I'm actually out of the chemo room as I write, but my coming out is one reason for a new chapter in this series.
A week ago, I had my last of 12 treatments in my second round of major chemotherapy, and I will soon be scheduled for another PET scan, an imaging procedure that involves injecting me with radioactive dye that lights up the areas of my organs where cancer cells are being produced at an abnormal rate.
In other words, the scan will show my oncologist, Dr. Thomas Kenney, what effect this second round of therapy has had on my cancer. Kenney and I will then discuss what further treatment I require to keep myself alive.
Kenney is now treating me as if my colorectal cancer is a chronic disease, not curable but treatable, probably a little like Elizabeth Edwards, whose breast cancer has been described the same way.
One PET scan has already shown that cancer producing cells in lymph nodes in my chest and in my lungs were being kept in check during the first three months of this round of treatments. Kenney, however, doesn't really know what to credit that development to. No oncologist can.
My doctor prescribed a combination of Irinotecan, a cancer-killing chemical, and Erbitux, a cell-starving biologic, for this round of treatment; but cancer doctors treat you according to their knowledge of the latest results of clinical testing of all the drugs available to them for specific cancer treatments, and the result is largely as individual and random as a toss of the die at a Central City roulette game.
The only thing predictable about the treatments are their side effects, and since my experience of the side effects of my two infusions followed past patterns for the drugs, the doctor and nurses who treat me guess the treatments are doing what they are supposed to do: reduce the spread and rate of reproduction of cancer cells in my body.
The new PET scan will confirm or deny that assumption.
Other than a sick day or two on the day of the treatment and the day after, I have been feeling pretty good most of the time. I haven't felt some bothersome pains in my chest, especially after hard labor like hauling downed tree limbs around my backyard, since the treatments began; but then I haven't had many tree limbs to haul since then either.
I feel like the treatments are doing some good, but the new PET scan will confirm or deny my self diagnosis.
So I asked my doctor about alternative treatments.
Clinical trials, for instance, if any are being conducted locally, that might lead to a cure of the cancer rather than mere abeyance; or perhaps nutritional therapy, which you frequently hear about saving lives.
"Most doctors won't take on this discussion," says one line in a book I'm reading called "Ultraprevention," by Drs. Mark Hyman and Mark Liponis, proponents of alternative treatments for a variety of ills.
And the authors were right about Kenney. He said he would leave any research of such "cures" up to me because he, himself, has seen no "data" -- and I know he updates himself on the latest data on everything as quickly as it is released -- that suggest proven beneficial effects.
Kenney plays percentages like the general manager of a professional baseball team, and he allows for only scientifically derived percentages of tested treatments to direct his care for patients.
That's more than okay with me, actually, since he made it clear to me at the beginning of my treatment that the cancer-fighting game is largely one of percentages. I figure Kenney's professional transparency is a lot more than you get from a banker nowadays.
So I'm reading this book called "Ultraprevention, The 6-Week Plan That Will Make You Healthy for Life." I have already watched a CD about dietary treatment of cancer, but the CD ranted on and on about why the "cancer industry" was all wrong in the way it treats cancer patients, while it offered little on the diet it suggested might cure you.
Both the book and CD were sent to me a while back by two friends in Chicago, but I largely ignored the advice until it became clear to me that Kenney was probably going to having me on Erbitux for the rest of my days.
The biologic, which attacks a sort of anchor that is characteristic to certain colorectal cancer cells, costs as much as $4,500 per month per treatment according to some of the latest news about it, and my health insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Colorado, so far has sported for the full costs of my chemotherapy minus copays.
I do pay $1,100 monthly premiums for the coverage, however.
I'll write another chapter of this series when I get the results of the PET scan to let you know how I'm doing. I'm also going to back track through my treatments to give you an idea of what it costs to treat colorectal cancer in Colorado, an idea originally conceived as: "What it costs to BEAT colorectal cancer in Colorado."
Developments have augured badly for a cure since that original thought occurred, and the energy robbed from you from cancer treatments also interfered with producing such a series of posts on an appropriately efficient schedule.
I do mean to finish the project. Stay tuned.