In August 2016, I entered a clinical study. I wanted to participate in the possible development of new drugs for cancer.
In this case, the docs wanted to use three drugs to see if they together would be more effective than any of them alone. I took two of the drugs by pill with a “run-up” period that gradually increased the dose. The third drug was administered by infusion.
The medical tests were intense. Every week, I had blood tests. I regularly had EKG and CT scans. They even threw in a PET scan for good measure. The docs also took biopsies, which required sedation, and a detailed ophthalmology exam.
I did well for a while but then developed problems with liver levels. The docs stopped one drug and reduced the other. Ultimately they had to stop treatment altogether because the drugs also lowered my sodium levels and landed me in the hospital for two days.
The sodium returned to normal after restricting my water intake. The liver problem was tougher and required prednisone. The steroid accelerated cataract development and resulted in two cataract surgeries after a year.
Clinical trials are necessary in the development of new drugs, including the immunology drug I take now. I’m grateful for patients who participated in that study and hope my statistics will help the next generation.
Immunology is a new class of drugs. The FDA approved the first drug in 2011. Now there are myriads of them.
Keytruda or pembrolizumab, like other drugs in this category, works with the immune system to help detect and fight cancer. Each works with different kinds of melanoma and boosts the immune system in a different way.
In this case, cancer may use the PD-1 pathway to hide from the T cells the immune system sends out. Keytruda blocks this pathway so the T cells can detect and fight cancer cells.
Unfortunately, the immune system can also attack normal cells. This can lead to side effects. The most common are fatigue, cough, nausea, itching, rash, etc. Compared to other kinds of drugs, these side effects are relatively mild.
BTW, Keytruda is the drug I’ve taken for over a year with only fatigue and rash showing themselves. The last CT scan showed NO tumors. Hooray for modern medicine!
In future posts, I’ll describe other drugs and how they work. Stay tuned!
Someone told me this when I was discussing my work-in-progress, a devotional for cancer patients and caregivers. I had just received word from my oncologist that he couldn’t find any tumors in my CT scan.
Her comment made me think. Two years ago, I suffered horrible side effects and screamed, “Why, God? Why?” Could her admonition be the answer to that question?
I’d like to think that in writing the devotional, I will not waste my cancer, but I’m looking for more ways to implement it.
If you’re a cancer patient or caregiver, what are you doing so your experience won’t go to waste?