Today was my sixth immunotherapy session – sixth of nine (perhaps I should have waited till Wednesday to write this for that random Star Trek alignment…) sessions in my first battery of treatments. It is getting easier on my body as they progress, but still leave me quite walloped me each time.
The original plan would have seen them over last week, but my surgery wounds took a bit longer to heal than anticipated and then I was felled by a nasty sinus infection, postponing treatment even further. When they removed my entire lymphatic system under my right arm, my already compromised immune system took a few more steps backwards, as the lymph system produces the white blood cells that combat infection. At first this distressed me, but then I realized this is nothing really new, just the old normal a bit more concentrated.
I get my treatment three days a week. They plug me into a saline drip IV and add a shot of Rituxan. I also take some sort of generic antihistamine to aid the removal of the cancer cells — here is where I really wish I had taken some college level biology/physiology course to understand this. It baffles me. But they tell me it works and from what I have read, it backs them up.
I was told that it would take about three hours per session. I liked that, as there would be three, three hour sessions, for three weeks and would most likely take a battery of three treatment sessions to convince all the remaining cancer cells in my body to stop multiplying. I really enjoyed the confluence of all those threes. Only now it is taking four weeks for this first salvo and the actual treatment takes just over two hours to drift into my blood stream.
While I have a not so hidden affection for triumvirates (here is where I should probably thank my four years of Latin in high school, or better yet since we are speaking of triumvirates, here is where I genuflect to my four years of Latin…), this way seems far more organic and less scripted, like actors spontaneously deviating from a script making their scene resonate with a sense of real life, one that causes the audience to inately hold their collective breaths, knowing the outcome is far from prescribed, prescripted. And to be completely honest, I find this makes me feel earnestly inspired if not optimistic at the treatment’s effectiveness.
The treatment itself is fairly uneventful. I sit in a chair, sometimes in an examination room, sometimes in the waiting room. It just depends on where they have space. As the medicine flows into me, I spend my hours reading and/or trying to tune out the Thai tv shows. A little more than two hours after being stuck by a needle the bag is empty and this is when the fun begins.
I was warned to expect some nausea, so I opted not to eat prior to my first treatment. This. Was. A. Mistake.
While the sky was clear and the sun felt like a ravenous bear six meters above my shoulders swiping its large mauling paws with sunburning claws at me, I swear I heard a clap of thunder at the same time I felt a bolt of nausea hit me in the songthaew on my way back from the hospital. I liken it to a bolt of lightning as my stomach felt electric, as if someone had plugged in a blender that burst to life since it was in the churn position. I had to get off, as I was sure I was going to puke.
I did not, but felt more than queasy all day. My decision to opt for a passion fruit juice, thinking it would steady my stomach, was far from my brightest moment. Acid tossed on top of nausea is a recipe best left alone. Please, heed my advice on this one.
The rest of my day included copious amounts of ginger tea, a slow KM+ walk back to my guest house and a date with general overwhelming exhaustion. I was feeling very unwell, but knew I was on my way to getting better. This really is such a strange feeling. It does not register innately, you have to think about it and push out what you would generally think was logical, then let it sit there, next to you, till you get comfortable enough to grasp/clutch it like a dear friend.
I am not sure if it was that first day or the next day when I realized the needle going into my arm, filling me with drugs meant to confuse the cancer cells coursing though my body, was very much like a candle wick. For it to work, it dips into my energy and comes alight with a vibrant flame burning all my energy away. I knew it would make me tired. But I thought it would only effect me on the day of the treatment. This assumption was very wrong.
So far it slays my energy till well into the next day. That first time it lasted till I woke up two days later. Or you know, the day I had to go back and get treatment number two. It was much easier that second time. I still felt pukey, but as I ate beforehand it did not last as long, nor was it as severe. It still wiped out enough that walking down the street was a slow arduous process, but I was able to have a normal dinner and spend the day reading, after an initial nap.
Then on this past Friday, after treatment number five, I even went to a Thai course and then rather than take a nap, like my body was telling me to, I opted to celebrate Shan New Year (Happy 2106, by the way) with some Shan friends who live here in Chiang Mai. While I regretted it quite a bit the next day, it was well worth using the majority of my weekend’s energy quota for an experience that was unlike any other I have experienced before.
In one week this first round of Immunotherapy will be over. And I am hoping I feel far more like my normal self, as these past few weeks have left me drained in a way that mimics the worst of my Lupus flares. Needless to say, I’ve had much better months than this past one. And I look forward to better ones ahead.