Updated March 23, 2018 - My health remains good and I am leading a perfectly normal and active life!
As a result of a diagnosis of an advanced case of non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in May of 1988, I faced the ordeal of cancer treatments. This page describes my chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant treatments. For more details of my diagnosis, symptoms, background and results, go to my Cancer Page at the bottom of this page.
1. For the first treatment, my oncologist admitted me to the hospital in order to closely monitor and see how my body would react. These treatments and all subsequent treatments were by I V, and lasted 3-4 hours. I came through the first treatments with no particular problems other than a decrease in appetite and a funny taste in my mouth.
2. Each chemo treatment after this was given in the doctor's office on a recliner. The side effects started getting more and more noticeable. Nausea would set in within an hour of leaving the office each time and would last for several hours and usually involved throwing up at least 4 or more times. This occurred despite the anti-nausea medications that were given to me. I understand that they have some much-improved medication today so this may not be a problem now.
3. Weakness was also a problem after each treatment. I had to just make myself get up and walk around some during the day after treatments, and I would gradually regain some strength.
4. After the first couple of treatments, I would find lots of hair on my pillow each morning, so I asked my wife to cut my remaining hair off with the electric razor to avoid waking up with hair in my mouth. Losing my hair was not a problem that bothered me in the least, considering that the same medications that were causing it were also killing cancer cells.
5. Each IV chemo treatment made my arm and veins sore and the nurses had to use a different vein each time. They used all available veins in each arm and all veins in the top of each hand until the greatest worry each week for me was whether the nurses would be able to find a suitable vein to attack with my next dose of poison. Finally, they decided to put in a device called a Hickman catheter because I needed a bone-marrow transplant and I would need many more IV's and lots of blood work. This is a tube that they put into a main vein in your chest (outpatient surgery) and the tube stays there for weeks. Then, all medication and blood-work is done through this tube hanging out of your chest and they do not have to stick you with a needle anymore. ( a great relief! ) I actually kept this catheter in me for almost 6 months. They taught my wife how to take care of the tube and clean the area and bandage it for me. She did a great job and I never had any problems with the catheter. Today's catheters are probably even better.
6. I had swollen hands and feet, and a puffy face from time to time. This may have been caused by prednisone, but it was not a major problem.
7. Certain chemo treatments caused my fingers (especially fingernail area) to feel numb at times. My feet had similar numbness occasionally.
8. Some of the medications also disturbed my sleep. I think that the steroid (prednisone) was the main culprit. I was on fairly large doses of this during certain weeks. They gave me some sleeping medication for this problem and it helped.
9. A couple of late side effects occurred after the ordeal was all over. During the second year after my treatments, I developed a painful case of "shingles" on my arm and they went up my arm to my shoulder and back. They were difficult but left no permanent damage. During my third year, I was having difficulty with cataracts in both eyes. The cataracts were caused by the total body radiation (see transplant below), so I had cataract surgery and lens implants in both eyes and now I have good vision again.
That pretty much covers my main side effects.
The following list gives the chemo drugs that were administered during my therapy.
My treatments were in three-week cycles. Six cycles (eighteen weeks total) Each Friday was chemo day.
Week one - I V treatment of three bags. 1. Cytoxan, 2. Adriamycin, 3. VP-16 . Then Prednisone tablets each day of week.
Week two - four bags- 1. Bleomycin 2. ARA-C 3. Methotrexate 4. Vincristine followed that night and next day by Leukovorin rescue tablets as an antidote to the poison. Prednisone tabs daily. note...You know you are receiving poison if they have to give you an antidote!
Week three- no chemo! Blood work only and check-up. Off of Prednisone this week.
Start 3-week cycle over for six total cycles.
BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT
At the end of all of my chemotherapy, I was reevaluated to see how successful the process had been. As it turned out, the chemo helped tremendously, but I had a resistant pocket of tumors that would not be destroyed. I actually needed a stronger dose of chemotherapy and radiation but it would destroy my bone marrow, which would be fatal. Therefore, my doctors recommended an autologous bone marrow transplant.
1. My bone marrow was free of cancer, so they did a bone marrow harvest from my own body and froze the marrow in liquid nitrogen for later transplantation. After I had recovered from the surgery to harvest the marrow, I was admitted to Emory University Hospital for the preliminary work to prepare for the transplant.
2. Next, I had radiation therapy on the nodes that were involved. Each daily session lasted only a few minutes. Side effects were not real bad for most of this time, but I was having lots of nausea towards the end of the two weeks. In the hospital, after all of the preliminary tests, I was given a session of total body radiation which was different than the spot treatments. It lasted for maybe 15 minutes, and came in two sessions I think, but I do not remember exactly on this part.
3. Next, I was given an extreme dose of chemotherapy (cytoxan). This dose is considered to be a lethal dose, because it destroys the bone marrow as well as cancer cells. That was it for the treatment.
4. As a result of this treatment, my bone marrow was destroyed along with my immune system. Now it was time for the rescue. For this crucial step, my doctor, accompanied by several student doctors, came into my room with my thawed bone marrow, which was in I V bags and included a solvent (DMSO). I was fully alert and talking with the doctor and students and my wife during the process. I was given the bone marrow as a transfusion and that was "the transplant". The bone marrow cells circulate through the system and gradually start to reproduce in the bone marrow cavities.
5. During the days immediately following the transplant, my blood counts were monitored very closely, and as my platelet count dropped to dangerously low levels, I was given a couple of platelet IV's. As the counts started to climb, after a few days, everyone involved was very pleased. I was in an isolation room where all visitors had to wear a surgical mask and all of my food had to be sterile to prevent possible exposure to disease causing organisms during this time where my immune system was very weak or non-existent. During this time, my main side effects were loss of appetite, an itchy rash on my arms, a few mouth sores and fatigue. After my counts had risen adequately, I was given permission to go home (21 days from the transplant which was a record at that time), and return weekly for check-ups and transfusions of an immunity booster. I was very weak and had no appetite for the weeks immediately following the transplant. I very slowly gained strength and began exercising. Daily walks, gradually mixing in some running and finally back to daily running. I started back to work (high school chemistry teacher) in mid-March after the December 16th transplant. From that time, I have not had any more treatments of any kind and my health remains good. A late side effect developed during the years after my treatments. After about three years, I developed cataracts in both eyes as a result of the total body radiation. I had been informed that this would likely happen, but I thought it was a pretty good trade-off (kill cancer but develop cataracts at an earlier than normal age). I had both eyes repaired with cataract surgery with lens implants. I now have very good vision in both eyes.
Remember that my treatments were in 1988 and things have improved since then. The main thing is that a patient needs to have a positive and determined attitude. Never have the idea that "I refuse to take any more chemo." as I have heard some patients say. Chemo is not pleasant at all, but the life that God gave us is worth living and He gave us the intelligence to find a way to fight the disease through medicine (most all of the chemo drugs were discovered and extracted from plants --- God's creation). The side effects generally will go away after the treatments are over and the cancer is hopefully gone. I hope and pray that I never have to take any more chemo. I shudder at the thought. However, if the time comes when I need to take it again, I will. Fear of death is gone for me. It is great to know that I will have eternal life in heaven. On the other hand, I am also convinced that God wants us to take care of our lives and bodies that HE gave us here on Earth. I love my wife and family, and I will do all that God will give me the strength to do, in order to stay here a little longer. By doing so, I will be able to encourage others to be strong and fight this disease and more importantly, I will be able to encourage them to develop a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Go to Tony's Cancer Page!
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