Cancer Changed Me, Forever or The Battle of the Biologic

Cancer never leaves you. I know, you’re like, “uhh, no duh Dan, why don’t you just tell us the sky is blue.” Well, smartypants, the sky isn’t actually blue, but a lesson in meteorology aside, when I say cancer never leaves you, I mean just that. The illness will mentally and physically affect parts of your life for the rest of… err… your life. Well, I didn’t plan that sentence well.

Now, this may seem like something that you know, but no matter how many times you are told that cancer is a lifelong illness you don’t really believe it until it turns around and smacks you across the face, Monty-Python-style, with a giant rainbow trout called reality. How’s that for a metaphor, person who commented on my last post that my “metaphors have been going downhill lately?” Ahem, what I mean is, you don’t’ realize just how far the tendrils of cancer burrow into every facet of your existence and change you permanently until you go head-to-head with the consequences.

The battle of the biologic

Why do I bring this up? Well, it seems that the treatment I received for my lymphoma, aka chemo, has changed my body for good. Yeah, I know, it sounds like something a first-grader would know but let me explain. First, you have to realize that my cancer is likely a result of living with thirty-plus years of rheumatoid arthritis – another chronic autoimmune illness. It could be just happenstance, like a handsome rando at a house party who doesn’t know anyone, but it is much more likely that one of my RA medicines or even the disease itself slipped that rando named lymphoma an e-vite to “Kevin’s rockin’ new year’s kegger (aka my body).” In the end, not only did I have to deal with lymphoma and chemo but I had to simultaneously keep my rheumatoid arthritis at bay.

At first, the doctors told me that chemo would be all the medicine I’d need for my RA, as it was going to pretty much beat down my entire immune system like drunk townies at a college bar. They assured me that it would be OK to stop my arthritis medication because chemo was doing “basically the same thing.” I didn’t want to be a “difficult patient,” so I gave it the good old townie try. Err, college try. As I suspected, though, the arthritis went haywire after a day or two, and then not only was I dealing with cancer and chemo but out of control RA as well. Thus began the 3-day war in the Cornell oncology ward, or as it’s better known – the battle of the biologic.

Signing a waiver to take both medications

The medication that I take for my rheumatoid arthritis is an interleukin-1 inhibitor and skipping all the medical jargon, which means it blocks a certain part of the immune system. Chemo, for those that don’t know, also has chemicals in it that kill certain parts of the immune system. For this reason, the doctors were dead-set against me taking both medicines at once even though I explained to them that they acted on totally different molecules in the body.

The battle for the biologic raged on for three days and three nights, and by the time darkness fell on that third day, both sides were exhausted, and their reserves were all but depleted. It was at this moment that our hero (that’s me, duh) revealed his secret weapon – a medical waiver! Yes, I agreed to sign a piece of paper that said the doctors were not responsible if I grew a third eye or a fourth leg, and that I acknowledged that the treatment I was engaging in was “outside of traditional medical parameters.” What they didn’t know was that I was well-acquainted with “outside of traditional medical parameters,” and, in fact, had purchased a time-share there, many, many years before.

Then, my RA started acting up

Needless to say, I lived, and my cancer eventually went into remission, and all was well in the kingdom of me. For a while, that is, until one day a funny thing started happening – my rheumatoid arthritis started acting up - something that hadn’t happened in almost a decade. I chalked it up to a fluke flare, but after six months I couldn’t pass it off as a coincidence any longer. I reluctantly went to see my rheumatologist and had him run the full suite of tests, along with my oncologist who did the same, just for good measure. I even agreed to a PET scan – a horrible, awful, torturous procedure that should only be used to extract confessions from unruly prisoners convicted of espionage, just to make sure my cancer hadn’t returned. Unfortunately, after every test had come up with the expected results, we were no closer to understanding why the flare was ongoing. With no obvious signs, my rheumatologist posited a theory – he wondered if the chemo I received during my treatment for lymphoma had changed my body in some permanent way, and the oncologist agreed.

Like an aging rocker who no one has told their voice has gone, I was forever changed and for the worse. The bloody cancer had not only put me through Hell and brought me back, but it literally altered my body’s chemistry forever and because of that RA meds that had worked for over a decade were no longer viable. As if cancer hadn’t taken enough, it came back for one last kick in the groin like the end of a Marx Brothers movie. Thus began the search for a new medicine to control my RA – a constant, daily reminder that lymphoma had ravaged my system and brought me to death’s door. Talk soon.

Unrelated: Timeshare for sale, off the medical map, going cheap, email dan@buymytimeshare.com (joking)

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