Hank had another outpatient injection of Chemo today and we found out all his "counts" are good. Meaning his platelets, white, and red blood cell numbers are still in a safe/healthy range. :) Yay Hank! While Hank was fighting cancer, I (mom) was at home with a friend fighting germs. We had our first "Sanitizing Party" today... and I would say it went rather well. Everything is dusted, scrubbed and sanitized. Yep, never thought I could claim to have THE cleanest house on the block, but 'tis true.
While the germ load in our house is decreasing, so is Hank's tumor, which continues to shrink down to reveal more of his wonderfully and perfectly made face. Praise the Lord. And with that shrinking, started the questions of: "If it is shrinking so quickly, does that mean he won't have to have Chemo as long?!" Well, here is the longest short answer I can give you. :)
So let's start at the beginning. Who remembers the Cell Cycle from your 6th grade science class? Or 9th grade biology... wherever we learned it. Only a few of you? Good, that makes me feel better, because I had to look it up too. Here is an illustration of the cycle, for those who need a refresher course.
Now this is a pretty basic illustration, but basically the cell has a resting phase, a growing phase, a phase of gathering cellish ingredients, a growing of said ingredients, and then the splitting happens... which eventually gives birth to two identical cells. TWINS! So... during all the growing, gathering, and growing... the cell also serves its function, whether that is being a muscle, an organ, a bone... well, you get it. And each type of tissue (bone/muscular...), has a different rate at which this cell cycle happens. They can vary from days, to weeks, to months... and yes, even years. The problem is that cancer cells have an accelerated growth cycle... but again, depending on the tissue, it can vary.
So Chemotherapy attacks cells at the dividing stage. Some chemotherapy drugs kill dividing cells by damaging the part of the cell's control center that makes it divide, while other chemo drugs interrupt chemical processes involved in cell division. This is why Hank has several different types of chemo drugs in his therapy. And because the cells involved in the area of cancer infestation affect multiple types of tissue, there are different rates of growth the doctors have to consider in creating Hank's treatment plan. So since bone is involved... which has one of the longer growth cycles, and because cancer cells don't follow any specific growth plan, the oncologists have to be certain they can kill all the cancerous cells. This can be tricky when the chemo drugs can only affect a cell as it is splitting... meaning the drug has to be administered at the right time to affect that split cycle, meaning it needs to happen a LOT of times to ensure the drug hits the cell at the right time. Hence, the year long treatment plan for Hank, and hence the shrinking. The chemo has been able to hit the fastest growing tissues first, which are skin cells and soft tissue... so our oncologist said to expect the tumor to begin a plateau as it attacks the lengthier cell cycle tissues. (Just FYI)
As Chemo's counterpart in Hank's treatment, radiation changes the genes in the cells, typically killing them. This process also takes place most effectively during the cell division phase. The difference between chemo and radiation is that radiation is administered EVERY weekday for several weeks in a row, in an effort to hit that division cycle more effectively, as well as kill off cells that it can't hit during mitosis. While radiation may not kill cells in the growth cycle after one dose of radiation, multiple doses typically kill the cells. What radiation misses, the chemo should be able to pick up the slack... so this is why radiation is followed by more Chemotherapy. But because radiation can have much more longterm effects, most oncologists attempt to shrink tumors before radiation therapy to reduce the amount of damage necessary. This is why Hank will have 12 weeks of Chemo before starting his radiation... and as we call all see, it is working to our advantage! :)
I leave you with a visual aid of Hank's healing process in action. Thank you for your prayers and love. We couldn't walk this road without you all!
Top photo: Hank after second round of Chemo
Middle Photo: Hank after first round of chemo
Bottom Photo: Prior to any chemo treatments
*****Disclaimer: I am not now or ever have been a scientist, biologist, oncologist, or radiologist. Any and all information in this post is based on my own understanding of the literature I have read and researched on my own journey in understanding why and how cancer affects our bodies. Please feel free to research these topics further or comment below if there is something incredibly pertinent to add... or if I have completely botched the concepts described above. Thank you. And if you could, break it to me gently. ;) LL