Today is Tuesday, May 21, officially Day 28 of The Cure, and day six following the second chemo infusion. Like the first infusion time, it set me back on my heels a bit, but six days out I’m definitely on the upswing. This time around I’ve had a bit more nausea, and things are still a little off, but not bad. Yesterday was a hungry day; I ate like a horse. Today isn’t quite so much so, but I can tell I’m definitely on the up-swing. Not quite back to where I was pre-treatment, but that will come soon enough.
One thing that’s a little odd today is that I can feel lots of twinges in my jaw; not sure if that’s just the deadened facial nerve messing with me or if it’s the tumor ‘convulsing’ (for lack of a better description…) The twinges seem to extend past the middle of my lower lip though, and feel a bit familiar to previous bouts with weird pains. It also makes me wonder if it’s the cancer reacting to the anti-cancer poisons in my system. If so, let’er rip. Kill that sucker.
Last week’s infusion almost didn’t happen on schedule… My PICC line dressing needs to be changed on a weekly basis, so I usually have that done on Tuesday mornings. Last week when I showed up for the change, the nurse looked at the orders on the computer & thought a blood sample was also needed that day, so took it by way of the PICC line, hoping to save me a poke in the arm the next day. Sidenote: Getting a blood draw from the PICC line is convenient in that I don’t have to get a needle in the arm; the line is already in a blood vessel, so it’s just a matter of drawing some out. But it’s a bit of a nuisance in that they can’t just pull blood directly out without first flushing it with saline (which gives a weird taste/smell along with it) then they have to waste some of the blood that’s drawn out so that it’s not contaminated with saline. Anyway, the sample was supposed to be taken the morning of the infusion, and really shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I got a call from the infusion center later that day telling me the numbers were a bit off.
The blood test that was ordered was for absolute neutrophil count (ANC.) They like to see a number above 1500, but mine was around 1300. In speaking with one of the nurses from Dr. Bleeker’s office, she said that they would likely test again the next morning, and the Doc would make the call whether to postpone or go ahead with the infusion. So the next morning another blood sample taken (this time from a vein instead of from the PICC line, which hurt like crazy, and the bruise is still there!) and the ANC count was in the 1800′s; a much better number! Dr. Bleeker said that sometimes if they have a patient with a low ANC count, he’ll have them take a walk and test again after; maybe the difference had to do with the fact that on Tuesday I drove to my appointment, had the valet park the car, and took the elevator up. On Wednesday, Yvonne drove, we parked in the lot, walked in, and walked up three flights of stairs before the blood draw. I’ll have to remember that next time! Maybe the painful poke had something to do with it too, but I’m not going to attempt a repeat of that.
Just to be on the safe side with the white blood cell counts, Dr. Bleeker had me go back to the Cancer Center on Thursday for a shot of Neulasta (aka Pegfilgrastim), which boosts bone marrow production and release of white blood cells. Since getting the shot in the arm, I’ve experienced the usual side effects; bone and joint pain, muscle pain, and yes, constipation. Wonderful stuff. Oh, and just to make things more interesting, they recommended taking acetaminophen to counter the first three side effects, but of course, that exacerbates that last one. Oh well.
The infusion went much more quickly this time; first go-round they need to be careful with the dosage on the Rituximab, and since they had already figured out how quickly I could take it in, it was done in a couple of hours instead of seven. Speaking of Rituximab, we got an itemized statement from Sanford Health on Saturday, laying out all the drugs and treatments I have received, and the price tags on each. The price on the Rituximab is a staggering $10,528 per dose. That’s like a liter bag of saline with the good stuff mixed into it. Ten-thousand, five-hundred and twenty-eight US dollars per dose, and that’s just the cost of the drug, not the infusion; that’s a separate line item. Must be some really good stuff!
In general, it’s a little humbling seeing the prices attached to a life-saving treatment like this; if life were judged as it is with used cars, I would’ve been long past the point of diminishing return, and you’d find my body among the rusting hulks out at the junkyard getting parts pulled off of it. But I think there’s still some value in this old rust bucket, and it’s worthwhile investing in a cure. At the risk of sounding a little morbid, seeing the dollar figures attached to the treatment makes me all the more eager to make my days count; it adds value to what I have left. Even without the “added value” they become more dear to me because I likely have fewer ahead than behind me (not because of the cancer; I’m just not getting any younger.)
The question I hear most often after the last infusion is still, “How are you feeling?” I really don’t mind the question, because I know that people care, and they know that the treatment can be difficult (it is), but honestly, a good answer to that question usually fails me because how I feel — physically — changes moment by moment, day by day with this treatment. Plus, the further I get into this treatment phase, the less concerned I am about how I feel physically at any given moment, because I know it’s going to change. I may feel rotten right now, but I know that there are better days ahead, and that is what I focus on. There may be worse days as well, but I try not to dwell on that possibility.
That makes me think back to an earlier post; I guess the one thing that I do feel that is somewhat consistent, and that can be more easily related is my feeling of gratitude, or thankfulness; grateful for everything and everyone in my life. I think of the friends who call or stop by or offer a meal, or just post something encouraging on Facebook or elsewhere… I think of my family… My brothers & sisters and my kids, and most importantly Yvonne. I’d be lost in all this without her.
I watched the video below this morning (thanks, Kelli!) that tells a bit of the story of a high school kid dealing with terminal cancer. In the last few minutes of the video his mom talks about the ordeal, and says,
I think that’s one of the blessings of cancer, is that you kinda come out of denial, and so in doing that, things are better. You know, that life is richer. Everything means more, beauty is more beautiful…
That is so true. Every day I am more thankful for the gift of life and health, the gift of friends, and the wonderful blessing that is my family, especially the loving wife that God has given me; I am so undeserving of the affection and love she showers on me. And so undeserving of the love and grace given by God above. Cancer has in a way put many things in my life in sharp relief, helping me better prioritize things according to a better standard. I only hope my distractedness doesn’t get in the way of this becoming a more permanent condition.
I guess I’m also thankful for the clarity that cancer brings; when I watched that video this morning and heard what Zach’s mom had to say about cancer giving a whack upside the head & making those involved appreciate things more, it made me think of the term “Cancer Goggles.” Kind of like “beer goggles”, except without the negative angle! I did a quick Google search to see if I was the first to coin the term, and sure enough someone else did just recently, and even threw a Blogspot blog together. Still, I think the term is very apt, and I think it’ll stick.