Helen - sporting her red sneakers and testing out her new lift chair

Helen Barnes

First post: Oct 10, 2017 Latest post: Oct 31, 2017
Several weeks ago, just after the full eclipse of the sun, Helen went into the hospital with what we all thought was a bad case of pneumonia.  We chose to drive to the hospital in Columbia, MD - a John's Hopkins hospital - because that was the hospital her pulmonologist was affiliated with.  Helen arrived and was admitted into the ER without delay.  The ER doctor said that she they had about an hour to get her vitals back up or there was going to be bigger problems to deal with.

The ER was amazing and within a few hours, she was admitted into the ICU.  Over the next several days, she had tests and procedures, including draining the excess fluid from around her lungs and a biopsy to determine the strain of infection in her lungs.

While waiting for the test results, the aggressive treatments were working and after a week she was able to transfer out of ICU into a private room in the pulmonology wing.  While still in the hospital, the test results from the biopsy came back and the doctors wanted to speak to us.  Uh oh.

Both the pulmonologist and an oncologist came in to speak to mom.  Apparently, she had cancer in both of her lungs.  And, since it was in both lungs, it was inoperable.  The oncologist was great and took lots of time to discuss and answer all of our questions.  However, the news was unexpected and we weren't sure what to ask.

The next day, we got a message from the oncologist that further tests showed that the cancer does not have the typical markers of a lung cancer.  Given mom's medical history with breast cancer, they were now assuming metastasized breast cancer, over 15 years after the original diagnosis.  This was good news since a slow growing breast cancer was much easier to treat.

However, a week or so after that, we got word that the final pathology report was in and it wasn't breast cancer either.  We went from an inoperable lung cancer to a slow growing and treatable breast cancer and back to an atypical and inoperable lung cancer in a matter of weeks.

The standard of care includes chemo and immune therapy drugs by IV once every 22 days for 4-6 treatments.  The hope is that the cancer in the lungs will reduce enough to make breathing much easier and that the side effects of the modern chemo will be negligible compared to the improvements in breathing.  We have not yet started the treatments, so we don't know if that will happen yet or not.

The most recent request was for a full body PET scan, looking at all vital organs for any other signs of cancer.  That will be scheduled for next week and will hopefully provide more information and rule out cancer in other parts of her body.

She is currently at HillHaven Rehabilitation and Nursing Home in Adelphi, MD, at least through her first chemo treatment.  Based on Helen's reaction to the treatment, we will make a decision on next steps from there.

I will be posting updates here as we have them.  Thanks to everyone for their support and positive thoughts. 

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