May 5, 2014
My husband steered the wheel gently as he negotiated the sharp curve heading to the Colorado state line. It was the perfect place for me to look at the the visor mirror. No, not to admire the scenic winding road behind me but to study my face after 17 days of zero Tarceva circulating in my system. I saw a facial skin that had become clear and glowing and smooth to the touch just like the skin throughout my body. After 20 months on Tarceva, I had already forgotten about natural body oils that make the fingers slide on the arms and legs. I thought, I can enter the Miss Senior Bernalillo County pageant now and give all those little old ladies a run for their money. But not so fast! The full head of hair has yet to grow on my scalp. Maybe it will take 17 weeks, not 17 days. Bummer! My stomach growled, reminding me of yet another awesome happening in a post-Tarceva existence. The days of the “squirt” diarrhea are long gone. There’s no more need to strategize the shortest path to the nearest restroom. I don’t mean to malign Tarceva. After all, for 20 months, it was a comfort drug to me, much like a warm bottle of milk formula is to a baby. I could not imagine life without Tarceva. But now, since it started failing me, I’m so into the CO-1686 trial drug. In the two weeks that I’d been on it, it hadn’t given me an iota of a side effect. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. No skin dryness, no diarrhea, no loss of appetite, no fatigue, no weight loss, no post-nasal drip. Absolute nothing. Who knows, the drug might be doing nothing for me either, but that’s a concern for another day. I’m just hoping that if it will ever have any side effects, it would one that transforms me into a senior babe with big hair.
May 6, 2014
After fasting for 12 hours, accompanied by my loving husband/caregiver, I went to the lab early to get my blood drawn. Early was important; I must feed my face immediately afterwards. Hunger is not one of my favorite sensations. This day would be my first check up after 225,000 mg of the CO-1686 trial drug carpet-bombed my system for 14 days. My Onc’s Onc, Trial Coordinator, husband, family, friends, and I had our fingers and toes crossed, hoping the blood test results would show that the drug did not trample my kidneys and liver while trying to clobber my cancerous tumor.
A comely female registered nurse, early 40’s, greeted me with a smile at the lab door. I raised my hand and said, “High Five!” She high-fived me and laughed as she said, “So, you’re the one.” Obviously Cleopatra had spread the word to the other bloodsuckers about the Celebratory One. The RN and I sat at our respective chairs in one of the curtained cubicles. She started moving around a circular rubber tubing with which she would strangle my arm above the elbow, a tray of color coded vials, brown elastic tapes, and other tools of the arm-draw option of bloodletting.
“So how many tubes are we going to fill up today?” I asked.
“Just four today,” she said knowing it would please the patient.
“Yes!” I stood up and pulled the air down with my fists, like athletes do when they score a point.
My jubilance got her attention. She asked her assistant across the hall to check on the Celebratory One’s treatment plan, just in case she missed something. Next thing I knew the assistant was in our cubicle handling the RN a plastic bag containing a plastic ziplok bag full of color coded tubes.
“So how many more?” I asked.
“Six, for a total of ten,” she said.
That taught me a lesson. Next time I’ll try to contain myself.
Every blood technician has a style but this RN’s method was the gentlest, so far, of the three that I had experienced in this lab. For the first time I even watched the blood being sucked out of my arm. Soon, she finished filling the ten containers and I went to the bathroom to get the urine sample. Then we said our joyous goodbyes.
I walked away from the lab buoyed by the knowledge that three tablespoons of my blood and a specimen cup of my urine will go far in advancing the development of a cure for cancer. The thought of my involvement in such a worthy humanitarian cause warmed my heart and moved me deeply. Am I a hero or what! I swear, if I start believing this, I’d soon be dusting my calligraphy pen sets and whipping up a Certificate of Eternal Gratitude to add to my impressive collection of self-awards. Hey, everybody’s entitled to a hangup!
My husband and I made a bee line to the hospital cafeteria to end my fast. I wolfed down a French dip sandwich in no time. After downing the last morsel of food, I sighed, Life is good!
Time came to see my Onc’s Onc. But first, the intake nurse had to do his thing: measure my weight and blood pressure. Blood pressure was high. I argued that my records show low blood pressure. He tried again. Still high.
At the examination room, another nurse took my blood pressure. Still high. I protested again. She totally ignored me.
My Onc’s Onc, stethoscope dangling from his neck, sashayed in and sat down in front of the examination table where I sat.
“What a beautiful wig!” He exclaimed. He said he had reviewed the blood test results and everything is normal. Then he asked, “Did you experience any side effects?”
“None at all,” I deadpanned, “except that I suffered a miscarriage.” The Trial Coordinator, my husband, doc, and I cracked up. The need to say something was overwhelming. Since I had nothing to say about the trial drug’s side effects, I talked about the effects of quitting Tarceva.
He noticed the high blood pressure readings. He stepped out and came back pulling a mobile blood pressure machine. First he checked his own blood pressure. It was very slightly high. “Shame on you,” I said. He took my blood pressure. Still high.
“This is unusual,” he said. “Hypertension is not a known side effect of CO-1686, but that does not mean you can’t be the first one.”
“That would be me,” I seconded, “always pioneering!”
He told us to meet him at the waiting room outside his office where he would give me a prescription for high blood pressure pills. As I walked closer to the waiting room, I saw a most incredible sight – my own Onc from Albuquerque! It was so strange to see him huddled with the masses waiting for his own Onc. Our eyes met and we did the hugs.
“Whoa!” said Dr C. “A reunion!”
For the first time I stood in the same room with my Onc and my Onc’s Onc. Dr C handed me the prescription. My Onc, my husband and I went to the cafeteria and exchanged stories for a little bit then disbanded.
My husband and I were pleased to know that the trial drug did not bother my kidneys and liver, but a little bit unsettled by the blood pressure issue. On our drive back home, we stopped at a CVS Pharmacy and Albertsons and took my blood pressure readings several times, desperately coaxing the machine to give a “below 95” diastolic reading. Never happened. At home we tried again. Still didn’t happen. That night, as instructed, I skipped a dose of the trial drug to see if the blood pressure would come down in the morning. Still didn’t happen.
“That’s it!” I was probably the only person in the world delighted to see a high blood pressure reading. “It’s not the CO-1686 causing the blood pressure to rise. I have simply come of age. Time for hypertension therapy!”
I had the blood pressure pill prescription filled, took the first one and resumed the six CO-1686 pills the following morning. Within the next hours, my blood pressure was back to normal. I doubled the warrior pose in my yoga routine that night to celebrate.