The language of chemotherapy:Part 1



Posted September 21st, 2008 by Jane

Alan Bennett wrote that he never felt matey enough with it to shorten it to chemo and I’ve got to feel the same. Chemo sounds like a child’s comic (chemo Beano) or a fizzy drink. OK maybe if you’re the kind of cancerperson who likes to visualise the stuff coursing through veins, searching out and ’mopping up’ tiny little cells, or marching in like an army against the invader. I don’t do the visualisation or the military metaphors and somehow for me chemo doesn’t have the same necessary gravitas of chemotherapy.

People don’t understand about chemotherapy…that its not just one drug but loads and loads of different drugs, for different cancers, different regimes, different side effects. After a while in breastcancerworld the names, the initials trip off the tongue….AC, TAC, EC, FEC, E-CMF, taxotere, taxol, abraxane, capecitibine, vinorilbine, gemcitibine, carboplatin, cisplatin, (and that’s only their first names…they all have second names too) lots of ‘options’, lots of treatments they say.

Search the internet to find on CRUK’s pages that “chemotherapy damages scells as they divide. Chemotherapy damages the genes inside the nucleus of cells. Some drugs damage cells at the point of splitting. Some damage them while they are busy making copies of all their genes before they split. Cells that are at rest (most normal cells, for instance) are much less likely to be damaged by chemo. You may have a combination of different chemotherapy drugs. The combination will include chemo drugs that damage cells at different stages in the process of cell division. With more than one type of drug, there is more chance of killing more cells.”

I’ve had 7 different drugs this far and most have, to put it bluntly, been a waste of time. The different classes of drugs work in different ways and my own unique little cancer (why not feel special) has responded to the drugs which attack the mitotic spindle, which means taxotere and vinorilbine. Taxotere gave me 2 plus years ‘treatment free interval’ and vinorilbine the ‘most dramatic improvement.’ So that’s why right now its taxol brought in for the latest ‘challenge’…taxol being in the same ‘family’ as taxotere. Now of course chemotherapy is not being used for ‘curative purpose’, but for ‘palliative symptom control’., though we’re still hoping for ‘reduction’, ’stable’ and NED (no evidence of disease) would be a fine and unlikely thing.