After a grueling four months of chemotherapy treatment it all came down to yesterday’s meeting with our oncologist to discuss the results of my latest PET scan. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
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So, what next?
About midway through my treatment and again yesterday, our oncologist walked us through the possible treatment options by showing us a Hodgkin lymphoma treatment flowchart, which you can see below (you can click the image to enlarge it).
After an initial four cycles (eight treatments) of ABVD chemotherapy, there are two options for a person displaying a “complete response” (“CR” on the chart), as presented at the top of the chart: Two more cycles of chemotherapy followed by radiation (“IFRT” on the chart), or moving straight to radiation therapy. I, thank God, will be foregoing more chemo and moving straight into radiation. The justification for doing so was summed up by our oncologist thusly:
- According to the oncologist, I have had a “rougher time than most” dealing with this particular chemotherapy regimen. Some people “breeze through it” (I’m not really sure how that’s possible or what it would look like), but clearly I have not.
- The longer that a person endures chemotherapy treatment, the higher the likelihood that complications may arise in the future. Things like the return of different, more agressive forms of cancer in the future. No thank you.
Libby and I will meet with our radiation oncologist for a consultation on July 5, and our hope is that I can postpone radiation for a few weeks until after traveling to New Orleans with high schoolers and adults from our church for the National Youth Gathering. At our initial consult with the radiation oncologist on February 24, we were told a) that my radiation regimen would likely be five consecutive weeks of five-days-a-week treatments and b) that it would be possible to hold off on radiation until after the New Orleans trip.
So if the PET scan revealed a “complete recovery,” why the need for radiation? (I’m sure my dad wasn’t the only one with this question.) Chemotherapy and radiation are two different ways of attacking tumor cells. Chemo is a drug therapy that works via the blood, while radiation is an energy aimed directly at the tumor cells. Because I had a “bulky mass” in my chest, they want to be sure that they are eradicating 100% of the disease, and so radiation will be used in conjunction with chemo. That’s why the title of this post says “essentially” cancer free — the PET scan revealed no disease, but who knows how many stray cancer cells are traipsing through my body.
The CBC I had done yesterday showed my highest white blood cell count in several months: 2,300 (the normal range is between 4,000 and 11,000). Two weeks prior it was at 1,600, the lowest number of my entire treatment. Over the next few weeks, as the chemotherapy drugs continue to wear off, my white blood cell count will continue to climb, and my body will continue to heal. This is great news in general, but also specifically for my anal fissures, which wound up becoming — by far — the worst side effect I experienced.2 More white blood cells = more ability for my body to heal itself. Every day a little healthier.
We’re not out of the woods just yet. Radiation isn’t exactly a walk in the park (so I’m told), but there’s no way it can be worse than chemo. Even after radiation is finished, I will continue to be a cancer patient: I’ll have frequent follow-ups with my oncologist, occasional CT scans, etc. for months and years to come.
Additionally, I’ll continue to post updates and video blogs here throughout the next several months, but they may be less frequent (especially in July). I’ll be learning alongside all of you about radiation and its side effects, and it will surely feature prominently in the documentary as well.
I don’t even know how to begin thanking everyone for their love, support, prayers, and encouragement through this process. It was and continues to be an immeasurable source of strength for both Libby and I. Thank you. And speaking of Libby, what an utter gift from God she has been. I am beyond blessed to have such a caring, supportive, selfless, beautiful, and hilarious woman by my side.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Let’s do this.
UPDATE: Let’s Do This: Facing Hodgkin Lymphoma, a feature-length documentary about my cancer journey and recovery is now available to rent or buy on Vimeo. After you watch the film, feel free to leave a note on our Facebook page letting us know what you think.
A huge “thank you” to Dr. Freeman for allowing Nate to film this appointment. It will undoubtedly make the documentary far more powerful than it would have been otherwise. ↩
In fact, I had to take a break from writing this blog post to go to the bathroom and then immediately take an epsom salt bath. Ugh. ↩