I was discharged from my second hospital stay at MD Anderson today and we headed home after being away for 2 weeks! We still don't know exactly why the drastic pain flair up occurred on Thursday. It's possible the prior liver biopsy was part of it. I was admitted to the hospital again on 4/26 and was discharged 4/30.
They kept me on antibiotics throughout my hospital stay and doubled my morphine dose taken daily. My temperature is now consistently reading normal (under 99). I've had a low grade fever of around 100 for the last several weeks and it was as high as 101.8 when I first went back in the hospital. The hot flashes and chill spells I've had for the last 2 weeks stopped as well. During the hospital stay they also started me on an anti-inflammatory drug called Celebrex that I will continue to take daily. The fever being gone could be attributed to the antibiotics or anti-inflammatory med, as well as the immunotherapy helping my immune system to begin attacking the tumors. Who knows, but I feel a lot better.
The radiation team reviewed my case on Friday 4/27 and they are in agreement with providing Gamma Knife Radiosurgery to treat/destroy the brain tumors. Ultimately my medical oncologists recommended that I wait for the procedure until we have the new scans that will be taken 6 weeks from the date of the first immunotherapy injections, which I had on 4/21. The radiation team and neurologist were in agreement with his recommendation to wait. With the wait period, if the tumors shrink there is less risk of bleeding within the brain and we can also catch any new tumors that may show up before the immunotherapy was able to kick into high gear.
My liver has very severe swelling, so I have ongoing pain that I will be managing. I returned home with all the medications to deal with pain and side effects at this point. Hopefully the tumors on my liver will begin to shrink and the deformity of my liver will be reversed and the pain reduced.
Due to the immunotherapy having the risk of causing my immune system to attack things it shouldn't, I have to hope that such side effects are minimal or able to be controlled. As long as I can tolerate each subsequent round of the immunotherapy injections and manage any side effects, I will receive them every 3 weeks with the next dose being on 5/16.
The week of 5/14 I will return to MD Anderson for blood work, an appointment with the supportive care team that manages my medications, an appointment with my medical oncologist, and the 2nd round of immunotherapy infusion. The 6 week mark when scans will be performed is also the time frame for the 3rd round of immunotherapy infusion.
The goal of the current Ipilimumab and Nivolumab drugs (immunotherapy) is to shrink the tumors and prevent any new ones. Best case scenario would be what is referred to as a "complete response", meaning that my immune system successfully kills off all of the tumors. This occurs in a very small number of patients. I went disease free for almost 8 years, which was exceptional considering the fact that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, so I have all the luck and momentum on my side to be a "complete response"! THINKING POSITIVE EVERY DAY!! I'm very lucky that I am dealing with this now and not back within the first several years when I was first diagnosed with the disease, back at that time there were really no treatment options.
The boys were able to be with us the first several days when we went to Houston. They also got to come visit this last weekend when my mom brought them down for Friday and Saturday nights (Thank you Mom!).
I'm cutting the school year short to focus on living daily with minimal stress and giving my body/immune system all the help I can. There's 4 weeks of the school year left, so I will have missed about 6 weeks of work in all before summer break. I am so glad my amazing friends and coworkers are taking up the slack for me. I know my kiddos are in good hands to finish out the school year. It will also be nice that our boys will be out for the summer and relieve that part of the scheduling consideration for a while.
That's it for now. I plan on everything going well over the next two weeks and being geared up for the next trip to Houston. Thank you for the overwhelming love and support provided by so many during this turbulent time. We love you all!
Here is a good resource on the MD Anderson website if you would like to know more about Melanoma and the treatment.
WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN AND KEEP ANY ONE YOU LOVE AWAY FROM TANNING BEDS ;)
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Harvey & Erica Braden
Journal of our journey with a Metastatic Melanoma Diagnosis. Erica was diagnosed Stage 3 in January 2010 and then Stage 4 in April 2018.