Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Part I

Time for a new cancertastic update! This one will be in two parts.

Part I - Our fearless patient learns all about chemo
Did you know that chemo will make your head hair fall out, but not your other body hair (which seems tragically unfair)? Also, if you get a prescription for a wig, it's called a cranial prosthesis. I met with my chemo doctor at Hershey on Monday. We're waiting for one test result (HER2, for those of you who know stuff about cancer) to come back, but the plan is to start chemo on 6/16. The exact type of chemo will be determined by the result of that test and whether I decide to participate in a clinical trial (I think I will, because I like being part of medical science). The doctor told me that I will get an infusion (which sounds like a delicious tea, but is just medspeak for getting medicines injected straight into your heart) once every 2 to 3 weeks. I will be nauseous for a day or two following the infusion (again, that sounds so pleasant) and then will probably be fatigued the following weekend. She said most people work full time during chemo, but that I need to be hypervigilant about avoiding infection. I will be able to work with the monkeys but should avoid the lab during the days when my white blood cell counts are the lowest.

The doctor said that chemo is effective on 95% of cancers and can shrink tumors substantially (which is important because my tumor is big). Hershey is in favor of chemo first, then surgery, which will come into play when we get to part 2 of this e-mail. They like to use chemo first for two reasons: 1) they can tell if it's working if my tumor is shrinking which tells them that 2) if the cancer has spread elsewhere, the chemo is treating it immediately and effectively. Survival rates are the same whether you do chemo before or after surgery.

One other note - I will get a port, which is a little thing they'll install in my chest with a venal catheter that goes straight to my heart. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Part of me is squicked out, and part of me feels like it's kind of badass. I asked my friend Gabe, who is a med student at Hopkins, why they don't install them for heroin addicts as a risk mitigation measure. He said it's illegal, but there was an anethesiologist at Hopkins (who had a drug habit of his very own) that got caught installing them for other addicts for $1,000 a pop. Scandalous!

This post is getting long, so I'll start a new one with Part II.

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