What is Immunotherapy?
A lot of people have been asking us what immunotherapy is, how I felt after the first treatment, and what the actual process is. I can answer the second two fairly easily, but I hardly know anything about how immunotherapy actually works. So here's an explanation from the experts!
How has it affected me so far? Not very much. I've been told that the major symptoms of this are diarrhea and fatigue. While I have been more tired than usual the past week, this morning very much felt like a turning point. Fortunately, I haven't experienced any other symptoms so far. My assumption is that I won't be feeling anything until at least the next infusion (a week from today). My experience with chemotherapy leads me to believe that the symptoms will build for the first few weeks, but eventually my body learns to deal with them and the effects eventually starts tapering off. I'm guessing the worst will be short lived, but is yet to come.
A big question that hasn't been answered (or asked) though: how did I get this cancer? Where did it come from? I think it's a pretty well known fact now that everybody has some form of cancer cells in their body. Usually, the person's immune system can kill the cancer cells before they can do anything. For cancer patients such as myself, that step simply doesn't happen. The cancer cells find a way to cloak themselves, using the checkpoints that the video was talking about. The cancer has essentially already beat my body, so now I need to help give my body a boost. This is where immunotherapy comes in.
What is the process? It depends on the person. Like chemotherapy, the treatment has to be catered to every individual and every cancer. Even if you are on the same treatment plan, it could have different portioning of each drug, different monthly schedules, different lengths in treatment time, etc. The generic process for the immunotherapy I'm doing consists of 2 drugs: one to help boost the immune system, and one to help interrupt these checkpoints. Then the body should do the rest!
What are the specifics for me? I do my treatments every 2 weeks, going in 6 week cycles. On the first day, I have both of the drugs infused. This means an IV infusion for most people. Since I have a very major needle phobia, I opted very early on to get a Central Venous Catheter (CVC for short). It's attached into my chest, and acts as an implanted IV line. Basically I go into an infusion clinic in the city, have my CVC hooked up to the medicine bags for a few hours, and hang out there until the infusion is complete. After the first day, I only get one of the drugs infused throughout the rest of the cycle. When the 6 weeks are over, I just rinse and repeat for 4 cycles.
And that's it! My version of immunotherapy!