Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I'm a human guinea pig

When Alan and I worked on cruise ships, we spent 6 months in South America. One of my most vivid memories, however, was not seeing Evita's grave or the Tierra del Fuego. It's not even the dirty whores in Rio who grabbed Alan's hand out of mine and put it on their crotches. No, it's sitting in some sketchy restaurant in Ecuador as a friend ordered guinea pig. Yep, you heard me. As in one of those little furry creatures that inevitably escapes in your house and no one ever finds him. The best part of this delicacy? It arrived at the table with tiny bits of hair still visible.

Why, you ask, do I tell this story? You are, after all, trying to eat your lunch while trolling through your staple of procrastination websites. Well, I am now a guinea pig, served up at the table of science.

Those of you who think that finishing treatment for breast cancer actually ends, au contraire. In many ways, I still feel very much like I'm actively in treatment. My breast cancer is Estrogen positive, meaning I was prescribed tamoxifen to take daily for 5 years. Nothing like a constant reminder.

What about the little hairy guinea pig? This is where the fun begins. I volunteered to be a part of probably the most important clinical trial for premenopausal women. Okay, put on your thinking caps, it's time for a bit o' biology. In some women, estrogen feeds their breast cancer. Premenopausal women traditionally have a poorer prognosis than women who've already undergone "the big M." Menopause is a big divider for breast cancer treatment. Post menopausal women get different drugs, different treatment, etc. There are drugs out there that are proven to be better than tamoxifen, but only in post-meno women so far. Because younger women usually have so many more years where our little ovaries are pumping out the cancer juice called estrogen, it's a fine line.

Here's where the trial comes in. It's called the SOFT trial... Suppression of Ovarian Function Trial. The premise being- if we can make premenopausal women POST menopausal, perhaps their outcomes will be better.

What does this mean for me, kiddies? It means that I get to go through chemically induced menopause. Every 28 days, some nurse jabs a shot in my ass. It burns like a mother, most likely due to the fact, "it's like shoving glue through there." Apparently it's thick. Awesome. Makes my left butt cheek feel all sore. That's not enough. Oh, no. I'm currently in full blown menopause. Hot flashes, night sweats, the occasional touch of crazy- you name it. I'm still on tamoxifen which adds to the party.

Is this permanent? No. Well, I'm on the trial for 5 years, but after that, once they stop the shots, theoretically my period should come back. Good thing I got those frozen babies- just in case. Another option is to take my ovaries out surgically, but we won't go there until after the baby factory officially closes for business. Let's get it open first.

Why did I sign up for this, you ask? After all, Aunt Flo's good time gang was just coming back after my last bout with chemopause. In short, studies lean toward the fact this could very well keep my cancer from coming back, and could help save my life. Sounds good to me. Also, this is such an important subject of research, and I am honored to be a part of it. I have been so blessed with great care- I feel a bit of a need to give back whatever I can.

What's it like to be on a clinical trial? Well, I get more tests done. They're concerned about bone density and hormone levels. They watch me a little closer. That can't be bad, right? And they ask me a lot of questions about quality of life. After all, if this treatment makes us miserable, what's the point of prolonging a shitty life? So I get asked a lot of questions about my mood, and sleep and sex. Lots of questions about sex. Losing most of your hormones can really fuck that up. Something you mere mortals can look forward to.

Is it fun? Nope. But then again, none of this has been fun. Well, maybe the good drugs. Those are dreamy. But I feel like I'm actively doing something, and that makes me feel better. Sweaty and on fire, but better.

So I'm a guinea pig. Pass the salt.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Dude you need to up your Effexor dose. I'm on 150 mg and not hardly getting any hot flashes/night sweats and you know last month I was raging. . . (There I go pushing drugs again!)