Since I last wrote a blog post for this site, I’ve enrolled in and left a clinical trial, taken a three week break from treatment, installed a PowerPort, and moved on to standard chemotherapy. My current cocktail is carboplatin/Alimta/Avastin. I’ve left the world of targeted treatment behind.
The reality is that chemotherapy is widely used, and is the first line of treatment for many lung cancer patients who lack genetic markers that would qualify them for immunotherapy or targeted treatment. To quote Dr. Jack West, a leading research oncologist who specializes in lung cancer, “Chemotherapy is not a consolation prize.”
While I was on targeted treatment and opining wisely on how to live with cancer, I knew that my experience was different from most lung cancer patients, indeed from most cancer patients in general. Targeted treatments can have serious side effects, but most of the time side effects are relatively easily managed. I did not appreciate how different, however, until my first infusion. That first round of chemo was rough, and included both severe pain from constipation and four days in the hospital with febrile neutropenia. Instead of side effects being a daily drip, drip, drip of annoyances that demand attention, they were a flood that swept me away for nearly all of the three weeks before my next infusion. I remember lamenting that I had only one decent day before the cycle started again.
Just like with targeted therapy, however, many side effects can be managed. If neutropenia is an issue, there is Neulasta OnPro, a plastic device that delivers medicine that boosts white blood cell production while you relax in a chair at home on the day after your infusion. If one steroid doesn’t control rash, it can be swapped out for another. Now that we have sorted out what I need to handle chemo, it’s going pretty well for me, and I am having several good days during the three week cycle. Fatigue and a foggy brain are a different matter, however, and are side effects that people often complain about. There’s no easy fix other for them than rest and time.
There is even a benefit that I wasn’t expecting. For a couple of weeks of my three week cycle, I am not taking any drugs other than the ones I would be taking if I didn’t have cancer, plus a couple of extra vitamins. I’m a person who is always looking for the silver lining on the cloud, and this is what I could come up as something that I can look forward to each cycle. Don’t get me wrong, if there was another targeted treatment available, I would take it in a heartbeat, but there isn’t right now. So I am sitting in the infusion chair with my knitting and a good book, wearing a handknit sweater, and thankful that I haven’t run out of options.