Friday, July 15, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The good is that Meagan is feeling relatively good these days. So good that she has a hard time believing that she really has this horrible disease. Unlike many other cancers, she has not had to endure lengthy, debilitating treatments. Her "events" have been off the meter bad, but did not leave her feeling badly for any significant period of time. Her surgeries have been relatively minor, with localized pain, but requiring no more than ibuprofen. So after 15 months with living with the disease, a disease that can be very debilitating and require super hard treatments, she has not had that bad a quality of life. We hope that continues for some period of time. But I can sense the frustration and disconnect within her. She feels capable of walking, of being productive, even though she has some limitations cognitively and physically (no driving). So it's a bit like being in the eye of a hurricane - some events have passed by with severe consequences, there is this temporary respite (even the chemo she is on seems to have little side effects, not even much fatigue), but I at least know we have the rest of the hurricane to come.

The bad is the difficulty Meagan is having getting into her studio. She moved her studio physically from what is now Casey's bedroom to my old office. But there are lots of boxes of her art supplies and even though she has a space to write and reflect, with a great view of the garden, she wants to get the whole thing set up. Than means going through the boxes (all of which are labeled with their contents) and deciding what to put up, what to hold, and what to get rid of. Some of the "hold" stuff are things she cares a lot about but probably have meaning long term only for her. So it's hard emotionally for her to deal with it. She knows she won't be able to paint or continue her Illumination project, and while sad, has reconciled herself to it and has set what work she has completed aside, to be held and passed down as a family heirloom, after we figure out how to display it properly. But her scrapbooks of old magazine pages, her books on fashion, and textiles and patterns, her collection of beads and fabrics - all of those are things which helped her creative development and which are too hard to pass along. I've encouraged her not to do anything rash, to get rid of logical stuff (i.e., oil paints), but just leave the rest so she can use her space. I think after a burst of activity yesterday and today she will do that - after a weekend at Decatur this coming Sat and Sun, she wants to be able to start using the space Monday, and that will help bracket how much more time she spends on on this emotional process.

The ugly is having to talk about where we are in terms of disease progression and options. Because she forgets, we have to have the same conversation repeatedly (although not frequently). This is a challenge for me and for her. It's frustrating for me, because I get re-traumatized again, and it's frustrating for her as I remind her of what the treatment options are and what clinical trials have been shut down to us (because of her brain tumors, brain bleeding, seizure history, and medication). She has a hard time grasping all this (it's complicated) and so can get a bit testy. She knows it's a matter of life and death, but doesn't quite grasp that our treatment options have been severely limited and her clinical trial options almost completely eliminated. Plus there is the concern by Kaplan that any clinical trial involving Interleukin 2 (which most use in combination with chemotherapy [hard in and of itself] and tumor infiltrating lymphocytes) would be extremely toxic and involve taking her off her medications - so that is a conversation we need to have with him on August 3. Let alone we have to await the results of the brain scan on August 1, because any brain involvement at all makes clinical trials and any systemic treatment moot altogether. I still need to follow-up with one clinical trial place (locally) to find out if they would take her on, if there is no brain involvement. It pisses me off that they have not gotten back to me after a couple long conversations with the clinical trial coordinator several weeks ago who promised to get back to me. I take this as a sign that it is "no" (because most clinical trials are actively trying to recruit patients, so if they don't call you back it seems self evident they don't want you), but Meagan wants a definitive "no". So a little stress.

Then there is the whole issue of appeals and request for compassionate use exceptions with the clinical trial places. Assuming Meagan wanted to, and Kaplan either agreed or didn't stand in the way (and her brain is clear for the time being), does she take the risk (if the clinical trial places agreed) of going off medication and undergoing experimental treatment which might be quite debilitating and trigger strokes or seizures? Especially if the treatments are out of the area. And have quite uncertain outcomes (these are all quite experimental and theoretical) and may not do anything in terms of life extension, but could dramatically affect quality of life?

Difficult, difficult decisions - all in scenario stage because we don't have all the information. The big pieces I suppose are the state of her brain on August 3 and what we think of what Kaplan has to say about going off medications and the potential impact of high or low dose Interleukin on her  - coupled with a discussion of quality of life and probability of success. Ugly...

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