When CA doesn’t mean California!

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I suppose first I need to explain and even apologize for having been absent from the blog for several months. The short story is that I have been “managing my life.” This most recent journey will be done in two segments. The first is related to managing my life pharmaceutically and the second will have to do with alternative treatments and faith.

As the last few posts indicated I was diagnosed with a spot on my liver that is assumed to have metastasized from the colon tumor I had removed earlier. I had a radiofrequency ablation that, medically speaking, was successful and largely uneventful. Personally speaking, the last few months have been extremely eventful.

Following the ablation surgery it was recommended that I take a course of chemotherapy. The proposed course of treatment would be six months of which I have one month left. The assumption is that there was no further cancer and the course of chemotherapy was to eliminate any associated cancerous growth that was not large enough to appear in testing. The purpose for the chemo is that it doubles the probability of a non-recurrence of colon cancer. The chances of a non-recurrence reportedly goes from 1 in 3 to 2 in 3. Not that I want to seem skeptical but that still leaves a 1 in 3 potential for recurrence.

The part that I found troubling in the beginning was that there seemed to be no real clear answers for most of my questions. Being a scientist and a medical provider, data is something that I crave and there seemed to be a poverty of that. I asked about shortening the course if the CEA, carcinoembryonic antigen (cancer marker), dropped into the normal range early. The answer that I got repeatedly was “We know that the recommended treatment shows statistically our stated outcome.” I was also reassured that since everything had been caught so early in the process that my probability for complete recovery (cured of cancer) was extremely high.

I started with an IV infusion of Oxaliplatin along with a steroid. Along with this treatment went seven days of Capecitabine, two days of an oral steroid along with an anti-nausea medication and Lorazepam to help with sleep. The first go around yielded virtually no nausea or fatigue. The use of the steroid actually gave me some extra energy which made the use of Lorazepam for sleep necessary. Without the Lorazepam there was no sleep.

The primary side effect was a neuropathy that resulted in an extreme cold sensitivity and a major assault on my salivary glands. The first bite of any food felt like there were spasms occurring in my salivary glands. Liquids that were less than room temperature created an extreme discomfort in swallowing. As uncomfortable as this may sound I felt extremely fortunate that the side effects seemed manageable and virtually everyone else I saw during treatment was having a more difficult time than I.

The neuropathy continued to escalate, so walking to the car from a building required the use of something to cover my mouth. Very shortly I needed to cover my face because the cold sensitivity began to affect my nose and cheeks as well as causing my lungs and heart to flutter as much as I have heard an anxiety attack described. Food began to taste different and it seemed as if I could smell the medication coming out of my system during the course of the treatment. The neuropathy, as predicted by my oncologist, continued to escalate. Over time the dosage of Oxaliplatin and Capecitabine was reduced and the neuropathy seemed to focus on the soles of my feet, my nose and internal organs especially when exposed to cold or wind.

I am currently two go-rounds of Capecitabine from completing six months of chemotherapy. The Oxaliplatin was stopped after session 9. Not having to endure four hours of waiting on an IV every two weeks was an absolute answer to prayer. Doing only oral medications makes life much more manageable.

I cannot state enough that when I read what I have just written and review my feelings over the past five months, it sounds much worse than the reality. My course of treatment was significantly more tolerable than almost everyone that I saw. I was asked by one of the other patients what my CEA number was. I told her that it was around seven and she told me that hers had been as high as 750 and was now being maintained at about 250 and her cancer was not growing. She has received chemo about every six weeks for 6 and a half years and thanks God for the quality of her life. When I talk to almost anyone who has had cancer treatment, I feel like a major whiner. Their course of treatment has been far more uncomfortable than mine.

Through every step of my life for the past 15 or so years I have been accompanied by my wife Anita. Her faith in God and her patience with me has been my anchor and my source of strength.

I would appreciate any comments that people have and will proceed on the next posting to non-pharmacological treatment.