Prior to my third infusion of chemo/immunotherapy, when someone would ask me, “Alex, how is the treatment going?”, I’d confidently say “Compared to the first fight against cancer this one is a ‘cake-walk’.”
I think I’m beginning to eat my own words.
My oncologist forewarned me of the possibility of a gradual increase of side effects from this type of chemo/immunotherapy treatment, even many months after the end of treatment.
Since the start of my treatment on July 14th, a little over seven weeks ago, I’ve only experienced a minimal amount of side effects: fatigue, minor itching, and…at times…feeling a bit nauseous. I would rather have hoped that this nominal level of side effects would have continued as the norm throughout the rest of the treatment; conversely, my oncologist’s prognosis has proven to be on the mark.
Following my third infusion, I started to experience pain in the frontal area of my head. I discounted the minor pain for a couple of days. However, as the pain persisted…non-stop…for the next 3 to 4 days, along with an accumulating level pressure, I eventually went to the Emergency Room. After consulting with one of the oncologists at the INOVA Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center, the attending ER physician prescribed medication for my head pain.
Also, I will likely be scheduled this week to undergo a MRI to assess if the treatment is affecting my pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands (persistent and unusual headaches are indications that the Yervoy drug is affecting my hormone gland system).
While this new Yervoy drug (approved in March 2011 by the FDA), developed by Bristol-Meyers Squibb, is the first type of immunotherapy that gives patients – like myself – a fighting chance to live longer, it does come with some potential unusual and severe side effects; particularly involving the colon, liver, skin, endocrine system, and nervous system. However, all these negative side effects can be managed effectively if diagnosed early on.
Despite the risks of the side effects, they far outweigh the alternative. Prior to the development of this type of immunotherapy treatment, the survival rate for patients with stage IV melanoma was low – from “2001 to 2007, 85% of patients with distant metastases (like me) were not expected to survive 5 years, and the median survival of patients with stage IV [melanoma cancer] was less than 1 year.”
Given the possibility of the undesirable alternative…
I am willing to accept the ‘friendly fire’ from the side effects.
For more information about the treatment’s side effects, click here.