It all started when Allie called me in January, frustrated and worried after discovering a mass in her neck over the holidays. Each new scan and test just seemed to be leading to another. Our sister-in-law Katya is a nurse, and took charge of getting the appointments for the biopsy, PET/CT scans and MRI’s to get to the center of the problem. She single handedly got Allie in front of UCLA’s best doctors and seemed to get tests expedited every time. On Tuesday, January 30th, the doctors told us that Allie has cancer.
Allie has a large mass in her neck above her collarbone, along with several other masses in her lymph nodes, thyroid, mediastinum and pushing down on her left lung. What was originally diagnosed as Hodgkin's disease was then (after the biopsy) diagnosed as a rare type of lung cancer. Then, after several more tests, we were given the final diagnosis: Medullary Thyroid Cancer. To sum it up, Allie has a rare form of cancer that wasn’t easy to diagnosis. The best treatment is surgery - most likely followed by radiation and, if needed, a pill form of therapy called targeted therapy.
The surgery will not be a simple one. Three surgeons are involved in the 6-8 hour surgery: a head-and-neck surgeon, a vascular surgeon, and a cardiothoracic surgeon. They will remove her thyroid and the involved lymph nodes in the neck. Next they will remove her collar bone and the cancer that is wrapped around her subclavian artery. In order to do this they will need to remove part of the artery itself and bypass it with prosthetic material. Next, they will most likely need to enter into her chest cavity through her sternum. They will remove all the cancer they can in her chest and budding up next to her left lung. The operation will take place at UCLA, hopefully the week of March 11th. Allie will most likely spend her first couple of days after surgery recovering in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where Katya works, (lucky us!!). After that, she will be transferred out of the ICU to the main floor. She will probably be in the hospital for about a week and will have many obstacles to overcome.
After she returns home she will still have a few more weeks until she is back on her feet and another few months until the healing from surgery is complete. Her UCLA team will be following her numbers closely, and when able, she will begin radiation (probably 3-5 weeks after returning home). The next few months are going to be long and arduous, but I can't imagine anyone stronger and more capable of overcoming this than my sister.
It is hard to put into words what my sister means to all of us but it is easy to see how much she affects the lives of those around her. I have watched her perform selfless acts all my life and remember vividly the times I’ve seen her give of her time and energy to help others in times of need and happiness. She is constantly dragging me to the store to pick out the perfect gift to give someone on their birthday or asking me to bake cookies so we can hand them out to people who need a smile. Her heart is all about others. Through all of this, Allie has voiced only once concern, “I’m sorry I am putting you guys through this!” Truly. Selfless. You never expect cancer to happen to you or those you love. Seeing it in my 29-year-old sister has just made us all the more determined to eradicate it. She is focused and determined, wanting only to kick cancer’s butt and come out the other side triumphant.
Asking for help is not Allie’s favorite thing to do, but I know many of you will want to the opportunity to help. We want to reduce any anxiety she feels about the cost of care and make sure the only thing she has think about is recovery. Any financial contributions will cover out-of-pocket medical expenses, transportation costs, medical tests, and unforeseen expenses related to her recovery and my brother Ryan Pile will be handling the collection of donations and proper distribution of funds. Any excess contributions will go to the cancer charity of Allie’s choosing.
Money isn’t the only way to help. Once the surgery is over I will be putting up a website which will allow friends and family to drop a meal off, or have one delivered. Once radiation begins I will have another website where you can sign up to help with drives to and from appointments – imagine the quality time spent with Allie! For those that have already reached out with your love and support, we can’t thank you enough. And another thank you for those that will. It means the world. Allie can’t wait to be through this valley and able to thank you all herself.