Because We Love Angela
Organized by: Tanya Bonestroo
My diagnosis of stage 3 renal cell cancer was very difficult to hear, but I was relieved that all the misery and exhaustion I had fought for months was not just "in my head". I underwent a painful radical nephrectomy, removing my right kidney along with a large tumor on July 15, 2014. My doctor was confident he had successfully removed all of the cancer. However, the pathology report stated that it had started crawling up my renal vein. This was horrifying news, as the average life expectancy of a renal cell cancer patient is less than 5 years and I was only 49 years old. I was told there is no chemotherapy for this ugly cancer, so anything that could be done to help was appreciated. Since I was now down to one kidney, my doctors recommended I lose weight to support its function. On December 22nd, 2014, I underwent a gastric sleeve surgery. This helped me lose extra weight caused by inflammation from the cancer and improved my kidney function, but I was still struggling to maintain my standard of living with a very low energy level. In July of 2015, I was again devastated to learn that two tumors were found in my left lung. As I had learned in recent months, renal cell cancer tends to return in lung tissue where it then travels to the brain. Once it reaches the brain, this aggressive cancer can kill you within just a few weeks. To confirm that the masses on my lungs were in fact metastasized renal cell cancer, I went through three painful biopsies in August. These were accompanied by CT scans, PET scans, X-rays, numerous blood tests and then a visit to the world renowned MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston, TX. The doctors there explained to me that my cancer was now stage 4, terminal, and extremely aggressive. They offered me a drug called Sutent, which typically costs $11,000/month, saying that might keep me alive for a few more years, but there were no guarantees how my particular cancer would respond to it. During this time, I struggled with this death sentence and often prayed asking God why I was fighting so hard to live. The only answer I could think of: because life is precious. Throughout the year before this, I had been through two surgeries, many scans, and endless doctor appointments. My husband and I were just starting to dig ourselves out of debt from the last two surgeries when we received this difficult news. I felt like such a financial burden and wondered if hospice was something I should be considering instead. My doctors felt I was too young to give up and told me to keep trying. I felt I had very little hope to live much longer than a few years and was praying that God would take me quickly if it was my time. I know I'm going to be in heaven one day with my Lord and Savior, and I would accept His will for my life, whatever it was. I have a supportive husband, two precious daughters, wonderful close friends, and church family praying for me and encouraging me not to give up. God was gracious and helped me put one foot in front of the other as I walked into each medical office trying to muster up all the courage I could. In September, my Oncologist, Dr. Bernstein, didn't feel the drug Sutent offered me any real hope, so he sent me to UT Southwestern in Dallas, TX to be involved in another study: Interleukin-2 (IL-2) coupled with focused radiation treatments, which honestly scared me to death. He described it as having the flu, but 100 times worse, causing patients to become violently ill. It's administered in the ICU and at the end of two miserable weeks you find out if it worked or not. The success rate was extremely low (5-7%) and carried the side-effects of permanent organ damage and death. I saw Dr. Brugarolas, the head of the IL-2 study, on September 28th, 2015. Fortunately, he told me I was not a good candidate for this particular study, and felt my cancer could be treated with only focused radiation treatments from Dr. Hannan instead, whom I saw later that day. Dr. Hannan would radiate the tumors as part of an immunotherapy that would trigger my body’s immune system and clean up the dead renal cell cancer in my lung. By teaching my immune system to remove these cancer cells, it would hopefully work similarly in other parts of my body. In the same day, I was scanned, measured, tattooed, and prepared for 5 days of treatment that would last 2 and a half weeks. I was extremely grateful for this treatment and started a few days later. Each treatment lasted over an hour and I experienced fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. It would take about 6 weeks before we could measure this treatment’s effectiveness. Three weeks after returning home, my sweet friend, Tanya, encouraged me to see Dr. Burt Berkson in Las Cruces, NM. He has many years of experience with integrative medicine and has treated patients with a variety of ailments, including cancer. I received IV therapy of alpha-lipoic acid for two weeks in November. Surprisingly, he ordered a PET scan after only 8 days of IV therapy. I thought it was too soon, but Dr. Burkson assured me it was not. My PET scan came out clear, which thrilled me, but I knew it had to be confirmed by my doctors in Dallas. I had a CT scan done in Dallas on December 5th and my appointment with Dr. Hannan was two days later. The results were mixed. The good news was that, where he expected to see a lung and lymph nodes inflamed and scarred from radiation, all he could see was healthy lung tissue! He asked me if I had taken any other forms of treatment outside of the radiation immunotherapy and I told them about the IV therapy I had received. The results were astounding, so he told me to continue with my current treatment. The not so good news was that they found a very small nodule in my T-3 vertebrae which looked suspicious for metastatic cancer, but he was hopeful that it could be treated with radiation if needed. In March of 2016, we will see if my body will heal this lesion as it healed my lung. Until then, I will continue to receive the IV treatments at a local clinic. The close proximity to home has greatly helped reduce expenses, though the treatments are still not covered by insurance. I'm so very thankful for all of my doctors. I keep in close contact with my parents and daughters, calling them daily just to hear their precious voices. My husband and close friends continue to surround me with love and support. God has given me more time on this earth to love those around me and I am so grateful to Him for these special moments. I am regaining strength very slowly but am patient with my body, as I've been through so much. Of course, the thought of asking for financial help is humbling, but the continuous scans, biopsies, tests, and doctor visits are taking their toll. Thanks to some friends living in the area, our expenses while in Houston were minimized, but the two-and-a-half weeks spent in Dallas were quite the opposite. Finding Dr. Hart’s office located in my hometown, eliminated travel costs to continue the IV therapy. However, the weekly IV's and daily supplements are not covered by insurance. This donations page was created by some of my loving friends with the hope that some generous donors would help mitigate the travel and medical expenses I have incurred and support our future travel for further treatment.
To donate directly: Los Alamos National Bank 505-662-5171