Until my heart caves in
I’ve been trying to write something intelligent since Christmas day. It hasn’t really been happening. Catching my thoughts has been like Mr. Miyagi trying to catch a fly with chopsticks in the Karate Kid. Apparently it’s known as “chemo brain” and is a well documented occurrence. Still, it doesn’t make me feel that great to know I’m not functioning 100% in the head. I feel a little like the crazy Irishman in Braveheart.
I had round 6 of my chemotherapy on the 4th of January. It was supposed to be my last but after meeting with my Oncologist yesterday it has been decided that while the treatment is working so well it should continue. So far I have had 300 hours worth of infusions. In two days time this will have increased to 350 hours as I am currently hooked up to my ‘takeaway’ chemo…. a little bottle containing a drug called 5FU or Fluorouracil, which is mixed with a dose of Folic Acid. Inside the bottle is a small balloon which slowly deflates over 46 hours, pumping the drug into my body. It’s a well established cancer treatment, about 40 years old. It makes my face burn from the inside while I am connected to it. Temporary but still unpleasant. It also make me cough a lot and absolutely burns my throat something fierce.
Combined with this I also receive a drug called Irinotecan. All the colour drains from my body while this drug goes in. I see it right before my eyes. It’s quite unsettling but I am getting used to it. It brings with it waves of exhaustion and nausea during the infusion. Apparently it has two main side effects. One being diarrhea (which I am not getting, thankfully) and the other being extreme suppression of the immune system.
This is the scary one.
When I received my first infusion my immune system crashed. I picked up an infection from somewhere which turned septic and left me in quite a vulnerable state. Thankfully I still had some white blood cells and neutrophils rolling around in my body. If not, it’s quite likely I would have died. Since then my blood cell counts have been good. Low, but within acceptable tolerances for someone being poisoned every two weeks. Funny how you can have cancer in your body but end up dying from something as simple as someone sneezing near you.
The third drug in the mix is a drug called Avastin. Avastin is not classed as a chemical drug, it’s known as a biologic. When a tumor gets too big to feed itself via osmosis it sends out a ‘request’ for new blood vessels so it can tap into the blood stream and keep feeding, keep growing. Avastin recognises this signal and blocks it, effectively starving the tumours. The only downside I have experienced with Avastin so far is that because it stops the creation of new blood vessels it takes weeks for my body to heal something as basic as a paper cut.
There’s a serious amount of irony involved in my being able to receive Avastin. Number one is that an old high school friend of mine works for the company that makes it. His day job is to physically manufacture the drug in the lab. Second, Avastin costs about $5,000 Australian dollars per hit. So far I’ve had 7 of them…. $35,000 worth. Thankfully the Australian government has added Avastin to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and now it only costs me $32.50 each time. The irony? In 2008 I edited a number of videos that were used to lobby the government to have it added to the PBS and in July 2009, 3 months before I was diagnosed, it was successfully added to the PBS.
Can you spell “providence”?
So, each time I go into the Oncology ward to have my chemo the first thing they do, besides sticking the needle into my porta-cath, is take blood. This serves a triple purpose: one is to see if my white blood cells and neutrophils are high enough to cope with the treatment. If not, the treatment is halted. So far this hasn’t been necessary. Two is to see if my liver is functioning ok. So far, despite the fact that on my October 6 scan it was covered in tumours, my liver is functioning perfectly. Three is to check my cancer markers…. the numbers.
I live for these numbers.
I started out at 4,323.00 in my bloodstream and 88.0 in my bowel. I am now down to 750.00 in my bloodstream and 42.3 in my bowel. The target is less than 3.o and 37 respectively.
I’m getting close.
I was a little bit disappointed that my round 5 levels didn’t drop further than they did but my nurse told me they rarely get to see a patient respond the way I am responding…. so, given the alternative (i.e. death) I decided to keep my mouth shut and be thankful that the cancer is retreating…. even if it’s not as fast as I would like.
I will do whatever it takes to get well. I will fight with everything I have…. until my heart caves in and my body returns to the dust from which it came. I’m not giving up, no matter how weary I feel, no matter how sick I get, no matter how much it feels like I’m losing my mind, no matter how much I long for a “normal” life again. No matter what.
Until my King calls me home.