Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Jedi's strength flows from the Force

Time for a break from the tennis analogies. Although I must confess that I didn't watch the original Star Wars movies until my mid-twenties when Nikki practically strapped me down and force fed me all three back to back because I kept blanking on her references.

In this story, Nikki is R2D2 (not Leia, ew), the tumour is perhaps the Death Star, and I guess I'm Luke Skywalker. Right now the Force is probably Temozolomide, the chemotherapy drug of choice for treating grade 4 brain tumours.   There are over 50 chemo drugs and many different ways to administer them - I'm lucky in that Temozolomide is a tablet that I take on a daily basis rather than having to be hooked up to an IV bag in hospital.

Take this, you must

I've taken three chemo tablets per day for the past six weeks, which will now reduce to one week per month for the next six months. There are few other tablet friends that I always take it along with the chemo, including three anti-nausea tablets, steroids, proton pump inhibitors and antibiotics. When I first kicked off chemo, I tried desperately (and I thought bravely) not to take the anti-nausea meds. As a result, I was almost reunited with the curry I'd just had for dinner and spent the next two days only being able to stomach Vegemite on toast.  Lesson learnt.    

Chemo is not without its Dark Side.  The tablets are "cytotoxic" which means I can't even touch them with my bare hands.  More frightening is the list of possible side effects: fatigue, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, increased risk of infection, anaemia, bruising and bleeding, mucositis, loss of appetite, memory and concentration loss, sleep problems, reduced libido and fertility, diarrhoea and constipation and depression.  This is what most people think of when they think of chemotherapy.   I almost (almost) feel guilty about how few of the side effects I have experienced, although it is hard at this stage to know what is a result of the radiotherapy vs. chemotherapy.

So what is chemo supposed to do?  It's designed to hunt down the fast replicating cancer cells and kill them. Some think that this is folly and that the cancer is a result of your immune system dropping the ball by failing to detect and destroy the cancer cells in the first place.  This has led to a whole host of alternative strategies that I will touch on in future posts including dietary changes, supplements and immunotherapies that are designed to support your immune system so it performs less like Jar Jar Binks and more like Han Solo.  

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