There is no Christmas gift that can compare with another negative CT scan. This good news was received Wednesday just as my farflung children began to trickle back home in preparation for the holidays.
Back in September, I finished my 6-month course of chemotherapy and promptly entered into the first of two clinical trials I've volunteered for. This trial's purpose was to test the effectiveness of 28 days of radiation in combination with a chemotherapy drug called Xeloda. I completed this trial shortly after Thanksgiving. While I'd sailed through the 6-month chemotherapy with nary a problem, the Radiation/Xeloda study has caused some minor nausea and diarrhea issues. These side-effects, I'm told, will resolve in a few weeks. This is important because I plan to eat my way through the Holidays just like always!
Now, I've started a second clinical trial which is testing the efficacy of an experimental vaccine designed to teach my immune system to attack and destroy pancreatic cancer cells. This targeted therapy, or immunotherapy, represents the cutting edge of modern cancer treatment . Traditional chemotherapy has undoubtably proven its worth over the years, for many cancer patients have enjoyed significant remisisions and even cures of their diseases by following proven chemo protocols. But the major limitation with such treatments is that chemotherapy carpet-bombs the entire body in an effort to kill just a few cancer cells. This treatment often results in substantial side effects that the patient must endure in order to beat the cancer. Targeted therapy is designed to attack and kill only the cancer cells, while sparing the rest of the body from the collateral damage common to traditional chemotherapy.
So far, vaccine immunotherapy trials have been a bit disappointing, but one vaccine for malignant melanoma has found some success in treating that cancer. Hopefully in the future, more testing will uncover new vaccines, and new targeted therapies, that will one day make chemotherapy (as we know it) a dinosaur of the past.
As for my own clinical trial, the pancreatic cancer vaccine causes such intense itching and swelling at the injection sites on my arms and thighs that it surely must be causing havoc with any cancer cells remaining in my body! The negative CT scan last week, and those to follow in the future, will verify whether or not this is the case.
Having my family all together for the Christmas holidays is always a great blessing, but this year carries even more significance in light of the tribulations of 2012. Daughter Tori and her husband Josh are home for two weeks from Baltimore, where Tori is working on her PHD at Johns Hopkins. Bree and her husband Paul live in Austin; Bree teaches high school chemistry and biology in Round Rock and Paul works in the thriving software industry there. Kelley has her masters in marketing and works for a advertising company in Austin as well. She found out last week that she is getting a promotion in 2013 and will be taking on more managerial responsibilities. In addition to the 5 "kids" who are here for Christmas, we have 3 grand-pugs to add to our two. Five dogs and five young adults have significantly raised the noise level at our heretofore sedate home, and getting a good night's sleep is almost impossible right now. I wouldn't trade the chaos for anything....
We are all counting our blessings now and are looking forward to a new year that will surely hold more blessings for the entire Baxter family. I hope all of you are too.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, David Baxter