Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Chemotherapy - It Ain’t What You Think - Part 2

Here we are in the third week of chemotherapy, so I have a better understanding of how they plan on treating my condition.  First of all, there is a disclaimer.  No two cancers are the same.  They have different types, different locations, and different treatments.  I will be discussing the treatment that I am going through and how it is being treated.  This may not apply to other cancers that different people can be aflicted with.  It will give the reader an idea of what I am going through; however, the timeline and results may vary in the future.  Time will tell. Above all, there is no way to rush the results.

I have a lymphoma cancer at the top of my spinal column behind my right eye.  This growth put pressure on my spinal column that affected the nerves on the right side of my body from my eyes and ears down the side of my face and eventually affecting my right arm and leg.  

This type of tumor originates in a body's lymph nodes, of which there are several.  So the first thing that the medical staff had to do was determine if cancer had spread or originated in any other locations in my body.  It had not.  The cancerous cells were found only in my lower brain.  However, it took almost three days of testing to confirm this.  The testing was not pleasent.  Along with the complete cancer screening, they did a biopsy of the tumor itself.  

The biopsy consisted of putting me under in the operating room and drilling into my skull to remove a small piece of the tumor for analysis.  This surgery is required to determine the composition and makeup  of the cancerous tumor so they can find the most appropriate cancer treatment. 

There are only three types of cancer treatment - surgical removal of the tumor (not an option based on the location), radiation therapy (invasive with side effects), and chemical chemotherapy.  My lymphoma is best treated with chemical chemotherapy since the other two are not considered successful options for this type of cancer.

Once a patient has heard all the latin-laced jargon that doctors like to use when referring to cancer treatment, I learned that the treatment plan is to dissolve the tumor with specially formulated pharmaceuticals targeted for it.  Once dissolved, the pulverized elements of the tumor are flushed out of my body in my urine.  Mind you, this takes a long time, both to dissolve it and to be flushed out.  Your kidneys only work so fast. It also means that you urinate a lot.  A lot, as in every 45 minutes for weeks.  Kidney monitoring and PH status are a big part of this treatment, which is why it requires a lot of inpatient hospital stays and urine collection. 

I have watched all 18 seasons of E.R., and while they often mention Lasix for patients, they seldom say that this will make the patient go to the bathroom every 30 minutes.   This fact would not make for riveting television drama. 

The continuing passing of bodily fluids makes for a routine where the patient can get by on 45 minutes of sleep a night while providing urine samples every hour.  The whole process has coined the phrase “bladder alarm clock” because it is so regular, 

This continues for weeks, involving three different kinds of chemotherapy drugs that are on-again, resting, on-again and resting for four 14 day cycles  The whole process lasts about three to six months, at which time they perform another diagnostic test to see if the tumor has shrunk. Depending on the outcome of the second diagnostic MRI scan, they tweak the routine and start again, hopefully doing less and fewer treatments.

There is no set treatment schedule or targeted completion times; every diagnostuc outcome can vary and is adjusted based on measurable progress and numbers.  This why the doctors will not give a definite answer, they simply don't know.  It will be near the end of the year before they know if I have beaten this.  

The good news is that this type of cancer is "usually" curable and I will hopefully be over it and back to my old self sometime near the middle of the year.  So I am in a holding pattern, learning patenence and paying attention to my new alarm clock.

In the next blog, I will cover all the “silver linings” that I have become aware of as a result of all this mayhem, you might be surprised, there are quite a few. 

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