My Story Part 3: Post Surgery Game Plan

I don’t remember who referred me to my Oncologist.  It was either my PCP or the surgeon.  It’s been three years now so things are starting to get a bit fuzzy, especially since my brain is fried from the chemo and the plethora of supporting drugs. What I do know is that during the first appointment he told me that I qualified for a phase III clinical trial, and asked if I was interested.  Since I was staged at 3C and one tick away from being a dead man, it was pretty much a no-brainer that I would participate.  The trial was to combine Cetuximab (Erbitux) with the standard treatment for colon cancer, FOLFOX.  FOLFOX is a combination of three chemicals; Folinic acid (Leucovorin), Fluorouracil (5FU) and Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin).  Erbitux is a monoclonal antibody and the way it works is quite fascinating.  It’s more accurately described as imunotherapy as opposed to chemotherapy.  Since there is an abundance of information online describing the details of how it works I won’t get into it here.

The bad part about participating in the trial was that instead of having infusions every two weeks for six months, I had to go every week.  One week I would be given FOLFOX and Erbitux, and the following week only Erbitux.  Needless to say, it was a VERY long six months.  My infusion day was Friday.  When I was infused with both protocols, I pretty much spent most of the daylight hours at the hospital.  On the Erbitux days, I spent three to four hours there depending upon how busy it was.  I started on December 31 2006 so it was cold and the days were short.

Prior to beginning chemo, I had a porta-cath surgically embedded into the area between my left pectoral muscle and shoulder.  It took some getting used to, but since I was going to have infusions every week for six months it was strongly advised that I use a port rather than searching for veins every week and causing secondary damage.  Once I got used to having it there it did turn out to be quite convenient.  It was a double port and they alternated each week.  The bad part was that the needle was BIG!  It had a butterfly shaped plastic head and they simply pushed it into the port.  It hurt, but only for a second.  However, after a few months the pain got much worse.  I started applying lidocane ointment two hours prior to my infusion and that helped a lot.

I had to wait about a month to start my infusions.  They wanted me to sufficiently recover from the surgery prior to commencing the torture I guess.  I was advised to have my wife present during my first infusion.  The reason being that prior to pumping the chemicals into me, they gave me intravenous Benedril to protect against any adverse reactions.  This causes extreme drowsiness and they wanted to make sure someone was there to remember any specific instructions provided to me.  Good thing she was there.  I was out like a light within a few minutes.  As it turned out, being drowsy wasn’t such a bad thing.  The facility I was in was new and there was no wireless connectivity so I couldn’t occupy my time by browsing the net.  I complained about that any chance I could but it didn’t help.  There was no wireless for my entire six month treatment.  I’m not a reader, and I didn’t have an MP3 player at the time (Which is the inspiration for this site! About) so I pretty much slept the time away.  They provided lunch,  but as time went on  I was less hungry and the food wasn’t good at all.

That’s how it all started.  I’ll save the details on all of the fun side effects for another day.

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