Friday, August 17, 2018
Breaking Promises....With Good Reason
I took my last chemo at 5:45 pm ET, August 15, 2018. Or at least I HOPE it’s my last chemo. I have sworn to Liz I will never take another chemotherapy as long as I remain cancer free. Seems reasonable to the “average” healthy person. But not so much to those of us living with cancer. Particularly, cancer patients like me who have no other known, proven alternative to fight their disease than to take chemotherapy. Making that promise did not come easy.
If you have been following along with me on this journey with cancer, you know that I have known – from the day of my diagnosis – that I wanted to play a part of finding a cure. Discovering a “hope” that me and others like me could cling onto for even just a little while longer while modern medicine and research continued their brave and fascinating exploratory work in ridding this disease. The fact is, the advancement of cancer treatment is moving at such an accelerated pace, what was “standard care” for me just 18 months ago is changing for those undergoing treatment today. This is due in large part to the area of clinical trials. Stepping on my soapbox for a moment: It is not progressing fast enough, however. If you can, and when you can PLEASE give to cancer research. It may save my life. It may save yours. Thank you.
As you know, after my surgery in July of 2017, my oncologist attempted to qualify me for an ongoing study for the chemotherapy, Xeloda. I did not qualify for the study because of all things I didn’t have ENOUGH cancer left after the initial chemo treatments, but she and I agreed I would go on Xeloda and “shadow” the study because of its initial positive findings. My family and friends had concerns about me taking on more chemotherapy and how my body would respond, and I said then it would be my last chemo as long as I was cancer free. As it turns out less than a year later, Xeloda is now a “standard of care” post-surgery for most Triple Negative Breast Cancer patients who, like me, did not achieve pCR (Pathological Complete Response) to the initial rounds of chemotherapy.
My hardest fight against cancer has been mentally. Thankfully, I was healthy and strong at my diagnosis. I didn’t have other health or mental issues that may have complicated my treatment or how my body handled chemotherapy. I didn’t miss a treatment due to low WBC counts, or require iron or blood transfusions, or hospitalizations that many undergoing chemo face. Sure, I experienced debilitating side effects during treatment, but much of that has settled down, gone away, or I’ve accepted as permanent. For me, the mental anguish of knowing – for a fact – that there was a pretty strong chance cancer could return – and if it returns, it is incurable - has been very difficult for me.
I have sought counseling, been a faithful attendee at group meetings, and I have focused more on being mindful and developed a love for meditation. All of which has helped get me through difficult and trying days – and nights. Yet, I have found myself less patient with the world. Who has the time to fart around when you can be changing the world for the better – right now? I have lost the ability to “wait it out” and to “let things take their course”. It’s made me cranky and stressed out at times. And it’s driven by the fact that I now value every minute of every day in a fashion few ever get the privilege to experience. There’s not a minute to waste. Do not put off today what you could do tomorrow. Tomorrow is not a given. But there’s also a life balance. I must work to regain my patience. It was something I valued myself having before cancer.
Ok, back to chasing a cure. As I mentioned, I promised my wife that after my “extra credit” rounds of Xeloda, I would no longer seek chemotherapy as long as I remained cancer free. Chemotherapy does awful things to your body. Some we know about, some we don’t. Hell, I could survive cancer and die from a weaken heart as a result of chemo years later. However, as someone living with cancer there exists a very delicate balance between living your life as “normally” as possible and getting to live your life for as long as possible. Cancer fucks with your mind in this regard. My friend, Crystal, was a strong, determined, healthy, young, cancer-free person. One day making plans to live a long and happy life with her fiancé. And dead 18 weeks later. Come on, now. Who could blame any of us living with cancer for how we feel? Enrolling in a clinical trial, for me, was how I could give back and give voice for those who have fought, and for those now fighting and hoping for an end to this disease. Whether or not it helps me personally, I know that I have contributed something to make a difference. I’m at peace with that. But for those who love me, it is scary to see me go through more chemotherapy. I understand that and I had every intention of honoring that. It just so happens that the clinical trial I enrolled in last month begins its first phase with – you guessed it – chemotherapy.
So yes, I broke my initial promise not to undertake more chemo. In my mind, I broke my promise for a good reason. This clinical trial is NOT studying the effects of more chemotherapy. It is a study on how the immune system can be activated, strengthened, and focused on searching out and killing cancer cells. This is the answer to finding the cure for cancer. I feel that deeply. It just so happens, this trial “shocks” the immune system with chemotherapy before introducing the immune system-boosting vaccine that is undergoing study.
See? Perfectly understandable why I would break my promise. This is my last effort to contribute cancer-free to finding a cure for cancer. I am ok with that. And I hope to hell it works. With that, I took my last chemotherapy at 5:45 pm ET, Wednesday, August 15, 2018. Next up, my first vaccine scheduled for Tuesday, August 21st. Please keep rooting for me. And Fuck Cancer.
Posted by JJB at 8:24 AM