Monday, April 11, 2016

Radiation Tomorrow (Read To The End!)

Tomorrow I start whole brain radiation for the 23 brain mets they found in addition to the mass in my heart and new growths in my liver, spleen, and certain skeletal muscles.

That was the scary version of what's happening. Here is the version that I'm functioning out of:

Tomorrow I start radiation that will allow me to participate in a very cool clinical trial that will give me the cancer meds I need to become healthy again. Tomorrow is a step toward healing.

The radiologist convinced me that maybe whole brain radiation is not quite as scary as I first thought it was. First, it will only last for 12 treatments applied on weekdays. So I will be finished with radiation on April 27th! I don't know why, but I initially thought this would be a long process taking a couple months or more, but it's only going to take TWO WEEKS! Tomorrow and Wednesday I will go at 11:15am, then the rest of my treatments will be at 10:15.

Whole brain radiation works just like it sounds: they apply a specific dose of x-ray radiation to the whole brain. That will zap the DNA of the cells and break the double helix structure. Normal cells have repair mechanisms and check points that will allow the cell to repair the damaged DNA on its own. Cancer cells are so busy rapidly dividing that they don't usually use checkpoints or repair mechanisms. So most of the normal cells will survive and most of the cancer cells will die. This includes the cancer cells that are probably hiding there, small enough that we can't see them yet! The radiation will also effect the blood vessels supplying the cancer cells, making it less likely that they will bleed unexpectedly, making the clinical trial drugs safer to take.

Not all of the normal cells will survive and not all of the cancer cells will die. So for the normal cells that don't make it, that will cause some of the side effects of whole brain radiation including potential short-term memory loss due to some of those normal cells not making it through, and fatigue. Fatigue could happen right away, can get better, then can get worse a year after the treatment is over. The cancer cells that survive can cause problems down the road, but could potentially be susceptible to the trial meds and could be zapped with radiosurgery in the future if needed. I'll be taking a medication to help prevent some of the potential memory loss side effects, and guess what it's typically used for?! Go on, guess! Alzheimer's. It's Alzheimer's (or "All Timers" for those of you from the deep south). Crazy, right?! There's a study that shows that it may have a potential benefit for less memory loss. Potential benefit sounds good to me. Actually anything with the word "benefit" in it sounds good to me. There is also a risk for hair loss. I'd really like to not have hair loss. I mean, if it happens, obviously I would deal with it. But for the sake of my 3-year-old and my husband (and myself, who am I kidding), I would love to look like myself even if I am more tired than my normal self. 

So 2 weeks after the final radiation dose I will be able to start receiving clinical trial medications. That's May 13th! So sometime during the end of April and beginning of May we will be making a trip to Miami to do the screening tests so I can fully enroll in the clinical trial. THE CLINICAL TRIAL IS STILL ON! I REPEAT, THE CLINICAL TRIAL IS STILL ON! (There was some confusion here, so I thought I would clarify.)

In August I started teaching Honors Biology and Dual Enrollment Anatomy and Physiology at Ezell-Harding Christian School in Antioch, 10 minutes from where we live. When we found out about the tumor growth, another science teacher graciously offered to take my biology class for the rest of the semester, and I am still teaching my Anatomy class. It broke my heart to give up Biology because they're smart and funny and great to teach! But my body needed a break, so I humbly stepped out of my Biology teaching role. Everyday I teach A&P to 9 super smart seniors who are getting 4 hours of college credit for taking the course. I'm still planning to go to school everyday and teach these rockstars through the radiation treatments. The treatments shouldn't make me feel much different afterward, so I am going to take each day as it comes and plan for the best.

Here are some things you can be praying for:

- That side effects will be controlled and minimal: no hair loss, no significant memory loss, little fatigue short term, no fatigue long term, no rashes, no brain swelling
- For John and Carley Jean as we traverse something new
- For our families as they walk with us (my Mom will be at our house with us this week from NC)
- For my students at EHCS and a successful and uneventful end to the school year
- That we can cultivate peace, not just reduce stress
- For our trust in God to be increased more and more
- For lots of little pockets of joy this week

As I write about all these things, it makes me nervous. Like, WHAT?!? I'm getting BRAIN RADIATION?!? HOW IS THAT A GOOD IDEA?!? IT'S JUST BIG FAT NOT A GOOD IDEA IS WHAT IT IS!! WHAT AM I THINKING?!? I googled it because I was curious about how it is applied and where and stuff. Let me tell you something, friend. DO NOT GOOGLE YOUR CONDITIONS OR TREATMENTS. Just don't do it. There's lots of conflicting information out there and it's all scary. Don't google. Ask your doctor. Learn from my mistake. 

So I realize that the side effects are not good. I realize that it's bad for the long term. I do. I realize that more so now. Here is the thought that is keeping me from going into total meltdown: God is there too. He's in the consult room and he's in the radiation room, he's in the mask, and he's on the table. He's in the doctor and he's in the technicians. He's in the car and he's at our lunch table. He's already there. So I know that all the internet says it doesn't look good, but the internet doesn't know that he's already there too. He's already there a year later and he's already there in all the cancer places. He's already there too.

There you go, explanations and honesty. That's the best I can give you.

All our love to you. Thank you for walking with us.


  1. Praying for you! You are so right! God is with you everywhere and in everything! He goes before you preparing for you! He was here looooonnnnngggg before the internet! Love your attitude! God is good! We are all praying you through!

  2. God is sovereign over every cell in our bodies!

  3. Thank you for your strength and resolve. It's the encouragement that I needed.

  4. You are a beautiful, precious, funny, inspiring bundle of wonderfulness (don't google that because I'm pretty sure it is not a word). Sometimes we find comfort seeking more information and sometimes not. Rest in the comfort that God is with you, along with all of your friends. You even get a healthy dose of pampering by your mom - well, when she isn't spoiling Carly Jean! Saying many prayers for all of you each and every day. Love and hugs to you all.