Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Medical Update - My Gallbladder Cancer

I haven't written much about my medical state since the "spot" was removed, and I've been waiting to have a little more information before posting. I also know that some of you, my good friends and family who read this regularly, keep track of my scheduled doctor appointments, so I wanted to describe what's up for January.

First, I'm having a "second opinion" (I think of it more as a consultation) at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston on Friday, January 19. I think of it as a consultation because I don't doubt the diagnosis, although I know that pathologists can be wrong. Mostly, I want to talk with an oncologist who has worked more with gallbladder cancer, just to get a sense of his/her medical opinion about the course of my disease. Patty and I contacted a doctor friend who contacted a doctor colleague at Dana Farber earlier this month asking who is "expert" in this cancer there, or in the U.S. His response was that no one there, or in this country, is expert in gallbladder cancer. (Raising the question several friends have asked: "Is there an expert in gallbladder cancer outside the U.S? I don't have an answer.) Anyway, I've already had all of my records sent to them, and if they had a cancellation in the meantime, I may go for the appointment sooner.

Second, my next CT scan will be Monday, Jan. 22, with my oncologist appointment two days later, on Jan. 24. (Unfortunately for me, with post-scan anxiety, that's the soonest the new oncologist, Dr. J, is willing to see me post-scan.) At that appointment, we'll look at the whole picture and either he'll recommend that we begin treatment, or that we continue "watchful waiting." Of course, those of you who know me know that I'll be coming home that day with the scans, which I'll study on my computer to see what I can see, before the radiologist issues a report.

Third, we have been tracking my tumor marker (through a blood test called CA 19-9) more closely in the weeks since my last scan, largely because of the "spot" and the discovery that it was cancer. Some information about this blood test:
1. Not everyone with gallbladder cancer has this blood test register. Tia told me that her current reading is "3" despite her current mets, and the doctor simply said that the test is meaningless for her.
2. The numbers can get very high when someone is really sick. My numbers were all below 100 before November, I know of folks with readings in the 3,000-4,000 range who are not symptomatic, but have mets, and I have read of folks with readings in the 10,000 range who are very sick.
3. Anything below 37 is considered "normal."
4. My readings have been going up, but not awfully. Here they are:
Nov. 22 - 137
Dec. 4 - 182
Dec. 12 - 190
Dec. 27 - 212
When the oncologist called yesterday with the blood test results, he talked with Patty and I missed him on my cell phone, but he apparently pointed out that this last was about a 10% increase. I personally was hoping my numbers would go down following the removal of the "spot," but that doesn't seem to be happening.

What's next? That depends on the scan on Jan. 22, and how I feel. If the scan indicates visible spread, and my CA 19-9 numbers continue to climb, I will probably begin treatment. If the scan is clean once again, I continue to feel good, and the CA19-9 numbers haven't changed much, then I probably won't begin treatment. There are obviously other possibilities, but we can see what things look like on my next appointment.

On the discussion boards, I've been reading in the last seven months about others with this disease who go downhill rapidly. I see more clearly now why my doctors were apprehensive about our trip to the southwest last summer, three weeks after my surgery and diagnosis. Since gallbladder cancer frequently doesn't respond to chemo at all, I also see why my self-report on how I feel is a real indicator of what should be done medically. Knowing that makes me a little anxious when I don't feel good; then I have to remind myself that I had days when I just didn't feel good before my diagnosis of gallbladder cancer! But it also makes me anxious when I have any digestive drama, and in the last few weeks, I've had a weird sensation in my middle a handful of times that feels like something being constrained, moving through a narrow opening. It's different from indigestion, and it passes pretty quickly, but it makes me worry about my bypass, about the cancer spreading in some way that would interfere with the ability of my GI tract to do its job.

Aside from that anxiety, I am feeling good, with my energy consistent, my body feeling strong, and my spirits generally good. I have two and a half weeks before I'm back on campus (although I have preparation to do for the new semester), and I hope to do some fun, crafty things and to relax a little over that time.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you're getting a second opinion. Even go for a third if you want. I want to do that as well for Mom. It can't hurt and medicine is so subjective, it's important to get more than one perspective.

Thumbs UP for January!! :)

SaintMartha said...

When my mother was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer back in 2000 I searched high and low for an oncologist who had some kind of expertise in that field. It was so frustrating because the cancer is so rare--compared to of course the usual kinds, cancer, lung, etc. I do however find a lot of information on the John Hopkins site, especially where Pancreatic Cancer is concerned---they are both very similiar. Upon reasearching extensively I contacted an onocologist who does the Whipple procedure and asked if he thought it could be viable for a gallbladder patient---he said no. I still think that it might have been more effective than the standard protocol that was offered for my mom--chemo, radiation. I also think a liver resection (she developed mets to the liver) could have been done as well....but I couldn't seem to find a doctor who was willing to take a chance. To this day it saddens me that more wasn't done.

Be pro-active in your disease---! It's your life and if one door slams then kick through another one...whatever it takes.



Cancer information said...

When anyone observes symptoms of cancer, should go for tests. Some tests for Gall bladder cancer is Ultrasound Scan, CT scan, ERCP, Angiogram, Laparoscopy, Laparotomy etc. Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy are some of the treatments for Gall bladder cancer. Without the person’s consent, no medical treatment could be offered.