Twenty-two weeks and 16 rounds of chemotherapy later, Karen is still strong. Sure, her body has been ravaged and her energy drained by the cumulative effects of nearly six months of a difficult regimen of chemicals, but today, as the final drops of Taxol dripped from her IV bag, she took the first steps toward getting "on the other side" of this journey. The same strength, courage and wisdom that she drew upon for her first chemo treatment on July 9th was still inside of her when she finished her final round of chemo today.
Looking at the two photos above -- one taken on her first day of treatment and the other on her last -- the toll of the experience is apparent. On the outside, chemo has stripped her of her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Her skin is milky-white and her toenails are falling off. But her smile remains, always, as does her buoyant optimism. On the inside and on the outside, she's been fighting cancer every day, never losing hope and inspiring all of us along the way.
Karen could have opted for a less intensive and shorter treatment protocol. But faced with a diagnosis of the more aggressive triple negative cancer that has a higher rate of recurrence, she never thought twice about participating in a clinical trial that required 16 cycles of dose dense drugs, including the trial drug, Avastin. After all, she didn't want to ever have to go through this again if there was any chance that she could knock out cancer for good now. Bravely, she said yes to the trial. In the end, she endured that long trial only to learn after the 10th cycle that she was in the 20% of the trial participants that received a placebo instead of Avastin, the drug added specifically for the trial. Disappointing? Greatly. But she can rest easier knowing that she received more chemo than she might have otherwise received with a standard treatment protocol.
Today was an important milestone in the cancer journey. Yet, in many ways, the last treatment was strangely anti-climatic. Oddly, there were no cheers or high-fives in the "infusion room." Of course, we were both glad to end this chapter. Karen is anxious to begin the process of recovery and healing. To grow hair. To rediscover the taste of food. To sleep well. To simply feel good. But first there is radiation treatment -- perhaps as many as four to six weeks of daily radiation. While it doesn't loom as threatening and scary as the the chemotherapy, it represents another phase in the treatment course. And so, the journey continues.