Sorry for such a long post but I have a lot to share today. I am starting radiation tomorrow morning and I have it everyday (Mon-Fri) until April 7th. I am all "marked up" and ready to go. I have marker, stickers and tattoos all over my chest and sides to help guide them. They actually tattoo little dots (that look like freckles) on your body for reference points, so they can assure they are hitting the same spot every day when I am there. I am anxious and excited to get started and I will post in the next few days about how it goes.
After a long streak of good news so far with this battle, Dr. Kotlove (my radiation oncologist) gave me some not-so-good news today after my mapping. He told me while examining my scans to pinpoint the exact spot on my 11th rib to radiate he found another spot. He contacted Dr. Butrynski (my oncologist in Boston) and discussed it with him before talking to me about it. This spot had actually shown up on a previous scan but it was dismissed as something else, but after further examination they agreed that it was most likely another metastasis. It's located on my L2 vertebrae, which is in my lower back. This spot was definitely not present on my October scans, but was there in January and there again in last weeks scans (and as I said was flagged but not determined to be cancerous at the time). It's about a quarter of the size of the spot in my T4 vertebrae so it's pretty small. This doesn’t change any of the plans and they aren't going to treat this with radiation yet because they feel that radiating three spots while I am on weekly chemo is too much. The spot is small enough where they are comfortable just monitoring it for now. This didn't upset me too much as I feel lucky that in five months this is the worst news I have received.
Dr. Kotlove spent a lot of time with me today showing me the pictures of all the lesions in my bones (which are now located in 4 spots; my T4 vertebrae, L2 vertebrae, sternum and 11th rib). He showed me pictures from October, January and March (so I could see how they have stayed the same) and showed me how a CT scan works. It was really cool, especially because I got to look at hundreds of pictures of my bones and organs. It was the first time I have actually seen pictures of the cancer in my bones and I was really happy that he spent the time to show me these. He didn’t show me pictures of the tumor in my heart, but I have seen those a few times.
I wanted to post a link to an article that caught my attention today. Articles like this really give me hope, as they showcase how amazing the medical field really is and how advanced treatment options are becoming. It seems like every month the treatment, medication and technology for treating cancer (and other diseases) gets more advanced. A few months ago my friend Andrea sent me an article about something called "autotransplant" surgery. It talked about the case of a guy who had heart cancer and because of the location of the tumors they actually removed his heart from his body, repaired it, and put it back in. This surgery is the same as transplant surgery but the heart that goes back in is the same heart that's taken out (instead of from a donor). I don't need this kind of surgery, but it's nice to know it's an option if it were to ever come to that. I have read cases of people with my type of cancer getting heart transplants, but because mine has metastasized I am not a candidate for that (probably because only 10% of people who need heart transplants actually get them, so they wouldn't give a heart to someone with metastatic cancer for obvious reasons). This article is about a seven year old girl who had a tumor in her abdomen that was intertwined throughout her organs and they performed an "autotransplant", removing most of her abdominal organs, removing the tumor and then putting them back. It's AMAZING and I pray she does well. A chaplain that we talked to while at Dana Farber in Boston told us that while we all hope for miracles, it's important to realize that the skills and abilities of the doctors that treat this kind of stuff is a god given miracle and I think she was absolutely right. Stories like this give everyone with incurable diseases hope that in the future they can be cured (or at least managed to the point where they are not terminal).
The article can be found here: http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/10/multiple.organ.removal.tumor/index.html
When thinking about stuff like this I realize how lucky I am to work for an organization like the American Heart Association. The mission of the AHA has always been important to me, but it's more personal now than ever before. I don't have heart disease, but because of the location of my tumor and the surgery I need I will certainly benefit from the amazing work the AHA has done. The first few days that I was going through this, when people at the hospital (doctors, nurses, etc) would ask me where I worked, they would do a double take when I said "the American Heart Association". I must have had 50 people mention how ironic it was that I worked for the AHA and got cancer in my heart. In the past few months whenever I get assigned to a new project, or see the work I have done come to fruition, I think about my situation and the millions of others that face the same types of things I face right now. And I think about all of those that the AHA has helped, and will help in the future. It's very rewarding to work for an organization like this. Besides working for the AHA, I also support them by walking and raising money for the Syracuse Heart Walk (this will be my sixth year). The walk is on 4/18 this year and if you are interested in walking or donating you can check out my personal webpage here: http://heartwalk.kintera.org/syracuseny/willmccaffrey. Let me know if you have any questions.
Sorry again for such a long post and thanks for all of the encouragement, emails and prayers. Shana and I talk every night about how lucky we are to be surrounded by such great people…our family, friends and coworkers are amazing. We take this battle day by day and so far we couldn't be happier with the results. We return to Boston at the end of April for more scans and a meeting with my oncologist and surgeon (I think I will wait until mid-August to get anxious about that!) and I am crossing my fingers that surgery could be in the near future (it's a good sign that they scheduled a meeting with the surgeon). I will post again in a few days about how the radiation is going. I hope everybody is well!