Greetings From Round Five
It has been a crazy last two days. Crazy in the sense that they were more than expected.
First, we got some good news: the CT scan after my fourth round was mostly unchanged from after my second round, so we’re calling this a “complete response after two cycles” and that the disease has remained stable after four. The protocol is to do two more rounds beyond measured stability, so we’re probably going to finish at six.
Next, having Bell’s Palsy sequentially on my right and then my left was a little bit concerning. We decided that it would be a good idea to run a series of tests to make sure it wasn’t something more nefarious.
The first step was a series of tests on my cerebrospinal fluid, which called for a lumbar puncture. I sat upright on a bed, facing sideways with my feet on the floor. Dr Norman had me lean as far forward as I could, with my chest resting on a pillow on a cart. Jana held my hands, which really helped deal with the anxiety. Dr Norman gave me two injections of lidocaine anesthetic, which ended up being the most painful part of the procedure.
I actually didn’t feel much pressure or poking when he inserted in the tool that he used to remove the fluid. When it was all done I was surprised to learn at the liquid that sits as a cushion around the brain is totally clear! They’re running a bunch of tests to make sure there isn’t anything in the fluid that could be more problematic. So far, nothing alarming.
To avoid any headaches after the procedure I rested on the bed for a while as a nurse asked me some pre-MRI interview questions.
Yes, I got to have an MRI of my brain. It was awesome. I got a warm blanket, an eye covering (to protect my stubborn-to-close eye from the fan in the machine) and some good earplugs. The tones that the machine made were quite loud at first, but once I adjusted they were relaxing. Almost meditative in their repetition and variation.
They didn’t find anything abnormal in my head other than the expected signs that there was inflammation and activity around my facial nerves. While I didn’t actually expect it, I was relieved to have confirmation that there wasn’t lymphoma snuck in there.
Here is a triumphant rendering of one slice of the head MRI, for your viewing pleasure.
The MRI was a nice break. We did some of the chemo before it, then came back for more to finish the day. Things seemed to go as normal. This time I didn’t invite the hospital food in; I think some of the chemotherapy-effected sensations I had last time have contraindicated it in my head. Bleh.
The other big thing: we’re preparing to harvest and freeze stems cells. Since my body is mostly (hopefully entirely) cancer-less, now is a good time to boost production of stem cells and start them circulating in my blood. The boosting and circulating is done by giving myself more shots of Neupogen. For the next few days I’m giving myself the normal dose each night. On Monday we switch into high-gear and double the dosage. I’ve received multiple warnings that the big doses can cause bone-pain, and I’m not looking forward to it!
We’re gathering these as an insurance policy. We don’t know what’s going to happen once the effects of the last round of chemotherapy wear off and my body starts moving back toward equilibrium. In the best case scenario: lymphoma never walks these halls again. Worst cases: we see cancer reasserting itself right away, or within the first year or two.
If it comes back quickly we want to have options; with a cache of my stem cells, one such option would be an autologous stem cell transplant. It would be really nice to not need that option. It sounds like the option is a major pain. But we need options, even the painful ones.
And so that is where we stand right now. On Monday I go to the SCCA to have them eyeball my veins and make sure they would handle the kind of flow they need for the apheresis. If not, things get more complex. Removing my chest port and inserting a different kind of veinous catheter complex. Then I’d have to get my sixth cycle of chemotherapy through my arm.
I’m hoping my past success in donating blood is an indicator of good veins. I’ve got practice!