Worst Side-Effect Yet

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.

* Erbitux was the drug that caught Martha Stewart in her infamous ImClone insider trading mess and gave her the opportunity to sprinkle her country charm all over Alderson Federal Prison Camp.

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.

11 thoughts on “Worst Side-Effect Yet

  1. I am glad Maggie is smiling again! You’re gorgeous, girl, and not even a rash like this can diminish your beauty!

    This is an awful side effect, but, although these anti-EGFR monoclonal antibodies are relatively new, the research has already shown a clear correlation between the rash and the medication having an effect on the cancer. I know it must be hard to think of this rash as anything positive, but it is, and we want to kill the cancer!!!!!!!!

  2. Even if her smile is temporarily out of commission, Maggie still radiates happiness and positive energy!! MUAH!!!

  3. Hey, sweetie. The rash sounds painful–I’m thinking about you and sending good vibes. I know you’ll find a way to manage them. It is just because they are so new, and you haven’t yet found the right treatment for them.

    Keep kicking–you are doing so well.

  4. I’m new to your blog but not to cancer’s sufferings. You need to have a 24/7 number you can call when you have such side effects. Don’t ever again wait till Monday. The drugs are too new and your body chemistry is certainly screwed up. A new reaction might be your body’s way of warning you of something more serious. Calling and feeling silly is always the better alternative.

    Hold Fast & Smiling is wicked important.

    Don MacLeod

  5. Bless your hearts!! Both of you!!

    The only positive side that I can see to this is the correlation that Jolie mentioned above. If the rash and reaction is bad, maybe that means the medication is beating those tumors down. That’s certainly what we all want the end of the road to be … no more tumors … but the side effects sure make it tough to walk down that road!

    I wish I could do it for you, sweetie!!

    Hang in there …. we’re all still sending happy thoughts, lots of (gentle) hugs, and many, many, many prayers everyday!

  6. You and Maggie are just the most amazing couple. The two of you have exhibited more strength and courage in last two years than most people do in their entire lives. Ande and my prayers are with you always.

  7. Maggie, sorry I missed your calls today. Didn’t notice I had a message on my phone until I was leaving to go to Jim & Sara’s for birthday supper. That’s where we were when you called the second time. It’s been a good birthday, and thanks for the birthday greetings. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.
    I know this has been a hard week for you and Chris, but hang in there. The chemo is working. I just know that those ole tumors are as miserable as you are, and will back down soon. Know that our thoughts and prayers are still coming thick and fast. All our love,

  8. Maggie, sorry you’ve had such extreme side effects. You are always beautiful, smile, no smile, rash, no rash. You possess something that I have never seen in another human being, and I mean you had this before your diagnosis! You have an inner beauty and love and sparkle that radiates no matter what. So what if there is a rash, we always see a diamond! Much love! Oh and if you need emergency facials, another place to try is Sabia.

  9. First off, let me apologize now for not communicating sooner. Although with everything you’re going through right now I’m pretty sure you haven’t been waiting with baited breath to hear from little ol’ me.

    I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you two and have ultimate confidence that you’ll make it through this. For me, following the Great Adventure always brings a mixed bag of emotions to the surface: hope, fear, anger, pride. Mostly, though, it gives me a renewed appreciation for life and health in general.

    If anything positive can come out of this adventure, it demonstrates what love and commitment are really all about. It also shows the hidden strength in all of us that we have the potential to tap into when we need it most. It shows how the bonds of family and friendship can overcome even the most insurmountable obstacles.

    This story and the two of you are testaments to what love and sacrifice is all about. I can only hope to live up to your standards.

    Peace and happiness, always.

  10. I spoke to Brooke yesterday and she told me the latest. Maggie, I only met recently but you brightened my smile with your own that day. I’m sending positive energy your way.

    While typing this, I just learned that my grandmother is in the hospital today. Not sure how serious yet. Hopefully some positive energy will bounce back her way too.

    Love and Hugs,


  11. Hi Maggie and Chris,
    I just met you two recently, through Flo, and I would have never imagined the battles and struggles you’ve been going through by just looking at you. Maggie, you are an amazing woman, and I admire you for your strength. I can’t even imagine how hard all of this is for you, but I have been praying and sending positive vibes to you and Chris. I also wanted to offer my help and support. I don’t know if you contacted the American Cancer Society already, but I work there and it has an extensive list of resources that may be useful to you. There are organizations that may help you with support, while others can assist with co-pays or co-insurances. The English line is available 24/7 (1-800-227-2345) and the website is cancer.org.
    I hope this information is useful to you and will keep the two of you in my prayers.


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