Pembrolizumab is the immunotherapy drug of choice for people like me, with a diagnosis of stage 3c malignant melanoma — where the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
It seems to be relatively mild in terms of side effects for most people, especially compared to the combination approach (where it is mixed with another drug) to treat Stage 4.
People often refer to this combo as ‘brutal’, and regrettably this may be where I find myself — when I get the results of my CT Scan which I will undergo later this month.
But for now, I rest in the security of being only Stage 3.
My pembrolizumab was administered in a large room with no natural light. I was led through an S-shaped arc to my seat with four others in the room. Three of the four were women, two of whom were on beds, and who all seemed relaxed and at ease like they had been through this before.
To my right, there was a guy who was rather comfortingly of similar age to me — given that the others seemed considerably older.
I had seen him before at the reception window where he had been quite vocal. A male nurse seemed to be struggling to find an appropriate vein in his arm, and I found myself avoiding his gaze for fear of becoming embroiled in a lengthy conversation.
Instead, I sat down and read my book- ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamot, which I was both enjoying and wishing she’d come to the point somewhat quicker — probably a mark of my impatience rather than a fault with her writing.
After ten to fifteen minutes a nurse called Miriam came up to me. Like everyone I had met there that day, she was kind, and engaging and did so much to put me at ease. She ran through a few questions for consent and then went off to get my ‘script’, coming back shortly after.
The pembrolizumab was administered through a cannula that had already been inserted into my arm when I attended the Medalliam Pilot Research Team earlier in the day. The process takes half an hour with a few minutes either side to flush the tube with saline solution.
During the infusion, a kind lady with ginger hair and a trolley, brought me a cup of tea — and then ran off to try and find me a vegetarian sandwich. Failing to acquire one, she offered me a flapjack, and some cheese and biscuits, which though I tried to — I couldn’t refuse.
In many ways the whole procedure was rather uneventful. After waiting so long for this day to arrive, it came and went and nothing really seemed to change. I was still this guy with no obvious symptoms going about his life as if nothing were wrong.
Yet somehow a dark shadow seemed to be increasingly looming over my life. Like there was a war going on inside of me. And the opposition was gathering its forces, waiting to mount its attack — at any moment — from the inside.