Target Cancer

Family and friends had often suggested the idea to join the blogging community for long. However, I wondered what could I say to the world that would not already be out there on the web.

Then, cancer dropped by, to make life different. And since, for the last almost 6 months, life has been mostly hospital visits, doctors, blood tests and medicines and living with the popular ‘side-effects’.

And again, the suggestion came from the doctor too to write a blog. So, convinced that I really had something to say that was unique to me, I started writing, not just this blog, but otherwise as well.

Cancer has brought me closer to the realisation that there may be many people out there who may not have the means to get themselves treated. Or, some may not get diagnosed at all due to lack of resources.

Of course, some work is already being done by many organisations to assist people without resources to get themselves treated for cancer. However, we are a huge population and the reality suddenly seems so stark. That something must be done, whether financially or in terms of contribution of time and effort by many of us.

Having come face to face with it firsthand, I can understand how cancer must debilitate many physically, and then financially.

Cancer treatment is expensive especially in our country where many people, especially the poor, live without a medical insurance. Where many live on daily wages, where can the question of paying premium for insurance arise? Many people in our country are not even aware of such a thing as medical insurance.

Therefore, the need to work towards this cause. I am currently in the process of trying to put together something towards this.

The medical details / the side effects:

For those interested in how cancer affects the human body, here are some details. I felt this could be useful for newly diagnosed cancer patients coming as it is from someone who has actually walked that path. Many a times, the patient is not prepared for all the effects, as happened in my case. The doctors do not always prepare the patient for these effects. Perhaps, they are not sure how the patient shall react to their mentioning it. However, I feel, the patient is better off if he knows what’s in store and there are less surprises in this context. It is true that two patients with the same disease could react differently to the treatment. However, I still feel a broad indication of the effects could be given to the patients.

I was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer (Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma (Non Hodgkins) – DLBCL), a type of head and neck cancer (Stage IIE)  in December 2011. This diagnosis followed after about 3 months of frequent throat troubles. The cancer had spread in the neck and cervical regions, seemingly in ­about 5 months or so. The antibiotics would only give temporary respite and then even that relief also stopped after a while. I had difficulty reading aloud to our son. The lump in the throat became visible. This was diagnosed as a case of enlarged tonsils and I was advised surgery to remove the tonsils. As I had my reservations about getting the tonsils removed, I went to another doctor, who advised a CT scan (with contrast). The results showed a growth, which the doctor was ready to remove asap. This led to another referral to an oncologist on whose advice I underwent a biopsy. The biopsy report confirmed the malignancy. The protocol for my treatment was going to be 6-8 cycles of chemotherapy which began after a couple of days.


For the first cycle of chemo, I was admitted to the hospital. The treatment was the standard R-CHOP protocol which was initiated in the night and monitored. The blood pressure kept dropping periodically, which was expected, and the treatment was paused when it dropped beyond a point.

How does one feel when undergoing chemotherapy? The drugs leave you listless and deprived of energy. However, the same therapy is supposed to bring back one to a normal healthy life. I guess, this must be the only treatment which makes you feel unwell at first, to make you well.

The side effects after the first cycle were more pronounced compared to the other cycles. Initially, it used to hurt just to open the mouth slightly and therefore it was difficult to eat. But there was medication to take care of that and it got better in a couple of days. This also didn’t trouble much after subsequent sessions.

I lost my sleep and would barely sleep 2-3 hours for days between the sessions.

There was nausea after each session  for 1-2 days and bouts of vomiting once after each subsequent cycle but that was only on the day of the session or the following day. This affected the appetite initially for a week or so, thereafter, the appetite got better in a couple of days and the same with the energy levels. However, again, this became less pronounced after around 3 cycles. Perhaps the body becomes adapted to these.

A week after each session, a complete blood count (CBC) is taken. Thereafter if the WBC (white blood cell) count is low (neutropenia), one is injected with filgrastim (filgrastim is a man-made form of a protein that stimulates the growth of WBCs in the body) injections which boost the WBCs, which fight infection in the body. Thereafter the CBC is done again. Before the beginning of the next cycle, a CBC, RFT, LFT tests are done.

Before the second cycle, there was intense abdominal pain for which I was admitted to the hospital again. This got cured in a couple of days.

The drugs led to neutropenia  (once it was febrile neutropenia – neutropenia accompanied by fever which lasted about a week). Neutropenia it seems causes an unusual feeling in the head, like something’s going around in your head.

Around the second cycle, the nails, particularly of the thumbs, began to darken as well which I believe take a few months to get  back to normal.

After about the third cycle, the hair loss was speedier too and around the fifth cycle, it was almost completely gone.

I also developed neuropathy around the fifth cycle, which is intense pain the legs. Therefore, all effects need not take place immediately after the first cycle. However, this also stayed just for a couple of days.

Radiation Therapy

As the WBC count went low after each cycle, the chemotherapy was stopped after 6 cycles and it was decided to proceed for radiation therapy (RT). RT lasted for 25 sessions (5 days a week) which got completed a few days back. The number of sessions and the intensity of the radiation again may vary with each patient.

Initially, the RT made me feel fatigued for a couple of days. However, as the sessions progressed, the other effects like nausea, loss of appetite, lack of taste, some ulcers in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, fungal infection, throat pain, darkened and dry sensitive skin in the throat region where RT was targeted, become more pronounced. The result of all of which has been difficulty eating and the diet has comprised primarily of liquids for the last 3 weeks or so. I believe the healing takes a couple of weeks after the treatment is over.

Again, as far as RT is concerned, all this has been more than I expected. The effects have been longer lasting than those in the chemotherapy – once they begin, they last throughout the therapy and beyond for about 2 weeks or so.


2 Responses to “Target Cancer”

  1. June 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Hats off to you for carrying yourself so well while undergoing therapy. Having met you, and seeing the work you do daily and your energy levels, I would not have imagined that you were having these side effects.

    Looking forward to seeing more of your writing on this subject.

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