A cancer journey – struggling with the schedule

Infusion time!

Two weeks ago, Rick had his first of many “maintenance” immunotherapy infusions of Nivolumab for the clinical trial he is on for his clear cell kidney cancer. The hope is the drug will re-train his “T” cells to recognize and destroy any remaining cancer cells.

Fast-forward to yesterday and we were hopeful to get the go-ahead for “maintenance” infusion number 2. We gotta do this every two weeks for about 20 more months … not to mention scans every few months. It is going to be a very long haul … but I believe the worst is behind us. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Rick had a kidney/tumor removed two months ago. Seems a little surreal. Rick has been back at work for the last few weeks and was finally cleared to climb on all that fun metal stuff at the plant.

It is why Rick and I have been huddling with the calendar trying to figure out how to integrate these MDA visits into our lives with work and family. The whole infusion thing reminds me of baking cookies. The infusion recipe has a specific order and involves several ingredients starting with blood work. Actually, Rick and I lovingly call it an old-fashioned bloodletting because they take over a dozen vials of blood. That is done the day before, or at the very least two hours prior to meeting with the clinical trial research peeps. She asks bunches of questions to see how Rick is doing and records the answers on a computer. I don’t think she found a spot to record my answer, “Rick has his sense of humor back!”

Next ingredient … we stir in a meeting with the PA, the lovely Simi, and sometimes Dr. Campbell, the oncologist. If all the blood work looks fine, we head to another floor to bake at 350 degrees or until done. Actually, that is where we go for the actual infusion. Like waiting for bread to rise, that part involves waiting around for a couple of hours for whatever goes on behind the scene and finally the infusion. Why am I telling you all this? Because these infusions days can easily burn a whole workday.

So Rick and I tried an experiment this week with the schedule. Rick drove to MDA from work late in the day on Wednesday for his blood work. On Thursday, Rick and I met with the clinical trial “team” in the early afternoon and was approved for his infusion. We figured it would be way easier to make up a few hours at work then a whole day. Good news … his lipase numbers had dropped again. Rick was now so close to the absolute top of the normal range. Actually, there was a few minutes when it looked like we might be sent home again. Imagine throwing out a perfectly good batch of unbaked cookie batter. It felt like that!

I left MDA at 3:30 pm to head back to meet Mimi and her bus. Rick finally pulled up into the driveway after 7 pm. I could tell by the look on his face this wasn’t going to work and he had a “Plan B” in mind. I have a call into Dr. Campbell’s awesome scheduler, Lauren. Hopefully, she can work some magic for when we head back down to MDA in two weeks for “maintenance” infusion number 3.

A cancer journey – did they let us back on the freeway?

Infusion time!
When last we left off, Rick experienced, what we hoped was a little detour in his cancer journey. It was the first, and I am certain, it won’t be the last. I know that now. It is a very humbling experience to hear you may not be able to continue on your clinical trial … all because of a blood test result. A test on Rick’s pancreas two weeks ago reported his lipase level at 1602, with the standard range between 23 and 300. Not good. It is why we were sent home two weeks ago instead of receiving his very first “maintenance” infusion and put on “evaluation” status in the clinical trial.

We were to await an appointment with a GI doctor to rule out pancreatitis. That last-minute appointment finally happened yesterday. We met with Dr. T. That is what they call her as her name is not to be easily pronounced! After a long and thoughtful consultation, looking over labs and scans, it was determined that Rick did not have pancreatitis. Dr. T also asked me how Rick was doing. I told her this guy is back at work, working out with light weights, eating everything in the house that is not tied down and has his sense of humor back. Yup … it was her opinion the lipase elevation is likely due to the infusion drugs. But would they return to normal?

Today we left the house at 7 am for blood work at 8 bells. Two hours later we met with the clinical trial nurse and Dr. Campbell’s PA. If the blood work showed a decrease on the lipase test, Rick would have an immunotherapy infusion. Unfortunately, the lab didn’t perform the lipase test. A simple snafu for sure which increased the tension. Back down to the lab we went! We got Tazz to draw blood. He has a Looney Tune’s Tasmanian Devil on his scrubs. Another two-hour wait. We cruised to lunch at a restaurant in the Rotary House. The sit-down restaurant has a nice lunch buffet which was worth the stroll from the Mays Building.

At 12:45 my cell phone rang. Dr. Campbell told me the lipase declined 1200 points and Rick could run over to the Main Building for his infusion. Just like that! A simple phone call and we were allowed back on the freeway. But not too fast! More waiting and it was finally around 3:30 when the immunotherapy drug started dripping. During “maintenance” there is only one drug involved. Cuts the actual infusion time down to about an hour instead of three. Immunotherapy should continue every other week for the next 20 months … if there are no detours.

So I call 3:30 pm the witching hour when I am at MD Anderson. I gotta be out of the parking lot to head back home before Mimi’s day center bus rolls in front of our house. Thank you Lord for the HOV! So I leave Rick to finish his infusion and our awesome son-in-law, Chad, does a MD Anderson drive-by after work depositing hubby home safe and sound.

What I learned this week … life can turn on a dime many times … blood work is important and I don’t understand it all very much … except for lipase. I also learned that unexpected good things happen at our house every few days … like Michele texting me she has extra and brings a delicious dinner and her cute dog for Mimi to pet. And cards appear in our mailbox every few days. This week from the newspaper I write for, The Tribune. One card for Rick, and one for me, signed by everyone in the office with lovely little notes. Made our day when we weren’t having a very good one! And then there was a long phone call last week with Aleta … we call each other “sista” … she is actually my lovely daughter-in-law’s mother and lives far away in Michigan. It was one of those tough days and she made everything better.

And my favorite little text relay early in the day with my little sister, Gretchen! “Big day at MDA today! Maybe infusion … maybe kicked out of trial!” I texted.

“I vote for infusion,” Gretchen texts.

I spy charity quilt finished!

At the beginning of the year, I made a list of all the quilts I was going to complete this year. The list reads: two I Spy Jar quilts (one for charity and one for grandson Jake), 2015 Texas Row-by-Row, an adorable mystery quilt from Fat Quarter Shop … and then there is a baby quilt for a new grandbaby that will make his debut in November. I really gotta get started on that last one. Yup … Jake is going to be a big brother! We are like the cow in the nursery rhyme … over the moon!

When I made the list, I thought five quilts seemed reasonable. Then cancer knocked on our front door and I took up knitting in hospital and clinic waiting rooms. The scarf … it is about five miles long now.

In April, I did manage to finish an I Spy quilt I had promised to St. Martha’s School in Kingwood for one of their charity events. Hope it made a bunch of money for the school!

I have several other quilts in various stages of progress. Whenever I have a spare thirty seconds, I’m in my sewing room working on one. It keeps me sane.

But back to the I Spy Jar quilt. The pattern is by Missouri Star Quilt Co., one of my favorite online places for patterns and fabric. Store owner, Jenny, has great online quilt tutorials. The pattern comes with directions for either pint or quart-size jars. My quilt has pint jars. At the time I purchased the fabric, MSQC also offered an adorable fabric pack of ten-inch squares with novelty prints that were perfect for this quilt. Made it so easy and with the 10″ squares I have enough to make four quilt tops in anticipation of future grand babes! I added a couple of novelty Minion fabrics that will appear in Jake’s quilt.

I used the fabulous Kim Norton of A Busy Bobbin to longarm quilt the layers and Personalize It for the quilt label. Oh … did I mention the cute lady bug fabric outlining the quilt label? It is a Charlie Harper fabric. I have provided the link (search for “Charlie Harper”) as they have some pretty cool fabric you might just need to have for your very own!