My Experience with the First Six Cycles of Chemotherapy
In fact, going through the first six cycles of chemotherapy made life unexpectedly richer in some ways, such as avoiding hair loss.
One day, I was at my local garage to book a job for my car or ask questions about the website I built and maintained for them. I always feel relaxed there. As I was sitting in the reception area, I was surprised to see an old acquaintance. I thought he had passed away since I had heard that he had a terminal prognosis.
After exchanging pleasantries, we talked about our health. He shared that he was given a prognosis of just two months, and he acted quickly:
- Making changes to his attitudes
- Embracing the science (inherent in the health system (my words)).
- And lifestyle changes.
We kept in touch via email for a few months, and I perceived that he had a good quality of life from local hearsay, for a few years. When I talked to him, he looked healthy and in good spirits.
Unfortunately, RD passed away way too soon. He was a good man, and he will be missed.
Time Line of This Chapter:
July 2019 – Jan 2020
- A friend’s journey.
- The Unknown
- Walking Dunedin
- Chemo day kindness
- Exploring attitudes
- The Great Unknown.
- The Myth of Normal
- Technical talk.
- Feeling Blessed.
- A good read.
- A new part time job.
- A bright future.
After undergoing a few treatments that were indicating a “total response”, I had some time to reflect.
- Two days before each treatment, I made a conscious effort to ring-fence off every emotion. I hadn’t necessarily dealt with them all, but my goal was to become nothingness and to welcome the unknown. Given my beliefs and life experiences, these were my only strategies. I even excluded prayer and positive thinking.
- I shared a few special things with a select number of people, not to set my affairs in order but to set the stage for whatever outcomes may come my way. Although some of these things didn’t make sense to me, I followed my heart and carried them through.
- Unknowingly at the time, I created space for whatever the cards may deal me, and a few months later, I realized that I found peace in this scenario.
It’s important to note that the concept of acceptance should not be mistaken for fatalism or avoidance.
My writings to date, as far as I can remember, have covered the period from June 2019 to about February 2020. It has taken me over a year to write this much of my blog, for a very good reason: I didn’t want to write it while in the fog of traditional chemotherapy. Now, I’m over a year out from maintenance chemo (see below).
As I write this in September 2022, I can’t go back and change my attitudes or my treatment choices, nor can I change my attitudes towards other things and see what the outcome might have been. The world doesn’t work that way, and clinical trials don’t stack up when they involve only one person. The first systematic clinical trial involved the treatment of scurvy in 1747.
However, hindsight can offer a selection of theories about what may or may not have happened.
As mentioned earlier, my health professionals believe that my attitudes played a role in steering me towards remission.
In the following section, I explore how attitudes may impact health outcomes, drawing from scientific research.
Reflecting on my experience, I see similarities between my approach to cancer and the way one might contain a bushfire. By compartmentalizing my emotions, I effectively denied lymphoma access to the “fuel and oxygen” of stress-inducing hormones. However, subconscious traumas triggered by our thoughts can be more challenging to address. When past traumas resurface, stress hormones flood the body, suppressing the immune system and leaving us vulnerable to illness.
While it can be challenging to uncover what’s going on in our subconscious, we can retrain our thinking and communicate with our bodies to promote healing. For instance, I recently witnessed how a cross-country skier taught her body to relax and let go of tension through practice, creating a feedback loop that freed her mind to enjoy the experience. Similarly, we can reprogram our thinking and establish a new feedback loop that instructs the body to take charge and promote healing.
On the other hand, when I began treatment, I was in a state of utter despair. At the time, my ego was deprived of fuel and had to take a back seat. This left room for deeper truths to emerge, and perhaps contributed to my eventual remission. However, it’s difficult to determine what impact this had on my recovery, and there’s no way to turn back the clock and test different attitudes and treatment options. Nonetheless, reflecting on my experience, I believe that a positive attitude and a willingness to communicate with my body played a role in my recovery.
Paradoxes are present in the context of illness and treatment.
For example, while chemo cycles are known to suppress the immune system, it is unclear if this effect is uniform. I wonder if it also suppresses/fogs up the unconscious/subconscious even, which would also aid healing. Moreover, finding balance and coherence among the body’s energy centers is critical for overall wellness, and a constant focus on the outer world can lead to an unhealthy fragmentation of our energy quotient. Meditation is one pathway to achieve coherence, but it is also essential to consider the factors that affect the manufacturing of new cells, the disposal of old ones, and the impact of technology and lifestyle choices. The role of the subconscious in illness and recovery is worth exploring, as is the timing and dosage of treatments. Fine decisions made by experienced and professional specialists can make a significant difference in achieving balance and avoiding tipping points.
Dr. Gabor Maté On How Trauma Fuels Disease | Rich Roll Podcast
Technical over view:
I underwent chemotherapy treatment for a total of 30 cycles (28 days = 1 cycle), with the last 24 cycles being less intense “maintenance chemos”. To receive my treatment, I had to travel the four hours to Dunedin for nearly all of them. Especially the first six cycles.
When I arrived at the day unit, I would get my bloods done. The next day, I would meet with my oncologist, who would check to make sure I was “good to go” for the following two days of intravenous (IV) treatment. The first day was rituximab, and the second day was bendamustine. I can’t remember which day I would also receive an IV antibiotic called pentamidine. I had to arrive at the clinic by 10 am, with my lunch and anything else I wanted to keep me occupied, such as my iPad, laptop, books, or music headphones. I would typically spend several hours there, leaving around 3-5 pm.
During my visits, there were many things to be checked off, such as how I was feeling, what medications I had taken that morning (including Panadol before arriving), and vital sign checks such as blood pressure and oxygen uptake. I also had to take other medications before the IV treatment began.
After my first six months of cycles, I moved into 24 months of maintenance chemo. During this time, I received rituximab and pentamidine all in one day, every two months. Pentamidine was particularly hard on my veins and required a slow and prolonged delivery. To avoid skin irritation called tracking, I had a small electric blanket wrapped around the area where the cannulation was inserted.
I had no idea I would be so blessed during treatment, to be able to do so much…
Following my second PET/CT scan in Christchurch, I had a meeting with my oncologist. To my surprise, she informed me that there was no evidence of the disease anywhere in my body. This news threw me off guard, as I had expected her to say something like “we’ve knocked it back.” Looking back, I realized that I had been identifying too closely with the illness, despite my best efforts to avoid doing so. Nonetheless, I was overjoyed to hear this great news!
I found this to be a very interesting and useful read.
No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or wise you are, none of it matters if you’re not breathing properly.
There is nothing more essential to our health and wellbeing than breathing: take air in, let it out, repeat 25,000 times a day. Yet, as a species, humans have lost the ability to breathe correctly, with grave consequences. In Breath, journalist James Nestor travels the world to discover the hidden science behind ancient breathing practices like Pranayama, Sudarshan Kriya and Tummo, to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.
Breath by James Nestor
Out of the Blue…
I found myself appointed by the Minister of Conservation, to serve on the Otago Conservation Board. A part time job, where members advise the Dept. of Conservation on governance matters. Giving a voice to the birds and/or the public.
Today, the future looks bright and full of promise.
As I reflect on my journey and why I felt compelled to share my story, I realize that it has been a cathartic experience for me. It has also sparked a desire for research and self-reflection, and made me recognize that I have spent too much time focusing on superficial, short-term goals that are not aligned with my true values. This realization has encouraged me to redirect my energy towards more meaningful pursuits, rather than being driven by outdated beliefs from my childhood.
My hope is that by sharing my experiences, others may find additional tools, inspiration, and ideas that can help them on their own journeys. I believe that the lessons I have learned and the perspective I have gained can be valuable to anyone facing challenging times, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story in the hope that it can make a positive difference in someone’s life.
BTW current state of health, as of Sept 2022, is pretty good!
The next post/chapter will be titled something like, “The Long Haul of Maintenance Chemo”
If you would like an email notification for new posts coming up (at least a doz. planned), then please leave your details here
The content presented on the site is in no way intended as medical advice. Or as a substitute for medical treatment. Guidance from your doctor or other health care professional should always be sought. Be involved with them on all levels.