Immunotherapy

I don’t think anyone would argue with the phrase “cancer sucks.” It does. No question about it. However, in my case, so far, the cure is far worse than the disease.  Two years ago, when the doctor made the diagnosis, I had only one symptom, which I’ve described elsewhere (TMI), but I didn’t have any other symptoms, didn’t feel bad, or really think anything else was wrong. This past December, there were no symptoms. The doctor found it on a routine bi-annual checkup.

Both times the surgery itself was way, way worse than any symptoms I had, and the most recent version turned into an ER visit on Christmas Eve. My kids have said that they will forgive me, though they enjoyed the take out Chinese dinner.

Tomorrow, I start the first of six treatments of immunotherapy. According to my doctor and the oncologist from whom I got the second opinion, this treatment is “no big deal.” You have to love it when a doctor who has never had the disease tells you that the treatment is no big deal. The wild thing about this treatment is that, much like when you get a vaccine for the flu or something else, they are actually injecting disease-causing bacteria into my body.  Here’s a clinical description:

Bacillus Calmette-Guerin therapy: Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is the most effective intravesical immunotherapy for treating early-stage bladder cancer. BCG is a bacterium that is related to the germ that causes tuberculosis (TB), but it does not usually cause serious disease. BCG is put directly into the bladder through a catheter. The body’s immune system cells are attracted to the bladder and activated by BCG, which in turn affects the bladder cancer cells. Treatment is usually started a few weeks after a transurethral resection of the tumor and is given once a week for 6 weeks. Sometimes long-term maintenance BCG therapy is given.

I get this technique. It makes sense. It’s like training an army to attack an enemy by dropping a few of the enemy right in the middle of the camp. What baffles my mind is this: who thought of injecting the bacteria that causes TB into someone’s body to fight cancer?
These are the kinds of ideas that actually excite me. When I think of the technology that I’ve seen in action in the Atlanta startup world, I see some game-changing stuff out there, and I actually get to meet the people who thought of this stuff. Amazing. High tech startups are really no different than serious medical breakthroughs, and the people that discover new tech have many of the same characteristics as great medical researchers:
They discover a problem that they know they can solve and they try a hundred ideas until they solve it. 

It just takes persistence on the part of the people trying to solve the problem. I’m really glad that someone was persistent enough to figure out that injecting tuberculosis bacteria into my body will fight and destroy the cancer.

What do you think about that?

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