Platinum, the rare, the noble, the impervious to corruption. Also a toxic heavy metal when administered as the drug Carboplatin. What does it mean to go Platinum? I will answer that today, continuing the summing up of my take on the chemo drugs I took. Why would I want to do that? After all it has been over two years now since my last infusion. Time to get over it already you might be thinking. I want to address it now because somewhere there are many thousands of women dealing with it at this very moment.
And if they are anything like me they probably looked over the hastily printed out drug information sheets handed out at chemo, and maybe looked over a few drug interaction pages on the world wide webby, listing lots of side effects like predictions of doom. Turns out that approach was not so helpful to me. Perhaps I can offer something better.
I just watched another excellent documentary “Chasing Sunshine” which chronicles the breast cancer treatments of professional snow boarder Megan Pischke. I will do a movie review later, however one thing that inspired me is hearing Megan talk about how initially she believed that she could just be really strong during treatments, “like a soldier” – until the chemo drugs kicked her ass, and she realized that she needed a different approach. It came to me this morning that I wanted to write something for each of the drugs that I received, to document what was helpful to me in my reframing of the situation. Because while chemo sucks, that isn’t the end of the story.
Carboplatin – C6H12N2O4Pt
Platinum, oh Platinum, you continue to ring in my ears these many months later. A side effect that supposedly only has a 1% chance of occurring. One of the many benefits of being a sensitive gal. Luckily the more run of the mill side effects have faded long ago, mouth sores, terrible tastes in the mouth that started within seconds of my infusion, depleted blood counts, nausea, deep fatigue – but lets face it, what doesn’t cause fatigue in the cancering circus? Carboplatin was heralded as an easier to bear cousin to Cisplatin. A platinum containing drug so toxic that if it escaped a vein, it could cause tissue damage where it pools- only “safe” when on the move.
Platinum is of course not all there is to Carboplatin, which differs from the other poison I received, the Yew based drug Taxotere, in that instead of being made by a winnowing away, of refining something from nature, Carboplatin, C6H12N2O4Pt, is made by complicating exquisite simplicity.
Carboplatin was discovered at Michigan State University, where two of my siblings happened to have graduated. It was granted FDA approval in 1989, a year I happened to be living in Lansing Michigan just a few miles away from MSU. It is nice to imagine that somewhere in a lab nearby, while I was baking bread at Hearthstone Bakery, people were celebrating the approval milestone. Little did I know that the work they initiated would enter my life over twenty years later. That I would become the central character in a small drama of my own, enhanced by the power of platinum.
Platinum does not easily tango with other substances. This means that when it gets into your body it hopefully doesn’t stay long. While it is there it works by interrupting the DNA replication process of cell division. The idea being that the tumor cells will croak, while the healthy cells will send in their repair crews and recover. One has to ask though, is it really a good idea to take something which is an indiscriminate disruptor of DNA?
Because cancer therapies are all about the combo pack these days it is hard to tease out what is actually essential. Talking to the doctors, there isn’t always a lot of pick and choose. One commitment I made to myself when I started treatments was that anything I took I needed to get behind 110%. That meant that I had to come to terms with becoming a platinum babe.
It boils down to the Placebo Effect. Which is really the name for the power of the mind to turn on the power of the body to heal. If men can grow back hair on the placebo during a clinical trial for a failed hair regrowth drug, you know that the placebo effect is real. In fact it is a super power you too were born with. There is the opposite as well, voodoo death aside, believing that a drug I am taking will do more harm than good will probably harm me more because of what I believe. This is known as the Nocebo Effect. (You can read more about that in this blog post.) So if I am going to take poison, I damn well am going to get my mind wrapped around it, and embrace it. I really really wanted to make it count.
I wanted to transmute the poisons into powerful goodness.
Enter the reframe, stage right brain. Platinum which makes one think of millions of records, and blond bombshells. Platinum the precious, like diamonds only better. Think of it, ingesting platinum. Actually having it pumped directly into your veins. It sounds like something out of a comic book:
“And then Boob Girl was enhanced by the POWER OF PLATINUM!”
“She is made impervious to the weapons of Corrosion Man!”
“Boob Girl is going to kick some Ass!
While Yew is a dark goddess, Platinum is an endowment from some space age moon man super hero. The sparkle on the soap box, that extra special something that will give you the edge you need. The power of Platinum is what might have seduced a 1950’s housewives to buy cleaning products. “NEW!” “Improved!” By ingesting Platinum I would gain that extra shine. By being enhanced, I like Boob Girl, would be able to rocket to health. “Ka-pow!” The noble power of Platinum would clean out all the “Bad Guys” lickety-split. If it was also my kryptonite, well the death defying task of being Boob Girl, Cancering Avenger, is not with out risk.
When I went in for my infusions I kept a few things in mind about Platinum, #1 – eat lunch before I had the Carboplatin and my taste buds went to hell, and #2 while receiving Carboplatin imagine the silvery waves of Platinum moonlight washing through my body, activating millions of little immune and repair cells. The x-ray vision of these legions of “enhanced” immune cells enabling them to seek out and find any stray cancering cells and bring them to justice, while the repair crews were working to protect my healthy cells from damage. I imagined them wearing little sparkly jump suits. (Herceptin came with visions of tiny airplane marshals with bright orange wands directing the Herceptin molecules to bypass the heart and head straight for my tumors.)
Even though logically Carboplatin works not by enhancing anything, but rather by destroying – I figured the death throws of the rapidly dividing cells would attract attention. And even in their chemo induced beleaguered state my underdog white blood cells had work to do. As did all the healthy cells, which needed to produce the repair enzymes – so why not do so while wearing sparkly jumpsuits? After all isn’t it common comic book occurrence for a superhero to be created after a ordinary human is exposed to some powerful substance and transformed? Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you strong. The effects are unpredictable.
Did all of my visioning make a difference? I will never know for certain. Certainly my still ringing ears are a reminder that the little women in sparkly jump suits weren’t able to protect all of my cells. Perhaps if my oncologist had taken me more seriously, and adjusted my dosage, it might have changed the auditory outcome. Thinking of the infusions as being enhanced definitely helped keep my anxiety at bay, and I believe brought the Power of Placebo into the equation. Like the little blessing messages I sharpied onto every infusion bag, imagining my internal legions of Platinum powered super heroes was an act of aligning myself with the unthinkable, thereby making it possible.
There is no one way to negotiate through life. There is no one way through cancer treatments. This has just been my way. Maybe it will help you find yours.