January 26, 2014

The Power of the Mind

I have been reading a book called "Cancer: 50 essential things to do" by Greg Anderson (a lung cancer survivor from the 1980s!).  It talks about "integrated cancer care",which means in addition to conventional medical treatment, we need to also take care of our mind, body and soul. It reinforces what we believe in; that is, the importance of exercise, nutrition, emotional support and spirituality.  Exercise, check. Nutrition, almost there (meeting with a nutritionist this coming week). This past week, I have been working on emotional support and spirituality.

Mom and big brother came down. I was looking forward to mom's home cooking eversince she mentioned she wanted to come down. I was not disappointed. My stomach didn't necessarily agree with this new found party of flavours in my mouth but I didn't care.  Big brother N was also great company.  I realized how calming some personalities are versus how anxious other personalities made me feel. S also enjoyed the break from cooking and cleaning, and the great food and company as well.  It was a peaceful week.  But they left too soon :(. Not that we desperately need help around the house but the right kind of visitors can provide peacefulness, welcome distractions and good emotional support, often without even realizing it. 

Also this past week, we met the life coach and the lung cancer therapist, both of whom we connected with. Our life coach has been through cancer herself so understands what we are going through. She gave us insight into our past and present experiences, how to deal with certain personalities, and helped us realize what we want and/or need in this journey to succeed (ie. my survival). The lung cancer therapist runs the support group at the Cancer Centre so she has heard and discussed all the challenges faced by lung cancer patients; participants in the support group range from age 40s to 70s. The median age at time of diagnosis is 70. Where do I fit in? Thirty-something is too young for lung cancer. But I realized through these sessions that I don't need to find someone my age with stage IV lung cancer in order to relate. Anyone with any cancer, at any stage, will experience similar emotions and challenges. 

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the power of the mind. If you truly believe in something, you can make it happen.  Like the placebo effect, your mind can help you heal.  I imagine my drugs working as I take them (Die cancer cells! Die!). I imagine my future without cancer (relaxing on the beach in Bali). I meditate to calm my mind, free myself from fear, anxiety, anger.  And after reconnecting with my faith, I pray. All of this, I believe, will help me heal. 

January 15, 2014

How to Deal with Crap

Before I begin with  this week's discoveries/rant, I want to thank all of my friends and family for their endless support, through prayers, positive thoughts, comforting words and food! You have helped us get through a very rough few weeks. It's going to be a long road ahead.  I am fighting this battle for all of you.  Love you guys. 

We got called in on Tuesday for my first PET scan; I was on the cancellation list. The worst thing about a PET scan is they prick your finger to test your blood glucose (hurt way more than getting an intravenous inserted; my finger was throbbing the whole day).  Of course, waiting to hear about the results is nerve racking too ("scanxiety").  The scan will tell us if the cancer has spread anywhere else in my body (other than the pleura).  Haven't heard back yet so is that a good thing? 

I learned quite a few things over the past week.  Hiring someone to clean your house is totally worth it! Our house has never been cleaner.  A high quality air purifier does wonders - the air is super crisp in my bedroom, just like being outdoors!  A good humidifier helps too. My breathing has definitely improved :).  It's ok to cry; it helps to release fear and sadness so you can move forward, not just let it linger. I allow myself to go into deep places, think dark thoughts and just let it all out whenever I feel like it... And I always feel better after. Give it a try.  Lastly, I learned there's a lot of crap out there about cancer and what you read or who you talk to needs to be filtered out.

We have been researching all the different types of diets that have claimed to help or "cure" cancer: Alkaline, vegan, juicing, curcumin supplements, low sugar, etc.  We met with the dietician the other day.  I was not impressed.  Where should I begin? She told us that we must have misunderstood the pharmacist when I told her I couldn't take multivitamins. She also said that gluten-free, unless you had Celiac disease, was not healthy.  Juicing only gives you sugar water.  Going vegetarian will make it difficult to get enough protein. None of the diets we researched has any merit because it hasn't been proven in evidence-based medicine. Running won't be good for me since I will just injure my fragile muscles... Which apparently will be wasting away. What a load of CRAP!!!! The only good thing we got out of that session was recipes for high protein, high calorie smoothies (some are really yummy!). Good thing I have some nutrition background from my university years... Feel bad for others listening to bad advice from someone so naive and ignorant. Anyway, my new diet is this: gluten-free (been so for half a year, totally helps), lots of fruit and veggies (including from juicing which has helped my energy levels), seafood but limited meats, low sugar, protein from mainly plant sources (got to learn how to make dahl) and limited dairy.  It's really not that difficult. And yes, I am still off multivitamins (the dietician had to confirm with the pharmacist). On a good note, S got in touch with a trainer/life coach today who has battled cancer herself. She sounds like the type of person I want on my side. We meet her next week to start a fitness plan. She can also refer me to some good nutritionists.  

Last but not least, the Iressa side effects are starting to show.  The main ones are diarrhea, dry skin, rash, nausea, vomitting, and fatigue. Yes to all except for vomitting (thank goodness).  Fortunately, symptoms are mild to moderate right now and I am slowly learning how to cope (Imodium, bananas, coconut water, lotion, lotion, lotion, lip balm and lots of rest). 

This blog may turn out to be a weekly rant. Hope I have better things to report next week!  

January 9, 2014

Day 1, Iressa (gefitinib)

Finally got to meet the oncologist today, with his fellow.  I went in with as much hope as I could muster and came out frankly... disappointed.  Dr. B was friendly but I feel like his hands are tied with established "standards of care" in Canada.  We met his fellow first (I am starting to get a huge dislike for fellows; they tend to not say the right things);  I was angry/upset when he said "expecting to live 3-5 years (with this cancer) is unrealistic".... Screw you!! You are NOT the master of my fate.  I'd like to think I am optimistic... And would like to stay that way!  What a jerk! When Dr. B finally came in, he was calm and compassionate.  He's quite hopeful that I will respond well to the targeted drug therapy (my gene mutation is positive for EGFR exon 19 deletion so I am taking an EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor), which I fortunately started today (fingers crossed!!). We discussed all the future expectations, drug side effects, follow up in 4 weeks, how to better manage my pain, etc.  Unfortunately, there aren't any clinical trials with my gene mutation in this area but there is one at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.... We are not opposed to moving.  We'll see, after our first follow up, where we want to be and after we talk to friends and family about our options.  I will request to not see the fellow next time. On the upside, he made us more detemined to prove him wrong!

We learned some interesting things about my new drug (Iressa/gefitinib) from the pharmacist at the cancer clinic.  Antioxidants can counteract its effectiveness!!  What? All that I knew is now officially out the door.  I have to stop taking my multivitamins, reduce green tea, watch how many fruits and vegetables I eat (there goes the juicing).  On top of that, I am now trying to stuff myself silly everyday (I have been watching my diet and making sure I don't over eat for so many years).  All this is totally foreign to me.  

Earlier this week, we went to the Cancer Centre for an orientation.  It's a well run centre with lots of support services.  We have an appointment booked with a dietician next week.  We are also going to see a counsellor to help us cope... This is becoming overwhelming for us and I just started treatment. Hope it gets better with time.  

Update October 24, 2014:
My naturopathic oncologist clarified the benefit of antioxidants.  That was in August so I am back on high doses of antioxidants:).  I don't doubt that the cancer centre's pharmacist truly believes in the contraindication of antioxidants with the use of Iressa but the naturopath's explanation of the differences in the cellular makeup and function of healthy vs cancer cells makes perfect sense to me.  My gut tells me he's right... So going back to what I know. Yay antioxidants!! 

January 6, 2014

The Roller Coaster First Week

I am usually a positive, strong person but this past week was a challenge.  S and I were in tears for the first few days as we slowly digested the diagnosis and began informing family and friends.  The more people we told, the more reality set in.  I would cry at every word of support we received from our loved ones.  Of course, we researched online only to find bleak statistics; it sent me in a downward spiral, to dark places and ultimately a meltdown.  But it was therapeutic in a way.  We need to go through the grieving stages to accept then prepare ourselves for the big fight.  Now we try to focus on the positive: survivor stories, encouraging discussion boards, blogs of those continuing their fight, the latest treatment methods.  My respirologist friend reassured us that Dr. Google's statistics doesn't apply to me; I am a unique individual.  Another friend told me I have no choice but to beat this damn thing or else he would kick my ass.   I am in awe of how supportive and encouraging everyone has been.  I am going to fight for my loved ones, especially S (the love of my life) who has been beyond amazing throughout this ordeal.  I have to hold onto HOPE.

Some of the things we are doing to prepare: 1) Fatten me up (a wonderful nurse at the hospital advised this so I can better deal with treatment), 2) Juicing (great way to detox and  load up on organic fruits and veggies without all that chewing, 3) Getting back on the treadmill (been very tired after a nasty flu so taking it slowly, hope to get back to running and yoga soon), 4) Protecting my immune system ( hand sanitizers, no sick visitors, flu and pneumonia vaccines), 5) Researching and anticipating future treatment side effects.  I feel like I am getting ready for a boxing match (training, eating well and getting to know my opponent).  Can't wait to start treatment...

January 3, 2014


On December 28, 2013 I was given the diagnosis no one ever expected.  I had chronic shoulder pain for over a year, which I thought was work related, and I have chronic asthma. Otherwise,  I am a relatively healthy, young Asian female who has never smoked.  After little to no improvement of symptoms from massage, chiropractic and physiotherapy, we pushed for more testing;  MRIs, blood tests, CT scans and finally a biopsy.  My husband and I received the horrible news from the ER doc after our return flight from the holidays; I had gone in for shortness of breath and came home with stage IV lung cancer.  The reality of it is still settling in.  Needless to say, we are devastated.

I want to increase awareness of lung cancer in young, non-smoking individuals. Everyone knows about lung cancer risk in smokers... Well, non-smokers can also get lung cancer.  I have found a multitude of others like me online.  The fact is, lung cancer kills more people each year than breast, colorectal and prostate cancer combined.  We need more research funding for lung cancer treatments; I can't think of one fundraising event for lung cancer in my area. We need to be more sensitive to lung cancer symptoms and find better screening tests. If you have chronic shoulder, back or chest pain, chronic cough or shortness of breath that is not alleviated by conventional means, push for further testing as soon as possible.   

But most importantly, I started this blog for my family, friends and others affected by lung cancer.