Today is the big day. Navy SEAL-like t-cells are “storming the beach” sometime in the afternoon. We don't have the exact time; apparently, I am on a need to know basis, and, well, I don’t need to know yet. Chemotherapy has knocked out my immune system, and I am physically ready to tackle the part of the trial that determines my treatment outcome and, basically, the remainder of my life. As Eddie Vedder said at the start of the Spectrum’s last concert, “This is it.”
The week of chemo was relatively event-free. Fatigue and a bit of appetite loss were the only real side effects. I completed inpatient chemo with only bloating as the worst effect– bathroom use was frequent, as 10 pounds of saline solution and Meznax IV water weight has to go somewhere.
For the rest of the week, daily trips to the infusion center at Moffitt supplied me with Fludarabine, a leukemia chemotherapy that will finish off the existing white blood cells. From there, it is TIL infusion Monday, and IL2 beginning Tuesday at 6am. By the weekend, I should be recovering while watching the Flyers and Pens drop the puck – thanks NHL for giving me hockey back and putting the Flyers on national TV Saturday and Sunday! Until then, I will be in and out of coherency, but am hoping to have updates during the IL2 and immediately afterwards.
As of Monday afternoon, I had a 0.16 k/uLWBC count, meaning I have near-zero white blood cells left. Keep your sick kids away from me for the next few days.
There is a bell at Moffitt’s infusion center that patients ring to signify completion of their full chemotherapy treatment. The ringing is usually accompanied by fellow patients, nurses, and support personnel cheering and clapping. Being a Sunday morning, there were only a handful of people in the center to hear Patient #1 ring the bell at the end my chemo, so my cheering section of one very happy wife provided all the applause.
Not having the recognition was OK, though. Ringing that bell meant the wait was over. It was time to finally – five months after the initial diagnosis – reach the core of my treatment. Insert your favorite sports/battle/challenge metaphor here; I’m going with Rocky and Apollo boxing alone at the end of Rocky III. No more surgeries, tests, X-rays, blood draws, needles, pills, conjecture, speculation, and crossing of fingers. Now it’s go time. The fourth quarter. Showtime. The final round. And I have never been more ready for something. It’s time to ring the bell, melanoma.