Wednesday, July 16, 2008

White blood cells, where are you?

The search continues... (7/16/08)

Well, I felt a ton better after the blood transfusion last week, but apparently my white cells are still not cooperating. I went in for my appointment on Monday, and my absolute neutrophils were even lower than last week (0.68, down from 1.3). The baseline for treatment is 1.5, so something seems screwy. The current theory is that the cycle of neupogen maybe to blame. After each round of treatment I've been doing 14 days of neupogen shots to help stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. The problem is that neupogen causes the white cells to shoot up in number, and so ideally we should wait until they come back down to a natural level before getting treatment. My doctor likes to use the analogy of factories. We've got bone marrow factories that produce red and white cells. Radiation and chemo tend to shut down those factories. The neupogen is supposed to stimulate the factories to produce, but it does so at an accelerated rate. I guess it's like bringing in a ton of extra workers to get the factory up and running again. Slowly while the extra workers are there, the normal workers get back up to speed. So the factories overproduce at first, and when the neupogen wears off, the factories come back down to their "normal" production level (not really normal, but normal enough to get treated with the next round of chemo!). The problem is that if you hit the factories with more chemo while they're up at their overproduction rate, you might be doing so before the natural level has come back up. You basically get rid of all the extra workers while the normal workers are not quite up to capacity yet. Because of the timing of my previous neupogen shots, it may have been that I was getting treatment during these artificially high production times, and the culmulative effect of overstressing the system ends up being that the white cell counts come way down, which ultimately means delays in treatment. This would explain why my previous few cycles have gone relatively smoothly in terms of timing, but it seems my body is now trying to play catch up.

In any case, we'll go in again next Wednesday to see if things have improved. It's super frustrating, but it's also very typical for this type of chemo regimen. Every time this happens, we ask, "Is there anything I can do differently?". But the reality is that it's the chemo and residual effects from radiation at work, and so no amount of eating differently or resting more or exercising more will really change things. Basically, there's nothing I can do, and that's the worst part. You just have to wait it out, and that makes you feel so powerless. The best thing I try and do is just continue with my life as much as possible. It's this strange mix of feelings - part of me is excited by the extra week of freedom, but part of me just wants to get this thing over with. There's also the sinking feeling that more delays mean more chance for the cancer to fight back between rounds. I guess the flip side of that is, well, maybe the chemo and radiation have already done their work killing off the cancer cells, and the rest of this is just gravy. There's no way to know. . . urgh.

In other news, I've been doing better at the climbing wall these past couple of weeks. I think the extra blood really helped a lot. Reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns gets a transfusion of Bart's blood and is suddenly revitalized and energetic. I was able to do a bunch of climbs yesterday without feeling too tired, and I've noticed my energy during the day is back more or less to "normal". And to finish off the post, here are a few notes on what I've been up to:

Reading: The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken
Listening to: Zero 7, The Decemberists, Sara Bareilles (I know, cheesy poppy, but whatever), Flaming Lips, REM (of course), shuffled songs on my iPod
Playing: Super Mario Galaxy (sooo much fun!!)
Slowly working on: my thesis, slides for my defense
Pondering: some post-thesis work that will combine engineering, social benefit, and international development with education, clean tech, and/or medicine
Trying to get back into: Tai chi
Watching: Flight of the Conchords, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Best Dance Crew, Scrubs


Sharon said...

Ah, bummer about the delay. I'll be sitting over here, doing a little bone marrow cheerleading. Go! Cells! Go!

Jackie said...

yay Super Mario Galaxy! :p