Living with Stage 4 Lung Cancer – October 2020 Update

It’s been a stressful, trying few weeks with my cancer. I’ll explain.

To break up this post, I’m sharing pictures from August and September. Between scans and MRIs, I do my best to live my best life!

Paula Skulina and Sherman Skulina on a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

If you’re new here, I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer on Friday the 13th of January, 2017. Yes, Friday the 13th. Isn’t that the pits?

I went to the doctor thinking that I was one of the healthiest people in Lynchburg and that I needed new nose spray for allergies and ended up being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Some people call living with cancer their journey. To me, a journey conjures thoughts of something pleasant. Living with cancer is more like a forced march. Cancer is an evil person with a gun to my head and I’m the innocent victim.

Woman and dog on a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

I’ve only written about my cancer twice. If you haven’t read these posts, read them to catch up on my experience.

At the end of my last cancer post, I shared that on July 30 I was to have gamma knife to treat a spot in my brain. After that post, I so much appreciated everyone who left a kind comment, those that prayed for me, those who sent me messages and emails, and the many encouraging cards that I received in the mail.

July 30, 2020 Gamma Knife

The gamma knife procedure was not easy but I got through it.

The actual radiation part was a piece of cake, I had no idea that beams of radiation were hitting that spot, hopefully getting rid of it.

The dreadful part was the halo. It felt like a vise grip around my head.

Four screws were drilled into my skull to hold it in place. I remember two men putting the halo over my head, then the anesthesiologist gave me something that knocked me out while they drilled it into place.

I remember waking up and asking when they were going to drill the screws and was told that they already did. Then I felt intense pressure. Not much pain, just a ton of pressure, like a vise grip was around my head.

Gamma Knife at UVA

Before the gamma knife procedure, I had to have a CT scan that they used along with my brain MRI to pinpoint exactly where the beams of radiation were to go.

When they attempted to lay me back to be flat on the CT table, I felt immense pressure and threw a nice hissy fit. After three tries, they got me flat for the scan.

Gamma Knife at UVA

The next hissy fit occurred when they unscrewed the halo from my head. That was a minor hissy fit, as the pressure of the screws coming out was pretty unpleasant.

August – Recovering from Gamma Knife

I was back to my usual activity the day after my gamma knife treatment. I was able to hit the gym for a weight workout and have a great weekend with an old high school friend and his wife visiting us at the lake.

Grilling tomahawk steaks
We’ve been friends since 7th grade!

Lee grilled amazing Tomahawk steaks when he visited. Best steak of my life! If you look closely at my forehead, you can see the screw marks. This was two days post gamma knife.

Enjoying a tomahawk steak bone with a dog

Living My Best Life in August and September

After the gamma knife, I was determined to live my best life and not worry about the result of the treatment until my next brain MRI on September 29.

We spent every weekend of both August and September at the lake having a great time.

Sherman Skulina and Paula Skulina on the boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

Most everyone thinks that they have a great Mama, but I truly have the best Mama. Mama spent lots of weekends with us which was super fun.

Here she is wearing her Dog Grandma shirt because she knew that I would like seeing her wear it.

Hiking with a dog in Smith Mountain Lake State Park, VA

We found the ice cream boat usually two times per weekend so that Sherman could get ice cream.

Ice Cream Boat at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

Friends joined us for hiking at the state park. This is Nicole, one of my very best friends who has been extremely supportive of me through my forced cancer march.

Hiking at Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Virginia.

I don’t have a picture to share, but there is also a group of very special friends who have been with me the entire time through my forced march. I don’t know what I would do without these ladies.

Two more people who keep me going are my PT and her husband, my personal trainer. Heather keeps my back in place which allows me to exercise, something I’m passionate about. Ken designs challenging workout for me that won’t irritate my back. Ken and Heather have become like family to me.

Ken and Heather have three children that I adore. Seeing these kids Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when I train with Ken is pure pleasure for me.

This very special family spent a day on the lake with us after Labor Day.

Mom, kids, dog on a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

The kids loved boating and I’m already looking forward to taking them out on the boat again next summer.

Mom, child, and dog on a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

It was a great day on the lake and we even found the ice cream boat for a treat.

Dad, son, dog on a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

The kids loved feeding the carp peanut butter and popcorn. I enjoyed it as well.

Feeding carp at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

In September, some of my former students visited me by boat at the lake. I taught the two kids on the right side of the boat but not the other kids. I love being around young people and it was such a great surprise to get to see these kids.

Former Students visiting with Paula and Sherman Skulina at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

In September, my blogging bestie, Julie of My Wee Abode, came all the way from California to visit. If you’ve not visited Julie’s blog, you need to!

We went to Williamsburg, spent time at the lake, and visited my mom’s house.

Dog and woman on a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA.

Julie and I had so much fun and I hope she can visit me again. I’m hoping to visit her in California as well.

Hiking at Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Virginia.

The Dreaded Brain MRI

On September 29, I had my two month post gamma knife brain MRI.

The PA for the doctor who did my gamma knife was my first appointment after the test. The radiology report wasn’t back, but she reported that the lesion treated was smaller and she saw no new spots.

Dog and woman sitting on a dock

My next appointment was with my brain oncologist. The radiology report still wasn’t back and Dr. Fadul also saw no new spots of cancer in my brain.

I went home feeling relieved and then early that evening I saw that I had a missed call from UVA. My heart sank.

Woman and dog looking at Smith Mountain Lake from the state park

Later that evening, Dr. Fadul called to let me know that there was a new issue in my brain, cancer in a different spot, the lining of the brain.

To diagnose this, I was to have a spine MRI and a lumbar puncture.

We were scheduled to leave for Vermont two days later and Dr. Fadul thought that it was fine to wait until after our vacation to do those tests.

I already had a chest/abdomen CT scan scheduled the week after our vacation. This new problem added two more days of testing, one day for the spine MRI and another for the lumbar puncture.

I was able to enjoy our vacation (I’m hoping to share a post soon.) but Mr. SP and I both couldn’t help but worry over the tests that I had to have as soon as our vacation was over.

Cancer Test Week

My tests were scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Monday I was a nervous wreck. All of my friends and the family that knew what I was going through rallied around me and gave me encouragement.

Tuesday evening was the spine MRI. This test takes a long time, two solid hours of being in the tube. I’ve grown accustom to the tube, so luckily it didn’t bother me.

Wednesday I checked UVA My Chart over and over looking for my test result. My phone was glued to me, waiting for a call to find out my fate.

I got the call Wednesday afternoon that my spine MRI was good. No issues found! What a blessing.

Dog eyeing pizza at Benny's
Pizza at Benny Adelina’s is a Saturday tradition

Thursday arrived, my chest/abdomen CT day. CT day is so very stressful with worrying about new cancer spots being detected.

When my CT is good, my oncologist enters the room with a thumbs up. He didn’t have a thumbs up when he entered the room, so I knew something bad happened.

My adrenal gland showed a thickening which is concerning. It’s not a spot big enough to biopsy but something is going on there. Ugh.

I was relieved that no other new spots were found.

My Spine Puncture

I didn’t have to have the spine puncture!!! I was dreading it so much and was so relieved to have it canceled.

Resting on a bench at Smith Mountain Lake State Park

Why was it canceled? Well, no matter the result of the spine puncture, my new treatment plan would be the same, so there was no need at this point to put me through that test.

My New Treatment

Starting Thursday night, my new treatment plan is a double dose of my targeted therapy medicine.

The hope is that this will control the new issue in my brain and also the area of concern on my adrenal gland.

Woman kissing a dog beside a lake

This treatment has a risk of causing heart problems, so on Thursday I had an EKG and on October 29, I’ll have an echocardiogram.

If you are the praying type, please pray that this new treatment works and that I will have minimal pesky side effects.

What’s Next?

At the beginning of December, I will have a brain MRI, spine MRI, and chest/abdomen CT to see how I’m doing.

It was a rough few weeks of worry and I’m relieved to have the tests behind me and a new treatment plan in place.

Sherman Skulina on a boat at Smith Mountain Lake, VA

For the rest of October and all of November. I’m planning to live my best life and enjoy every second of every day!

Appreciate and Live Every Second of Every Day

My sweet cousin make this graphic after reading my last cancer post. She has an awesome shop on Etsy that you should check out!

90 Comments

  1. Paula, you are such an inspiration! I had no idea you were going through all of this. You always carry yourself with grace, beauty & a friendly smile on your face. Thank you for sharing your journey

  2. 🙏🙏🙏🙏🙏continue! You are such an inspiration! I appreciate the sharing of your story-I’m sure you are giving others hope as well as showing how to live!!! 😘

    1. Prayers for you, Paula. I miss seeing you, but I’m glad you’re doing this blog. I love that you’re living your best life. Everyone would benefit from a great attitude like that. Love you. Pam

  3. Paula, your ability to document and share your forced journey is beyond amazing. Your strength and positive nature are an inspiration to us all. Sending love and prayers from NC.

  4. You’re such an example of strength ! I’ve so enjoyed your blog. You’re in my prayers for whatever comes your way.

  5. Paula, you are always in my thoughts and prayers. You have faith, determination and many prayer warriors going for you.
    My heart breaks for you reading about all that you are going through. You are so positive and your great attitude is truly amazing. Again, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  6. Paula, you are awesome. Thank you for sharing. I am the praying type. I hope you can feel the prayers and the love coming your way. Love, Tom and Sue

  7. Paula, I am saving the “Appreciate and live” graphic that your cousin made. I am hoping that seeing it daily will help me live my life with some of the passion and grace and drive with which you live yours. I admire your ability to share this march, but most important, I hate that you have to endure it. Holding you in my heart and sending appeals for healing.

  8. Paula, You are an inspiration! I cannot help but be amazed at the content you put on your site while simelteously on your forced march. Thank you for sharing your story with us-the highs and the lows. I think and pray for you often and will continue to do so.

  9. Your projects – your tutorials – your StitchFix reviews – that beautiful smile – none of it reflects what you are going through physically and emotionally. You ARE living your best life. Hugs and Prayers from B1 to R26-28.

  10. Paula, you are an amazing person with such strength and a zest for life. I’m sure your positive attitude and wonderful support system of friends and family will get you through this. I’m praying for you and sending positive thoughts.
    Hugs,
    Shelley

    1. Paula,

      You truly are a warrior and an inspiration. You live your best life. I’m praying for you and your family.

      You’re sure so strong, brave and a fighter You have a great support system which is so important.

      You’re going to win, I feel it.

      Cindy

  11. Paula, I’m sorry you have been going through this. It sounds like you have a wonderful support team and a great treatment plan. Keeping you in my prayers…you are an inspiration! xoxo

  12. Hi Paula,
    You are correct. A forced march it is, and I am so sorry you are on it. I’m praying that you will come to know the God of all Peace and Comfort. Why has He allowed this in your life? I don’t know, but maybe it is so people like me will point you to Him : ). Praying so much for you,
    Love
    Liberty
    Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Romans 15:13

  13. Paula you are an inspiration to all and I admire your strength, honesty and determination! Keep living your best life, keep fighting and continue to stay positive! I continue to pray for you. 🙏🏻

  14. Having just moved from southern Virginia, I feel a kinship with my fellow Virginian, You. You are helping me to appreciate every day. My problems are small. Prayer go with you.

  15. Paula, this post is proof that you are a fighter for living a positive life. I am not. Praying person, but I will try to learn because you truly deserve prayer and hope to keep you here on earth as a role model for being strong and brave.

    Thank you for sharing your ‘forced march’! Much love and many hugs for and to you.

  16. As a fellow cancer thrivor I can identify with the stress and worry that comes with checkups and tests. You are a true inspiration with how to live and enjoy every day. Your positive attitude is something I aspire to. I’m aware that Covid19 restrictions have not made this easy but you have managed to fill this time with family, friends, and travel. Continued prayers for healing and strength.

  17. I think of you so often,. You are so very brave! You are a very strong person and you have God and all these prayer warriors on your side! We will continue to pray for you! God Bless You! Oh and by the way, you look great!

  18. Paula,
    My prayers are with you! Miracles are real! I love your attitude about making each day the best! That’s how we all should live… making each day our best day ever! You are one amazing woman thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. May you feel love from all of us!

    Hugs,
    Karin

  19. You are so brave. A true inspiration for all of us to live our best lives so matter what the circumstances are..

  20. Thank you for updating us, Paula! I love seeing you living your best life and all of the support you have is a true blessing!! That steak was bigger than you! You are beautiful inside and out and you are going to get 2 thumbs up this December!!! You got this and we are here if you need absolutely anything!!

  21. Stay strong, march on! I will continue to pray for you. And thank you for being such a blessing to us out here; inspiring to live in the moment. Dark times, and yet you SHINE so bright. Keep the faith, and hang in there.

  22. Paula,

    You are just a beautiful person. Inside and out. May the God of Hope fill you to overflowing with peace and encouragement through Jesus our Savior !!!! God hold you in the palm of His mighty hand. Sending prayers of love and healing. Huge hugs! So glad you have so much support and encouragement nearby. So glad friends far and near and old classmates and new friends can rally around you. You are loved. You are blessed. You are SO BRAVE!!!!! You are a BEAUTIFUL AND STRONG WOMAN!! Keep the FIGHT!!!! God is able. Huge hugs!!

  23. Continued prayers, dear friend. So thankful the test results were better than anticipated and praying this new treatment is helpful! Still think often of my trip there and all the memories we created! Hugs!

  24. We will continue praying for you, Paula! You are an amazingly strong woman. Keep up the fight and thank you for the reminder to live your best life every day!

  25. Paula, I had not idea you were going through this. First and foremost I am praying for you! I drive by an exit for Smith Mountain Lake when I go up to Maryland to watch my granddaughters when my daughter is on call at Walter Reed. I will reach out the next time I am headed that way. If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know. I would love to hear more about Smith Mountain Lake as it is one of the lakes we considered renting a place at last summer. We ended up at Lake Gaston, but Smith Mountain would be closer to both my daughter and son. Keeping you ever present in my prayers. – Chloe

  26. I am definitely praying for you, Paula! I, too, have had cancer. I think when you first shared about the lung cancer, I was about three years cancer-free and may have shared that. I am now almost five years, but continue to get checked every 6 months. I had Triple Negative breast cancer…the most aggressive and most likely to return. Five years seems to be the magic number for being able to breathe a little easier…if it hasn’t returned in 5 years, the chances of a return drop considerably. But it continues to be like a really rotten carrot being dangled in front of me; it’s always there. Lots of chemo and many radiation treatments have been very hard on my body and continue to cause issues. I think it’s wonderful that you are able to be so physically active, which is also healthy for your mind and soul. I will be praying for you to have a full recovery.

  27. I am so sorry that you are having to go through all of this, Paula. I hate medical stuff and I can’t imagine how horrible it is to go thru all those tests. You are one strong lady. I would never know all that’s going on in your body from looking at your pretty, healthy self. Praying for you, friend!

  28. I am one of your “newbes” and have been following you for the past two months. I enjoy your trips and all the beautiful things you do. I knew that your were fighting cancer and as a “survivor” I want to complement you. You are the bravest
    person I have ever met and you will be in my prayers forever. Keep doing your “Blog” as you bring happiness to all of us.

  29. Paula , you are amazing . You are a strong woman and you keep that positive life style. Know that my prayers are with you every day. We all need to appreciate every day spending time with family and friends and let people know how much they mean to us. Love and positive thoughts to you and your family.

  30. Oh Paula, continuing to lift you up to our God. Knowing you are in His hands and praying you are able to rest in that and continue to love life as you’ve been doing to your very fullest. You are amazing at how your have taken this all on, with honesty, humor, candor and grace! 🙏🙏🙏❤️❤️❤️

  31. Thank you for the update Paula.
    You inspire me with your determination to keep living your best life. Loved your photos on the lake this summer and so delighted that you are surrounded by amazing friends.
    Sending you lots of positive energy, love and light xx

  32. You are such a fine example of living every day to the fullest. I am amazed at your fortitude on this march. I would hope to be like you. I’ll keep you in my prayers, Paula. I hope it’s okay to just say this saddens me though. And it makes me feel so trite to worry about the things I do, and to realize the blessings I have in every day.

  33. Bless your heart ❤️ I just found your blog on Instagram. Praying for health and healing. You seem like such a strong person. 🥰💪🏻🐾 I love Sherman.

  34. Oh by gosh, Paula! You have been through so much. I will pray that this will take care of things and the scans in December with be all clear. Huge hugs and lots of love coming your way. xoxo Oh! If you and Julie (or just you) are ever in Williamsburg again (or the OBX even), please let me know, I would so love to see you. ❤️

  35. I’ll ask my mother-in-law (97 yrs old) to include you in her daily Rosary, I assure you she has a direct link. Many of those we know have seen the results of her prayers.

    Thinking good thoughts and praying for you as well.

  36. I am 63 year old female. I was Dx. In Sept. of 2018. I started Tagrisso in Oct. of 2018. I’ve had some progression on Primary lung tumor. I was treated with 5 sessions of SBRT. I now have Radation Pueumonitis.
    I saw you post on Instagram. Thank-You for sharing your story. It helped me, as it can be a lonely journey.
    Praying for you and that this
    New treatment works!
    Thank You,
    Susan B.

  37. Paula, thanks for sharing something so personal. As a cancer survivor, I understand that feeling in he pit of your stomach every time they test. Glad you have a strong support system and you are living life. We never know when
    “the last time will be the last time” Prayers for a miracle.

  38. Paula, you are such an inspiration to me and others keeping up with your health issues. My prayer for you everyday is asking God to take care of you and to bless you with good health and happiness. Continue to look to him for his Blessings and guidance. Jean Roberts.

  39. You are a warrior! I pray for you as you march your way through this nastiness. I’m glad you have many supportive people around you. Thank you for updating us and I will continue to pray.

  40. I found your blog by looking for some how to make elastic headbands and then I see this post and it speaks to me. I pray for you because two years ago my mum got diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away but I really have hope for those with lung cancer. Hope one day lung cancer patients get the much needed attention more than now. I’m glad you write your posts because it spreads awareness. Thank you for posting your experience and once again, I pray for you.

  41. You are very brave, and your positive outlook will make a big difference in your return to health! My prayers are with you!

  42. I’m so sorry to say that I had no idea you were going through this Paula, and for so long. I am so inspired by your determination and transparency. I don’t know you well, but this really affected me when I read this. I am so glad you have supportive friends and family in your life. I am sending you such a big hug and praying that you have good news in December.

  43. Paula you have been in my thoughts for months and months and now years. I am so sorry for what all you’ve had to endure. Thank you for sharing your story. I have shared it with people and they are praying for you too. The echocardiogram will be a piece of cake. I have them annually. I am praying for you and am so thankful you are living your best life and not letting the circumstances diminish your capacity for seizing life as you always have. Love you, Bonnie

  44. You are amazing and so inspiring, Paula! Thank you for sharing the update with us. I continue to hold you in my thoughts and prayers. Sending hugs from Canada. xo
    P.S. Nice to see photos of Julie and so glad you both had a nice visit

  45. Hi Paula..I had no idea you were dealing with all of this. I knew about the lung cancer but thought you were clear ..as I’ve mentioned before..I understand you totally the fear and anxiety of what’s next. Myself being a breast cancer survivor and my husband now living with lung cancer and COPD. I’m so sorry for all you’re going thru. The gamma knife looked horribly uncomfortable. Too much for one to endure. You are in my prayers…I will keep you there asking God to heal you in every way and bring you peace and comfort. Gentle (((hugs))) to you and may Gob Bless you and keep you in his care.

  46. Paula – I’m in awe of your strength and courage. Count me in a prayer warrior on your behalf. You get out there and continue living your best life … you are a princess warrior. xo

  47. Paula, I am so glad to know you were able to take the Vermont trip to help to not think every minute of every day about your test waiting until you got home….if that trip gave you moments of just pure pleasure with Mr. SP and Sherman and those beautiful vistas to take your minds off things, that was for sure God taking care of you. You are such an inspiration to all of us who follow you and care about you…truly care about you. We have become Family now and your burdens are our burdens and if saying a prayer for you is what we can do long distance, then all of us will do that….for you…because we truly care. God Bless and you will absolutely be in my prayers…every single day….

  48. Paula I am still praying for you! Loved seeing your visit with Julie and your students visiting. I will pray that the treatment works and that all is well in December! You are amazing!

  49. Oh Paula. Just a couple days ago I learned you had cancer. Now reading this I see its stage four lung that has metastasized. I don’t know you very well, but my heart aches for what you are facing & I will definitely keep you in my prayers. It just goes to show how you never know what a person is dealing with behind the scenes. I see you on the gram looking so fit & poised; I never would have guessed. You are an inspiration & I’m glad you are in my virtual world now.

  50. Oh Paula, I had no idea! I will be praying for you, and will pray that the treatment is successful and that you won’t have any side effects. I am so sorry that you have to go through this.

  51. Even though we have never met, I feel as though I know you through my Monelison family. I left just as you came! I am so in awe of you and am such a fan of your home decor, your crafting talents, your passion for animals, teaching, and the outdoors. And now, your incredible attitude about this “march” you are on is so inspiring. I’m sure you have no idea how many lives you have touched by sharing your story. I will continue to pray for you and follow your progress. You are a true champion.

  52. Wow this brought tears for all that you are going through! You are so strong!! I will be praying hard for you. I loved seeing all the photos of your lake adventures! Continue to seize every moment…no doubt your positivity will help continue to guide you through this. And how fun to see that Julie was able to visit…she is the sweetest! xoxo

  53. It is wonderful to know that you have so many prayer warriors! I’m happy to be one of them! Best wishes and lots of prayers as you continue this journey to healing!

  54. You’re an inspiration! Also, I thank you for your description of the cancer as a forced march. That feels so accurate for this situation, but it feels like you will keep marching. Please don’t give up.
    All the best,
    B

  55. That is one awful curveball! I am so sorry to read this and think you are amazingly brave and inspiring. Wishing you all the best and I have everything crossed for you, hoping that the new treatment works.

  56. Paula, I read this post on my phone the other day and didn’t leave a comment; I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to get back to you.

    God bless you, my friend. I will continue praying for you. For now, I am so glad to hear you are focusing on your LIFE. I am asking God for a cure!

  57. Paula, sending prayers your way for your treatment and recovery. There have been so many advancements in the lung cancer treatments over the years. I truly wish you the very best. We went through this with our 39 year old son and am familiar with some of the procedures you have experienced. Keep strong, keep your faith and let God be with you throughout this journey. Wishing you the very best.

  58. Paula I am just coming to your blog. I must say you are truly an inspiration. Your determination is amazing. I am so glad I found your blog. It has given me some much encouragement to face the day with hope! My situation is very little compared to yours but it is my journey. After reading I plan to change journey to force march. I was diagnosed back in the spring with
    hydrocephalus (which is water on my brain and damage to
    the small blood vessels in my brain. I have seen multiple neurologist who all agree with the diagnosis but none have taken on the responsibility to provide the remedy which is surgery. . I too will seen yet another new doctor on December 7. Hopefully he will provide the answers along with surgery. I
    am not even sure why I am sharing this with you. I simply have been so encouraged by your words. I am a praying person. I will be praying you receive good news in December! Trusting and believing God has you (& me) in his Hands!! The best place we can be! For now I will start my force march with better attitude! Thank you!

    1. Hi, Claudia! Thank you so much for commenting on this post about my forced march. I am so sorry that you are burdened with your health issue and I pray that your appointment on Dec. 7 will result in a doctor who will tackle the surgery that you need. It makes me feel so good that my post encouraged you. Sending you prayers!

      Paula

  59. Paula, I so appreciate your reply. Your prayers are needed!! Thank you sweet lady!!’
    I will continue to pray for you

    Claudia

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