Week 22- a change of Chemery.

So, I have now finished with the three doses every three weeks of EC Chemotherapy, what my oncologist described as the ‘lourd’ (heavy) one.  Week 22 brought a new chemotherapy drug into my life, Paclitaxel or as it is known, Taxol.  What I have realised, is that I have no idea a) what is the difference between the two drugs and b) why I need to have 2 different drugs in the first place. 

I have therefore decided, a little bit after the horse has left the stable, to do some research, and I invite you to come along for the ride.  To be honest, I think I missed my vocation in life as a scientist/mathy type.  It was quite a revelation that I once did psychometric testing to discover that I was in the top 2% of maths-type brains in the UK.  That really was a quite astonishing discovery for the girl who used to sit at the back of Mr Thorogood’s maths lessons reading ‘Just Seventeen’ magazine, but once again, I digress… 


The first chemotherapy I was given, EC, was the one that made me initially puke so much that I really thought my toilet bowl had become a phone to the devil rather than God. This chemotherapy is made up of two separate drugs, Epirubicin (E-strangely enough!) and Cyclophosphamide (yes, you guessed it- C!).  If you read my post, Week 20-Chemo- what’s it all about Alfie? you will have seen the video where I am given these 2 drugs- the red one is the Epirubicin and the clear one is the Cyclophosphamide. 

Attack! attack! attack!

As to how these drugs works on killing cancer cells, it turns out that they are both quite different from each other. All cancer drugs (to my limited knowledge so don’t take this as gospel and I am sure my more sciency friends can comment and correct me) act by killing cells. Unlike the rest of the world, the majority  of cancer drugs at the moment are non-discriminatory in the cells that they kill, hence the hairloss etc that comes with it. The Epirubicin is actually an anti-tumour antibiotic coming from nature- soil fungus in fact- how delightful!  It works throughout the cell cycle (this is the cycle that allows one cell to divide into two- the way that cancer grows and spreads), hence why, I imagine, it is considered a heavy drug. It just keeps attacking those cells no matter what happens. 

Divide and conquer…

The Cyclophosphamide part of EC works as an alkylating agent, which means that it attaches itself to the DNA in a cell causing DNA damage.  Although it attaches to all cells, luckily, cancer cells are greedy little, somewhat stupid sods who divide faster than normal cells. This means that with a bit of luck, they can be destroyed before too much damage is done to the normal cells. The normal cells can then start dividing, and, in theory over time, return to normal. 

My new chemo treatment, Paclitaxel, is made from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree (isn’t nature amazing?). This chemotherapy works by focussing on what is known as the microtubule part of the cell- that is the specific part of the cell’s apparatus which it uses to divide and replicate itself.  This ultimately leads to cell death and boom! or so we hope, the last of the wayward cancer cells are demolished.

Ready, steady, cook!

As you will see from the photo, you also have to wear great big cryotherapy gloves with this treatment, along with a similar thing on your feet. This, from what I have felt and been told, is because this chemo affects the nervous system more than some others. By wearing these big frozen gloves, the hope is that peripheral neuropathy, which is damage to the nerves in the hands and feet, is kept at bay. Strangely, I am already beginning to see the effects of this in my fingers in that they permanently look as if I have just got out of the bath or the swimming pool with wrinkles galore, or maybe that is just middle-age…

Fingers crossed…

In total, I will be having nine weekly zaps of this chemotherapy, which will be followed by five weeks of radiotherapy. This will hopefully pave the road to rebuilding my health, but I am very much aware that for many people, this does not end up being the case, so I can only croiser les doigts… 

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