These last few days have been some of the toughest so far. Maggie’s new treatment, Vectibix, has teeth. The latest piece of our life to fall victim to The Cancer (or, rather, The Treatment) is Maggie’s beautiful smile.
Vectibix, just like Erbitux*, is a new type of chemo drug called a monoclonal antibody. These are both pretty darn new, thank you very much science. The FDA in mid-2006 approved Vectibix. Both Vectibix and Erbitux do the same thing – target epidermal growth factor receptors, or EGFR. I don’t’ have a clue what a “growth factor receptor” is but I’ll call your attention to the word “epidermal” in that description. Yup, that’s another word for that thin layer of stretchy stuff all over your body called skin.
One of major side-effects of this stuff that targets skin growth factor receptors is that it causes horrible rashes and acne-like skin infections all over the upper part of the body. And Maggie has it bad.
It started out pretty quickly. She got treatment on Wednesday. By Friday she had some unusual but not crazy spots showing up on her face. By Saturday her face was swollen, red, burning and had a large number of striking welts. Her chin and nose were particularly affected. It wasn’t good. Actually, it was quite upsetting.
Now, I’m not suggesting that there’s a good time for this crap but Saturday was particularly a bad time. Maggie was to be the officiant at Florencia’s wedding that night where 150 eyeballs would be watching her as she joined Flo and her husband-to-be Sammy in wedlock. We called in favors at Garbo Salon for an emergency facial. Tarah, the aesthetician, (a.k.a. the facial lady, for us guys) found a place in her schedule for Maggie and spent 30 minutes trying to repair what the Vectibix did overnight. In some strange way the universe worked out because Tarah was personally knowledgeable about this particular side-effect from Vectibix. Her father has suffered this indignity numerous times and, thus, she knew exactly what (and what NOT) to do. She really helped quite a bit. Thank you, Tarah. We’ll be seeing you again soon.
The wedding went on. Maggie looked great, all things considered. Unfortunately, we needed to ducked out relatively early because Maggie was still feeling blah from the after-effects of her other kick-in-the-ass chemo-drug CPT-11.
Then, Sunday morning, all hell broke loose. Maggie’s face was swollen, red, and covered in large, infected pustules that looked like a freakish acne breakout. The sores were in her ears, in her hair, all down her back and all over her chest. Her face hurt badly and she couldn’t laugh or smile without lots of pain. But she could still cry. So could I. And we did.
Her nose and area around her lips was badly swollen and covered in a burn-like rash. And the acne-like pustules had spawned babies. Lots of babies. I think for the first time since this mess has started did I see a real sign of despair in my sweethearts eyes.
Was it not enough that we’ve had to suffer through so many other discomforts, pains, bills, drug reactions and surgeries? It’s maybe the ultimate cost, to take away my sweet wife’s smile.
She spent Sunday morning calling around to every spa in town looking for someone who had an opening. There was emergency work to be done and now. Finally, she found another opening. The results weren’t as good as from Tarah but, to be fair, she was starting from a more difficult place. And it was quite a bit more expensive. $75 vs. the $35 at Garbo. Maybe we got a sympathy discount at Garbo. Not sure.
She finished out Sunday with rest and a few visits from friends Denise and Martha. Fortunately, we’ve amassed a collection of cold packs from taking home drugs from our Spa visits (chemo spa, not facial spa.) Applying them to her face helped with the burning and swelling.
Monday she went directly to Dr. Loukas. She didn’t pass go or ask for an appointment. Instead she just waited outside his offices where she knew he would be. He saw her and ordered up a bottle of strong steroid pills and some various creams. Yup, it’s bad, he said. But that means it’s working, he said. Revel in the reassurance, I guess.
Last night, Maggie proclaimed an improvement. Her face wasn’t hurting as much and the swelling had diminished. The rash and other stuff persisted but progress! We’ll take it.
Maggie says that she firmly believes that this is the toughest side-effect we’ve had to endure. And I agree, it’s horrible. However, I think our two experiences are quite different. Hers is centered around the physical pain and the effect the infections have had on her beautiful face. My suffering comes from watching her suffer while feeling helpless, and not being able to see her smile.
This morning Maggie smiled for the first time I’d seen in days. Two smiles, actually. The first was just a test to see if it hurt. The second and much more meaningful smile sprung forth spontaneously from joy because smiling didn’t hurt so much anymore. It was a wonderful smile.
I feel like, maybe, just maybe, we’ve turned the corner.