Well, it’s downhill from here – at least that’s how it feels. It won’t be that easy, for sure. I still have one remaining treatment -Yervoy dose four. Dose three was this past Wednesday, and went off without a hitch. Dose four is scheduled for February 20th, and then, like Porky Pig says, “That’s all, Folks!”
It’s not quite all, though, folks. First, the Yervoy has side effects, so there are plenty of things left that COULD happen – and this is outside the normal side effects like fatigue. Second, I am still sort of recovering from the Chemo/TIL/IL2, so cumulatively I am still “down” and recovering in general.
Side note – the whole losing hair with chemo thing kicked in, which I thought would be irrelevant for someone whose crown hasn’t seen significant turf since Al Gore and Dubya were winning primaries. I didn’t anticipate sporadic goatee hairs falling out, making facial hair comical and leading to being clean shaven for only the second time in 11 years. It was less “massive hair loss” and more “small, random facial hair loss, along with no hair growing back in.” Which means all the hair that got removed (aka violently pulled off) from various sticky pads and patches at Moffitt the last few weeks has yet to return. The chest hair is a patchwork of bald spots; the only good thing is I haven’t shaved in over a week.
A common theme in the cancer world is that you are not in this alone. Many, many individuals are stakeholders in the battle. Some, like the medical professionals, have both a professional and personal interest in your treatment and recovery. Others, like the hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, have a more “client” relationship with you, but still hope for a positive outcome. Still others, especially volunteers, social workers, family, and friends, have a vested personal involvement. There are lots of interested parties, and all of them are pulling for yours to be a success story.
Former cancer patients and survivors often go above and beyond to offer their support to active cancer patients – well, everyone offers help – but those who walked this road before open up and relive their experiences in order to help prepare others for their battle. Many of those survivors reached out to share their personal cancer experience without prompting, or even introduction. People I don’t know – from as far away as Holland – have found me, shared their stories, gave encouragement, and offered “I am here if you need anything.”
It’s like being inducted into some sort of secret society – ‘Welcome Pledge Sharpe to the Kappa Rho Alpha Beta fraternity, here’s your pledge pin, start studying medical websites immediately and email us any questions.’
The most difficult stretch of my treatment is officially in the rearview mirror. I was discharged Monday morning from Moffitt, almost a week to the hour after checking in. The recovery indicators shot up between Saturday morning and Sunday, so I just needed to remain off oxygen all Sunday and I was good to go Monday morning.
That the TIL + IL2 took only a week to go from infusion, through seven doses, and then get fully recovered is something that makes me proud. Originally, my goal had been to break records for the number of IL2 doses received; now, I am glad we halted them at seven before any markers got into the “red zone.” Sorry for any misconception at the end of the last post – both the doctors and I were thrilled to get seven doses in and remain fairly healthy. Stopping then was absolutely the right decision; there is no proof seven doses of IL2 is better than six or eight, when used as a TIL supplement. So, getting in a good number of doses, without triggering any cascading side effects and medicines, was very positive for my treatment and for my body in general – which has taken a beating the last few months and, frankly, could use a bit of good fortune.
Still, I’m not out of the woods yet, though. Chemo and IL2 both have delayed side effects that can kick in over the coming weeks. Plus, two doses of Yervoy still remain, and no one is sure what the cumulative toxic effects are of two Yervoy doses, followed by TIL, followed by IL2, followed by two more Yervoy doses. Oh yea – throw two surgeries in there too. This sounds like the lineup of shots from my 21st birthday, not a cancer treatment plan. So, the next couple of months will be rest, recovery, and lots of praying that these t-cells do their thing. A preliminary scan is scheduled for the end of February, but we won’t know for sure until early April how well this worked.
“Do or do not. There is no try.” - Yoda
Since I received my diagnosis in August, Interluken-2 (IL2) has been something that was tossed around in a serious voice by every oncologist we spoke with. The initial view was that it was a long shot we didn’t want to try – something like 10-15% of patients using IL2 as a treatment had a complete response, but up to 5% getting treated die. We have since learned IL2 is targeted towards younger individuals without other medical issues, as their death rate is nearly non-existent. It also ended up being the final component in my Yervoy and TIL + IL2 treatment. It was something I would just have to do.
First-hand accounts of the IL2 treatment from several people who underwent it made it sound fairly awful. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy” said one, who happens to be an Army Major and has battled actual enemies on actual battlefields. Another cancer colleague relayed an IL2 experience where he began behaving oddly and quoting Star Wars (“Strong in the Force are these IL2 doses, mmm”) until his wife called in nurses, prompting him to label her a NARC.
Yea cancer pretty much sucks, but there are small benefits here and there if you know how to find them:
10. Facial hair freedom – First it was the playoff beard, now we’re rocking the Fu Man Chu (poorly I may add), who knows what is next.
9. Mid-day naps – I average two. Per day. And they are fantastic. Somehow, this will continue after all is said and done. Siestas are way better than trying to plow through the afternoon on 5 Hour Energy. Josie and Tommy are the perfect cuddle buddies for one of the aforementioned naps, as long as they don’t kick too much.
8. Baby weight loss – Granted, this wasn’t the ideal way to drop the sympathy pounds I put on while Jen was pregnant, but I do not have to worry about counting calories anytime soon.
167 days. That’s how long it will be fromfirst checking into the hospitalwith flu-like symptoms and when I start the most intense, and important, treatment for Stage 4 Melanoma. For you moms out there, I am almost in the third trimester – many surely remember the feelings of anxiety mixed with excitement as “the date” got closer. So, yes, getting the green light this past week was an exhale moment. It is go time.
This year has already been about go-go-go, less than a week in. I experienced the life of a sports reporter for a few hours at the Outback Bowl in Tampa on January 1st. Knights Sports Productions, a radio and television sports production company based in Tampa, brought me to Raymond James Stadium to shoot a segment prior to the game. Our team watched the game in the press box and, for the final five minutes, from the field. If you saw the game highlights (a last-second South Carolina win over Michigan), you saw us standing under the goalpost as the Gamecocks scored the winning touchdown. Pretty cool! And anote to the Eagles front office- you want to finish 0-16 next year and draft Jadeveon Clowney. Trust me on this one.
Alas, all good things come to an end, so the following day I got a port placed in me. It is a “permanent” IV; inserted for the next month so they don’t need to keep sticking me with needles. Presented as a small procedure, it wiped me out for nearly a full day, and certainly was not pain-free.I don’t know what I was expecting, but placing a tube into your chest vein the size of a Big Gulp straw is not the same as a routine blood draw.
res·o·lu·tion [rez-uh-loo-shuhn] noun
- The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.
- A resolving to do something.
- A course of action determined or decided on.
- A formal statement of a decision or expression of opinion put before or adopted by an assembly such as the U.S. Congress.
- Physics & Chemistry The act or process of separating or reducing something into its constituent parts
- The fineness of detail that can be distinguished in an image, as on a video display terminal.
- Medicine The subsiding or termination of an abnormal condition, such as a fever or an inflammation.
The New Year is one of the arbitrarily-selected times we use to make self-improvements and “resolve” to do better, live better, be better people. Ask a personal trainer, dietician, or parent of a teenager how most resolutions fare by St. Patrick’s Day, and you understand the difference between “resolving to do something” and “getting the job done.” (That also applies to all kinds of political commentary, but since we are in the Health section, I will stick to medical cancers.)
Much like the sun, resolutions rise with energy and promise and the glow of potential; a new day, a new opportunity, another chance to make the world – your world – better. And, much like the daytime, our resolutions face a gamut of unpredictable conditions. Weather affects how our sun’s rays reach the earth; some days are blistering hot, others leave us cold, still others change potential into a dark, damp, dreary reminder that sunshine isn’t a promise. Then there are days that you wish you could bottle–80 degrees and sunny with a breeze on the water, a quiet snow falling outside a fireplace overlooking the ski slopes, or crisp autumn air that is just cool enough to remind you of all the outdoor possibilities that await. Those are the days you know are conducive to making resolutions a reality.
My Dad asked me the other day, in a somewhat contentious debate about the merits of a day trip to Disney World being the best idea, “You’re not giving up or anything, are you?” His question, and concern, was understandable – after recovering and taking it easy for the last several weeks, a slightly impulsive decision to join my family for a day at amusement parks can easily be seen as “getting it in now.”
That’s not why the Sharpe family was at The Most Magical Place on Earth, though. Our cousin had a dancing audition there, and Jen wanted to combine seeing extended family with a trip to the park. I felt up to tagging along for the ride to Disney and planned to join them in the evening at the Magic Kingdom. In the meantime, I would take care of some busy work in the room – paying bills, submitting insurance stuff, and generally getting us somewhat caught up with life.
Then I looked in the mirror. Forget cancer, or even major surgery recovery. My kids were going to Disney, the youngest one for the first time. I am still recovering, but it wasn’t like I was or am incapacitated. Was I really going to sit and fill out forms and use my current medical state to justify a few hours of busy work? Was I really being given the chance to create a special memory and passing it up for AFLAC and Wells Fargo paperwork?