Tuesday was Harrison’s monthly trip to UNC for chemo infusion. These trips are relatively routine for us. They are just a part of life now. But they aren’t routine for Harrison. He’s sick of going. And tired. And hurting. Physically and emotionally.
At this appointment, Harrison’s oncologist, Dr. Brent Weston, gave us a quick update of where we stand. It was slightly disappointing, so I’ve hesitated to pass it along.
Of course, we’ve learned that childhood cancer is simply one disappointment for Harrison after another.
Essentially, here is where we are.
Medically, things are GREAT (as far as we know). There has not been a relapse. There are no leukemia cells appearing in Harrison’s blood. His counts are great. He remains in remission.
But the doctors believe Harrison’s leukemia will require long term treatment; as though three and a half years isn’t long-term enough. When his conventional chemotherapy ends in April, they will keep him on one of his drugs “indefinitely.”
Harrison knows what “indefinitely” means. So he asked, “Am I going to be taking medicine for the rest of my life?”
Dr. Weston responded, “Probably so.”
Stunned silence from a usually vibrant Harrison. The color vanished from his face. His countenance dropped.
Harrison had been counting down the days until his last chemo pill – No Mo’ Chemo.
Cancer stole the fourth grade. Cancer stole football. Cancer stole his childhood. Harrison wants nothing more than to be rid of cancer. And now he is being told it would be with him forever.
Here’s the best explanation why:
Harrison’s cancer is a terrible, terrible variety that resists traditional chemo. It is caused (at least in part) by a chromosome mutation resulting in a particular type of activity called a tyrosine kinase. Gleevec inhibits tyrosine kinases.
The doctors do not know how chronic Harrison’s tyrosine kinase activity is. All of his leukemia cells could be gone. Or ONE could remain.
And if even one leukemia cell remains, his cancer would spread again.
Gleevec is used to treat a similar leukemia to Harrison’s, and studies have shown that whenever a child with that type of leukemia stops Gleevec, the leukemia returns. So…better safe than sorry.
It is more complicated than that (medically), but that’s simple enough for me to understand.
HOWEVER, better safe than sorry is not nearly as good as “cancer free and chemo free” would be, especially to Harrison.
While he will still stop traditional chemotherapy in April (provided nothing changes between now and then), he will continue cancer treatment indefinitely.
Harrison. Is. Devastated.
That night he said, “I can’t do this any more.”
We should know more about any other plans shortly.
Thanks for praying for Harrison.