Wednesday, February 6, 2019

It's We, Not Me

After a lung cancer diagnosis you run into the question,  Is there anything you wish you knew before your diagnosis that you know now? My answers have changed over the years.  Today, my answer is,  I wish I knew how much burden the diagnosis would put on my relationship with my boyfriend.

Lately,  the biggest challenge has been dealing with the ongoing changes and troubles in our relationship after three and a half years of incurable,  terminal,  lung cancer and a hemorrhagic stroke.

 You would think life would get easier and we should be able to ride the wave by now.  For us,  as soon as we think we've got things under control, it only gets harder.  Our basic relationship dynamic is constantly under stress.

Click HERE or the illistration for my latest article in
The article touches on some of what we are dealing with. We have to learn to adapt, rest, recharge and live with lung cancer and all the added crap that life has handed us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Skipping out on Life

So many things change and so many variables are factored into a lung cancer diagnosis and trying to find your "new normal".

Sometimes the new normal is the same as life was before lung cancer.

I wrote about this in my newest article
for, Skipping Out on Life?

The night I put a flower in my hair, a smile on my face and said, Fuck cancer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Hanging in There and My first Published Article

December 19, 2018:
Today's a great day with positives all around.

I received a great report from my oncologist.  My lung cancer is stable and my CEA/biomarker is within normal range and the lowest it's ever been.  My next set of tests will be in three months to monitor for possible cancer progression.  Hopefully there will be no change in the next three months.

My first article was published at today.  Click on the link or photo below to read it.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Hellavu Year

One year ago, on December 8, 2017, I nearly died from a blood clot and hemorrhagic stroke. Some fast action, an emergency craniotomy and brain surgery saved my life.  

Last December I was in California with my boyfriend,  Jeremy, and my mom for my Moyamoya direct and indirect bypass brain surgery at Stanford University Hospital.   The plan was to have my surgery on December 5, spend two to three days in the hospital and then I would rest for a week with my mom in a rented apartment near Stanford University Hospital. After a week I would have a brain scan, a follow up exam with my neurosurgeon and be released to fly home.

That was the plan.  Sometimes you need a Plan B.  This is what really happened. Please note, I was groggy from surgery and pain meds.  So, this is my drug induced, stroke riddled, brain's way of recollecting the events that transpired.

The surgery was a success.  I spent a day and a half in the hospital after my surgery.  My vital signs and blood pressure were stable. I was released to rest at our rented apartment.  Jeremy drove us from the hospital to the apartment, stopping at a pharmacy to fill a pain medicine prescription along the way.  I was tired but awake enough to send a couple texts to check in with family and friends to let them know I was doing well and out of the hospital.  A day later, at the apartment, something went wrong.

I was doing and feeling fairly well considering I had a craniotomy and major brain surgery less than 72 hours before.  I was sitting up while drinking a smoothie for breakfast and talking with my mom in the living room. Jeremy was sleeping in a bedroom.   All of a sudden I felt a quick, sharp, stabbing pain in the right side of my head. It caused a knee jerk reaction to hold my hand to my head and wince in pain.  
I could see the panic on my mom's face.  I told her to calm down and it was nothing I hadn't felt before.  That was a half lie. There were a couple times I had felt sudden pains in my head prior to the surgery, but nothing this severe.  Then there was a second stab. It was even more painful than the first. I confessed the pain was nothing like before surgery. It wasn't like expected post brain surgery pain either.  We called the neuro surgeon to report the change in my status.

The pain continued and wasn't easing up.  It was moving around my skull and I could feel it behind my right eye.  I remember hearing a noise too. The sound of rushing water, wind shear or radio static between stations are the only ways to describe it. I lost track of my space and surroundings and I was feeling nauseous.

I asked Jeremy to help me to the bathroom.  This apartment bathroom was stark white. It had white paint, white tile, white fixtures with a white countertop and white vanity.  It even had white towels and a glass shower door. So no color whatsoever to break up the white in this room. Jeremy held my hands as he guided me through the short hallway between two double mirrored closet doors that led into the bathroom.  I remember screaming out that I couldn't see anything. I was super confused why I couldn't make out any objects in the room. All I saw was solid, bright, white around me. I was in a white tunnel

I've heard stories of seeing the white light before you die.  I wasn't moving toward that light. It wasn't in the distance.  I was inside that light. I couldn't see Jeremy infront of me or our reflection in the vanity mirror.  But I do know my body was physically standing in that stark white bathroom at that time.
I don't know who called 9-1-1.  But I do have this flash of a memory of EMTs asking me questions at the apartment.  I can't remember which room I was in when they arrived or when they were talking to me.  I don't remember going to the ambulance, the ride to the hospital or anything else from that day.

I was rushed to Stanford University Hospital.  I underwent emergency brain surgery to repair a brain bleed and evacuate a clot.  I was lucky to be alive. Most of the time, people do not survive a hemorrhagic stroke.  Whatever happened that day, from the apartment to the ambulance to the operating room, I can say,  I sure was at the right places at the right times. I can also say, I'm living proof that the power of prayer and positive thoughts can work miracles.

I was in the Stanford hospital for twelve days, pretty much unresponsive, before showing signs of improvement and being transferred to an acute rehab facility at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

When I arrived,  I could hardly respond when anyone came to my room to speak with me.  I had Left Side Neglect. It impaired my vision. I would lose sight of objects,  like my phone or a water pitcher if it was placed in front of me and off to my left side.  I couldn't feel or move anything on the left side of my body. I couldn't even wiggle my left toes.  Movement returned to my left arm first. I couldn't use my hand, but I could move my arm at my shoulder.

I eventually regained movement in my leg and foot.  There were days I was aware and alert and not curled up in a ball, asleep in the bed.  I started occupational, physical and speech therapies while at SCVMC. I walked out with a cane on my discharge date, which was a week earlier than projected by my rehab medical team.  It was also totally unexpected since a wheelchair was assigned to me prior to my discharge date change.

Last December I was sitting in that acute hospital bed in California, unable to walk,  trying desperately to find the Cleveland Browns game on my hospital tv. For some reason networks don't like to broadcast 0-14 teams outside of their geographical region.  This December I'm fully mobile, without a cane, and getting ready to see two Browns games in person, in one week! I'm still recovering and have many stroke deficits. Even with these negative issues, I don’t often say,  I suffered from a stroke. That's because I
SURVIVED a stroke!

Friday, November 30, 2018

End of the Year Recap 2018

Nov. 30, 2018

Since returning home in January after my stroke, I work on cognitive thinking and memory therapies every day.  I continued to make improvements throughout the year.

Being off of work and at home, we decided it was a good time to get a dog.   We rescued an 8 week old black lab mix girl named Laynie on May 1. She keeps me on my toes and keeps me on a schedule.  Both are good for my stroke recovery.
Adoption day for Laynie May.
When she first got to our house it was almost like both of us were learning and resting at the same level and at the same pace.  We would go for a walk and both run out of energy and slow down at the same time.  We would get home and both of us would nap.  We gradually increased our exercise time and kept on napping when needed.

The summer was filled with long walks in the neighborhood with Laynie.  While I was preparing for this year's Run the Rocks, she was a growing dog and needed to work off that extra puppy energy.

I completed the Run the Rocks 5k on October 21.  I shared my story of being diagnosed with stage iv lung cancer and how much the Run the Rocks 5k means to me.  It's a yearly milestone to celebrate living another year with terminal lung cancer.  This year was even more special after surviving the stroke and walking without using a cane for balance 

Run the Rocks is the most physically challenging 5k I've ever done.  I was determined to complete the 5k this year.  It was my 4th time participating in this event.  Out of all 4 years,  this year,  by far,  was the hardest to complete.  Of everything involved with my Medical Apocalypse, I think it was just athe combination of lung cancer, moyamoya and recovering from the stroke that made it so difficult this year.  
Lisa Moran speaking at Run the Rocks

Run the Rocks finish line.

The Pikes Peak Browns Backers hosted a Whiteout Game for Lung Cancer Awareness at the beginning of November for Lung Cancer Awareness Month.  It was a great event with many club members participating and wearing white.  I shared my lung cancer story at this event as well. 

Pikes Peak Browns Backers Support Lung Cancer Awareness

I ended the fall with a trip to Mayo Clinic in AZ.  I never got my 6 month Moyamoya bypass surgery follow up scheduled with Stanford University Hospital.  That's a whole other blog post in itself.  I was concerned about disease progression and wanted to verify the bypass was holding up. 

My first trip to Mayo was a series of meetings, tests and scans.  I met with my new neurosurgeon.  We discussed what led to my initial Moyamoya diagnosis,  my current symptoms and the tests that would follow that appointment.

I'm not hearing often.  If I am occupied by watching a show or reading a news story  I just don't hear when Jeremy speaks to me.  I had a hearing test to verify if it's my ears not hearing or if it's my brain.   Good news, my brain is hearing and processing well.  Bad news,  I'm just hard of hearing.  (Thanks Tesla.)

I have been experiencing numbness in my right leg and foot.  That side was not effected by the stroke.  I had MRIs and MRAs of my head,  neck and spine to rule ot any neurological causes.  

Good news, I have not had any new strokes!  I have good blood flow from the direct right carotid artery bypass.  The left side looks still looks good.

The areas of numbness may have to do with my spine.  L5  is where the lung cancer tumor was and where I had radiation.  Because it is not brain related,  it may be spinal damage from the radiation or possibly cancer activity.  They couldn't rule cancer in or out by an MRI.  I have a CT scan and lab work in a couple weeks.  If my lung cancer biomarker numbers are elevated,  I'll get a PET scan from there. 

I was the 2nd participant in a Whole Exome Seqencing research study on Moyamoya Disease at Mayo Clinic.  They are testing Moyamoya patients to see if there is a common denominator.  They are also researching to see if there are  specific gene mutations that cause Moyamoya.  Im anxious to find out if I have a known Moyamoya gene mutation.  We already know I have two gene mutations driving my lung cancer.

2019 is just around the corner.  I can't wait to see what the new year brings my way.   I know one new endeavor is in the works.  I've been considering this for some time; I'm going to start writing articles for  I will continue to write for this blog and I will share my articles here.  Im excited to get started.   You will know here as soon as my first article is published. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Lung Cancer Diagnosis

November 2018: I have posted about my different diagnoses throughout this blog. It's been a while since I've posted about being diagnosed with lung cancer.

It all started three years ago in August 2015.  I was in the first years of a serious relationship with my boyfriend, Jeremy.  We were passed that milestone moment when you realize your significant other is your forever person.  We were planning our future together and talking about getting married.

It was also the beginning of my career as a letter carrier.  By choice, I was on walking routes. I was walking approximately 35-40 miles a week.  I would walk anywhere from 6 to 12+ miles a day. Carrying mail was more than a job. It was my career and my passion.

I would run at least one 5k (3.1 miles) a week after work with my runner's club.  I was enjoying running for the first time in my life. There were times I'd run two or three 5k's in a week.  Running wasn't just the annual 5k for charity any more.

As active and healthy as I was, I had a persistent cough and some random breathing issues.  There were a few times between late 2014 and July 2015 that I felt a heaviness in my chest, something similar to bronchitis. Each time there seemed to be an acceptable explanation (post nasal drip, virus) to justify the breathing problems.   It didn't seem too serious at the time.

When breathing issues interfered with exercising and running, I decided to get things checked out. I went to  a doctor for my breathing problems.  I had a chest x-ray. The result...a mass in my right lung.  Further testing revealed a devastating diagnosis.

We heard the words, “inoperable”, “incurable”, “terminal”.  What seemed to be minor turned out to be inoperable, incurable, stage iv lung cancer.  It was late stage, stage 4, non small cell lung cancer. At the time of diagnosis, lung cancer had already spread throughout both lungs and to my spine.  

I asked:
  • How long to I have to live?
  • How did I get lung cancer?
  • What do I do now?

Statistics said I had a 3 to 5% chance of living one year.  Lung cancer in young healthy adults, especially women, was on the rise.  My lung cancer is caused by the EGFR gene mutation. It’s not genetic or something I inherited from my parents. It’s genomic, something in my DNA has changed and mutated.

The mutation meant I would have targeted therapy treatment instead of iv chemo.
Days before we heard, “incurable” and “terminal”.  Now we heard something promising. I had a chance at living a normal life.  It’s almost like, “normal life” echoed as it came out of my nurse navigator’s mouth.

Over the years my treatments have been targeted therapies and radiation treatments to my lung and spine.  I take a chemo pill once a day that targets the mutation that is driving my cancer.

I was able to stay at work and continued living my active otherwise healthy life. Things were as normal as they could be with quarterly PET scans thrown in to monitor disease progression. Or in my case, we watched tumors and nodules shrink and disappear. the targeted therapy did it's job. I was No Evidence of Disease within 8 months.

Our moment of relief lasted 6 months. Then the nodules and tumors returned in my lungs. We monitored that growth for 10 months. In the mean time I had a bronchoscopy biopsy to test for a new mutation. I switched targeted therapies because I tested positive for the t790m mutation.

Life is back to normal, for now. Well, as normal as it can be with quarterly scans and blood labs thrown in to monitor for disease progression.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A Year in Review: Measuring Life in Events Not Dates

I've never been the type of person to remember exact dates of bad or traumatic events.  I know my father passed away in January when I was a child.  But i can't tell you the exact date.  It's the same thing with other family members and friends through the years. Sometimes i can remember what season it was with no memory of a particular month or day.  So, every year when winter rolls around,  i don't focus on the calendar.  January doesn't bring up old memories or sadness.  Sometimes,  i don't think of it at all.

That all changed after Lung Cancer and Moyamoya.  There are some dates I will now never forget and always will remember and celebrate.

 I will never forget the date, August 14, 2015.  I have remembered it and acknowledged this date every year since.

I can't tell you what day of the week it was.  I do know and remember well that it was a work day for Jeremy and me. We were at the tail end of the multitude of tests that i had undergone over the previous weeks.  August 14, 2015 was the results appointment for the final test, a PET Scan.

Up to this point, we only knew about one lung tumor in my upper right lung lobe.  This was the appointment we would find out how active the cancer was.  Being naive and having no first hand experience with cancer, I thought that meant if that tumor was a weak or strong tumor.  That sounds so funny to me now.  It goes to show how much we just didn't know at that point.  We had been focusing on the fact that I was a good candidate for surgery to remove the tumor.  We both thought this was the appointment we would be given a surgery date, recovery time and the info for any follow up chemotherapy or radiation treatments.   Jeremy and I went to work that day.  We broke away for a lunch meeting with my Memorial Hospital oncologist.  We were going to return to work after the appointment.

  This was the appointment we learned I was being diagnosed with STAGE 4  non small cell lung cancer.   My cancer had spread (metastasized) throughout both of my lungs and to my spine.  We heard the words, INOPERABLE, INCURABLE,  and TERMINAL.  We didn't return to work that day.

Why would I want to remember,  acknowledge and celebrate such a day?  I know some people that never talk of their diagnosis.  Some only refer to it as, "The C word".  To me it's almost like a birthday.  I don't remember being born,  but I still celebrate adding another candle to the cake every year.  I hate Lung Cancer and I wish I could forget it.  But you're going to find me every year celebrating my CANCERversary and the fact that I'm still surviving this inoperable, incurable, terminal disease.

Since my last CANCERversary I've had a few notable events take place.  It's been one helluva year!
  • Diagnosed with an ultra rare brain disease, Moyamoya
  • Brain surgery to treat Moyamoya.
  • Survived a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Survived emergency brain surgery after my stroke
  • Survived a coma
  • Endured eight months of in-patient and out-patient Occupational,  Physical and Speech Therapies and now continue cognitive and executive thinking therapies on my own
  • Traveled to Lungevity Hope Summit by myself
  • Attended the Lung Cancer Alliance National Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. and participated in six meetings on Capitol Hill with Colorado members of congress.
  • My Lung Cancer treatment quit working after 33 months
  • I had Lung Cancer progression with lymph node activity
  • Started my third FDA approved Lung Cancer targeted therapy treatment
They say the truth is stranger than fiction.  I wish I was making this stuff up.  Sometimes I can't believe everything that has happened to me over the last three years.  Then i see this recap of just my last year and realize it's incredible I'm here and able to blog and share my experiences.

Lung Cancer Patent Advocate, Yovana Maria Portillo with Lisa Moran at Capitol Hill

I think it's fair to say the Lung Cancer Alliance National Advocacy Summit made the biggest positive impact this last year.  Lung Cancer advocacy has been important to me since my 2015 diagnosis.  I've known and shared the awareness facts and grim statistics of how Lung Cancer is the number one cancer killer but receives the least amount of government funding.  Lung Cancer Alliance gave me the opportunity to change this, for myself and everyone else diagnosed with Lung Cancer in the United States, which could in turn effect Lung Cancer patients around the world.  Capitol Hill changed me and I changed Capitol Hill.  As a result of my July trip to Washington, D.C., Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado is now a co-sponsor of the Women and Lung Cancer Research and Preventive Services Act of 2018 (H.R.4897 or S.2358).  I keep referring to this as, "My bill".  I mean, in a way it IS my bill.  It effects my future treatments.  It could potentially aid in the discovery of the next EGFR drug to keep me alive.  It could end or lessen the stigma associated with Lung Cancer.  This squeaky wheel will not stop until Senator Gardner and Representative Lamborn are on board too.  Keep checking your inboxes, gentlemen.
This year my CANCERversary party is gong to be my first Shine a Light on Lung Cancer fundraising event.  It will be a combination of an online fundraising campaign and an August 18 party in Colorado Springs. CO, USA.  Donations will benefit the Lung Cancer Alliance. Please join me in this celebration by making a donation, whether in person or online.  No amount is too small.