Sometimes I wish you could just put up a stop sign and cancer would obey. Just stop in its tracks. But like those of us who occasionally admit to a "rolling stop," cancer cells aren't going simply to obey a sign. We need to put up road blocks. We need to target them with poisons. We need to reprogram their genetic codes so that they self-destruct. We need to reprogram our immune systems so that our own T-cells "see" past the camouflage in which cancer shrouds itself. This is the arsenal against cancer, and it is being developed at places like USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, M.D. Andersen, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and dozens of other fine research institutions. Let me make a pitch: If you feel like giving money to further cancer research, direct it to the people and institutions in the trenches actually doing the hard work, rather than those perhaps better-known groups that are mostly educational and have a large administrative overhead. (Charity Navigator is a good place to check out non-profits).
Now to my update:
In the nearly eight years since my diagnosis with metastatic colon cancer, I've benefited from two biologic therapies, both approved in the mid-2000s: Bevacizumab, a monoclonal antibody (trade name Avastin) and cetuximab (an EGFR inhibitor, trade name Erbitux). Most of the time I've received these modern treatments in combination with chemotherapies. As readers of this blog might remember, Avastin caused my kidney problems. Hoping the kidney function would come back, my medical team stopped Avastin and switched to Erbitux. That agent (in combination with chemo) proved effective for a time in shrinking my tumors.
My most recent scans (two weeks ago) didn't reveal any new tumors, but the existing ones showed slight growth and increased activity. This was confirmed by increased CEA levels in my blood. After consulting with Drs. Lenz and Nagasawa, we are going to switch back to Avastin (now that I'm on dialysis, further kidney damage isn't an issue). If the insurance company approves, we will add Avastin to the Erbitux-Irinotecan combination. That approval is a very long shot, because the drugs are very expensive and that combination isn't used much in the USA. We hope that the Avastin will do a better job of arresting tumor growth.
The good news in all this is that the Lord has blessed me with many, many new mornings and days with my family than I ever thought I'd have, and the rate at which my cancer grows is still very manageable. And I am hopeful that soon some of the immunotherapies currently in trials will prove effective against colon cancer and be approved by the FDA.
In other news, November and December were filled with family. Our entire family was home for Thanksgiving; our two oldest were back for a friend's wedding in early December; and we had our oldest home for Christmas and New Years, joined by her boyfriend for New Years. We missed our Ohio-resident daughter and her husband, whose turn it was to visit his folks for the holiday. The house was also filled with extended family, friends good food, classic music and fun. Before Christmas, Terisa surprised me with an afternoon high-speed auto course, driving very fast cars with an instructor (yes, I am a car guy). On Christmas day at the beach for sunset we watched dolphins surfing and leaping out of the water just yards from shore. After Christmas on a glorious warm sunny day we went whale-watching from nearby Dana Point harbor, where we saw hundreds of dolphins and two migrating gray whales . A couple days later we drove to Joshua Tree in between storms, for a bit of hiking, rock-climbing (the kids, not I!) and enjoying the wilderness.
The desert is a wonderful place in which to ponder the big questions. You cannot help but feel the age of the rocks, the struggle for life, the reality of death, and the mysterious beauty behind it all. After a rain, you see and hear the joy in creation. Tiny plants awaken from the formerly parched soil. Yuccas bloom. Fresh animal tracks scurry along the sandy ground. Hummingbirds chirp. Sun warms the massive boulders. The air is clean. Snow covers the distant mountains. Gnarled Joshua Trees reach their arms to heaven in supplication, waiting for the redemption of all creation.