Vaccine Variations

October 14, 2006

O Best Beloveds, on Friday we had to go to a meeting at Dr. W’s clinic to sort of audition for the breast cancer vaccine trials. A group of various doctors, reps from the pharmaceutical company behind this venture, assorted assistants, and more, all crowded into the tiny exam room, first to watch Dr. W. and me dote on each other and engage in our usual comedy antics (just call us Shecky and Green), and then to murmur over my precise medical condition. Fortunately, it turns out I’m an exact fit, in that they have two different trials I will be a part of, depending on where I’m at, tumor marker and scans-wise, in January.

1) The Vaccine. Previously tested on—actually, I don’t know. I’ve already forgotten the details. But it’s designed to do something with T cells, to make them more inclined to attack tumors. Something like that. I’ll learn more about it when it starts, but that’s the general idea. Administered once a month for three months, then every other month for another three months, and then they monitor me to see if I get a recurrence and also if I die. Not from the vaccine, I hasten to add, but generally. How long people live is of great interest to those developing these new therapies. Some flu-ish side effects for a couple days following the shot, but otherwise, no big deal. If my markers and scans are clean in January, when they plan to start the study, I’m in. If not….

2) The Other Therapy. About which I can remember almost nothing, but it’s like chemo except it’s better, because it targets only the bad stuff and leaves the rest of you alone. Also used on some other cancer, with encouraging results. If I start to display disease again, they will put me on this, to see if it arrests it. If it doesn’t, I go back on regular chemo. This all sounded pretty nifty, except that it is–wait for it–administered every single day, for hours (including pre-treatment meds), for a week. Then you get a week or two off. Oh, and they are doing it down in Long Beach only, the longer drive for us, the less nice chemo room, etc. Consequently, Steve and I heard pretty much nothing other than the sound of our schedules falling into pieces, along with our faces and our enthusiasm. Sure, currently, I lose a portion of three to four days a week, for three weeks in a row, to chemo and recovery, but there’s still time for work, classes and more. This sounds like it wipes an entire week out, every three weeks. In theory, I feel pretty good during that week–no chemo side effects–and even better on the off weeks, so overall, it balances out, but I don’t see how I can take off classes every three weeks, and who knows how long the regime goes?

This is all by way of much leaping ahead, of course, and worse, it sounds like I’m being an ungrateful goose–make me better! And don’t you dare inconvenience me while doing it!! It’s remarkable and immeasurably fortunate that I’m here at all, much less able to complain about something so minor, and that I’ve had such an easy time of it, and that I’ve continued largely going about my business for a full year during this, and that all of it has constituted something I’ve largely been able to dismiss with an airy wave of my hand.

Anyway, as I said, nothing is certain and I still have to get through three more weeks of chemo, though given that as of yesterday my platelets were at a mere 115,000–every so much higher than they were, but still too low considering the amount of time off since the last chemo–the sure bet is that I won’t get past two. Given that I am reminded again how nice it feels to not be doing chemo, I won’t mind that much if we give the last round a miss. And then it’s a couple of months of blood tests and Fasladex, which I still haven’t bothered to learn to spell, before we scan, and all that has to be gotten through before any decisions can be made. In between, there are papers to write, and Frommer’s work to do, and so there’s not enough time to worry about it. That’s what I tell myself, and that’s what I believe, mostly.

Meanwhile, about half the follicles on my scalp have been growing merrily away, and so the paucity means my scalp still gleams whitely through ’em, when I wear glasses I totally rock the NYC art chick look. It’s too thin and fungal to go hatless all the time, not to mention too chilly, but I definitely look a bit less freaky-deaky, which is a comfort. Having about half my lashes back helps a great deal, too. Though I’m definitely at the point of feeling better any time I look at photos of anyone with gleaming hair. I remind myself that textbooks are almost always photo-free, so there’s a practical solution.

Watching that chemo clock ticking down,