- 7/13 – labs, doctor, infusion
- 7/18 – 2nd radiation of right pretibia
- 7/25 – 3rd radiation of right pretibia
- 8/01 – last radiation of right pretibia
- 8/03 – labs, doctor, infusion
- 8/18 – occupational therapy (OT) begins
- 8/23 – OT and neurosurgery appt.
- 8/24 – labs, doctor, infusion
- 8/25 – OT
- 8/26 – physical therapy (PT) begins
- 8/29 – OT
- 8/31 – PT
- 9/01 – OT
- 9/02 – brain MRI and radiation oncology appt.
- 9/07 – OT and PT
- 9/08 – PT
- 9/13 – OT
- 9/14 – labs, doctor, infusion
As always, my thoughts and prayers are with those fighting the fight and with those for whom the fight is over.