More chemo, and some thoughts on alternatives

On Tuesday I had chemo again, an 80% dose of gemcitabine + carboplatin, hoping my blood count will recover more rapidly this time. We skipped ahead to Cycle 2 and just gave up on the second dose that should have been on Day 8. I feel relieved to be back on track with my treatment!

It went ok, not too sore in my wrist, and so far I'm feeling quite reasonable afterwards. I was up and down the first night but have just slept well through the second.

No one really wants to have chemotherapy because it is a very drastic measure to poison healthy cells as well as the cancer cells! So why am I so happy about it?

Chemotherapy is the treatment for which there is the best evidence for success in treating the disease which I'm facing. The bottom line is

  • my body will recover from chemotherapy

  • usually people don't recover from untreated ovarian cancer!

Do I consider alternative and complimentary therapies?

Yes, of course I have thought about alternatives, especially each time a dear friend recommends something. I read what I can find, ask my sister to help look up medical information, ask my specialist and also check with the hospital pharmacist for advice. They have a database of medicines and have been helpful in passing on to me the results of clinical trials (if the product has been tested) and any warnings.

I realise there are always unknowns, as well as commercial biases. Pharmaceutical companies make money from drugs, but then so do healthfood shops, not to mention the online suppliers of unproven mixtures. We all need to be a bit skeptical when we are asked to fork out money!

For me it comes down to levels of evidence. An anecdote is evidence, but at a very low level because it is just one datapoint, no replication and no controls. For example, “Mrs T was told there was nothing more the doctors could do and advised to get her affairs in order. She changed her diet and lifestyle, tried herbal supplements and now 6 years later she's still well.“. Usually there are very few details available for such a story, no control sample to show whether she would have recovered anyway, nor any way to know if it was the herbal medicine that produced the recovery, or something else. It isn't even easy for me to find out how similar Mrs T's medical history might be compared with mine.

I find I am more confident in trusting the oncologists' advice because it is backed by higher levels of evidence. My background in scientific research leads me to trust the rigorous testing required before making claims of efficacy. The oncologists can tell me statistics, eg if there were 100 women just like me (severity of the initial disease, cancer cell type, cancer-free time since last treatment, sites where the tumours have regrown etc) then 60-80% of us would respond successfully to chemotherapy this time.

Of course it is a personal decision and peace of mind counts for something too in any healing process. Did you know the placebo effect accounts for 10 – 30% success in treating ovarian cancer (according to my specialist)? This is the contribution of faith or belief towards recovery.

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6 thoughts on “More chemo, and some thoughts on alternatives”

  1. Alison, I enjoy your brutal grasp of scientific reality and its' application to life. Comfort to the mind, and body. You are going to come through this situation. We shall each walk with you, step by step. You are an inspiration to my being. With love, John Bishop / San Francisco+Tobago

  2. Interesting you wrote that, Alison. Sexton faced the same dilemma + came to exactly the same decision…there is just more evidence with the medical route. xxoo glad you weathering the chemo ok.

  3. Interesting you wrote that, Alison. Sexton faced the same dilemma + came to exactly the same decision…there is just more evidence with the medical route. xxoo glad you weathering the chemo ok.

  4. Glad you're back on track with the chemo and have been able to skip to Cycle 2. Hope the 80% dose is just what your body needs. You are lucky to be computer savvy and to have your sister to help in that respect so you can stay focused on what is best for your recovery. Happy Easter, Danni

  5. This is quite a blog Ali! You remain clear and thinking well amidst the swirling mix of lovely welcome poisons on board. I should send this to my ex who is so against medical intervention that it would have been a hard road had we stayed together after my diagnosis. I remember that he denied contributing to my Ovarian Cancer fund raiser (the beach volley ball thing) on the grounds that he didn't believe in medical research. An exciting weekend ahead for you. I am at Moreton island unfortunately – otherwise would have been available for any moving help. Is it this weekend???? Congratulations. can't wait to visit.

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