Monday, June 29, 2015

Having a good time with Cody Wickline at John Howerton Honda!

Just wanted to share our four new commercial spots!

The first three are funny little ten second vignettes. The last is our BIG THANK YOU to the community for voting JOHN HOWERTON HONDA the #1 dealership to buy NEW AND USED vehicles in southern West Virginia!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Update to My Previous Post on Switching Gears

Dr. Flinn called John yesterday after personally reviewing all of John's test results (blood work and scans), researching other patient experiences with Idelalisib, etc. He was out of town at a conference at our last office visit and our discussion of changing directions was with his nurse practitioner. She was reporting the lab and scan results to Dr. Flinn by phone and advising us of results. But she had also told us that Dr. Flinn would be calling to talk to John personally before his next visit in July.

Dr. Flinn told John that he is only slightly out of remission. After looking at the scans, although his nodes have increased in size they are still very small. And he hasn't had a big spike in his white count. He's just been trending upward very slowly. So it's not that the drug has stopped working. It may just need to be bumped up to the next dose. He is inclined to think that may put John right back into remission and after John said he would prefer to try upping his dose before moving to another drug (with possible side effects he is not now dealing with), Dr. Flinn said he was leaning that same way in his thinking.

I love love love having a specialist who discusses decisions with us and is open to hearing the patient and caregiver's thoughts on these decisions! I never fully grasped why we couldn't try to increase the dose first but when I asked if that was an option, the nurse practitioner had shaken her head no with an expression that I perceived as "definitely not an option." So I didn't press it. But I did hope that Dr. Flinn might offer that option when we spoke in person.

When John told me about his conversation with Dr. Flinn yesterday, I was so relieved. I know there are other drugs and we may still have to transition to something else at some point. But I'd love for John to get the maximum benefit and length of time from the drug he's successfully taken (without side effects) for the last five years. And I don't want to transition prematurely. I trust Dr. Flinn's guidance and if he did not advise staying with Idelalisib, we'd go with his expertise. But it was a great relief to me for Dr. Flinn to say he agreed that increasing the dose was an option that might do the trick (for now, at least).

I knew you'd want to know this happy news! Thanks for caring!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Time to Switch Gears

Well, it's been a while since I've blogged about CLL. But cruise control on Idelalisib has been
interrupted and we are shifting gears.

As many of you already know, John was an early participant in the Phase I clinical trial of Cal-101, now known as Idelalisib or Zydelig. He began taking Cal-101 in May 2010 after failing FCR (chemotherapy). And he has enjoyed remission status for a full five years. I've frequently referred to this symptom free part of the journey as being on cruise control.

Over the past few months, John's white count has been trending upward and his platelets have trended downward. The progression has been slow but steady. Nothing alarming. No urgency. But his CLL is definitely progressing again. Cruise control on this particular drug is ending and we must take another course in treatment.

CT scans this checkup have indicated disease progression in his lymph nodes as well as in his blood. Again, not an alarming increase in the nodes, but significant change in more than one area of his body.

For the next six weeks, John will continue taking the drug and at our next appointment we will discuss new treatment options. I'm sure Ibrutinib will be one option on the table and possibly another clinical trial will be offered.

I have enjoyed taking a break from CLL immersion during our cruising time. I've also known this day would probably come eventually. But I have not worried about it because I believe that transitioning to a new therapy will provide a new remission. There has been so much advancement in treating CLL in the last few years. And there are other drugs similar to Idelalisib that work in the same way but through different pathways. Other patients have transitioned successfully from one drug to another. But in spite of what I know intellectually, I have to admit that getting this disappointing news triggered a wave of anxiety for me. I felt so fragile most of Monday and into Tuesday.

Dr. Flinn was out of town this visit and it was the nurse practitioner who gave us the news. Knowing John's white count had been inching upward and platelets had been low for the first time since beginning Cal-101, I thought I was somewhat prepared for this. I had even anticipated there might be some lymph node change with the scans. John said last week that he thought he could feel one in his neck for the first time. But when I heard the NP say "disease progression" and that John would not be able to continue Idelalisib even at an increased dose, fear grabbed me by the throat and I knew tears were in my eyes. If I even blinked or tried to talk, they would have been on my face.

We were asked a question (I don't even remember what) and John looked over at me for my response. When he looked at me, he made a joke. "Don't ask her," he said, "she'll start crying." It wasn't the kind of question that would make someone cry. But I couldn't say a word. He said later that I had that deer in headlights look and he just knew I was fighting back a surge of emotion. He was absolutely right. I guess there was some small part of me that dared to hope Idelalisib might work forever. And those hopes were dashed.

John has not felt good for months. His fatigue has been severe and he's had a lot of unexplained pain in his body since late fall. Dr. Flinn has done extra blood work to rule out rheumatologic issues. Nothing has shown up indicating any problem other than a "profound" deficiency in Vitamin D. So I've been reading about fibromyalgia and talking to people I know who have it. I've learned of other CLL patients who suffer from this condition. And I've discovered that several good friends battle it as well. John may or may not have fibromyalgia, but he has many textbook symptoms. And fibromyalgia cannot be diagnosed with blood work. It's also possible the pain and fatigue are CLL-related or even treatment related. We'll see if he feels better after transitioning to a new treatment. And we will also consult a rheumatologist about the possibility of fibro.

There are so many things to consider when comparing treatments. In my reading the last few days, I've learned that tumor lysis syndrome (which can be fatal) has been a problem with ABT-199 (a current drug being studied). The drug shows great promise in controlling CLL, but John has one kidney and has already experienced tumor lysis syndrome previously, after his first Rituxan infusion in 2008. It was scary. I really did think I might be losing him that day in the doctor's office. He lost consciousness twice. The first time, he passed out in the elevator as we were leaving and hit his head on the metal threshold as the doors opened.

For those who don't know what TLS is, it's a metabolic condition resulting from a large number of malignant cells being killed by treatment and having to be processed through the patient's body. It can result in kidney failure. And John only has one kidney. I've been trying to protect that one kidney to the best of my ability since his diagnosis.

Ibrutinib is already an approved therapy for CLL and it is successfully controlling disease progression for a large number of patients. It has relatively few side effects. Fewer than Idelalisib, actually. But one of its known side effects for some patients is joint pain. And since John is already experiencing quite a bit of chronic pain, I worry about that side effect.

I don't know what Dr. Flinn is going to suggest, but I'm trying to get back to soaking up the latest information so we can at least know what questions to intelligently ask about the treatment options we're given. And, of course, I want to help John make informed decisions.

I'm a good caregiver and patient advocate. But this week I've been a pretty fragile wife. I've had to ask John to forgive me more times than usual because I get needy when I'm feeling fragile. And I am not always aware of my tone when I'm feeling stressed.

I have the best husband in the world. He's not perfect even though I once thought he was. But he is perfect for me. And he is without a doubt my rock.

This has been a challenging week, but it's also been a good week. I don't think I ever take John for granted. After all the years I endured an abusive relationship, a day doesn't go by that I don't think about how much I appreciate him. I truly am thankful for every day even when it's smooth sailing. But there's something about the waves kicking up unexpectedly...

My gratitude for all that I have today is magnified by the uncertainty of what I will face tomorrow.

While we are both optimistic this is just a bump in the road and new treatment will get his CLL under control again, it's still a reminder that every day is a gift.

I'll keep you posted on the next part of the journey. And thanks in advance for your prayers!