3. Coping with Chemo
It's now been one month since I started my chemotherapy. The accepted treatment for my type of pancreatic cancer is the weekly IV administration of the drug, gemcitabine, or Gemzar, for three consecutive weeks. Then on the fourth week, no chemo is given in order to give my system a rest. Then the cycle repeats again and again until the 5 month course of therapy is finished.
The most common side efects of gemcitabine are related to bone marrow suppression. Both red and white bllood cell counts must be monitored before each gemcitabine infusion. If the counts are low, the amount of chemo is reduced until the counts return to normal. As bad luck would have it, my white count after the first injection fell so low that the doctor opted to give me no chemo at all the second week. This came as a surprise to me because I'd suffered no overt ill effects from my first week and felt perfectly normal. But a low white count puts the patient at an increased risk of getting an infection, so I was told to avoid crowds and sick people for the next week until my count rose again.
When I returned for the third week, my white count still had not recovered as well as hoped, so I was given an injection of a granulocyte stimulating factor called Neulasta, which was then followed by a reduced dose of chemo. This very expensive drug, Neulasta, coaxes the bone marrow to produce more white cells, and it did this in spades, as my white count surged well above normal after the injection. This allowed me to get the full dose of gemcitabine on the first week of the second chemo cycle. Down the road, I may need more Neulasta to keep my count up.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I volunteered for a cllinical trial that evaluates the addition of a second chemotherapeutic drug to the gemcitabine to see if the second drug would help patients with pancreatic cancer. Half of the volunteers will receive the second drug and half, the placebo group, will not. I was randomized into the placebo group, so I receive gemcitabine alone. At the end of the 5-month chemo course, I will undergo another CT scan. I pray that this scan, and all to follow, will be negative like the first one in early April. Meanwhile, I am still quite active, walking everyday with the pugs and working out at the gym. My weight is holding in the low 180s, just where it was way back in my college days, so I'm very happy about that.
Many of you know that my oldest daughter, Tori, chose to follow in her parents' footsteps and earn her veterinary degree. She is now working on her PHD in Baltimore. I'm also happy to report that my niece, Cathy Cupples Meloy, just receved her DVM from Texas A&M on May 10th. She graduated summa cum laude and fourth in her class. My sister and her husband are very proud of her (as is her Uncle Dave), and it seems quite evident that veterinary medicine just runs through the veins of all the extended Baxter family!
As I now slide into the summer routine of weekly chemotherapy, I want to thank everyone again for all the prayers and kind thoughts that have been sent up on my behalf. I believe I have half of Texas is in my corner! Thank you all, and I'll update this post periodically as circumstances require.
Fondest Regards, David Baxter