On the Cancer Front

The only chemotherapy symptoms I’ve had are hair loss, but that’s ongoing for this old fart anyway, just happening a little quicker; and constipation, but that generally clears itself up in two or three days and so is just an annoyance.  One serious side effect that had no overt symptom associated with it was a dangerously low white blood cell count resulting in an increased danger of infection.  To guard against that, starting after the second round of three days of chemo, they stuck something on my abdomen called a “Neulasta”, a small boxy thing that gives me a very slow drip of some drug that gooses my bone marrow.  Blood work shows that the white cells are under control.

My last drip in the hospital was yesterday morning; I had a couple of pills to take at home after breakfast this morning; and I took the Neulasta off at 4:00 pm today as instructed.  I am now officially done with the chemo.

The next step, which will happen on the 12th of next month, is an MRI to see whether the cancer wants to reassert itself in my brain, and a head-to-hip CT scan to look for any other occurrances.  Depending on how the scans look, it’s possible that I’ll qualify for a study of whether the usual treatment of prophylactic low-level radiation to keep the cancer out of the brain is actually as effective as some 40-year-old study suggests.  IIUC, the radiation carries with it a small but non-negligible risk of a bit of short-term memory loss.  I hope I made it clear that I’ll happily accept the small risk in exchange for the opportunity to help increase human knowledge in my small way.

The new study, IIUC, is specifically about small-cell lung cancer caught early, which is rare so that, in the earlier study, n was small, and so the data wasn’t all that good for my particular disease.  The study will be randomized but not blind, so I’ll know whether I’m in the experimental group or the control group right from the get-go.  Double-blind would be better of course; but when I asked the radiation oncologist about that, he said that there would be no “sham radiation”; and that choice of words suggested to me that there might be some ethical limitation on that.  (He didn’t say that specifically, so the “ethical” bit is just a wild guess on my part.)

I’ll be meeting with both the chemo and radiation oncologists on the day after the scans when I’ll find out whether I qualify for the study.  If I do, I will definitely sign up.  (I’m guessing that both Utilitarians and Kantian ethicists would approve of that decision, so it’s an easy one that’s not at all confusing.)

After I got home yesterday, I took a short nap and dreamt that the chemotherapy guy asked whether I’d like to switch to his next-door neighbor who just got her “chemo license” and was looking for “nice patients” to start out with.  I sometimes flatter myself in my dreams. 😎


  1. John Morales says

    I’ll maybe worry when you lose your attitude, Bill.

    Good to hear you are coping well.

  2. Alan G. Humphrey says

    Sugar-pill placebos are inexpensive and therefore common in the sham part of double-blind experiments. The “sham radiation” wording may be indicative of the costs associated with those kinds of sessions, which probably would be prohibitively expensive in technicians, doctors, equipment, and space.

    Good to hear that you have had few ill effects from the chemo.

  3. billseymour says

    Thanks for the well-wishes.

    As I’ve said before, I’ve been tremendously fortunate all along the way, begining with small-cell lung cancer discovered early before it metastasized, which is rare.  I was confident about opting out of major thoracic surgery at my age, and selected just radiation and chemotherapy, neither of which turned out to be a problem for me.  Indeed, once I found out that I could bring my computer to the chemo sessions, I was happy as a clam checking e-mail and blogs and sometimes typing away. 😎

    After the initial diagnosis, I Googled for the various emotional stages that cancer patients are supposed to go through; but I never found anything like what I was feeling.  In particular, I never went through the “Why me?” stage because, as one who hasn’t been able to quit smoking yet, I knew perfectly well why me and that I had no one but myself to blame.

    This retired computer programmer went straight to the analysis and design phase. 😎  What are my options?  What’s the prognosis for the various options?  How long can I expect to be reasonably independent before I’m all hopped up with pain killers and unable to think straight?  (The latter was mostly about how long I could keep up with the ISO standards committee that I serve on.)

  4. SailorStar says

    Happy to hear your symptoms and side effects aren’t life-altering and that obviously you were strong enough to go on a trip and return. Hope the rest of your treatment is this uneventful.

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