Toward the end of the previous blog I made specific reference to two questions which again and again have been raised with me by patients, namely; “How can I know that the chemotherapy is really working?” and “Why, with a treatment which is presumably being given to cure or at any rate control my tumour, does it so invariably seem to make me so unwell?” I want, if I may, to respond to them now.
With regard to the first question, I have already mentioned that blood tests, x-rays and scanning procedures are likely to be carried out in order to regularly monitor progress and these will provide by far the most dependable guide. Your oncologist will doubtless keep you informed and in addition, will be glad to answer any questions that you or your family members may wish to raise with him/her. I think it important at this point to briefly refer to the likelihood that if you are married or have a partner, your spouse or partner (and indeed, other near relative(s)) may well have questions of their own to which they would appreciate an informed response. Indeed, the fact that a couple are married and/or have set up home together, doesn’t mean that they are carbon or identikit copies each of the other. One individual may well be happy to leave everything to others on this ‘front’ and simply wish, wherever possible, to get on with life. That is perfectly understandable. However, another may well have questions and issues that in key interests of peace of mind, require a relevant response.
Sometimes it is better all round to set up a separate meeting with the oncologist at which questions, perhaps disturbing to the one-party, may be raised by the other. Once again your consultant will be used to and happy to co-operate with this. Also keep in mind the point made in an earlier blog about the quantity and the quality of research going on daily in the battle against cancer. Everything that is happening/will happen to you treatment-wise, has stemmed from innovative and painstaking research, supported by clinical trials and publications, with worldwide distribution among your consultant’s professional peers.
The second question raised above, ‘boils down’ to the need for a clearer understanding and insight into the noxious side effects of certain chemotherapeutic agents. This also happens to be a key psychosocial point since, where successful, such an improved understanding is not only likely to greatly alleviate any associated short term anxiety, but also to promote a more enlightened and hopeful longer-term view of aims and goals.
Some of us acquired a rudimentary physiological understanding of what blood is and of its basic constituent elements in our schooldays; namely, red corpuscles or cells (erythrocytes); white cells (leukocytes); and platelets (thrombocytes). Such blood cells are in fact produced from a spongy substance that fills the bones and which is known as bone marrow. Basically a blood test within this context shows the number of cells being manufactured from the bone marrow, hence the term, “blood count”.
Red cells contain the pigment, haemoglobin. Its principal function is to carry oxygen, which combines chemically with glucose, to provide energy for every metabolic process.
White cells protect the body against foreign substances and are also involved in antibody production. (Antibodies are a special kind of blood protein circulating in the blood ready to attack foreign agents or antigens, rendering them harmless).
Platelets have several important functions, all of which are to do with the arrest of bleeding via the process of coagulation or clotting.
We have seen earlier how cancers may form as malfunctioning cells around the body and how the whole aim and intention of chemotherapy is to destroy cells, a few of which (compared to the overall number) will be good and healthy. However, since all cells (apart from those of brain and CNS) are constantly being renewed for growth and repair, no long-term harm is likely to be sustained. (To be continued in next posting).