My day started at 4:30 am to prepare for my 2hr drive to Duke Cancer Institute (DCI) for my bladder cancer checkup and to participate in a very fascinating research study.
Once I arrived at DCI at 8:30 am first thing is blood work. Then its off to have my CT scan with contrast. Now I do have an allergy to IV contrast so I must take a prep of steroids and benadryl before I can have the CT scan to prevent any reaction to the IV contrast.
After three IV start attempts, the nurse finally got the IV started and 2hrs behind schedule at 11:30 am I was off to get the CT scan done. I always get nervous once the contrast begins to enter my body. I have never had a severe reaction, but I have had breakthroughs where I get a small hive on my forehead that itches.
Once the CT was completed, it was time to head up to see my medical oncologist Dr. Michael Harrison, MD, for a check-up and the results of my CT scan. There are many things I love about DCI, but being able to get CT scan results the same day is terrific and really helps to diminish scanxiety.
I was worried about this scan because of the previous results and seeing that the tumors had grown in size. My medical oncologist and I were prepared for the worst case scenario and the best case. My medical oncologist enters the room with a big smile and tells me he has good news. There has been a decrease in the size of the tumors in my external iliac area. We both were extremely happy by the results of the CT scan and seeing the tumors had decreased in size, everyone was all smiles.
Now came the most exciting part of my day participating in a research study that I choose to take part in and overseen by David Bartlett, PHD who is a faculty member, Duke Molecular Physiology Institute and Dr. Michael Harrison, MD. I would be riding an exercise bike for 30min while I receive my immunotherapy infusion to help researchers understand how getting acute exercise during infusion therapy has the potential to reduce side-effects such as nausea, fatigue and improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies.
Once I arrived at my infusion suite the health care team, and the research team was there waiting for me and excited to get started as I was the first person to be riding an exercise bike while getting immunotherapy infusion which will provide researchers with excellent data.
"I felt that natural high of accomplishing something that will have a great impact in future cancer treatments"
Before getting on the bike, the research team drew blood to get some pre levels before I was seated on the exercise bike. Once I was sitting on the exercise bike I was instructed to cycle at a set range of cycling speeds. The researcher adjusted the workload of the exercise bike to get my heart rate up to a warm-up intensity (40% of maximum) for 5-minutes. After the first five minutes, the workload on the exercise bike was increased so that my heart rate increases and maintained at approximately 60% of the maximum.
This felt equivalent to walking up a hill or climbing some stairs. I continued to exercise continuously at this intensity for 20 minutes. Every two minutes or so I was asked to score my perceived exertion relative to sitting doing nothing. At the end of the 20-minutes, while I was still sitting on the bike, the researcher drew a similar amount of blood from my arm.
I then cooled down for 5-minutes and then moved back to the chair seating area to relax. The research team took a final blood sample from my arm. You're probably asking yourself why all the blood draws and what is the research team looking for and the answer is they are looking for cancer-specific immune function and associated metabolites in response to the acute exercise or no exercise. Metabolites include different hormones, proteins and small molecules such as glucose and fatty acids.
Once the study was completed for the day, I felt that natural high of accomplishing something that will have a great impact in future cancer treatments. It gave me a feeling of empowerment over cancer, even though the research study may not directly impact me I am doing my part to advance cancer research and the way infusion therapy could be delivered in the future.
I hope other cancer patients who read this blog are motivated to volunteer to participate in research studies or clinical trials. To find out what research studies are available in your area contact your hospitals clinical trial or research office. We as cancer patients can support researchers to improve strategies for cancer therapies, increase survival, quality of life and achieving the ultimate goal of finding a cure.
Founder of Crush It For Curtis Foundation
Bladder Cancer Patient & Advocate