Before I concluded my chemotherapy, I sat down with the pharmacist who had mixed my drugs for nearly three years and recorded our conversation for my erstwhile podcast, The Deep Breath. It offered a revealing look inside the process of administering chemo, as well as other drugs used to treat cancer patients.
I did not realize that I was one of the longest consistent patients currently receiving treatment at this facility. Although I was preparing to call chemo quits after slightly more than 2.5 years, I knew of at least one patient who had been on the same basic regimen as me for around seven years. But that had been before my time. As I settled in to interview my pharmacist, he revealed that he was not aware of any patient at the clinic who had been receiving chemotherapy as long as I had been since he started the job. I appreciated the special distinction, even though I had mixed feelings about it.
On the one hand, I was excited to be moving on to another form of treatment. After all, that was always the plan. But I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t hang onto chemo a little longer and see it do more to reduce my cancer. In my perfect world, I was ready to be on chemotherapy for five years, or until an immunotherapy had been perfected that would render chemo obsolete. As it stands, immunotherapy isn’t quite perfect. And I’m heading into uncharted territory with a rare driving mutation that was isolated and targeted for treatment with a daily pill rather than the clinical trial that I had been hoping to enter.
This interview takes place at a point in time when I was excited to be finishing with my infusions, but unaware of what treatment would follow. I was still feeling the lingering effects of getting an infusion every three weeks, something that seems almost a distant memory to me now in spite of it being just over four weeks since I had my last one.
In a few days, give or take, I’ll begin taking a single, daily pill called afatinib (brand name, Gilotrif) to target a driving mutation called ErbB2. I received my first month’s supply of the pills in an insulated box delivered overnight by FedEx this morning. It seems that, at least logistically, this new treatment will be a lot easier on my schedule. I had said my goodbyes at the infusion center, more than a little wistful about leaving this great group of people behind. But as it turns out, even though I’ll be self-administering this pill, I will still have to go in for my monthly shot of Xgeva, a medication to strengthen the bones. There are plenty of reasons to continue appreciating the many gifts of pharmaceuticals, from simply being here to having cause to revisit these wonderful people I might not otherwise see.
So my goodbyes were premature. That’s something I hope to be able to say a lot more down the road.
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