For those of you unaware, the treatment I underwent a few months ago to cure my lymphoma was unsuccessful. For those of you unaware that that happened, I spent some time a few months ago in an attempt to cure my relapsed lymphoma. For those of you unaware that that happened, that happened.
After we found in December out that the high dose chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplant I received in October/November was unsuccessful, we -- my family and myself -- wasted no time in deciding what should be the next course of action. See, in medicine, there is a "standard of care" with most every condition. For me, a person with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, the standard of care first time around was a chemo regimen called ABVD. I had that, it put me in remission for a year, then I relapsed. The standard of care for relapse is the autologous transplant, which didn't work. Once Hodgkin's patients get past that, the standard of care becomes, in a way, fuzzy. Not all doctors agree on what to do next. Thus, my oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic suggested that we reach out to another hospital for a second opinion. He recommended MD Anderson in Houston, Texas due to their extremely high volume of patients (everything is bigger in Texas) as well as their outstanding reputation. We took his advice and began establishing contact with MD Anderson. In the meantime, we began my Brentuximab treatment.
Brentuximab is a new drug designed for people in my exact situation -- those with relapsed or refractory Hodgkin's. It is not exactly a chemotherapy drug. It is an "antibody-drug conjugate", meaning that it targets specific proteins in cells unique to particular cancers, and attacks them. The attacking is done by a chemotherapy agent which is paired with the antibody, and that's how it kills the cancer cells, but the bottom line is that these types of treatments aren't accompanied by the typical chemo side effects one has come to expect. Nausea, vomiting, hair loss, etc. are not common with Brentuximab. I have been receiving the drug intravenously every three weeks since New Year’s Eve and have not experienced any side effects. That has been fucking incredible. Even more wonderful is the fact that the drug has put my disease in remission.
All it took was two treatments. I had a PET scan mid-February establishing the verdict of "complete response". Dope. All the while, I had taken a couple trips back and forth between Ohio and Texas to meet with my new team at MD Anderson. They decided that the best, most promising course of action for me was an allogeneic stem cell transplant. For those of you who have decided not to click my links along the way, here is the difference between an autologous and an allogeneic stem cell transplant in a nutshell: when one receives an auto transplant, he/she receives his/her own stem cells in order to recover from a highly intense, toxic mess of chemotherapy. The goal of the chemo is to wipe out any and all cancer, and an unintended consequence of this is that the patient's bone marrow is, for lack of a better term, fucked to shit. The stem cells -- collected prior to the chemo -- help the bone marrow recover from this barrage of toxicity. On the other hand, the stem cells one receives during an allogeneic transplant are from a donor. The goal of this transplant is to replace one's immune system with that of someone else. I'll still receive some chemo to weaken my immune system and allow the donor's cells incorporate into my bone marrow or "engraft", but it won't be as powerful as what I was treated with a few months ago.
This all takes place in the hospital and I'm likely to there for somewhere between three and five weeks. It shall indeed be a shitty, boring few weeks, but I spent three weeks a couple of months ago and look at me now. I'm fucking cancer free and living the dream. Just in Houston for a little while to make sure it stays that way. It eventually becomes tiresome explaining the circumstances to all my friends and other various people who care about me. I know that is the most selfish shit ever so I try to happily describe everything in an understandable manner to all that ask. As a whole it makes me extremely grateful to know that so many individuals genuinely care about what is to happen, it's just quite a draining process. It’s gotten to the point where I have explained it so many times that I feel like a robot. Overall, my mindset is really solid at this point in time. Before that first scan, after finding out about the relapse, I was struggling quite a bit. Lots of negative thoughts about death, the future, things like that. Lots of doubt, lots of dwelling. Justifying in my head that I’ve led a fulfilled, successful life so far and that’s good enough. Thinking about who to put in my will and picturing my funeral. Overwhelming, rather depressing thoughts and thought processes.
This all went away after I found out the Brentuximab worked. There is a slight risk that I should have complications with the Allo transplant (risk of infection, risk of the donor's white cells recognizing my cells as foreign and attacking them), but I don't even have cancer. That's the thing. Try explaining that to a person who knows you're about to spend a month in the world's best cancer center. I’m good. I may be struggling a bit for the next few months but this is for the long haul.
I've got a fancy new catheter in my chest. I'm ready to boogie, bitch. Admission is Wednesday. I’ve just been chilling in the meantime, and going to lots of appointments with doctors, nurses, researcher coordinators, social workers, insurance liaisons, PAs, etc. to organize the transplant. They do about 1,000 stem cell/bone marrow transplants a year. Everyone on my floor is 25 and under, so my first day, I'm going to ask where the biggest, strongest patient resides, and beat the living fuck out of them to assert my dominance. Upon discharge I have to stay in the Houston area for a couple months and do lots of outpatient stuff. I will then be participating in a clinical trial which lasts another couple months, so chances are my trip home won’t be until early autumn.
If anyone, Texan or otherwise, would like to pay me a visit in the hospital, let me know. Or we could hang out sans mask once I’m out.
Thanks for reading. Too bad rep isn't implemented yet or else I'd be harvesting the shit like clams. Speaking of which,