Tag Archives: M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Second chemo round Thursday

We’re about 24 hours away from the beginning of Mrs. Charm’s second round of high-dose chemo for her recurring lymphoma, this time at Seton Hospital in central Austin. And it can’t come too soon. Her two-week recovery from the first round at M.D. Anderson in Houston has not been very pleasant. Her abdomen pain is back and the fever also, though neither are as bad as they were before the first round and the fever, at least is lower and it comes and goes.

The fever (possibly signifying an infection) will have to be gone before they’ll start the second round, according to the Austin doctor with Texas Oncology who will handle it. We met with him on Monday. The good news was that the swelling of her leg (called lymphedema) had diminished almost back to normal. The bad news is that it is swelling again. At least she has not been much bothered by nausea from the first round, though she has had trouble sleeping and so is tired much of the time and has little energy.

Once the second round has been over for two weeks, around Oct. 5, we’ll go back to M.D. Anderson for tests to determine if a culminating third round would be meaningful. If so it will be done in Austin again. If not, her Anderson doc will enroll her in a clinical trial of an experimental drug, probably there in Houston. Other alternatives also may be available. So we’ve got a ways to go yet. As always, thoughts and prayers are appreciated.

Mrs. C. “somewhat better”

On Saturday afternoon, after 24 hours of chemo at M.D. Anderson for her recurrent B cell lymphoma, Mrs. Charm said she felt “somewhat better.” Suggesting the chemo she’s been receiving almost continuously and will still through today might be knocking back some of the tumor load that was making her increasingly sick.

Hasn’t been all roses, of course. At one point in the treatment her O2 count was so low they had to put her on oxygen for a while. An X Ray of her lungs showed no problems, so apparently it was the tumor-filled lymph nodes pressing against them. The swelling of her left leg, from groin to toes, called Lymphedema, continues, however. Docs say it could take two weeks to go down. There is no cure for it, but only in severe cases does it lead to amputation.

UPDATE:  Two days later, when she returned to the Rancho, “somewhat better” had gotten a big boost. Mrs. C. said her night sweats of several weeks standing were gone. Likewise her recurrent fevers, and pain, for which she was medicating non-stop several times a day. Swollen lymph nodes in her neck and under one ear also have diminished. All of which promises to make her two weeks of recovery from the first dose almost pleasant. Before the second one continues at a hospital in Austin.

Mrs. Charm finally at the goal line

Seems like it took forever to get Mrs. Charm to her goal line date with the high-dose chemo at M.D. Anderson for her recurring lymphoma. She was in pretty bad shape when we went back Wednesday, after she demanded the docs get moving. Chemo finally began sometime after midnight Thursday in her 15th floor hospital room. It’s expected to continue through Saturday night. The first round of three, that is, with two weeks recovery in between each one.

I’m planning to drive back Sunday morning to pick her up and bring her home the same day, hopefully before dark. U.S. Highway 290 between Austin and Houston is easy. It’s the Houston end that sucks. Driving in six lanes of freeway at 70 mph is hard enough in daylight. Dazzled by all the lights, and the other cars and trucks weaving in and out, it’s much harder at night. Plus my 71-year-old eyes can’t read the signs anymore until I’m almost on top of them. But after three weeks of back and forth frustration I’ve almost got the route memorized.

“I hope everyone gets well”

So said a chirpy fellow, ostensibly from Nacogdoches, on the shuttle bus Thursday from the Best Western to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s main building. Underscoring that cancer patients are all over the place.

We’re back home again and not looking to return until the 31st. All that’s waiting now, apparently, is the busy MDA pathologists’ analysis of Mrs. C.’s tests, including a tissue biopsy of one of her cancer-loaded lymph nodes. Oh, and her doctor’s vacation. As she says, never get cancer in August because everyone is gone.

She’s still running a fever, knocked back by continuous doses of Tylenol and in constant pain which pain pills every six hours still are helping. But her right leg is swollen up to twice the left one’s size, so much she doesn’t like to be seen and walking is difficult. Treatment can’t start too soon for us.

Mr. B., meanwhile, had convinced himself, through faulty math, that treatment would be for nought. Our Israeli pal Mr. Goon, who has a degree in physics, explained where he went wrong. For once he was happy to be mistaken.

Back to Houston

Once more with feeling. We got those 183 to 290 to 610 to Main Street, Houston, Texas blues.

This time we’re leaving Mr. B. to stay with the family of one of his friends. Once again Mrs. Charm probably won’t start her 3 to 5 days high-dose chemo treatment at M.D. Anderson. We’re still in analysis and waiting for a final test to be delivered to them.

Meanwhile, here’s a word snapshot of the M.D. Anderson wing we were in, and sundry environs:

Across from us last week sat a young couple who were speaking softly, either Castillian Spanish (Mrs. C. said it was definitely not Mexican Spanish) or Portuguese. He of the depressed expression, bowed and bald head, obviously was the patient, whether her brother or her husband we couldn’t tell.

Several young Arab men walked about nervously, trailed three or four steps behind by young and old Arab women in half-Ninja, i.e. covered heads and floor-length black gowns but no veils. Properly submissive. Feminists they weren’t.

Didn’t see a single Saudi “prince” or a South American dictator—the latter, presumably, would stand-out for being accompanied by burly bodyguards in sports coats to hide their shoulder-holsters. Both are rumored to be regular MDA customers. Even Obama’s friend Chavez, supposedly, though they couldn’t save him.

Then there was the short Mediterranean-looking fellow who bummed a light from me in the (understood but unofficial) outside smoking area (yes, agast Nanny-Staters, you can slip away for a smoke at this cancer center). Other than the fact that he spoke not a word (was he mute or just didn’t speak English?) the only odd thing about him, besides his very European black loafers, was his cigarette: a long, skinny one.

I thought it was a clove, at first, but it didn’t smell like it. Possibly one of these, called slims, popular in the UK. Obviously he doesn’t live there. Unless he’s a mute. My lord, you don’t suppose he has throat cancer?

And my favorite, the fetchingly curvy, middle-aged blonde cancer patient (you can tell the patients by their wristbands) who had snuck out for a smoke. “Stand in front of me, please,” she pleaded. “I don’t want to get caught.”

She said to be sure to be out there on Wednesdays when the volunteer harp player shows up. A full-size orchestra harp. I said I would think that would be too pointed a metaphor. The puffing cancer patient shook her head. It’s soothing, she said: “A small miracle.”

Back in Austin

Mrs. Charm’s treatment for the return of her cancer should have begun Friday afternoon. Instead we’re back in Austin to wait until next week.

There are several frustrating, angering reasons for the delay, all of which I want to relate, but I don’t want to jeopardize her chances at treatment by mentioning them in public. Suffice to say M.D. Anderson is not as professional as you might believe.

Four hours after leaving Houston and it’s god-awful, bumper-to-bumper traffic, we were home with orders to return on Wednesday—two weeks after Mrs. C. was diagnosed. Her Austin oncologist was almost frantic to get her seen within 24-48 hours of her diagnosis with the return of the high-risk, aggressive B cell Lymphoma that had been in remission since February. MDA said it would take a week. As if.

Mrs. C. is running a constant fever now, she’s in pain from growing tumors in her abdomen and one thigh is swollen from growing tumors in her groin. And we wait. The full treatment, including a bone marrow transplant, will last until late December and cost $1 million. There’d be intermittent periods of treatments and back at home. Hopefully the insurance will pay most of it. Chances of success are 50-50.

“With a little luck,” the MDA doc said, “years from now this will be only a memory.”

They’ll know within a month if it’s working and if it’s not, they’d stop and so would the bills. Then it would be on to experimental trials for which the experimentalists would pay, but she’d have to go where they are and stay until it’s over. Hopefully in Houston.

At that point, it might be more realistic to accept defeat and bring in hospice. But I don’t call the punches here. I just roll with them.

UPDATE:  I was rather more candid in private about the reasons for the delay than I care to be here. And one response, from a friend who grew up in the Soviet Union in its heyday, is worth repeating: “An outcome like this would have been expected in a Soviet school clinic but not in a modern establishment.”

Off to Houston

Mrs. Charm’s lymphoma cancer, which had been in remission since February, is back with a vengeance and her local docs are punting her to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

We’ll be leaving soon and living in a hotel there for the foreseeable future. So posting will be light, if at all. Hang in there, rare readers. Back when we can be.

UPDATE:  We haven’t left yet. Earliest Mrs. C. is scheduled for now is the 13th for an evaluation. Her local doc was fairly frantic to get her in before that but, so far, no joy.

I can’t help wondering why she didn’t give us a local referral. M.D. Anderson ain’t magic, whatever the Saudi princes and South American dictators who go there think. Austin ain’t Podunk in cancer treatment. But I’m a follower this time.