Monday, July 6, 2009


No radiotherapy for Mom today. Instead, we ended up sitting and talking with Mom's radiation oncologist, Dr. Tonnesen, about the need for him to coordinate with the other docs in order to reestablish a treatment calendar and begin treatment. I was a bit taken aback, as I had thought-- erroneously, as it turned out-- that the docs had already planned this out, and that today marked Mom's return to the treatment that had been interrupted by her severe MRSA infection.

Dad mentioned to Dr. Tonnesen that he'd been having trouble contacting Drs. Meister (medical oncology, Temodar treatment) and Leiphart (neurosurgery). Dad had tried to get in touch with Dr. Meister over the past week, and had tried to get hold of Dr. Leiphart over the past two weeks. Dr. Tonnesen apologized to Dad for what must have seemed like "being abandoned by the system." I saw the apology as good customer service: mollify your customer. I didn't, however, see it as a promise that things would be better from now on. Few large bureaucracies improve that quickly.

Dr. Tonnesen also said that the chemo- and radiotherapy didn't have to be in total lockstep, which is a significant departure from what we had heard before: in all previous talks about the two therapies, we had never heard that a variation of more than two days was permissible. Today, however, the doc said that one treatment could be delayed for as long as a full week after the other treatment had begun.

It's hard to know how exact a science all of this is. While I sense a general overlap between and among different doctors' opinions on GBM treatment, things almost always get fuzzy when it comes to the specifics. Part of this may be because each individual is different, making it difficult to predict how any given course of treatment will end up. The fuzziness might also be attributable to the natures of the many types of cancer out there, and the fact that even a specific subspecies of cancer will vary according to the individual, as NCI's Dr. Fine had said regarding gliomas.

The end result of all this uncertainty, alas, is a sense that all of us, even the scientists, are fumbling around in the dark when it comes to certain kinds of cancer. "I wish I had a magic wand that could heal your wife," Dr. Tonnesen told Dad today. "Chemotherapy and radiation destroy fast-growing cells, but they don't heal. What we need is a healing wand."

I keep hoping for some sort of nanotherapy to appear-- some lotion containing nanorobots that slip through the skin's pores, then swarm toward a given cancer and kill it, perhaps releasing healing enzymes along the way. But such a solution isn't going to happen in Mom's lifetime, which is, to put it politely, a real shame.

Anyway, the upshot of the visit with Dr. Tonnesen is that we have to wait for some calls to be made, for the docs to confer with each other (since they haven't done so yet, despite all the time that's passed since the MRSA issue began), and for a new treatment calendar to be laid out. Once the docs settle on the new calendar, I assume our family will receive a call informing us of when the first day of resumed treatment will be. So for now, Mom will stay on her daptomycin regimen, which finishes out at the end of July.

More news as we get it.


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