Profiles in Lung Cancer – Day 27: Dave Bjork – “It’s all about relationships.”

As you all know, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. A bunch of us bloggers have gotten together and are profiling a cancer survivor, caregiver, advocate, or health care professional each day this month. Today, with my second profile, it is my honor to introduce you to Dave Bjork, a fellow blogger (http://davebjork.blogspot.com/) and lung cancer survivor. Here is his story in his own words.

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Who is Dave?
I am a lung cancer survivor, and I am a passionate advocate for cancer research and education. Professionally I’m the Vice President of Development for the National Foundation for Cancer Research in Bethesda, Maryland.  In my role I advocate for funding important research projects led by scientists at places like Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), MD Anderson, Dana Farber and so many others.  Among the researchers that I am very vocal about, and that are supported by my organization in the area of lung cancer, are Drs. Daniel Haber and Alice Shaw at MGH, and Dr. Jin Jen at Mayo Clinic.

What is your connection to lung cancer?
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In 1998 I was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was 34 years old, married with 3 young boys age 5, 3 and 1, and I had never smoked. I received amazing treatment at Mass. General Hospital by thoracic surgeon Dr. Doug Mathisen among others. I had a lobectomy to IMG_1191remove my lower left lobe, and was fortunate that there was no spread of disease. I have been forever grateful and am committed to advocating for more research for lung cancer.

Describe a typical day
I continually try to educate people that only about 11% of oncology grants are funded by the NIH, and that lung cancer remains one of the most under funded areas of research. There are amazing and committed scientists doing great work that deserve support. I am very active on Twitter and work hard to advocate for the lung cancer community #LCSM.
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Tell us something we’d be surprised to know about you

My wife Missi and I recently celebrated our 25 year wedding anniversary, and we are abundantly proud of our 3 boys Chris (age 23), Mike (age 21) and Pat (age 19).

What do want us to know about lung cancer?
I never smoked, and I hope someday we can finally get past the stigma of lung cancer. I always get asked if I smoked, and it bothers me that people ask me that.

What brings you hope?
I get hope from the research that is being done that is leading to more targeted therapies for lung cancer. And there is hope that we will get earlier diagnosis of lung cancer which will give patients a better chance of survival.

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Thank you Dave! You can follow him on Twitter @bjork5.

Read yesterday’s profile of Christian Nataline by blogger Linnea Olson here.

Tomorrow’s profile of Dr. Alice Snow, also by Linnea, will be available here.

All profiles can be found the day after posting on the #LCSM Chat blog at http://lcsmchat.com/. A list of links to all the profiles on the original bloggers’ pages can be found at on the #LCSM Chat site on the Profiles in Lung Cancer page.

Business as usual. Day at a time.

Profiles in Lung Cancer – Day 12: Karen Loss – “I am living with lung cancer, not dying from it.”

As you all know, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. A bunch of us bloggers have gotten together and are profiling a cancer survivor, caregiver, advocate, or health care professional each day this month.

Karen Loss - HeadshotToday it is my distinct pleasure to introduce you to Karen Loss, a lung cancer patient and advocate who was diagnosed in late November of 2012 with stage 4 carcinoma NSCLC. Here is her story in her own words.

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What is your connection to lung cancer?
I will celebrate my 3rd anniversary since my lung cancer diagnosis on Thanksgiving this year.  When I was originally diagnosed, I was already a nearly 16-year survivor of concurrent primary cancers of the uterus and ovaries.  In January, I will celebrate my 19th anniversary after those diagnoses.  I am currently undergoing my 3rd treatment regimen.  First, I had a combination chemotherapy comprised of Taxol, Carboplatin and Avastin.  That was followed for about 6 months by Avastin maintenance therapy. When progression began again, I was put on my second tier treatment of Taxotere.  After that shrunk my tumors once more, I went off all cancer treatments and stayed off for about 15 months, though I still received CT scans every three months.  The last three scans showed ongoing slow growth in both tumors, but especially in the one on my hepatic dome.  The trend was undeniable, so my medical team and I felt it was time to resume treatment and with a few different potential alternatives to consider, I chose to try Opdivo/Nivolumab.  I have now had four infusions of this drug and have not yet had my first CT scan since beginning this new therapy.  That will happen in the week following Thanksgiving, and I am already looking forward to seeing what it will tell me.  During these past three years, I have never reached NED status, but the treatments I have been given have shrunk my tumors, keeping things well in hand so far.

Describe a typical day
I work full-time at The MITRE Corporation, a large research and development company in the Global Security Services division. In addition to that, I research Karen Loss Channel 8 newsand review new articles, videos and blog postings coming out each day about lung cancer in order to provide daily updates to my Trekking Through Cancerland Facebook page. I also tweet or re-tweet (Twitter handle: @CancerTrek) information about lung cancer on most days as another way to continue efforts at providing increased education and awareness.

Tell us something we’d be surprised to know about you
I published a book of letters about the first nine months of my lung cancer journey as a way to try and provide a personal perspective and hopefully inspiration to those who choose to read it. So far I have distributed approximately 2,300 copies through Amazon.com and its affiliates. Unrelated to lung cancer, I have been sponsoring children in foreign lands through Compassion International for nearly 16 years and have traveled to meet them and learn about their lives, the things they are receiving through the Compassion program, the culture of their countries (Haiti, Colombia and Ethiopia) and simply to love on my kids.

Karen Loss - w TJWhat do want us to know about lung cancer?
I want people to know that everyone with lungs (thus EVERYONE) is vulnerable to lung cancer, but that no matter what may have caused the disease, every person deserves care and compassion. Plus…the great strides in lung cancer research are providing greater hope for patients with each passing day.

What brings you hope?

Seeing stage 4 lung cancer patients on TV commercials and interviews, in documentaries, in magazine articles and blog postings, at conferences, really anywhere they have the opportunity to share with others that they are living their lives. My motto is that I am living with lung cancer, not dying from it. One day, hopefully in the foreseeable future, may we be able to consider this a chronic disease rather than a terminal one…

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Thank you Karen!

Read yesterday’s profile by blogger Samantha Mixon of Kelly Shannon here. Tomorrow’s profile of Diane Legg by Linnea Olson will be available here.

All profiles can be found the day after posting on the #LCSM Chat blog at http://lcsmchat.com/. A list of links to all the profiles on the original bloggers’ pages can be found at on the #LCSM Chat site on the Profiles in Lung Cancer page.

Business as usual. Day at a time.

November 3, 2015 (Tue) – Time to Get Naked

OK, I know I have your attention right now. Either one of curiosity to see where I take this or one of revulsion wondering what personal picture I might post. Well, getting naked may mean lots of things. But we will address (or undress) these a bit later in the post. That, of course, is assuming the internet and WordPress police did not nix my post because of the title.

LCAMBut first things first. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Oh no, not another cancer awareness month! Well, actually November should be the biggest month because, unbeknownst to most of the public, lung cancer kills more people each year than the other top three cancers (including breast) combined. And each cancer has its own color used in support. White is often used for lung cancer. So anytime you see something white this month, think of the survivors like myself that are battling to stay ahead of that curve. I’m not much of a political activist and luckily we have several other members of our “club” that do a wonderful job at bringing awareness to much larger groups. But please keep this in mind over the course of the month. You only have to have lungs to get lung cancer.

As I mentioned in my last post, we were getting ready to head out for a vacation extraordinaire to Carmel and Pebble Beach about 8 h20151023_094748ours up the coast of California. Extraordinaire does not come close to describing this trip. If I had a bucket list, which I don’t, this would definitely have been on it. Courtesy of my very generous brother and his wife, we stayed in the most amazing place(s) imaginable. Here’s a picture looking up from the backyard from our first stay-over of 5 nights. And a link if you want some more detailed pics and info about this place. Yowza Yowza. Click on it for the full effect.

Oh, bPebble Beachut the trip was not over. Six of us (the “golfers”) moved down to Casa Palmero for the last two nights which made us eligible to play at
Spyglass and Pebble Beach, some of the most awesome courses in the world. Now, I won’t reveal my golf scores because they approximate the thermometer reading in Palm Springs in late summer. But the score did not matter. The courses were what matJacuzzitered. And being with family. Just amazing. As for the accommodations, they were just absolutely top notch. We had a continental breakfast each morning delivered and set up as evidenced here. And we even had our own private backyard (with 9′ wall) with Jacuzzi. Perhaps that Pebble Beachis where on20151027_083434e of the references from this blog title comes in. I’m not telling. Suffice it to say, it was a trip of a lifetime.

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Now, on to more serious biz-wax.

This past Friday I had my double-your-pleasure combo of a brain MRI scan and PET scan. Got the results late in the day. The good news is that my brain MRI seems to indicate a fairly stable situation. Ta da. And the tumors in/around my lung continued to progress at a slow rate. So, that’s sorta OK news. But this is shoe-droppingwhere the other shoe dropped. And dropped like a size 20. The lesion (tumor) on my pancreas skyrocketed to over 7cm. That’s centimeters, not millimeters. The official write-up has it as “dramatic increase in size and metabolic activity of 7 cm pancreatic/peripancreatic mass.” No cancer patient likes to read the words dramatic increase. That equates to about 2.75″ for those of us not on the metric system – not quite the diameter of a baseball but coming close. Plus there is another “new nodal metastases lateral to the left psoas muscle in the upper pelvis, measuring 4-5 cm.” That came out of nowhere since it hadn’t shown up before. Needless to say this report was a bit of a sucker punch in the gut. And it explains the increasing pain I’ve been seeing in my upper gut that is currently only held at bay with increasing doses of Vicodin.

Knowing thospital_gownhat we would have the results in time, I had scheduled a meeting with the lung-onc specialist at Moores yesterday so that we could go over the results and chat about options. Bottom line: I will be leaving the AZD9291 trial shortly. First, they are scheduling a new biopsy to do all of the genetic testing for markers and “expressions.” And immediately followed by, yes, more radiation treatment, this time to my pancreas and left psoas muscle. The day before radiation treatment begins, I will chug my last A-team pill. So “going naked” means, for one, going without any oral cancer medication for the duration of the radiation. It also refers to my
state of dress, or undress, during said radiation treatments. As I’ve indicated before, I lost my modesty long ago.

As for what follows the radiation treatment, that is up in the air a little since there really are several options. There is another clinical trial (EGF816) going on in Boston and NY which we are seeing if I qualify for. There is also a combination of Opdivo (nivolumab) and Tarceva (erlotinib) which may work, but the chances of expressing the PD-1 marker is fairly low in a non-smoker and Opdivo works much better in smokers/former smokers. And choosing one of the drug options will eliminate my possible entry into one or more clinical trials. It gets pretty complicated trying to lay all of this out. Although I am in search of a second opinion, right now I still have confidence in my doc. As she indicated, my first two courses of treatment (Tarceva and AZD9291) were slam dunks as the right option at the time. We are now in somewhat of uncharted territory and there is no absolute right answer. My onc still is leaning towards starting off with chemo (carboplaxin and pemetrexed) which is given once every three weeks in a 2-hour infusion. If that fails to help, we can always come off that and try one of the other options. But things may change over the next 10 days – stay tuned.

So I’ve been on two trips recently. One from a bucket list and the other just about the opposite. Perhaps it rhymes with bucket? 🙂

But I sCraig and Kim at Rotary11032015till have options and new drugs are coming out fast and furiously. Just doing my best to stay ahead of that tsunami.

And, as always, my wife has been right by my side the whole way. I just have to end on this picture.

Business as usual. Day at a time.