Today marks a major milestone in my wife's treatment of her breast cancer. It will be the 18th - and final
- time that a Monday morning starts with a treatment visit to "The Kingsbury Pavilion of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center
"... a.k.a. the cancer treatment wing of our local hospital, the Cheshire Medical Center.
It's her final Herceptin infusion. And it marks the end of our living life in three-week increments.
For the past 12 months, our pattern has basically been this:
- Week 1:
- Monday - she goes in for the infusion. After a couple of hours we pick her up with her being tired and dizzy/woozy from the effects of the other medicine they give with it. In the evening she's pretty much just wiped out.
- Tuesday - Fatigue, nausea, feeling horrible.
- Wednesday - By the afternoon she's often back to being able to do things like drive a car... but still not feeling great.
- The rest of the week - progressively feeling a bit better but still feeling rather sick/tired/fatigued.
- Week 2: Gradually feeling a bit better
- Week 3: Gradually feeling a bit better... almost back to where she was at the start of Week 1
And then... WHAM!... time to start it all over again.
This was how 2012 was... planning around "Herceptin weeks," knowing that they would effectively be written off in terms of my wife being able to do much at all.
And over the year it got worse, not better. We'd perhaps naively thought that after a few Herceptin treatments it might get more routine. But in fact there seemed to be cumulative effects... more fatigue... more pain...
Now, granted, not all of her condition can be attributed purely to the Herceptin. With each infusion they also give her "pre-meds" that are there to "help" her body tolerate the Herceptin. These include something like Benedryl and also a steroid.
Plus, around the same time that she started Herceptin she also started the joyous daily pill of Tamoxifen, which brings on chemically-induced menopause with all the hot flashes, joint pain, mood effects and a zillion other symptoms.
The combined effect of all the drugs, plus, I suspect, the lingering effects of chemo, hasn't made for a pleasant time.
As with many aspects of cancer treatment, too, it's not entirely clear that the treatment was necessary for so long. "The studies show" that 52 weeks of treatment with Herceptin lead to a decrease in recurrence of breast cancer of the type my wife has. But does it need to be for 52 weeks? Could it be equally effective in 26 weeks? Or 9 weeks?
The studies haven't yet been conclusive on that... and so we have to go with what is known. But my hope, certainly, for future women who need the treatment is that the researchers out there can zero in a bit more on what is really the optimal treatment time - and hopefully it can be less than a full year.
Today marks a milestone, though. We can stop thinking in 3-week intervals. She still has four more years of daily Tamoxifen pills, but at least these infusions will end. We're hoping that we can return to some degree of normal routines.
We're still "going on faith" that all this will help... hopefully it will.
UPDATE: A conversation with my wife on her way to treatment this morning reminded me that in fact the "3-week intervals" began even earlier, back in September 2011 when her chemo began. The chemo infusions, too, were every three weeks... so we are are SO ready for this all to end. :-)