The build up to my diagnosis was covered in this blog (Diagnosis – I’m no longer in Control). This chance scenario, led to a set of routine blood rests which highlighted a low haemoglobin score. It was low enough to be referred to a specialist with the initial diagnosis being Iron Deficiency Anaemia. After a plethora of tests including bloods, CT scan, Ultrasound scan and a liver biopsy (Ki67 5+), Neuroendocrine Cancer was confirmed. During the secondary care diagnostic investigation, I ‘confessed’ that I had been experiencing strange facial flushing sensations since the beginning of that year.
Then on 26 July 2010, I was formally diagnosed with Metastatic Neuroendocrine Tumours (Small Intestine NET). You can see me tell my story on this video – click here
At this point, the NET Multidisciplinary Team (MDT) direction kicked in. Further tests followed including an Octreotide scan which, in addition to what was found on CT Scan, highlighted distant nodal ‘hotspots’ in the left axillary (armpit) and left clavicle areas (supraclavicularfossa (SCF) nodes). Specialist NET markers Chromogranin A and 5HIAA urine were conducted and both were elevated indicating tumour bulk and function respectively. An Echocardiogram confirmed no damage to the heart, an area known to be at risk due to fibrotic reaction that can often be caused by serotonin producing Neuroendocrine Tumours. In September 2010, I commenced daily injections of Octreotide pending a detailed treatment plan.
My primary was eventually localised in the small intestine (terminal ileum area) together with extensive intra abdominal neuroendocrine disease including para aortic and para caval tissue areas. I was initially amazed that so much damage could be done in relative silence. My primary surgery in Nov 2010 was preceded by a bland liver embolization. This was on the basis there might be an opportunity to address liver metastasis during the surgery. However, this didn’t happen due to the extent of the work once I was ‘open’. My surgeon removed the primary plus many local and regional secondaries and included removal of the terminal ileum, a right hemicolectomy, a mesenteric root dissection and a superior mesenteric vein reconstruction. Additionally with the assistance of a vascular surgeon, a tricky and high risk procedure involving the dissection of the large block of para-aortic and para-caval tissue was carried out. This ‘plaque’ like substance had encircled my aorta and inferior vena cava (IVC) almost blocking the latter. This was almost certainly caused by a fibrotic reaction to the secretion of excess serotonin from tumours within the gut.
The cancer had also spread to my liver. Following recovery from primary surgery, a laparoscopic liver resection (66%) was carried out in Apr 2011 but 3 unresectable tumours remain under surveillance. Shortly after this surgery a chemo embolisation (TACE) was attempted but had to be aborted due to routing issues which resulted from the primary surgery above.
Two distant hotspots were highlighted in my left axillary and left supraclavicularfossa (SCF) lymph nodes via Octreotide Scan. One axillary node was palpable measuring 10mm on CT scan and biopsy proved 5 of the 9 removed were positive. This area is now free of cancer. Despite not being pathologically enlarged, 5 SCF lymph nodes were also surgically removed in 2012 but all tested negative on subsequent biopsy. The left SCF node area is still ‘lighting up’ on Octreotide scan. In 2011, a small 3mm lung nodule was identified and continues to be tracked. In 2014, a new hotspot (described as a lesion) was identified in my thyroid via Octreotide scan.
I’m currently stabilised on long-term injections of Lanreotide which I have been receiving since Dec 2010. I’m also on long-term anti-coagulants following discovery of Pulmonary Emboli (PE) (blood clots) in my lungs after major surgery Nov 2010. Clexane injections from 2011 to April 2017 and then an oral version Apixaban (Eliquis). To counter the threat of further PEs developing, an IVC filter was inserted prior to the liver surgery referenced above.
My thyroid issue is currently ‘watch and wait’ following several inconclusive fine needle biopsies although a core biopsy confirmed fibrous tissue only. On 20 March 2018, following an Endocrine appointment, I was put on a trial dose of 50mcg of Levothyroxine to counter the thyroid panel results indicating hypothyroidism. Levothyroxine is a thyroid hormone replacement.
It looks like I’ve got mild Lymphedema in my left hand almost certainly a side effect of the left axillary lymph node dissection in 2012 (according to the surgeon who carried out the procedure). I’m no longer classed as ‘syndromic’ and I mainly live with the consequences of cancer and its treatment. This includes malabsorption and pancreatic enzyme insufficiency. It’s also possible that my hypothyroidism is connected to my treatment.
I learn, I watch and I wait to see what happens.
Despite all of the above:
- I’m still here!
- I looked well at diagnosis and I look well today. However, you should see my insides!
- I like to think I’m living with cancer, not dying from it.
Thanks for reading