4.17.2014

Six Rounds of Summer

I blurted out my plans for more of that full-on-chemo in my last blog, and left it at that. Such a tease!

And let me assure you that it didn't go unnoticed, so I guess I should elaborate.

I have been on continuous chemo for the last year, and this maintenance chemo hasn't come close to damaging my cancer cells and my body in that special way a full dose does. The one thing missing from the party, as so giftedly illustrated in my diagram, is that digestive-tract destroying drug irinotecan (The I in FOLFIRI). Holy GI tract, did I not miss it.

Since taking irinotecan off the table during the last 32 weeks, I've managed to grow some hair, heal my gut, have a normal white blood cell count and (almost) gain back the 20 pounds I lost. All were well needed by the time I wrapped that up last summer.

After my most recent CT scan and some thorough discussion with my doctor, I got the impression that all options were on the table, and he was content to keep on doing what I'm doing. The problem is that I'm not as comfortable with his definition of "stable" as he is, so to keep on keeping on just doesn't sit well will me. It seems a little passive. Sitting around "maintaining" until things grow too big for comfort or start impacting my quality of life is not cool.

Last summer, after my first 6 rounds of FOLFIRI, those little tumors should have been on the cover of People Magazine because they were half their size! There were blatant results and I was inspired to keep on pressing on for the next 6. In the mean time, by body (and all the above mentioned issues) started to up their game and I suffered to the bitter end.

After those last 6 rounds and my next CT scan, I'll admit I was disappointed to see everything remain the same. I thought I was well on my way to victory after leading at halftime. So why did my team fall apart in the second half?

My current doctor surmised that my body was just too weak and worn down by the chemo for it to be effective. It seemed I spent more time and effort combating my super low blood counts than actually fighting cancer. I've admitted time and time again to being a weak and weepy mess by the second half, so perhaps my physical and mental frailness made the chemo ineffective? Who knows.

But what we do know is that it did work and worked well for the first 6 rounds.

So that's my approach again this summer. Just 6 rounds. Just enough for my body to retain some hair, some weight and some normal bathroom habits.

The idea behind maintenance chemo is to give the body a break and let it recover while "maintaining" tumors where they are. And that's what I've done. For some, this maintenance can only last long enough for they blood counts to rise and they body to rest. But for me, I've been able to do it these last 7 months with relative stability, and if my doctor had his way, continue doing it for many months to come.

And why this summer? As sad as it is to say, it will be much easier to deal with it while Merrick is out of school. As unfair as it sounds, having him home to help me will be a big deal, and not having to get up to go to the bus stop will help. I'm not expecting him to fill in for me, but he can help keep me on the couch for all the superficial tasks that a mom inevitably gets called to do the minute she sits down. And I think I've become a seasoned pro at this whole feeling-sick-all-the-time-yet-still-remaining-mildly-functional-while-wearing-mascara-and-lip-gloss. It won't be easy, but I can only hope that it will be worth it.


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