The (Positive) Power of One Little Number
As a mirror to my post in February called “One Little Number”, I wanted to write a very short post tonight called “The (Positive) Power of One Little Number” It shows the wild-emotional swings of Stage IV cancer – as you careen back and forth between positive and negative data.
The number referred to in both posts is the blood tumor marker: Carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). It is usually monitored during Stage IV colorectal cancer (CRC) treatment except for in patients where it never leaves the “normal range” (showing that it is not a good tumor marker for that particular patient). My CEA values stay low but they do move up and down in response to growth or shrinkage of my tumors.
I spent all day today in the chemo infusion center – receiving the FOLFIRI chemo infusion + Avastin (bevacizumab). Not the most enjoyable day. Especially tiring because in addition to chemo toxicity, I was in the middle of a 60 hour no nutrient fast (to be the subject of a later scientific post!). Moments after I got home, wiped out physically and mentally, I was about to go to sleep when… an email arrived on my phone!
Now, as I mentioned in the February post – all clinical signs are pointing to successful shrinkage of tumors. But still, opening that one little number brings a sense of fear into my mind, no matter how much I try to suppress it. Fear compounded in particular this evening by infusion fatigue and toxic side effects. I slowly opened the email.
THE CEA VALUE TONIGHT: 5.3 µg/L 🙂
To put in relation:
At the start of FOLFIRI last fall, it was 8.2 µg/L
At my Stage IV diagnosis (minimal disease – it took almost a year to decide I was Stage IV) in June, 2014 it was 3.2 µg/L
After only six FOLFIRI infusions, the number is already half-way to the my Stage IV starting point almost 2 years ago!
The FOLFIRI chemo + Avastin clearly appears to be continuing to work (although it requires definitive proof from a CT-scan)! But since both the CEA test and clinical signs (and the CT-scan in February) are all in agreement, I am very confident right now that FOLFIRI+Avastin is continuing to shrink my tumors.
I am not expecting a cure from this chemo. What I am praying for is long-term stability. To make the chemo side effects worth it. To be here as Dad to my two little girls for as long as possible with “Stable disease’, To buy me time… and all I need is time… for the immunotherapy cavalry to arrive!
Some months, the little number is scary when it arrives. Other months, like tonight, it is joyous. But always… it is amazing how much of my life continues to be governed by one little number.
On that note, as someone currently filled with almost 10 strong drugs – including two highly toxic ones attacking my tumors as we speak – I think I’ll say GOOD NIGHT! 🙂