Sunday, August 3, 2014

Last Chemo

Landing in the hospital only ended up pushing my last chemo treatment by 8 days, so I was recovered enough to go in for it on July 22nd.  I started the day with a quick run/ walk before getting ready, which I always do on treatment days.  I do it at the recommendation of Dr. D'Silva from early on as a way to increase oxygen intake and prepare my body for the chemo drugs.  Apart from the other obvious benefits of exercise, it also gives me a mental boost to be able to do it and show myself that this can't break me.

Tiffany and I arrived at the clinic around 8:15am and were brought back for the familiar routine.  I always show up with a positive attitude on treatment days as there's nothing really pleasant about it in and of itself.  It's another aspect that's within my control in the midst of so much that isn't, so I choose to be happy on these days.  The staff and nurses also do a great job of maintaining a positive environment at the clinic, which makes a huge difference.  My nurse this time was Shelley, who was also assigned for my very first treatment, so it seemed fitting that she would be with us for the last one.  My blood counts were good, which was expected after all of the medication the week before to stimulate white blood cell production, so I had the green light to start my last chemo.   

Ready for the last one

Above everything else, I would say I felt relieved.  Knowing that the cancer is in remission and that this was the last treatment, I just wanted to get it over with and start the recovery process.  The day itself was pretty uneventful until the end.  Once everything was finished and I was unhooked from the IV, a few of the nurses who were still there came over to celebrate with confetti and a cake.  It was a special moment to culminate all of the events of the last 5 months.  I even received a certificate for "graduating."  After a few hugs and some pictures, we were off to start the recovery process.  I spent the next week or so dealing with the now predicable side effects but have started to feel much better over the past 2-3 days.

With Tracy, Katie, and Shelley after finishing

With Dr. D'Silva

My "diploma"

The big question is "now what?"  That's what I've been asked the most and the same question I asked Dr. D'Silva.  Physically, I'll regain my energy and strength over the next several weeks as the good cells that were killed off by the chemo regenerate.  I'll have to return to the clinic every two months for the next two years starting in September for my "maintenance regimen."  This involves getting a dose of the Rituxan only and will take about 4-5 hours each time.  Rituxan is one of the drugs I've been getting, but it is not one of the toxic ones and doesn't come with the side effects of the other drugs.  It's a monoclonal antibody that identifies certain cells that contain a specific protein that the lymphoma cells contain and marks them for the body's own immune system to destroy.  Getting this every two months for two years after chemo has proven to extend the remission period significantly.  I'll have to get scanned once a year for the rest of my life, but I expect to not have to deal with this for quite a long time based on how everything has gone and the research I've done.  Plus Dr. D'Silva told me that we'll be getting together for a drink in ten years.

So my focus going forward is on recovery, healing, and rebuilding my strength and fitness level.  I've tried to keep myself from deteriorating too far, but my body has been through a lot this year, especially considering the damage from the surgery in March, so I know the road is going to be slower than I want.  I'll still continue to post here from time to time, even though the dramatic part is over.  I have some thoughts about how this experience has changed my outlook among other things, so I'll keep the blog up and running.  I'm also anxious to recover so that I can use my experience to help other people. As those opportunities come up I'll also use this space to share.  For now, thank you again for your support and sharing this journey with us. 

Isaiah 43: 1-2 "But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name;  You are Mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you."

Relevant message in this song below (although it is hard, so you probably won't like it unless you like awesome metal.)  The only line I don't agree with is "pure strength through solitude" because I've drawn so much strength from others and God during this trial. 

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