But it didn't happen that way this last time, not entirely.
Because I had fasted for the four days surrounding treatment #2, I believe I averted any nausea or headaches. Then as predicted, a rash began to appear a few days early, on day #5. What began as small, pink, mosquito-like dots on the undersides of both arms, became red, raised, and itchy over the next few days. Definitely worse than the last time, but still, predictable.
Once the rash disappeared two weeks later, however, I did not expect the achiness that beat through my arm muscles just where the rash had been. My thighs began to feel weak, too--like jelly--and my left arm felt heavy, like lead. The ache would eventually hit my heart area--causing a bit of paranoia that perhaps my heart was acting up--and migrate just below my ribs. My heating pad once again became my side-kick. The neuropathy in my fingertips was definitely worsening, making writing a bigger challenge than before.
But this didn't happen every day, nor with any sense of predictability. I have had great days full of energy, stamina, and ease--then have crashed the next, deplete of energy and fresh out of fucks.
Then I began to have sleep issues for the first time in my life. My body felt jacked-up on steroids or caffeine, neither of which I take. When I explained all of this to my oncologist, he reminded me that Immunotherapy does "jack up" my immune system in an effort to wake it up and teach it how to find and kill cancer cells.
Oh, yeah. That.
Lorazepam is now my new nighttime security blanket as it eases my jittery body enough to be able to fall into a deep sleep.
The beauty of Immunotherapy is that it works long after the drug has left my body. Its intent is to be a wing-man, of sorts, to my immune system, showing it how to destroy foreign invaders.
So of course the side effects would be odd and annoyingly unpredictable. And the flu-like symptoms are on the list of side effects, just like the rash, so that offers me comfort knowing nothing out of the unusual is happening.
My oncologist also reminded me that people who endure side effects fare better on these treatments than people who breeze through them.
Well now I feel silly complaining about them. Bring 'em on!
I have just one more treatment in 3 weeks before another scan will be done and I found out yesterday what it will mean.
If the CT scan shows anything, a PET scan will be done because it shows tumors in greater detail. If that shows that the tumor is responding to treatment, then Immunotherapy will continue through the end of this year, possibly up to a year, total. Even if the tumor is gone (yes!), Immunotherapy maintenance will still continue for a time.
I can handle either of those scenarios.
If, however, the scans show that this teeny, tiny tumor hasn't responded to Immunotherapy, or heaven forbid, has worsened, I will be shuffled off to Seattle to the Mother of all Cancer Centers.
And that, my friends, unhinges me. Because that's when they will most likely pull out the big guns called Stem Cell Transplant. If my immune system cannot handle ridding my body of a tiny foreign invader, it will have to be replaced, which essentially means obliterating my immunity with high doses of chemotherapy, then introducing healthy new blood-forming stem cells to restore my system.
Definitely good news.
But I'm already out of work, not directly because of cancer, but because of the risk of COVID-19 and my immunocompromised status. I have an anticipated return date at the end of September, but it also depends on the CT/PET scan results and the current status of COVID infections in my county.
If a transplant is indicated, I will be out of work another 3-6 months, most likely in a hospital bed far from home. The transplant is not the problem since it's a relatively easy procedure that takes only a few hours. The problem is shutting down my immunity with high doses of chemo in preparation for the transplant. I will be back to Square one like two years ago, but worse. Not only will my health be further compromised, but so will my livelihood, my relationships with my kids and friends, and my ability to feel normal again.
I am not yet ready for that.
But before I get trapped going down that scary bunny trail, I have to remind myself that so far, the events around my current treatments are going well: I feel mostly better than I did on chemotherapy, albeit a little less predictable; my bills are getting paid; the tumor was teeny tiny to begin with; my body seems to be working with the therapy by experiencing side effects; and no one, not even my oncologist, is heading down that road--at least not now.
And if I were to be honest, the scenario I am in right now scared me just a few months ago. I thought for sure my life would be upended--and it has been--but I've also been completely taken care of and the respite has been an added bonus.
As I sit here writing from my kitchen table that overlooks the water on this gorgeous sunny day, I feel relaxed and calm (for now). I am reminded that my life has always been taken care of--all of it--and whatever happens in just one month will be revealed in time. The outcome has always been much better than my fearful anticipation of it.
One day at a time is all we are promised, so I am trying to make each of them count.