Whatever Happened To… Chemo #4?

So this afternoon, I checked into hospital for chemo session #4 to begin. It’s been a wonderful third week; the part of my cycle where I take no chemo drugs at all. I’ve felt almost completely normal, and have been wandering around all over the place in our neighbourhood with Emilie, sorting out bank accounts, food shopping, messing around with the attestation-printing machines at social security offices – just everyday life stuff, but it felt great to be able to do it. We went into the hospital Tuesday to drop off the CAT scan results from last week, and we walked there. To be able to do that under my own steam (with, of course, the portable Puritan’s aid) was quite an amazing feeling.

So, I’ve been letting myself feel quite cautiously optimistic. When chemo session #4 rolled around again today, I wasn’t really feeling too worried, especially after last Friday’s “not bad” news – I kind of expected to just come in to hospital, load up with the purple, and roll out again the day after. But in fact, things have turned out a little differently.

Firstly, it was the casino-heist medical team scenario again.  In sweeps The Prof’s second-in-command, accompanied by an intern (unlike in “Scrubs”, a proper qualified cancer-expert doc) and a senior nurse. They proceeded to explain that they were concerned by my continued loss of weight, and possible causes of this – it isn’t the chemo, as I haven’t been vomiting or suffering from loss of appetite. It’s true I’m now down to 50kg, down from 57kg at the start last chemo session, and this has been bothering me a little – especially as I’ve been eating like a horse. (I haven’t knowingly eaten horse in this time, even though I am aware this is an option in my new adopted country.) The docs went on to explain the comparison between last week’s CAT scan with the original from September hasn’t yet been done, and will in fact be hard to do, as the original hadn’t involved an iodine injection – my kidneys weren’t up to it at the time. So, they swept out again to go and do the comparison as best they could, and come back to let me know what they could get out of it.

Cue slightly sweaty palms.

I slept. A while later, The Prof’s second-in-command came back alone. She explained that the general improvements in my clinical health (better breathing, being able to sleep lying down, etc.) have been caused by improvements in the side-effects of the cancer – but that the cancer itself has not actually shrunk or diminished in any way.

To start with, this scared the shit out of me – so the chemo hasn’t really been working, after all? But, apparently, it has, to an extent – there’s been no spread, at least. Already, this is good. And apparently, with the rare kind of tumour that I have, it’s not uncommon for the normal, first-shot, mass-market chemo drugs I’ve been taking not to necessarily be that effective. Another piece to the puzzle is that since September’s biopsy, they’ve been slicing the cancerous tissue they extracted and have been subjecting it to all kinds of chemo chemicals, including the purple shit – and it turns out that Mr. Purple in particular is completely ineffective against this kind of tumour. So, the good side of this: I will definitely stop taking the purple component of the chemo, which is actually the most toxic part – that’s what’s making my hair fall out, for example. The… I hesitate to call it “bad”, so the “other” side is that they’ll need to change my chemo treatment to something else.

This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing at all, but it still gave me a bit of a chill – of course I would have preferred to have heard “yes, the cancer is shrinking faster than a forgotten sprout in a pressure cooker, and we’ll just keep on going exactly the way we are in this semi-comfortable routine and you’ll be sound as a pound in six months”, but it was not to be.

So by this point, it’s 9pm at night, and the Prof’s deputy didn’t want to make a major drug-changing decision without consulting senior colleagues; absolutely A-OK with me. But she has some ideas. She wants to try a new, extremely expensive and “interessant” (promising) drug, and to do this, she will need to get all kinds of approval and possibly push some weight around – but she’s confident it can be done, especially as this is a teaching hospital I’ve found myself in. (Entirely by chance; my lucky stars are overdue for a good thanking.) But nothing further was going to happen that night – so, she sent me home, which is where I am now blogging this from. I’ll get a phone call early next week to let me know what’s going to happen. I may even (holiest of holy grails) be able to come in a receive treatment as an out-patient, bypassing the need for hospital food entirely.

Brief motivational gastronomic aside – for dinner at the hospital today, I was served my absolute least-favourite “meal” ever, which co-incidentally was the same I had just before starting chemo #2. That time, I threw the whole lot up several hours after ingesting The Big Purple in one silent, dry, completely undigested lump. So this time, I decided just not to eat it – hell, I’d eaten for about three at lunchtime (my dad’s salt-free chicken pie), and my innards just did not need soggy, wilted, boiled-to-string green haricot beans with a dry-but-still-somehow-disgustingly-limp lump of what was apparently veal steak haché, but could frankly just have well have been a round cake of unidentifiably-processed grease. Good god it was revolting. I just could not fork the stuff into my mouth. I tried. I failed. So I ate a good portion of the thankfully tasteless leek-and-potato soup, the accompanying apple and some bizarre cottage-cheese-type yoghurt thing, and left it at that. And now we’re back home, I have supplemented this with a slice of delicious leftover salmon-and-leak quiche with a lettuce-and-roast-beetroot salad, and my lucky stars have another item on their thank-you list.

So – no chemo for ce soir, nor for the weekend – something new and exciting begins next week. I feel slightly more like I’m venturing into guinea-pig land, but that’s the way it is – and clearly better to be trying something that might work than something that definitely isn’t going to.

More news, of course, as and when. But for now, we’re back in One Day At A Time land, and from that viewpoint, I have a blissful extra drug-free weekend to enjoy. A gift.

Night all, and hope all’s well with everyone.


8 responses to “Whatever Happened To… Chemo #4?

  1. Didn’t like to be first last time so missed the boat altogether. Not this time as you have become part of our early morning routine. We understand your mixed emotions but it does sound as though you are in a good place with chances to find the right coloured stuff to do the trick -purple is a bit brash anyway. Careful with your metaphors – sprouts will never be the same for us – we like them crunchy. Lucky you having such a great cook on site, we hope to experience the chicken pie some time soon (with or without salt).
    You are a great read Joe, stay strong and enjoy the respite, your readership awaits.
    With love
    Howard and Avril

  2. What a shame the purple stuff wasn’t doing the trick 😦 maybe you’ll get another cool colour with the new experimental chemo (you’ll have to be the decision maker about what is a cool colour, my coolness factor is zero – I thought I’d hit the height of cool buying tickets for my kids to see Westlife – only to discover that the fact that old people like me liked them meant they were SO not cool anymore)

    I look forward to your thoughts on being a guinea pig 🙂

    sending lots of +ve vibes over the channel


    diane x

  3. Sorry to hear the Purple wasn’t helping, Joe,

    Red’s always a popular choice with chemo but given the reputation of the French for the latest fashion, you might be looking forward to the delights of Spring with Snorkel (?!) Blue 😉

    Reckon a combination of that and the Freesia would scare most tumours into retreat!

    Enjoy the respite, good luck with the next cycle and keep us updated on the news from guinea-pig land – we’re thinking of you!

    Big love

  4. Yo Joe,

    Just Checking in on you guys, it’s really good to hear you are walking about and enjoying drug-free weekends, hmm, something about that sentence sounds wrong.

    Also very cool to hear they’ve been doing science with your tumours, I dunno why but I imagine a scene from the A-Team, in goes a tumour sample and out comes a fully-armoured assault vehicle with anti-cancer paint and horn (which sounds a bit like AAAAAAAAAAACCCCKKK), or um something like that.

    Anyway keep it coming, I’ll see you in the new year sometime, I’m coming over to Marseille again for a bit (woohoo, french chicks, yeah yeah yeah).

    Take it easy


  5. yes agree, your walks-with-a-purpose sound great, ’tis good to hear your getting out. Hope the next colour goo works better for you, and maybe it’s good to be throwing up things you don’t like rather than the things you do 🙂 R.e. weight gain, do they do intravenous chocolate? Chocolate fountain mud baths? Chocolate fondue with marshmallow dips? Reverse lipposuction? Or are they the same thing…?

    cheers, Hilary

  6. Mebbe you’ll get the Dragon Snot chemo, few things would be cooler than luminous green in your system!

    And, just how much salt is in a lard sandwich anyway … perhaps that can solve weighty problems.

  7. Hi,
    your blog is always so well written – please write more, I want to know how you are doing 🙂
    I would donate you some of my fat if it was possible, not because I’m a fat little piggy, but only out of the kindness of my heart, of course.
    Love from Laura

  8. Hi Joe, the new chemo sounds funky… looks like an increased chance of developing super powers.

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