Report on Cynthia McFarland's bout with cancer
In mid February 2006, Anglicans Online Managing Editor Cynthia McFarland was experiencing back pain, which she thought was caused by too much lifting of heavy suitcases on a recent trip. She went to an orthopædist to inquire, and after a flurry of medical tests she was rushed to surgery of her lumbar spine, to remove an 'unknown object' that measured 5 inches long.
That object turned out to be a lymphoma, and further MRI testing showed evidence of other lymphoma masses. She began R-CHOP chemotherapy even before the stitches had been removed from the 8-inch incision in her spine. The surgery removed a significant amount of muscle from above her spine, and until it grows back somewhat, she will have limited mobility.
Update: Cynthia's oncologist just phoned her to say that the bone marrow biopsy showed no evidence of any metastasis there, and also that the PET scan showed no metastasis. This is tentatively encouraging news, because it means that if there are other tumours, they are very small and will probably succumb to the chemotherapy.
On March 29, Cynthia decided that she didn't want to endure watching all of her long hair fall out tuft by tuft, so she arranged to have it all cut off. Cynthia said a prayer of grateful thanks and goodbye to her long hair, which she'd had below her shoulders since she was 4 years old. See our AO Staff page to see what she looks like now.
On April 8 the rest of her hair went away. She doesn't want a picture taken. The second cycle of chemotherapy went well, whatever 'well' means in this context. She is building a small collection of head scarves; she has always owned a lot of hats.
In late April, after the second cycle of chemotherapy had done its best and Cynthia had healed enough from the back surgery that she was safely ambulatory, she started trying to get back into the online Anglican world that has been so much to her. She wrote the April 23 front-page letter here at AO, and, God willing, she'll be able to keep up week over week.
The third cycle of chemotherapy finished in early May without incident, though the powerful drugs and chemicals are always disruptive to her sleep, digestion, and sense of normalcy. After the next cycle, her oncologist will do a full-body CAT scan to see how it is all going. With each cycle of the chemotherapy, there seems to be one week during which she feels fine, then two weeks during which she feels like she was hit by a train.
Update in late May: she has finished her fourth round of R-CHOP chemotherapy, and hopes that, as with the first three, she will have a week of normalcy after recovering from the fourth round but before the fifth begins. She will have some CAT scans soon, before the fifth round starts, so that her oncologist can see how it is all going.
June 4 update: the first of two CAT scans was competely clean--no evidence of any tumor or 'hot spot'. Despite that good news, the fifth round of chemotherapy will start June 9.
June 9 update: at the beginning of Round 5 of the chemotherapy, Cynthia's oncologist presented the results of her second CAT scan. There had previously been several large (4 cm) tumors; now there is just one smaller tumor (1cm) showing on the spleen. Probably there will be a CAT scan after each chemotherapy round to see how much longer the chemotherapy need continue. While the knowledge that there is still a tumor on her spleen is not great news, this probably rules out the need for radiation therapy or further surgery.
June 17 update: after five rounds of chemo, Cynthia's white blood cell count was dangerously low, so she got an injection of Neulasta. She is now wracked in bone pain as a side effect of that drug's doing its job. On the other hand, when she met with her surgeon the day before the Neulasta shot, he was very upbeat and optimistic and said that from his point of view she was recovering miraculously.
June 25 update: a few days before the beginning of Round 6 of the chemotherapy, she is almost feeling healthy. Round 6 will disturb that a bit, but she'll bounce back in a couple of weeks. She has taken delivery of a hairpiece made out of her own cut-off hair, but after months of being bald she is not immediately comfortable with it. Besides, it's beastly hot in New Jersey, and a bald head is a cool head, so it must prevail.
June 30 update: she has developed a debilitating case of shingles, which are extraordinarily painful and impossible to cure. This is a setback that she doesn't need while recovering from Round 6. Shingles can develop opportunistically in a weakened immune system, and, alas, they did.
July 16 update: Cynthia has been in the hospital for several days with a dangerous infection, high fever, and inability to eat. The shingles continue to be debilitating; their location makes it impossible for her to sit in a chair, and they seem to be getting worse. She'd had a CAT scan scheduled for today to determine if there would be a need for Round 7 of the chemotherapy, but the infection put her into the oncology ward instead of radiology. The scan will have to be another day while she continues to be treated for serious viral and bacterial infections.
July 19 update: Cynthia is home from the hospital and managed somehow to climb the stairs. She's recovering in her own bed and says that she is 'feeling stronger by the hour'. The hospital ran out of veins in which they could insert an IV, so switched her to oral medication, which she might as well do at home. Her fever is under control, and the shingles are, after nearly 3 weeks, beginning to abate.
August 1: the world looks so much brighter now. With sufficient recovery from the infections that she could keep down the barium brew needed for a CAT scan, Cynthia was scanned neck to knees, and the scan showed only one bump, a 1/3-inch object on her spleen. After meeting with her oncologist yesterday, she learned these things:
She is done with chemotherapy. Her shingles are fading rapidly. The neuropathy in her left foot that was caused by the shingles is healing, albeit slowly. The object on her spleen is 'probably scar tissue'. She has officially graduated from treatment to healing. There will be MRI and CAT scans done at regular intervals for a while to make sure that there is no recurrence. But in a few months her hair will start to grow back, and the Great Lymphoma Wars of 2006 will be just a bad memory.
The notes and cards sent to her have been a huge contributor to her healing. Thank you all very much. Wracked in pain or gloom, she'd get a letter in the mail and the smile came back. She's still there, at 134 W. Broad St, Burlington, New Jersey, USA 08016.
We probably won't update this page much any more; perhaps when her hair has grown long enough that she's willing to be photographed again, we'll put a picture here.
Cynthia's laconic comment: 'I sing: "Alleluia! The great storm is over!"'