The final treatment for Patient #1

So, this is it.  The final dose of Yervoy – the last dose of anything – for my trial was Wednesday afternoon. After those last 90 mL flushed through, we have no more medical procedures (well, aside from blood draws, which at this point are like chewing gum, if gum stuck you in the arm with a sharp point). No more treatments, no more next steps, or challenges to prepare for. Nothing… just waiting, praying, and in a week, scanning my body to see if/how well this worked, at least preliminarily.

It feels odd, having no more upcoming battles. Knowing there was always something to look forward to or prepare for made it easy to methodically progress through each phase of the treatment.  I said many times that I have it the easiest, knowing what I need to do or get through next. Now, I am living in the vague world of “gotta wait and see what happens.”

This morning felt different, almost like Christmas Eve, the morning of a big game, or packing the night before going on vacation. We went to a quick morning mass, dropped the kids off with Jen’s parents for an overnight stay, and headed towards Tampa. It was... energetic.   

Four hours later in the passenger seat (Jen drove, I worked on documents for A Prom to Remember), I was much less energetic and actually fairly lethargic. Realizing that Wawa had opened their Tampa location by USF just last week got me a little more excited for lunch, even if we ended up being late to the first appointment because of a Wawa-at-2am-in-Avalon-like crowd. Still, the buzz in the morning had worn off somewhere on I-75 north of Naples.

Maybe it was the honey roasted turkey hoagie (and the cheddar pretzel, and Lemonade Iced Tea, and Krimpet… the cancer diet took a hit for Yervoy 4) or slowly returning to full consciousness after my snooze through Charlotte, Sarasota, and Manatee counties. Either way, by the time we reached Moffitt, the excitement of completing treatments segued into the finality of the day. This was it; time to finish the clinical trial, and find out just how well it worked. I thought I would feel that sense of anticipation all day, but it wore off and never came back. 

It is difficult to explain the feeling; the closest thing I can relate it to was something my sister-in-law Tracey said recently about the death of her brother: “You can’t spend all day, every day, in a constant emotional state; sometimes, you just need a break.” While the situations are significantly different and it is hard to compare anything to the death of a loved one, the “constant emotional state” part really rang true with me. 

The last six months have been full of frayed nerves, emotional moments, and draining stretches. At some point, everyone reaches an emotional void where they just can’t keep going without recharging the batteries a little bit. I hit that point today, or at least realized I had. After three weeks of telling many, many people that “this is it” about the last Yervoy dose, I was just ready for that moment in time to be complete. Don’t get me wrong – I was happy to be (finally) at the end of the yellow brick road, and smiled quite a few times when Jen got peppy about my treatment (really, our treatment) being done. I am just ready – ready for the port to be out, ready to read those scans with Dr. Weber next Friday, ready to answer the question “What’s next?”, and ready to move from cancer patient to cancer survivor.

On a final note, and shameless way to put Rocky into the blog. I sent this clip to my cousin Erik a while ago, describing how I felt – with cancer and surgeries being Apollo, and me being Rocky (of course). It is one of my favorite moments in all of Sly’s movies - personifying resolution and determination in the face of perceived insurmountable odds. I took everything this protocol had to offer, and waved it to “come on” after each one – give me your best shot, ‘cause I’m not going down yet. 

I feel confident that next Friday we will find out that cancer did the same thing Apollo Creed did – sagged its shoulders and was all but defeated.  Erik pointed out that Apollo won this fight; I countered that it was Rocky who ultimately triumphed, both in the sequel and in his original goal of going the distance with the champ. Metaphorically speaking, cancer is the “champ” here and I entered this as the underdog.   And, even if the scans don’t show a complete response next Friday (unlikely, especially for a preliminary scan), I feel like Rocky did in those last two rounds – I took the best that cancer had to offer and eventually will get the better of it. It’s not a matter of if, but when - and cancer can’t get saved by the bell.

This is it.