A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with my nephew, Matt, and he remarked, “You changed the way I think a cancer patient is.” I didn’t need to ask him what he meant, because at one time in my life (granted, it was a long, LONG time ago), I probably thought of cancer patients the same way. You know…. Sick. Bald. Dying. Definitely not climbing mountains or going on 5-day reporting assignments, or standing in the kitchen eating pumpkin pie for breakfast with one of their two favorite nephews.
Thanks to many Big Brains and lot of Big Money, treatments and sometimes cures for cancer are changing the game. Immunotherapy and targeted therapies are making cancer more of a chronic, rather than a killer disease. Side effects, while still bad and occasionally dramatic (Hello, Diabetes!), are manageable. It used to be that chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery were the only go-to’s for oncologists. I think they’re still the accepted standard of care for cancer, but now patients have viable alternatives that can carry fewer devastating side effects. It’s Better Living Through Drugs, and the rate those drugs are being developed is geometric (but not fast enough. My friends are still dying, Big Pharma!). Instead of waiting around to see how sick they might be, these days cancer patients are running marathons, working full-time, raising families, making a difference. Because although they are truly living, not just hanging on, the possibility of the disease suddenly roaring back to big life is always around the corner. So every race, every new project, every dinner with everyone attending goes into the treasure chest.
I say all this as I digest the results from my latest CT scan. I’m an optimist, but also a realist. Always in the back of my mind, I am planning The Next Step. What will I do when inevitably, the PHA stops keeping my tumors in check? Thankfully, that is for another day. At the end of week 18, after three CT scans in this trial, there is still no tumor growth. No disease progression. Even Dr G had to admit that the PHA is working. He even asked me if I wanted to drop my dosage, which I declined at least for now.
The reason he asked that is that the side effects are finally appearing to be cumulative in strength. Instead of slight nausea in the morning and a little fatigue beginning on Day 5, I feel pretty crappy (on and off) starting on Day 3. And now I get the tachycardia (rapid heart rate) AND skipped heartbeats as a bonus. I have a cardiologist and take Beta Blockers and still, last Saturday, I could have sworn I was in Puky Chemo Hell again. There’s no nausea like Chemo Nausea…. not from a hangover, not from the stomach flu. It sits in the bottom of your stomach and in the back of your throat, and no matter how strong your will, you will give back whatever you dared to eat or drink the hour before. I can detect Chemo Nausea before it even begins. I have Zofran on my side to fight back, but it can be a paper sword if Chemo Nausea really brings it. Like last Saturday. I even missed watching the Kentucky Derby for the first time I can remember. THAT is tragic.
I’m still hoping Saturday was an anomaly, because I tend to DENY in addition to DEFY. Instead of proceeding with caution, I set my boundaries by pushing pushing pushing until I bounce off whatever wall is in front of me. I was in Phoenix, Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas for five days the week before, shooting ten news stories for Ivanhoe Broadcast News. I knew that 8 stories pretty much wiped me out from the two trips I’d already taken for Ivanhoe… But, of course, I wanted more, because I sometimes (usually) (Ok, almost always) am in denial that I am a “cancer patient.” This little episode convinced me that sometimes, side effects are a limiter, no matter how stubborn you are. Believe me, I am back to 8 stories a trip.
I signed up for the Fargo Half-marathon next Saturday. Yup, NORTH DAKOTA. I haven’t run in almost two weeks, so went on my 10 mile long run today, mostly downhill. It’s my favorite long run in Park City; I run down to Redstone and take the bus back up the hill home. Well, today was an ugly just-under-two-hours. It required much stopping and walking and caused me to get a headache and temporarily go blind. (OK, I exaggerate.) And when I got to the bus stop, all the buses had just left. So, I called an Uber. Really. Don’t judge. It was the best $8.55 I’ve spent in a long time. Now I know that I, again, hit a figurative wall and should drop back to the 10K. Which I was determined to do, til my friend, Aaron, who’s from North Dakota, said Fargo has 98-percent Oxygen. That half-marathon may be back on the radar.
DEFY. Or DENY. Whatever works for you.