I enjoyed two full months of recovery from the latest attempt to control my cancer, multiple myeloma. At first, that drug worked well. The harsh side effects, however, made me question whether it was worthwhile. Soon, its effectiveness waned. The setback left me wondering about my future. So, I took a break to reassess things.
I have lived eight years since diagnosis. Each year I delve deeper into the trough of wonder drugs. Initially, neurotoxins stunned the cancer and numbed my feet. Then, the blunt club of alkylating chemo, in concert with a stem cell transplant, staggered the disease. When it righted itself, I tried sophisticated novel agents. A mandatory side dish of steroids scrambled my brain while helping these therapies suppress the myeloma. The disease, nonetheless, sputtered back to life.
Now, new concepts push aside the old standards. The drug holiday for my cancer ended in May. At that time, I started receiving a monoclonal antibody. MABs target a specific feature on the surface of MM cells. In addition to killing cancer cells, the MAB alerts the immune system to these intruders. Most side effects occur at the moment of infusion. Consequently, the IV drips go slow. If respiratory reactions occur, the feed is stopped until symptoms resolve. Fortunately, I don’t react to the infusions, but each visit still takes five to six hours.
Clinical trials demonstrate that the particular MAB I receive can be effective on its own. The FDA awarded it fast track approval in November of 2015. MABs work for many, but not all. They are not the Cure. Subsequent trials that combine the MAB with a novel agent show unparalleled response rates. For some individuals, the length of progression free survival remains undetermined. This variation of immunotherapy, along with others in development, portend hope for the future.
I continue to be free of serious symptoms associated with myeloma. Most of my issues derive from the side effects of treatment. The current regimen has a modest effect on my quality of life. Yet, I must resist jumping to conclusions. This is biology; these are trials. My future relies upon matching the cancer’s resilience with patience and persistence.
The latest numbers can be found in The Drill.