Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Psycho Oncology

I have added a new member to my treatment team. Dr. Francisco Valenzuela is a rarity in that his area of expertise is psycho oncology. 

Now to clear things up, this does not mean he is an oncologist that is a psycho. I know this should be self-evident but my darling sister WHO IS A LICENSED RN didn't understand what this term was. (Sorry Erin but c'mon) Dr. Valenzuela's approach to fighting cancer is to engage the body in what it is supposed to do, and that is casting off these rogue cells. He achieves this by getting the unconscious mind to absorb this suggestion and giving it permission to carry out this task. 

The first meeting is very simple. We met and discussed my situation and he did a couple of simple exercises. The first that really blew my mind was to describe my Kindergarten teacher and the classroom. As far as I can remember I haven't been into that school since 1989 but I was able to recall nearly every detail. This information has been floating around in my mind for decades but just running in the background. 

The thing I love about Dr. Valenzuela is that he comes from a place of positivity. My regular oncologist is a brilliant man but his stance is embedded in science and statistics. I find meeting with him extremely unnerving because he almost hedges his bets with me and every time he gives me good info there always seems to be a caviat or "but." At my last appointment i was told my CT results were good but during this meeting I was told I have a "weird mutation" to my tumor and that he'd like me to send it off for genetic testing. This would require me to give permission to be entered into a phase 1 trial which is scary but I was reassured after the fact that this just means he's such a good doctor that he's building a tool box to work on me if the current tools stop working. 

I think the cost of genius might be forgetting that the patient is a fragile ball of nerves that hangs on every word and nuiance. The biggest thing that stuck with me from my last appointment was an off-handed comment. He was talking about the paperwork requirements of insurance companies and said that every 6 months or so they will ask him to update a patient's status. His stance was , "they're stage 4, they're never going back to work." This was a slap in the face. Does he never plan on me getting better? Am I really unsavable? Even if he extends my life a decade will it be so awful I won't have a normal life? I was too stunned to ask at the time but I was saddened to think that this amazing man is writing me off. This may or may not be the case but it's definitely how I interpreted it. If I hadn't seen other people with my similar diagnosis or worse that were 10 years on and thriving them maybe I'd feel crazy, but having seen what's possible I'd really like my doc to get on board with Team Colin and come from a place of fixing me. 

As Dr. Valenzuela said, our unconcious  mind is always working and taking everything in; so when the man I'm entrusting with my life throws out words like incurable and never returning to work I believe they circulate in my mind and can do absolutely no good. Deep down I know I've got the top doctor and that he's doing 100% of what is currently available to fix me, I just wish there was an attitude of positivity. 

The final activity Dr. Valenzuela and I did was enter in a trance type state and allowing my body to just focus on breathing and seeing the cancer. This was a bizarre experience. I completely relaxed and hung out in a chair. After a few minutes of just breathing I actually started sweating and feeling odd sensations throughout my body. This was a very powerful feeling. That night was odd as I had some far out dreams and it even made sleeping hard but I can see the possibilities that this treatment is opening up.  

If you're in the Edmonton area and want to enlist Dr. Valenzuela I STRONGLY encourage you to at least explore it. The office he works at is 
His personal site is
If you can't visit him personally please get his book! 

Friday, 3 April 2015

That First CT

The hardest part of this entire thing is all the waiting. I dutifully take my chemotherapy every second Tuesday but I never really know if it's working. I just have to trust that the science is good and that I respond properly.

On March 30th I made my regular trip to the Cross to get my blood taken to ensure I had sufficient neutrophils to take another round of chemo. These neutrophils indicate your body's ability to fight off infection and if they're too low you get delayed so they don't open you up too badly to infection. I had this experience a couple of rounds ago and I was extremely upset for a couple of reasons. The first is that I took any delay to mean that somehow I was losing, not getting my chemo on schedule seemed like the disease was winning. The other was that it threw my entire life schedule off. I had booked trips to Toronto and Hawaii around my chemo schedule and when I got delayed it meant I was now supposed to get chemo while I was on these trips. I was able to reschedule without any trouble and so the trips are back on but I was worried for a bit.

Fortunately, I'm part of an amazing group of colon cancer survivors online and they had all experienced delays in their chemo treatments and reassured me that it was nothing to be uspset about. Just a fact of treatment.

I was thrilled to find out that my neutrophils were extremely good, typically I've been around 1.4 which is the absolute bottom level that they'll allow you to get treatment. This time I was at 3.2 and doing very well. The VERY exciting part was that my CT results showed that my cancer was SHRINKING! One of the two tumors in my liver had shrunk while the other remained the same. Additionally, my lymph nodes were shrinking, with one cited at going from 1.4cm down to 0.9cm for a nearly 30% reduction. The doctor just couldn't let me have that; he went on to explain that he had gotten the results of my tumor's genetic testing and that it had an "odd mutation." I asked what this meant and he sort of explained that because it was responding to chemo it didn't really mean anything but he was going to ask me to sign a permission form to be considered for a phase 1 trial in the future just to have it "in his back pocket."

This was alarming to me as I know phase 1 trials to be the last chance for people who have not had success with the tried and tested chemotherapy. It turns out I'm right but Kim went online and chatted with some online friends and they assured us that this means our doctor is a super hero. Rather than doing the minimum, he was getting ahead of the game so that if I did have an issue with my current treatment plan there was an option already available instead of scrambling. 

I was further calmed the next day when the research nurse came to visit me and get my permission to send my tumor off for further testing to see if I was a fit for the trial. The first words out of her mouth were, "Dr. Sawyer wanted me to reassure you this is just for the future, nothing to be worried about." I think he's getting to know that despite my tough outer shell I'm an emotional train wreck when it comes to how I'm doing.

I know this is going to be a recurring cycle. Get my results, go a few months of treatment and then go for another CT and anxiously await my results. It's taxing and exhausting but the joy of getting good results is a feeling like no other. I'm back into my training for Ironman Coeur d'Alene and although I'm not where I have been in the past I feel confident in my ability to finish.

Animo my friends!