The Chemo Diaries Round Seven: Maintenance Begins

Last Wednesday I had another CT scan to see how the initial six rounds of chemotherapy played out. On Friday I finally got around to looking at the images on my computer, whisking through cross sections of my body to try and get an idea of what was going on in there. On Sunday night I finally remembered the web site to check for the imaging results so I could read the reports. Then on Monday I went in to consult with my oncologist about what the reports actually meant and to verify what the next phase was going to be for my treatment.

We had anticipated that the tumor would likely not be gone. The previous scan in February had shown a distinct reduction in the tumor size, but not an overwhelming reduction. It seemed highly unlikely to me that it would shrink away in less than two months. So seeing it present on the scans and reading in the report that it was, at best, only marginally smaller was not a huge surprise. I was happy to read, however,

that my lymph nodes had all shown a substantial reduction in size, essentially back to normal. And my oncologist explained that the notes on my bone markings, where there was now visible scarring where the bone mass has been ostensibly rebuilding, tends to occur when the cancer inside the bone shrinks. That was the most important bit of news, as it is very difficult to accurately assess the level of invasion inside the bones. My blood work from Friday also came back mostly normal, and anything out of the strictly normal zone was within the realm of “normal when on chemotherapy,” reinforcing the overall success of the process.

Because one of my chemo drugs only works for up to six rounds before it has done all the damage to the cancer cells that it is going to do — anything it hasn’t taken out by then won’t be affected by it — that drug is automatically taken out of the mix. That left my other chemo drug and Avastin, the drug that prevents the growth of new blood vessels to choose from; for maintenance, only one or the other would be used for the therapy, giving my body a break from the multi-drug cocktail for the time being. Because the tumor was still present in my lung, I figured that the chemotherapy drug would be the choice and I couldn’t be more thrilled to lose the Avastin, toward which I have developed a dislike for the side effects. Avastin causes nose bleeds, dry sinuses and eyes and leaves me with headaches as a result, not to mention just making it hard to breath through my nose (especially at night). It also makes it take longer to heal, especially noticeable in my progressively less excellent veins after blood has been drawn or I have had a long infusion.

And on Monday I did, indeed, say goodbye to the Avastin, reducing my previously 3 hour infusion session to slightly under 1 hour. I still get a bag of saline, a bag of anti-nausea medication and my remaining chemo, but neither of these is a long process. And, as a bonus, the nurse found a nice vein on my arm further up than I had yet been poked, thus circumventing any chance of vein leakage from the as yet unhealed areas of my arms recently converted into pin cushions. By my next infusion date, now that the Avastin is out of the program, my veins should make a valiant comeback.

Other bonuses may or may not include reduced fatigue and “chemo brain,” as well as the probability of reduced nausea. I am especially excited about these things. I have decided this week to try pushing myself to remain more active throughout the week, though not at the expense of needed rest if that becomes an issue, or if I begin feeling ill like I did following the last few rounds. But I look at my neighbor and see her power walking after a two day infusion marathon and frankly, she is just making me look bad. So I am getting geared up for a more productive time. It may hinge upon me figuring out how to sleep in spite of the steroids I still have to take for three days surrounding the infusions. Right now it is 1:00 AM following my infusion day and I have not managed to sleep at all. Plenty of hiccups since I began taking the steroids Sunday morning, a bit of extra acid reflux and a decided lack of sleep when I most want it are currently my biggest complaints.

I can live with that.

Now, moving along…

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