Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Tags: Cancer | cancer | phlebotomy | photosensitizing | treatment

Keeping Treatments in Perspective

By    |   Tuesday, 04 November 2014 05:01 PM

Cancer is no laughing matter, of course, but sometimes it helps to bring a little humor to your treatment. Personally, I like to give funny or offbeat names to some of the procedures I have to undergo — not the really serious things, just the ones that are part of my long-term maintenance.
For example, every other month I go to a blood donor center to have about a pint of blood removed. This reduces the iron overload that came as a result of the multiple blood transfusions I’ve had. Such an iron overload can cause liver disease and a host of other problems.
The clinical term for this periodic drawing of blood is therapeutic phlebotomy. However, I prefer to refer to my trips the donor center as "blood letting."
This kind of naming game came to mind recently when I went to my dermatologist for the annual procedure that I call a “face fry.”
It’s actually called photodynamic therapy, or PDT, a treatment using special drugs called photosensitizing agents that are activated when exposed to certain kinds of light. That causes the drugs to react with oxygen and kill precancerous spots.
According to the American Cancer Society:
“Depending on the part of the body being treated, the photosensitizing agent is either put into the bloodstream through a vein or put on the skin. Over a certain amount of time the drug is absorbed by the cancer cells. Then light is applied to the area to be treated. The light causes the drug to react with oxygen, which forms a chemical that kills the cells. PDT might also help by destroying the blood vessels that feed the cancer cells and by alerting the immune system to attack the cancer.”
After a nurse covers my face with the chemical, she puts plastic wrap around my face and then covers that with tin foil. I sit for about an hour and a half, reading as much as I can through the slits in the foil.
Then the covering comes off and I sit under a blue light for 15 minutes. This is the “face fry” part of the procedure, which hurts more than the worst sunburn you can imagine. Moving a cold air blower around each area you target helps somewhat — but it’s still painful.
Afterward, my skin is red and sore for about a week, then it gets blotchy, and eventually it peels. I also feel under the weather for a few days, as though I have a low-grade fever.
Having described it, I know it doesn’t seem all that funny. But these procedures need to be kept in perspective. All things considered, they play an important role in staving off something worse.

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Cancer is no laughing matter, of course, but sometimes it helps to try to bring a little humor to your treatment. Personally, I like to give funny or offbeat names to some of the procedures I have to undergo.
cancer, phlebotomy, photosensitizing, treatment
Tuesday, 04 November 2014 05:01 PM
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