The last time I went through treatment for cancer, I vowed that I would never do chemotherapy again. I had one of the most aggressive chemo regimens that existed at the time, and it was very challenging. I tried to stay as positive as I could, but I have to admit that there were days that I felt like the bottom of the garbage pail. I wondered the whole while if I was doing the right thing. I had no active cancer as far as we could tell, so there was no way to measure what the benefit of the treatment might be. I still have no idea what the actual benefit may have been. Perhaps it kept me cancer free for longer than expected. Perhaps not.
Of course, when faced with metastatic cancer, I had to accept that chemotherapy was going to be part of my life once more, but this time it is a bit different. Not only are there some different drugs and an approach that seeks to be a bit more gentle, but this time I do have active cancer. This time we can see just what the benefits of treatment might be.
Cat scans are expensive and they expose you to additional radiation, so you can't have scans every few weeks. Instead, they measure tumor markers. A tumor marker is an antigen that is produced by the body in response
to cancer, or is produced by the cancer itself. These markers can be used to evaluate a person's
response to treatment. Normal levels of this specific antigen for breast cancer are usually between 0 to 39. We tested my blood for these markers at the beginning of treatment, and the numbers came back at a jaw-dropping 857. My doctor told me not to be scared by that number, but it's hard not to be a little concerned over a number that is more than 800 points bigger than it should be.
My oncologist did another blood draw just before treatment on Thursday. She wanted to see if my numbers had dropped at all. Ideally, if treatment is effective, the numbers will begin to drop. She warned that it can take two full cycles before it happens, and, at that point, I had only finished one cycle (each full cycle is 3 weeks long). She also warned me that they can even go up before they start to go down, but I was really hoping to see a nice drop in the numbers just to give me a sign that the therapy was beginning to work.
First, can I just say that my oncologist is a wonderful woman. She promised me that she would call me personally with the numbers when the test results came back. I got a call from her at 6:58 PM on a Friday night. How many doctors do you know that are willing to do that? Of course, she was probably excited to share some good news with me, just as I am excited to share some good news with you! My tumor markers did go down. In fact, they dropped all the way to 408! That's a drop of more than half, and that was after just one cycle of treatment. While that number is still high, it is most definitely headed in the right direction!
It is a tremendous relief to know that the treatment is working. I may be shedding my hair faster than a golden retriever in the springtime, but that's OK. I don't really mind right now.