The young nurse sat on a stool three feet from me and held out the bottle of pills.
“This is the BRAF inhibitor, so you need to take two of these right now. Do you have enough water there?”
Wait just a minute. Do you realize what you are handing me? Do you realize that to me this feels like my final hope, you are handing me my cure, what I’ve prayed for for months? Do you realize what I have been through physically and emotionally for the past almost two weeks, the hurdles I’ve had to get over just to be given these pills? Do you realize the tear-filled prayers that I and countless others have prayed just for me to be sitting here today, being handed these pills?
“We are really excited for you to start this trial. I mean, this trial is just great. We have seen so many improve with this trial. Really, everybody sees significant shrinkage with this trial.”
“Ok, I just need a minute to pray before I take this.”
And my tears came unbidden. I spoke to the Lord from deep in my heart, as the tears washed over my face.
“Oh Lord, I thank you for getting me to this point, for making my many lab tests what they needed to be. I need you to make this work. Lord, so many treatments have failed. The cancer has grown, so many side effects have gotten in the way, so much has not gone as doctors expected. Please, not this time. Please have mercy. Please show your compassion. You have worked out difficult details to get me into this study. I believe you led me to it. Lord, let the drugs work. But let my healing be such that it even surprises the doctors. Father, I want you to have the honor and the glory for rescuing your child. Show, without a doubt, that when God is with you, you are different from the rest of the world. You have access to greater power. You are protected in a different way. Show that when many prayers are lifted, it makes a difference. Give me a chance to tell the story of your great love for me. How when all looked so bleak and the end felt so near, you pulled me up out of the pit. God, please, let this be the beginning of victory.”
I wiped my eyes and opened the bottle of pills.
“Are you ok?” the stunned nurse asked.
“I’m ok. I just have a lot of hope right now and I just really want this to work.”
“Well, like I said, we really think this is going to make you better.”
“I know. But I’ve been told that before. We’ve just had a lot of bad happen over the last year. I really need things to turn around.”
She finished explaining the meds and then suddenly gave me a hug before leaving the room.
The BRAF trial has begun. I am on C1D2, meaning cycle 1, day 2. I take 3 pills (2 drugs) every morning, and 2 pills (1 drug) every night. I have to make sure I have fasted one hour before taking the meds and then don’t eat for 2 hours after taking the meds. I will return to Sarah Cannon on Monday for some more lab work (more on this in just a moment). Then I return 2 weeks from yesterday for lab work and to be given refills on my meds. After that I will only go to Sarah Cannon once a month for labs and refills. I will have CT scans every 8 weeks, and as long as things are responding favorably, I will continue the study. I will see a dermatologist periodically and have echocardiograms periodically during the study but I think that’s every month or two months also.
The primary side effects to these drugs is skin rash, which 80% of patients have. They may also cause fevers. There is slight chance of nausea, fatigue, constipation/diarrhea, etc, but few deal with that. I’ve been told that most patients are able to live quite normal lives for years on this study, including working full-time.
Monday I have to return for more lab work to have those good old liver function tests repeated. In addition to my function tests being elevated, my bilirubin has been gradually increasing to a concerning level. If that looks bad enough on Monday, Dr. Bendell (now my primary oncologist – she is amazing!!!!) wants to send me to a gastroenterologist for a procedure to examine the patency of my bile duct. I may need a procedure to free up the bile duct if a tumor is starting to encroach it.
There are so many positives about the course of things lately. First of all – we got all of this massive testing for the study done and got me going on the study before the main craziness of the Christmas season is upon us. The study requirements are so minimal in terms of time commitment that I am going to be able to attend, Lord willing, all school Christmas parties, Christmas programs, maybe even church Christmas functions, etc. In addition, side effects shouldn’t keep me from enjoying the holidays. I should be able to finish up Christmas prep at our house (shopping/wrapping), enjoy Christmas day with my boys, and enjoy traveling to family Christmas events. I had prayed so hard for a break from chemo over the holidays and that has been granted. Praise the Lord!
Here’s where my prayers are focused right now:
1. That my liver function tests and bilirubin numbers will not be a concern on Monday. I don’t know a lot yet about the GI procedure that may have to be done, but obviously it involves an endoscope and is at least minimally invasive, therefore carries some risk. I would just as soon avoid that all together if I can safely do so.
2. That I have no major unexpected reactions to this drug, but that my body responds well to it. Obviously, they didn’t expect the terrible reaction I had to vectibix. I don’t want to be that outlier again, with either my skin or anything else. I don’t want something else to get in the way of giving these drugs a chance to work.
3. That this is the beginning of brighter days for my family, the beginning of true victory on this earth over cancer. I want the chance to share a powerful story of healing and grace. I can’t tell you how ready I am to conclude 2011 and begin 2012. Lord willing, I truly believe it is going to be an amazing year for me and my family. My hope is in the Lord! Nothing is too hard for God, the God of all flesh. Nothing is impossible with God. I cannot see the future, but God is there, working out the details with His loving hand.
Bless you, be blessed this Christmas season, be merry, let your heart be light, and be filled with the True Light of the world.