As an 8.5 year Stage IV Colorectal cancer survivor I am poked, prodded, and scanned on a regular basis. Such was the case as we rang in 2016. Blood was drawn and again my CEA (a protein, or tumor marker, made by my tumors) level increased. This CEA test has historically been a strong early indicator for me that something is up. If it increases over several tests, it’s time to be extra vigilant with my scans.
The last scans revealed a small mass in my lung. I had a metastasis to my lung about 5 years ago, but it had been clear since, so this was a real surprise. Most of my recurrences have been in the liver. I met with my oncologist yesterday after he had presented me to the tumor board and the general recommendation was to proceed with the “wait and see” approach. That’s not something that you want to hear. After all, it’s cancer and you want it out of your body one way or another. The two other options would be surgical removal or SRS, but they thought that at 4.4 mm (about the size of an eraser on a No. 2 pencil) would be too difficult to find in surgery and too small to target with radiation. To be thorough, my oncologist sent me to see my radiation oncologist.
There continues to be an incredible advance in science and technology in medicine. Since my last recurrence 3 years ago, the machine delivering the targeted radiation was replaced with a newer fancier model. This one made it to the cancer center only a month ago. It does everything faster and with improved accuracy. No longer would I need to be shrink wrapped to the table to be immobilized. Everything would be computer guided based on the alignment of CT scans taken during the planning phase and another CT taken just before the radiation is delivered. Like I said…fancy.
This morning I went in for my planning sessions.
My radiation oncologist came in to check on the setup and was a bit puzzled. He said that the tumor must really be tiny because he is having a hard time finding it on the scan. That’s odd because the scan that they just took is at a higher resolution and the tumor should have been easier to find. He left briefly to check on the CEAs that were just run yesterday and confirmed that they did increase slightly. We wondered about the possibility of the injected contrast being the difference in visibility. He assured me that he would review the scans again on a better computer and would also check with the radiologist to confirm the location.
Today marks the beginning of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In addition to all the messages that you may see about getting your colonoscopies for early detection, the sharing of loving memories of those who have passed, and the endurance of those currently on their cancer journeys, I’d like to leave you with one very important thing. Hope…and maybe a miracle.
Shortly after I got home, I was surprised to get a phone call from my radiation oncologist to tell me that the tumor is gone. WHAT?!?!?!? Gone. There has been no treatment. But it’s gone. Even the doctor is baffled. Divine intervention? I’d like to think so.