Saturday, March 29, 2008

Side Benefits

The pharmaceutical companies do a good job of warning (and terrifying) us about the harmful side effects of chemo drugs. If we spent too much time dwelling on the long list of negatives, we might be tempted to say "f'get about it," but that's not an option for most cancer patients.

But the drug companies don't tell us about the harmless side benefits. I recently wrote that new friends (both online and offline) are one of the positive perks of cancer treatment.

I just discovered something even more tangible.

In my BC (before cancer) days, I had a gimp right knee that sometimes collapsed mid-stride. If I walked as little as one mile, I spent the next two days limping like Chester, the Dennis Weaver character on Gunsmoke. (Oops, I'm dating myself.) An orthopedic surgeon and an MRI confirmed in January '07 that I had osteoarthritis. (Now I'm really dating myself.)

But a curious thing happened after I began cancer treatment: My knee healed. (I guess it would be more accurate to say that I became "symptom free," but that doesn't sound as dramatic, does it.) I could take four-mile mountain hikes without limping the next day. I could do deep knee bends and lunges. I could even sit in a lotus position in yoga class, pain-free.

About three months after my stem cell transplant, I started to feel the familiar creaks and twinges of arthritis again. Right about that time, I went in for my dose of maintenance Rituxan, a monoclonal antibody that I think of as my relapse prevention drug. The next day, I had the pain-free, creak-free knees of a thirty-year old. I learned that Rituxan is often used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, but it apparently does wonders for osteoarthritis too.

I can look forward to the side benefit of youthful knees for the next two years, thanks to quarterly infusions of Rituxan. While I'm roaming the planet, I may even climb a mountain or two.


Ann said...

I blew out both knees by the time I was 21 b/c I had been an avid runner from the age of 13. I could totally relate to the collapsing knee comment. It happened to me at least once a week and I was sure that I was heading for knee surgery. I also received rituxan and noticed that my knees were like new. It just goes to show that there is always a silver lining.

Susan Carrier said...

That's amazing that you had bum knees from a different source and that Rituxan worked its wonders. I wonder if the drug company knows about this?

janet aird said...

Arthritis and cancer are both autoimmune problems, aren't they? Maybe that's the connection

Susan Carrier said...

Janet, You're right that blood cancers such as lymyphoma and leukemia affect the immune system, and rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder. The stumper is that osteoarthritis and the wear and tear that Ann has experienced are a horse of a different color and have nothing to do with the immune system. Curious, huh? But I'm clicking my heels about it (something that I couldn't do a year ago).