The surely epic bucket list item I won’t get the chance to check off today has finally lost enough pain for me to talk about it. Tonight I would have stood on hallowed concert ground in Morrison, CO with all four of our sons and Michael’s wife, Janice Rice Venable, one of my dearest childhood friends, Craig Hospital Occupational Therapist Perry Ann Williams, and her husband retired landscape architect, Keith Gartin; Principal Architect and Senior Partner Sam Andras, of 2WR Architects, his spouse, educator Victoria Andras, and a host of their friends, band mates, lighting and sound professionals and advisors.
Today we all would have watched our son, Adam Venable/Obeah, perform with Daily Bread as they open for Pretty Lights on the Red Rocks stage. If you know about Red Rocks, you can likely conjure my deep loss for having to miss it tonight. If you don’t know Red Rocks, think Carnegie Hall and and I’ll conjure my deep loss for having to miss this tonight. I’ve had to unwind a 12-day walkabout while in the midst of enduring 2 surgeries, a CT scan, an MRI, some sweet Jesus pain and chronic nausea and vomiting. Thanks to my medical team, everything on that list has been fixed or alleviated. But without time on my side and the sensibility of putting the importance of my health first, tonight, my best hope is to be able to live stream the show, if they can figure how to send it.
Adam, I hope you leave a raw, bloody piece of your soul on that important stage tonight. That it comes from a place so deep that it shocks people to know you kept things like that in there. You have worked hard for this and you deserve your hard work and dedication to make an audience swoon. I will be joined with your spirit in the Colorado breeze. I could not possibly be prouder of you, son, and your brothers and that sold out show will watch the virtual walls come down in the foothills tonight. Now go out there and kill!
Any time a cancer patient has a scan that doesn’t see active disease it is a cause for celebration. Because kidney cancer sometimes doesn’t take up the glucose used in the PET CT scan like I had today, it isn’t always the best scan to use alone for kidney cancer patients. In these case of the PET CT scan I had today, it was used in addition to a regular CT scan with contrast, which is the one I had last week. Dr. Pippas hoped it would shed more light on the results of the CT scan from last Wednesday.
The good news is the scan today showed no active disease, which can NOT be a bad thing! We are grateful for this news, but we are also cautious. I still need another spine surgery, I think without doubt. But what about the tumor in my spine? At the very least, we have further confirmation this cancer is lazy. Although it is incurable, it is giving me a chance.
What we will do with this chance is left to be seen. I have a lot of research to do now. We have to get the best possible advice from as many smart people as I can get to weigh in on my difficult case. Then we have to make a decision about next next steps. What I hope for is to be able to have the damage the cancer has done in my spine repaired and to come out of that surgery with a structurally sound back.
I am also hopeful to be able to tolerate the side effects being delivered by the Cabometyx and not develop liver toxicity, which will force me off the drug. Although I’m suffering physically from the effects of the drug, my constitution is strong, and I wanted y’all to know we’ve heard some good news today.
The lesson in this for kidney cancer patients is clear: Just like Winston Churchill says, “never, never, never give up.” Having cancer is a full time job. And the pay sucks.
I am a seasoned cancer patient. Something I never wanted to be. I am able to withstand painful needle sticks without fear. Something I never wanted to be able to do. I am engaged in a fight to live and to enjoy a robust life. Something I never wanted to have to deal with.
I feel the urge to talk about what I’m feeling today. I’m not phishing for pity, just telling it like it is. Sometimes it helps me in a big way to see a real account of the incredible privilege it is to be able to live with cancer, as opposed to it taking you down quickly. Without any doubt, the pain and suffering with which I, and therefore my family and friends, deal with because of this disease and the powerful medications I take, the gift of living that I’ve been afforded is a great victory.
So, let’s talk about positives: If you’re following, you know I had a CT with contrast of chest, abdomen and pelvis yesterday. The radiologist read the scan and so did Dr. Andrew Pippas. They read the scan. I read the report. We are all a bit flummoxed about this disease process. So, Dr. Pippas has ordered a PET CT, which is a nuclear scan to detect active disease. That should give my medical team enough additional information to be able to make recommendations about future treatment.
I’ll have the PET CT this Friday, May 26 at 1:45. What we hope to see is that the areas where we have concerns — my spine from L1-L3 and the spinal canal, and my remaining kidney which has a lesion that we’ve watched for 8 years, are not exhibiting active disease. That place on my remaining kidney is changing, based on the introduction of Cabozantinib, the drug I’ve been taking for about seven weeks. Changing into what, we don’t know at the moment.
I’ll share what we learn from the PET CT over the coming weekend. I hope we’ll have a more definite idea of what is happening and what we’re going to do about it.
My biggest issue in the quality of life department is that I’m hoarse as hell. 20% of the people who take CABO get extreme hoarseness as a side effect. I definitely am one of those 20%. Also, I’m dealing with some hand/foot syndrome. I have blisters on both of my feet and walking is difficult and painful. I’ve lost right at 60 pounds now and eating continues to be challenging. Also, my blood pressure is elevated and we’re concerned about that. High blood pressure is very dangerous to me because I only have the one kidney. This is a tough road we’re on right now.
Having all of my readers with us in spirit along the way has been a wonderful gift to Jill and me. I hope I can keep on track with posts as information becomes available. Thank you for your concerns. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your kindnesses. We could not be more grateful for all of you.
Tom Clancy books open like a flashbang, they settle into 1000 pages of character development that feed straight into a jaw-dropping final chapter. If this cancer I’m so grateful to be able to live with was a Tom Clancy book, I would be in the character development phase. My Episcopalian peeps know it as the Green Season, the Catholics call it ordinary time. My altar is green. I am between tests and procedures, much like the Church is between major feasts, the altar is always green from the Monday after Pentecost through the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.
I’m so fortunate to be taking Cabometyx, a hope-inspiring, relatively new drug. I am 35 days into Cabo and the side effects are beginning to lay claim to pieces of my life, my body and my mind.
My last Green Season was my fifteen months with Votrient. It made me as well as I’ve been since I was diagnosed and as sick as a the bad end of a four-day drunk. So, I know about the Green Season. I know about the low times when you’re waiting to know if the poison you’re pumping into your body is killing its target cells. The time before the scan. The time between the big events.
Like I said, “My altar is green.”
People who have to take these drugs know that there are specific side effects that the drug may elicit in patients. Those side effects are outlined in the drug literature in a usually long list. In my mind, it is a lottery. Everybody gets a ticket, or maybe multiple tickets if you have certain medical proclivities (an easy to upset stomach, a quick gag reflex….etc.). Mother Nature reaches into the tickets and she pulls out the side effects with which you’ll be afflicted. Mwahaha! Man plans — God laughs.
Before I write another word: Despite the hard fact that TKI drugs and Mother Nature have visited me with diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, dry skin, bleached hair, dizziness, painful blisters on my feet, sensitive hands, insomnia, compromised taste buds, an aversion to meat, epic weight loss, loss of my finger nail cuticles, white circles around my eyes, temporary liver issues, elevated blood pressure, exposure to scan contrast media and dyes and other generally awful things — I am nowhere near giving up. I have too much to live for during what should be my most fantastic phase of life. An incredible life mate, four equally wonderful sons, Jill’s mom, both my parents, companion animals, church mates, friends, work colleagues, music, art, watching Columbus, Georgia thrive and become a great second-tier city. All these things add up to me wanting as normal an existence as I can muster.
So, I’m studying, asking questions and consulting with Dr. Pippas to make sure we continue to make great choices about how to treat this disease. I met with Dr. Pippas this afternoon to discuss my latest lab results. The numbers that we’re most concerned about relate to how my liver is managing the drug therapy. Today, despite my liver enzymes being in a stable place, my bilirubin is higher than Andy would like it to be. I’m slightly jaundiced and because of that, we’re going to have to make some adjustments to my dosage of Cabometyx. Andy is doing research and will make a recommendation in a day or so. This is something I had to do during my 15 months with Votrient. More than once.
My scans have been set for Tuesday, May 23. This scan will tell the tale about how I respond to Cabometyx. I’m hopeful — extremely hopeful — that we’ll see significant shrinkage of the spinal tumor, enough that surgery and radiation is possible. If that is the case, we’ll be making plans for being seen by Dr. Carlos Bagley and Dr. Robert Timmerman at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. This is the neurosurgical/radiation oncology team that has risen to the top of my research as the best place for us to go. Thanks to Susan Poteat for providing input into that decision.
We continue to feel like we’ve made the right choices all along this long eight-year season of cancer. I am confident that I’ll still be bitching about how long we’ve had to deal with this in 2025 when it will have been 6 years of this. From my lips to God’s ears.
As things become more clear, I’ll share them here. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading this blog, being concerned about my wellbeing, and for showing love and care to me and my family.
Cancer robs you of wholeness. People who have received the blessing of living with cancer, instead of being killed by the disease look for snippets of time that remind you of what you used to be before your body began being broken by cancer. I have isolated one of those snippets in a form in which it can be recreated on a whim, when the weather is like it is today.
Get into your car, roll down all four windows, open the sunroof and get out on the highway. Go really fast. Turn on the music that you listened to during the time of your life when you were at your worst as a human being. Put it in the breeze, and soak it in. You will regret some — or many — of the memories that will bubble up, but you will be grinning like a jackass eating briars before you know it.
If you have things like this that help you as you live with cancer, please get in touch.