Friday, August 26, 2011

what's the magic number

Some cancers can be tracked by what are called marker tests. For colorectal cancer, the standard marker test is called a CEA test, which is short for carcinoembryonic antigen. This test doesn't work on a large percentage of colorectal patients but Paul is in the lucky minority that it does work on. It is by no means a definitive test as an increase can be brought on by not only the cancer spreading or becoming more active but it can jump due to inflammation, allergies, arthritis and I'm sure a whole host of other causes.

The normal healthy non-smoker should have a result below 3, a healthy smoker registers in around 5. When Paul was diagnosed, he registered in at 105. Yes, that sounds insanely high but I have read people's stories who registered in the thousands. Remember it's just a marker test!. Every time we go to see the oncologist he runs this blood test along with a CBC to check on his platelets, red and white blood cells, etc. Basically he gets this test on average every third week and the results are usually emailed to me the day after which is usually on a Monday as it's easier on my schedule to take Paul to the doctor on a Friday.

When I get the email from the doctor, it is reminiscent of watching a horror film. I'll sit at my desk at work and cover my eyes and squint through my fingers to see what his new level is, then call Paul to let him guess what the number is and let him know the result, followed by texting friends the results as they follow up on his treatments.

The first magic number after he started chemo-radiation was 89.7 which we were ecstatic about. Unfortunately due to all of the complications from radiation, what with the new side pains and the newest problem of dehydration which has resulted in Paul having to be hydrated a few times via an IV at the infusion center, we were not too suprised when it started to jump back up to 112 in early August and then 119 a few days later. But today was the day we were dreading, it's now up to 137! I argued to myself whether or not to even tell Paul about the new score and at one point, I was just going to lie to him that the test came back inconclusive since I know how he can get demotivated quickly by bad news. But I opted to tell him the truth and reminded him that this was not definitive test and that the radiation had done a number on him and the rise was almost surely from internal imflamation. He took the news for what it was worth and we just carried on. After all, he started his new course of chemotherapy today so we can only assume that things are going to get better.

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