As some of you may or may not be aware, I have been battling stage 4 kidney cancer since 2013. Let me rephrase that. My wife Tanisha and I have been battling this cancer since 2013. This cancer has invaded my body, but my wife is battling it just as hard as I am. I couldn’t make it on this journey with Jesus Christ and Tanisha by my side.
Since last December, I have been receiving treatment at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ. I have received excellent care from my oncology team. However, the distance to the clinic has always been a struggle. So, I have had to say “goodbye” to Mayo Clinic and go “home” again.
Where is home you may ask? Well in for my cancer care it’s a place in Goodyear, AZ called Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Why do I call it “home”? Well, I began my treatment for stage 4 cancer at CTCA in 2014. I spent two and half years surrounded by a staff of stakeholders, clinicians, and doctors that genuinely cared about my treatment and well-being. These wonderful folks have been with my wife and I when the cancer closed in and nearly took my life in the early months of treatment. Then they rejoiced with my wife and I when the tumors began to shrink and some of the severe effects began to loosen their grip. This team of people make a hospital for cancer patients feel more like a home than a hospital. They are like family.
Do you remember the TV series “Cheers”? Each time the character of Norm would walk into the bar, his friends erupted and said, “Norm!”. They knew him and were excited to see him enter this fictional bar. Each time I walk through the sliding doors of CTCA I can hear someone on staff say, “John!”. What a great feeling!
It is for this reason, that I am so glad I have made it back home. I was able to meet with my new oncologist this week. I was very glad to hear the treatment plan he has in mind moving forward in this fight against cancer. Once again, I can walk the main corridor of the center and meet fellow patients as we encourage each other in this journey and fight.
Hello faithful followers of this blog. I apologize that it has been a while since my last post.
I recently had a CT scan at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Phoenix. Again, I have been treating at CTCA for two and half years for stage 4 kidney cancer that has spread to both lungs.I am currently being treated with an immunotherapy drug called Opdivo.
The scan showed that the tumors in both lungs are fairly stable. There has been some growth but it is not significant enough for my oncology team to state that it is growing. That’s good news! Yet, the scan also showed that the mass that is where my right kidney used to be is growing. My team thought that it might be pressing against my colon and intestines. I had a colonoscopy last week. Fortunately for me the colonoscopy showed that the mass is not invading that area. On a side note, the procedure was very easy, but prepping for it was not. I had to drink this solution called Moviprep on two separate occasions. It tasted like a thousand lemon flavored sweet tarts in water. Needless to say I had to stay close to the bathroom after drinking this stuff.
The next step in this process of determing what to do about this mass will be a CT guided biopsy of the tissue. I am having this procedure this week. From my own observations of previous scans of this mass I am pretty sure it is cancer. It responded to treatment with the drug Votrient and was shrinking along with the other tumors. So far some of the options to removed this tumor include possible surgery or radiation therapy. But, I will leave the final determination up to the experts and my wife and I will determine what treatment option will will take.
More updates soon.
I just had a CT scan a few weeks ago to check on the state of things in my lungs. The scan had some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the pneumonia I was dealing with has finally cleared up. The bad news is that the tumors in both lungs are growing not shrinking after 2 months of treatment using Opdivo. Again, I am being treated for stage 4 kidney cancer that has metastasized to both lungs at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Phoenix.
My pulmunoligist has recently begun treating one of my symptoms with something called Photo Dynamic Therapy. The drug used is called Photofrin. So, the upper part of my right lung in not only partially collapsed, but it is also blocked by the tumors. This new treatment is designed to open that part of the airway up by burning away the tumors using the drug Photofrin.
I had the drug injected into my body on Monday. On Wednesday I had a bronchoscopy procedure where a cool laser was placed into my airway and turned on to activate the drug internally. Basically, the tumors are now light sensitive and by using the laser it will destroy the tumors by burning them and flooding them with oxygen. Oxygen is a natural enemy to cancer cells. I will have up to four more procedures in the next week or so to clean up the dead tissue from the soon to be dead cancer cells.
While this will help to improve my breathing and overall quality of life, it is limited to only clearing up this one particular symptom. The remaining cancer cells in my lungs will have to be dealt with in other ways by my oncologist. I am hopeful that I will be cancer free soon.
It has been one year since I was in ICU after a bronchoscopy procedure at Cancer Treatment Centers of America that did not go as planned. I had just had a CT scan that showed that the mass in my right lung had grown around a stent and crushed it. My pulmunoligist said he needed to go in and removed the stent. I thought it would be a routine procedure. It was not. The procedure was on a Tuesday, and I woke up on Thursday. I had been on a ventilator for a couple of days since I was unable to breathe on my own. My oncology team and my wife were not sure I was going to live through this ordeal. But I did by the healing hand of Christ.
The Lord brought me through that particular trial. It was not easy to recover and I had to go through several weeks of physical therapy and had to stay in Arizona for 3 weeks. Today, I am in a much better place in my battle with stage 4 kidney cancer. The tumors in my lungs are now half the size they were at this time last year. I can say that I do not want to have any cancer in my body. Yet, this whole cancer journey has caused me to truly come to know Christ in a real and tangible way. He continues to give me revelation of Himself. He continues to remind me that I am in Him and that He is in me. I would not trade this relationship to Christ for anything.
Well I met with my oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Dr. Walter Quan, and my latest CT scan shows that the kidney cancer tumors in my lungs is continuing to shrink. They are now half of their original size when I began treatment over a year ago. I thank the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ for his healing. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.
Each year at each of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America hospitals, they host a Celebrate Life event. This is an event to celebrate with those patients who have survived their cancer diagnosis for 5 years. Each year a new tree is planted in the garden to honor these 5 year survivors. I missed this event last year, and I am looking forward to attending this year’s event that is happening this week. The 5 year survivors also receive a gold leaf with their name on the Tree of Life display in the front lobby of the hospital. I am due to receive my 5 year leaf in 2019. I am confident in the Lord healing me of all the cancer in my body so that I can get my 5 year leaf.
I just met with my oncology team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America today. My CT scan showed that the tumors in my lungs are continuing to shrink. Praise Jesus my healer.
The next step of my cancer journey involved having to stay in Arizona for 3 weeks at the cancer center. During this stay, I had 2 infusions of Torisel, and afterwards, I was allowed to fly home to San Jose. It was so good to be back at home with my family and sleep in my own bed. I would return to the center every 2 weeks for treatment for the next several months. The tumors in my left lung continued to shrink, but the mass in my right lung remained unchanged.
My near death experience in July and the continuing battle with cancer, as well as other issues began to take its toll on my marriage. I knew something was wrong, but I guess I try to convince myself that we were doing fine. I began to move towards a depression state during this time. I began to have thoughts that everyone would be better off without me. I began to consider stopping my cancer treatment and just see what would happen. After all, I wasn’t working and was on disability so I thought I didn’t have anything else to offer. Fortunately, I have some really good friends that I could share these things with. They allowed me to vent my feelings and then they encouraged me that I have a great deal to offer to others.
In October, things in my marriage came to a screeching halt. My wife and I separated, and this was a month of unexpected and undesired changes for me. I was devastated by this whole thing. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. I asked my Dad if I could move in with him temporarily while I sort things out. He lived 80 miles away on the Monterey Peninsula. He agreed and I packed up what I could, and donated or threw out what I couldn’t bring with me. I had lost my family and I was still battling cancer. I felt so defeated and alone. I was going to have to start over somehow.
As my cancer treatment journey continues, I would continue to receive treatment with Interleukin-2 every 3 weeks, that would include 4 days of infusion at the cancer center. However, in April I began to have trouble breathing. I could barely walk very far before feeling short of breath. I had to make an early trip out to Phoenix. My oncologist ordered a CT scan when I arrived at CTCA. They discovered that the tumor mass in my right lung had begun to invade the main right bronchial tube. It was determined that I would need another bronchoscopy procedure to place a stent in the bronchial tube to keep my airway open. After this procedure I was able to breathe normally again. However, my cancer treatment journey would take a frightening turn at the end of June.
My wife and I traveled to Phoenix in late June for what we thought would be a routine week of treatment. It was anything but routine. I was scheduled to have a CT scan at the start of my week to check on the progress of treatment. The CT scan showed that the tumor mass in my right lung was continuing to grow and was very aggressive. I met with my pulmonologist, Dr. Turner, and he informed me that he would have to perform another bronchoscopy procedure to open up my airways again. The scan showed that the tumors had begun to crush the stent and had moved into my main airway. The next day, Tuesday, I went in for the bronchoscopy procedure. I can recall falling asleep in the operating room. The next thing I remember was the horrible feeling of something being removed from my throat. It felt very uncomfortable and I wanted it to stop. I looked at my wife and said, “Help!” I could barely even hear myself say that word. My voice seemed to be almost gone. My wife told me to just hang in there for a little while so they could pull out the incubation tube from my throat. This incident happened on Thursday. I had lost 2 days.
I was told that I had been in ICU for the past 2 days. The original procedure did not go well. My right lung had collapsed during the procedure and there was a lot of bleeding. I was put on a ventilator and was kept sedated. Dr. Turner also had to perform 2 additional procedures to remove the crushed stent and to clear away what he could of the tumor mass. The staff had told my wife that I may not survive. The staff at CTCA supported my wife with a lot of hugs and prayers while she waited for me to finally wake up. Finally, I did wake up as they removed the incubation tube from my throat. My wife explained to me all that had happened as she wiped away her tears. By the grace of the Lord I was still alive and breathing. I would have to remain in Arizona for 3 weeks to recover from all of the procedures. My oncology team would now have to come up with a new treatment method to battle the cancer.
The next step on this journey was to seek out a second opinion. My wife had a friend who’s mother was treated for cancer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa. She had nothing but positive things to say about the place. I had seen the commercials on television about CTCA, but thought it would be too expensive. My wife called them and talked with a representative. The next step was for the two of us to talk to a representative over the phone. We spoke with this person for about 30 minutes. She answered every objection that I could throw at her. I was shocked to find out that the center pays for the patient and caregivers’ airfare for the initial consultation visit. They also had discounted lodging for patients and caregivers. We were also told that the oncologist I would be seeing did an outpatient treatment of Interleukin 2 (IL-2). So we decided to take the trip out to Goodyear, Arizona for a second opinion consultation visit.
We took the flight to the Phoenix area during the first week of February of 2014. Upon arriving at the airport, we were greeted in the baggage claim area by our driver from the center. He took our luggage and walked us out to the stretch limousine that was waiting to take us to the center. I was already impressed. The drive took about 20 minutes to get to the cancer center. Upon arriving to the center we were given a tour of the facility and shown where we would check in for appointments. Then the driver took us to the hotel we would call home for a while which was located across the street from the center.
On our first day at the center we filled out several documents, met with the financial counselor for our insurance arrangements, and met with the intake doctor to review my medical records. We ate our meals in the cafe at the center. The food was delicious and the prices were cheap. Patients and caregivers get a large discount. We also met with a couple from Cancer Fighters. This is a support group for patients that was started at CTCA, and we signed up right away. During the next couple of days we explored the local area for shops and restaurants in between appointments at the center. At the end of the first week we got to meet my oncologist, Dr. Walter Quan Jr. and the rest of my potential care team. Dr. Quan shared with me his evaluation of my condition and recommended starting outpatient treatment with Interleukin-2 (IL-2). My wife and I discussed this for a few moments and decided to go ahead and begin treatment at CTCA.
The second week at CTCA began with having a procedure to place a PowerPort in my upper chest area. This would make it easier to perform any blood tests and infusion treatments. I would also have a bronchoscopy procedure performed by Dr. J. Francis Turner to check on the extent of the mass in the hilar area of my right lung. Finally, on Wednesday of week 2, I began receiving my first dose of IL-2. The first day I showed no negative side effects from the treatment. However, on the second treatment I had several side effects that included, rigors, headache, and nausea. The nursing team reacted quickly and gave some medications to eliminate these side effects. After 3 days of treatment we were allowed to fly home and would return after 2 weeks of recovery.