Living with Stage Four Lung Cancer – February 2021 Update

Writing a cancer update is never easy, especially when the news is not great.

I’ve been writing cancer updates every two months which coincide with the CT scans and MRI tests that I have to endure to check on the progress of my disease.

In my December update, I shared that my insurance company was balking at providing me my medication. While we were on vacation in Vermont before Christmas, I got the wonderful news that my medication would be covered.

Sherman and David Skulina in the December 2020 snow in Woodstock, Vermont
This is the exact spot where we received the phone call letting us know that my medication would be covered by insurance.

I had a wonderful December and January where I enjoyed feeling great and spending a lot of time with my husband and our sweet dog, Sherman.

Dog kissing a woman in the woods
Stopping for a doggie kiss while hiking in Smith Mountain Lake State Park.

My mom spent several weekends with us at the lake which was super fun. She always gets stuck riding in the back seat with Sherman.

Dog and a woman in a car

After enjoying a huge snow when we were on vacation in Vermont in December, I was hoping that Mother Nature would send some snow to Virginia for me to enjoy and she kindly obliged.

1950s brick cape cod with snow

This picture makes me laugh because Sherman is with us no matter what we are doing. We shoveled my father-in-law’s driveway and you can see that we had to shovel around Sherman who was relaxing in the snow.

Dog on a driveway being snow shoveled

All too soon, it was February 2 and time for me to endure another round of testing.

On February 2, I had a chest/abdomen CT scan, an echocardiogram, a brain MRI, and a spine MRI. It was a long day of testing but I’ll take getting the tests any day over getting the results.

Dog and woman on the shore of Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia
Weekend hike at Smith Mountain Lake State Park

The next day I had appointments with my regular oncologist followed by my brain oncologist. Waiting in each office to hear my fate is agonizing. It’s like walking on a tightrope over the Grand Canyon barefoot with Crisco all over my feet.

My news started out good when Dr. Hall reported that my chest/abdomen scan showed my disease to be stable and that my echocardiogram was mostly fine.

Then I visited Dr. Fadul to find out the results of my other tests and the news was not good.

Despite taking a double dose of my cancer medication to control the leptomeningeal disease that was first detected in October, the cancer in my brain has progressed.

On February 2, I was given these options:

  1. Wait eight weeks and do another round of tests.
  2. Whole brain radiation
  3. Brain biopsy

I chose option one.

Behind the scenes, my amazing team at UVA immediately started looking into options for my treatment. Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, and a clinic in Cleveland were contacted for possible treatment options and clinical trials.

Things changed very quickly and an appointment was scheduled on February 9 with Dr. Asthagiri to discuss a possible brain biopsy.

On the morning of February 9, I knew I had an appointment to discuss a brain biopsy. What I didn’t know on the morning of the 9th was that by midday my surgery would be scheduled for February 10.

Dr. Ashtagiri was absolutely amazing and explained the procedure and recovery slowly and thoroughly so that I knew exactly what to expect.

I only cried when I found out that for 3 or more weeks I won’t be able to workout hard like I like to do. Working out is my stress relief and is the number one way that I deal with this shitty cancer.

On February 10, I endured a craniotomy to harvest tissue to be tested for cancer mutations. If I am lucky, after my tissue has been tested, a mutation that can be treated with a drug will be detected.

The surgery took about an hour and a half and went very well.

Here I am right after my surgery when Mr. SP was allowed to visit me.

Woman in hospital bed post craniotomy

Because of COVID, each patient is allowed only one four hour visit. Mr. SP spent the evening of the 10th with me and then headed back home to take care of Sherman.

I spent the first night and the next day in neurointensive care. The doctors and nurses were wonderful and took the best care of me. Amazingly, I only needed pain medication the first night.

I had to stay a second night in the hospital because my sodium levels were too low to be discharged. I was moved out of intensive care and into a super nice room for the second night.

Then next day my sodium level was back to normal and I was discharged. Before I was discharged, the bandage was removed from my head.

Here you can see the exact location of the craniotomy. There is a strip of glue over the wound to protect it.

Woman in hospital post craniotomy

I’ve been taking it easy since coming home on February 12 and each day I feel better and better.

I’m not allowed to bend over, drive, or lift anything over 5 pounds for a few weeks. Walking is allowed and I’m hoping that I’ll soon feel up to going on walks which will be very good for my mental health.

Woman and dog in the snow
Enjoying a snowy walk in January

If you are wondering how you can help me, please pray and send good vibes my way for both my recovery and for the discovery of a targetable mutation to treat my cancer.

Like always, my plan is to keep living my best life and to enjoy every minute of every day.

129 Comments

  1. I don’t really know what to say, except that I’m here and I care! I’m in the Thistlewood Mastermind Group with you. I’m glad you are at least able to walk right now!! Walking is my therapy now since COVID started. A friend doesn’t like to run- so who cares— we just get outside and walk, talk, and soak up the sun!! You will be in my thoughts and prayers!!

  2. Paula- I’m praying for every detail of your treatment and healing. Perfect timing, perfect treatment, perfect medical staff and care for all of this. And above all for miraculous healing and restoration to navigating all that you love in life.

  3. Thank you got sharing your story. I am a primary brain tumor survivor (surgery 1993) and I believe this experience was to prepare me to be a better nurse. I was in nursing school at the time of my surgery. I took one quarter off school and retuned to complete my studies. I am now a hospice nurse, so I understand the feelings some of my patients experience. I believe we are here for a reason, and I suspect you have already helped others in their journey. Keep the faith.

  4. Praying for you, friend. You are SUCH a strong person. I’m so glad that you have an ambitious, smart medical team at the helm. You got this sister! Back to workouts soon!

  5. Praying and thinking of you each and every day. Bless each day and live it to its fullest! You have both mine and Jeff’s prayers, thoughts and support!

  6. I’ve been praying for you, Paula, and I’m so sorry you didn’t get better news. I can’t imagine your struggle. So glad you have a great team of doctors; praying they will find a treatment that will be bearable. Hugs, friend.

  7. Dear Paula,
    I wish I had known sooner that you were going through all of this, but it looks like it all happened terribly fast! That’s a mercy that you didn’t have to spend much time dreading the biopsy. Do you know Kari from Me and My Captain? She had pancreatic cancer, and then stopped posting. Well I got a Christmas card from her saying she’s doing fine!! She is just not blogging.
    I’m praying for your recovery, for wisdom for the doctors, and for your faith to be in the Great Physician Who sometimes heals by taking his children home. Sometimes he heals through doctors and medicine, and I pray for that to be the case in your life.
    I wish I could give you a hug and cry with you (although I’m not actually the hugging or crying type, mostly).
    I enjoy walking, and I hope you can enjoy walks very soon.

  8. Praying for you. I am a cancer survivor so I empathize with you. It sounds like you have a great team working with you on this journey. God Bless! 🌹

  9. I will be thinking of you all day during my run and my walks with the doggie and wife. You will be back to your best life soon and live each day like the gift it is. We love you Paula.

  10. Sweet Paula,

    This brought tears to my eyes. I’m praying for you. You’re so strong and brave.

    This is so wrong and your fight is an inspiration to us all.

    I will keep praying.

    Cindy

  11. Paula keep up the big fight. You are a very special person and have been very strong in the biggest fight of your life. I hope only good news for you from your doctors. I will send all my prayers for you

  12. Paula— your Aunt Nancy keeps me up o date on your journey. I love your blog and so admire,both your courage and open sharing of your experiences. I definitely include you in my prayers every day and will continue to do so. Sending positive vibes your way. Love to you, your husband and of course, sweet Sherman..

  13. Paula…you continue to be in my prayers. Praying for God guided hands to be placed upon you in all your medical care and for strength and peace and healing in Jesus name.

  14. Paula, you are an inspiration to others going through life altering events. I have never seen anyone so mentally strong to make each day wondrous and exciting no matter what you are enduring. You and Leecy Fink are proof of the power of positive attitude.
    You are such a beautiful human. You and Dace are so awesome and I’m VERY happy you have Sherman to keep you grounded and focused.
    We are all pulling for you i our own way. Big hugs!!

  15. Gosh,
    My heart is heavy for the burden you’ve been dealing with.
    This episode was not what any of us who care for you wanted to read.
    You have my constant prayers, and I’m really glad to have specifics you would like us to pray for.
    My prayer is today or whenever you and Mr. SP read this that you will feel the warmth of a peace and hope, from God deeply.
    You are one fighter Paula. Keep on.

  16. Paula … you are such an inspiration. You are right… cancer is shitty! Praying for the discovery of the targeted mutation. Praying for You!

  17. Oh Paula I am continuing praying for you and your doctors. For strength, peace and knowledge to help you through all this. You are an amazingly strong woman. I am sending virtual hugs to you.

  18. Paula, I am sending you good vibes and lots of prayers! Miracles will occur! You are so strong and have such a beautiful way to look at life. Enjoy each moment of everyday is what I try to do as well! Love your pics!
    Hugs to you sweet friend!

    Karin

  19. It is said God does not put anything on your shoulder that you can not bear… You are a very strong Lady and I know you have this… Sending you light and love and healing prayers! God bless you and make a healing for you!

  20. You’re in my prayers! I truly believe that as you look out at the still waters of Smith Mountain Lake God is restoring your soul (Psalms 23). I have a friend who lives there and she says it is always very therapeutic for her. Hoping and praying for a great outcome. (I’m in the Mastermind group with you.)

  21. Paula, I’m so sorry that you have had to endure any of this, you truly are an amazing person. I’m sending all the good vibes, positive thoughts and prayers your way my friend…and to your doctors and support people, as well. Always thinking of you…keep us posted!!

  22. I have been praying for you and will
    continue to do so. Praying for HIS perfect healing over your body, for your mental health as you march this unwanted road, wisdom for your physicians and your family. 🙏🏻❤️

  23. You are simply amqzing!! A true hero who looks scary shit in the face and takes it head on. I pray for all helping you navigate the forced march, for the doctors as well for Mr.SP, Sherman , your mom friends and family. I pray they can help slow the progress down and find a way to trick the cancer. I send you positive vibes and healing energy!!! You rock Mrs. Skulina!! Keep kicking cancers ass!!! All my love 💜 Destinys Mom😉

  24. So sorry to hear all this! I am praying for you and your family! I know how hard this is on each of you, praying that God will put his healing hands on you and beat this! Hugs and prayers !Pam

  25. Paula, your journey is difficult and I pray for you and your family.. Many times I see flowers or family treasures and think of you. May your faith be strong and know that you are loved by many.

  26. Paula, you have a cheerleader here in Ohio, I sure hope and pray for fast healing and good results. I love how in touch with nature you are which most certainly has healing powers. Sherman is so darn cute, so glad you have your family and your pup to keep you going.

  27. Praying for healing and comfort. Glad to read how much you enjoyed our beautiful state of Vermont. Cold and snowy right now! I enjoy your blog so much.

  28. PRAYERS FOR YOU PAULA….and for your family….you are truly a sweet and beautiful woman….GOD BE WITH YOU🙏🏻

  29. You have been in my prayers and will continue to be. If you don’t mind, I would like to add your name to as many prayer lists as I can. Each day I pray for God’s healing, daily miracles for you and your family, wisdom for all the doctors and nurses, and the needs of your heart that only God can provide. Your post has given me a few more things to share with the Lord and with others.
    Love and prayers,
    Suzanne

  30. I’ll certainly keep you in my prayers and my heart as well. I’m so very sorry to say the least, I’m a four year breast cancer patient and please do not feel bad for me as I’m doing ok. I just want you to know I care very deeply for you.

  31. I think you are a very strong person for what you have endured! I was very fortunate that my ordeal with cancer was not as severe as yours. Just sitting outdoors and appreciating nature may help a little until you can be more active. My thoughts and thoughts and prayers are with you!

  32. You most definitely have my prayers, Paula. It’s hard to faith over fear, but it’s what gets us through things like this. Your positive energy is obvious, and I will do everything I can to lift you up even more. Tell me, did they have you completely sedated, or were you somewhat wakeful during the biopsy? I know my brother and mother were awake with kidney and bone marrow biopsies, respectively.

  33. Saying big prayers for you, my sweet warrior friend. You are so brave and such a fighter that I know you can beat this. Hoping you’re able to recover and workout again very soon. Hugs to you.❤️

  34. I will be praying for you every day Mrs Sweet Pea. May God bless you and keep you in the palm of His hand to give you peace and strength.

  35. Will definitely be praying for you! I’m a nurse, retired now, and my husband is a radiologist. We have both seen amazing progress in cancer treatments. All good thoughts and wishes along with the sincere prayers for you and your husband.

  36. I am new here but your story brought me to tears, I know my words can not heal but I do hope that they let you know how much I care, I will pray for you , I do think you are very strong by reading your post and you can do this!! Praying always that there is a drug to help you! I lost my mom in 1993 to lung cancer so I know treatment is better now. Stay strong you will do it!

  37. Thank you for your bravery in sharing this journey. I am in the Mastermind group (a. newbie) and that is how I saw this. My heart hurts for you but I know that prayer is powerful and I will pray for you, your doctors, and your family. Your grace is an inspiration.

  38. Paula, there is power in prayer! I have come over from the Mastermind group and I am happy that KArianne let you post this in the group. The group is filled with amazing women and I know that any/all of us will do whatever we can do to help. I have added you to my prayer circle and and am praying for peace and a treatment for you. Take care, Elizabeth

  39. Paula, I continue to pray for you and your entire team as you navigate this forced March. I trust you know just how loved you are by so many and if you need anything I’d be honored to try to help, and/or do. So much love, great vibes and prayers pouring over you. Terri

  40. I’ve been following along on your journey since the beginning, and I want you to know you are often in my thoughts. I’ve been through cancer and I can deeply feel so much of what you are so bravely facing and enduring. I pray for good results from your surgery and good tests and scans moving forward.
    Sending you much love, I know there are so many of us thinking of you and praying for you!!!!!

  41. Anyone who has ever had cancer in their family knows how strong you are and also Mr. SP. Prayers and good vibes are an easy thing to offer up, and I will do it gladly.

  42. You are in my prayer journal and I am continually praying for you. You are a strong and inspirational woman and I am sure that by you sharing your experiences, you are inspiring and encouraging others who cannot express in words what they are experiencing. I will continue to pray for you, Paula.

  43. I have been wishing healing thoughts and prayers for a complete recovery ever since I read about your cancer, You are one amazing lady and I wish the very best for you.

  44. Dear gracious heavenly Father, I lift up sweet Paula to you Lord. I ask that you surround her with a knowledgeable and caring medical team. Find her the most successful treatment. Provide Paula strength to continue the fight. Keep her safe from other illnesses. Surround Paula and her family with love so that they will feel total peace with your will. In your precious name, AMEN!

  45. You are such a warrior Paula. I’m in awe of your strength and bravery. I will pray for you everyday.
    Much love!
    Shanna

  46. Paula, you inspire me with your strength and determination. I’m praying that the news is all positive from here on in and you regain your strength, so that you can get back outside where you love to be. Sending hugs and lots of positive energy your way sweetie xx

  47. You are always in my thoughts and prayers but I will specifically ask that a targetable mutation will be found. Oh, Paula, you are so brave and I admire you so much. Just keep on marching girl. You have an army of support.

  48. I’ll continue to pray for you Paula! I am so sorry you have to go through all this. I’m sure your positive attitude and desire to walk and keep fighting is helpful in getting you through it. Take care my dear friend!
    Hugs,
    Shelley

  49. Not only are you a warrior, but from what I have read from these comments, the prayer warriors are out in full force as well. You have a great personal support system with Mr. SP, Sherman, and your mom. May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

  50. I’m so sorry you didn’t get better news Paula. I’ve been praying for you and that the doctors will find a treatment that will work and that you can tolerate. Thank you so much for sharing these updates with us. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but know you are such a strong fighter. So glad you have a great team of doctors. Hugs to you my friend.

  51. Prayer works my friend! I’m here to tell you that and I am praying for your health, your doctors, your family, and your recovery! Thank you for sharing your brave story! I’m sending your name to some prayer Warriors.

  52. Paula, we will pray for the best possible outcome! I have added you to my prayer list. You have so much love and support in your life! We will pray that you will continue to be showered with prayer, joy, and life!

  53. Dear Paula: Just to let you know you are in my thoughts and prayers and continue to be. Your attitude and courage is amazing. I couldn’t imagine a day without hearing how you are and what you have been doing and Sherman’s latest antics. God is with you and all of your readers are with you You are a wonderful example of someone who is fighting this disease – you give us hope. Prayers, Love and Good Wishes.

  54. Paula, I am praying for you and for your doctors. I am praying for a targetable mutation to be found and a quick recovery from this surgery. It is evident so many ,I’ve you and are praying for you. May you feel God’s strong arms holding you and His peace.

  55. Continued prayers Paula for your complete healing and recovery!!!May you feel God’s strength , comfort and perfect …peace as you go through this journey… Prayers also for your Husband,Mom and Family and your Medical Team , that they find a targetable and treatable mutation… God Bless you

    Debbi Saunders

  56. Praying for you Paula! Thank you for sharing your journey and keeping us updated. I’m praying too that you will be able to start taking walks and working out again soon and that biopsy gives them the info they need to help you fight your cancer exactly where it needs to be battled!

  57. Paula, so sorry you have had a rough time. You are continually in my prayers. You have so much courage and strength. .Take care of yourself and love and prayers are with you .

  58. I feel, with all the ladies who have posted before me, that our prayers for your improvement have to reach the Good Lord and help you through anything that is to come. We are all right there beside you in this and love you! You have our prayers for however long you need them and beyond!

  59. Sending prayers for you and your family. Sherman is truly a lovely dog and I can how supportive he is for you. I will pray for better times for both you and those you love. Take care of yourself, your strength and positive approach is an inspiration.

  60. Sweet Paula, you are one of the bravest and most positive people I know. I know it’s your faith that keeps you going. I know how much you love to get out and exercise. I hope that you can do that soon. I do pray for you, Mr. SP, your doctors and nurses. I know it’s hard to share what you are going through, but I’m glad that you do. Your friends need to be inspired by your courage.

  61. As a cancer survivor, I can relate to the treatment and fears.. When we were little my aunt use to say “There is something good in everything” So grateful you have a loving family and Sherman. Imagine being alone with all of this.
    You have to have “Faith as a grain of mustard seed” We are all praying for you.

  62. Sending good vibes and sharing your story with others and asking them to pray for you, your family, and your doctors. Stay strong..

  63. I have prayed for you. You remind me of a much younger version of my mother. She was so talented just like you. She had a heart as big as Texas just like you. I wish she would have fought just like you but she didn’t. My mother had stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer that had also metastasized to her brain. That was 20 years ago and this is now. Fight like Hell, sweet girl. I beg God to help you beat this. You have quite a following and you are an inspiration to others.

  64. Praying for you. I can’t imagine how hard this, but I think you have an amazing attitude. I’m having back surgery on February 18th so please pray for me. Blessings.

  65. I have nothing important to add to all the wonderful comments. I will just add my prayers and good vibes to the list. God bless you and your family Paula. We are all pulling for you!

  66. I am so sorry to hear this news. Was hoping the medication would knock this cancer out of you! You are very brave and I have great admiration for you. Stay strong Paula….I am praying for you!

  67. Oh, Paula, you know we are all praying and sending you good vibes. Wishing you the best possible results and hope you can start those walks soon!

  68. Praying for you! Cancer survivor here. Waiting for results is terrible. Look at all these comments. Imagine them full force storming the gates of heaven for you!

  69. Adding my prayers to the others for your healing and recovery journey, Paula. I love seeing you with Sherman and all your adventures at the lake. I don’t think I’ve ever seen your Mom before so it was fun to see her with Sherman too. The winter weather has been wild this year but I’m thankful you’ve had a chance to enjoy it a bit. There’s always something about the snow that seems so peaceful. Sending you lots of prayers, love, and light. I know this can’t be easy. The way you live life to the fullest every day is such an inspiration. I hope your day is filled with unexpected blessings, CoCo

  70. Definitely sending prayers and good vibes your way always, Paula. I will never claim to begin to understand what you’re going through, but I’ve lived through the experience of helping loved ones deal with cancer treatment. I hope you know we’re with you every step of the way. We all should follow your mantra of living each moment and each day to the fullest. Thanks for allowing us to know what you’re going through and pray for you.

  71. Darling girl, I don’t know you, I’ve just come across your page whilst looking at Pinterest.
    My heart goes out to you. I shall pray to God to help you through this difficult time.
    Throughout our lives some people touch the very roots of ones soul. You have touched mine Paula.
    With all my love, Bobbie (I live in Kent, in the UK)

  72. Good Morning Paula,
    I’m sending good vibes for a complete recovery your way. I believe a good attitude plays a good part of anyone’s recovery and you have such a good heart and attitude!
    I’m inspired by your blog! Everyday is so precious indeed!
    So keep up the crafts and projects.
    David

  73. Paula
    Sending Prayers your way Sweetie from here in Utah…Thank you for sharing your Journey. You are Loved very much as your many comments can attest to…
    Blessings to your hubby and Sherman ruffRuFFRUFF!!!
    Love, Cathryn

  74. Paula, I had no idea the extent of what you’ve been going through. I will be keeping you in my prayers. Stay strong and keep praying and BELIEVING for healing, that is so important! I was frustrated to read about the insurance company potentially not covering your medication. After what I’ve been through with my husband this past year, I know all too well that insurance companies are the ones dictating care, it’s completely unacceptable!

  75. Paul praying. Lord I pray for Paula Jehovah Rapha touch her body with your healing for your glory. Surround Paula and her family with you love presence peace and favor.in Jesus name I pray amen

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