The last two months have been crazy. Ups and downs and downs and ups and sick and better and laid out flat in bed for weeks at a time.
… and then better. As it turns out, my oncologist and the nurse for my clinical trial weren’t bluffing. I’m not dying. Well, no faster than anyone else! I felt like I was dying, sure, but as it turns out, that’s in large part due to the massive dose of experimental drugs I was on, the neutropenia the meds induced, the highly elevated blood pressure, and the kidney infection that I battled without even knowing it for weeks.
Let’s talk about those drugs. Before a drug is approved for use in the treatment of cancer, it has to pass not just one but several phases of a clinical trial. When the scan found seven new tumors the first of January, I agreed to enter a Phase I/II clinical trial testing the combination of Nexavar and Femara in breast cancer patients. This combination has never been tried in humans before, and while there is great promise (due to Nexavar’s succesful use in liver and lung cancers, and Femara’s use in breast cancer patients), there is also no guarantee. It could stop my cancer from spreading, it could reduce the tumor burden, or it could do nothing. It could also have terrible side effects that make me feel like death.
So. Here we are. Two months out from the diagnosis of my fourth cancer. 90 days after starting the clinical trial (during which I’ve probably only been taking the meds half the time, as the other half I was told to stop taking them and let my body recover, not once but three times). One month from the PET scan that will tell us whether this drug combo is working to keep the cancer at bay. Back on the meds, at half the original dose, and pushing myself further each day. Yesterday I was able to go out for coffee with friends in the morning, pick my kids up from school, and go to the chiropractor for treatment of the pain in my back, neck, and hip, in hopes that some of it is not caused soley by the meds, but maybe just by the general weakness that chemo left behind as a parting gift.
It worked. I felt better.
And I walked hand-in-hand with my children down the streets of downtown Silver Spring, stopping in to introduce them to the movie theater (verdict: scary!), and then we did something that just two weeks ago I thought I’d never have the chance to do with my children.
We went ice skating.
Double runners, hand-in-hand, very, very slowly around the ice rink. It was magical. If you get the chance to try the new skating rink in downtown Silver Spring before it closes for the season (March 13), do it. It. was. awesome.
And although I still napped all morning and went to bed at 6 p.m., I did so with a smile on my face.
I have hope.
Added for clarification, 3/4/11:
Phase I clinical trials are designed to address the question: Is the treatment safe? These trials are the first time that the drug or drug combination have been tested in humans. Phase II clinical trials are designed to address the question: Does the treatment work? A combined Phase I/II trial like the one I’m in is broad-reaching, determining both what level of the drug or drug combination is safe to give patients without severe side effects (hellooooooooo, extreme weakness, feet and hands peeling off, and compromised quality of life!) and whether the drug or drug combination actually slows or stops the growth of the cancer in question. So this is a high risk trial, in some sense, but it also holds out the promise of high reward – an increase in quality of life and/or an extension of quantity of life over the use of Femara alone. And that, for me, is worth the risk.