Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oxaliplatin & Oxalis - Day 7 of this cycle



Now that I'm a week past my oxaliplatin infusion, I'm feeling better. That is one intense drug! I think one of the reasons the water has tasted so bad has been that the drug messes with my electrolyte balance, and makes many things taste funky. Thanks to the many folks who wrote with suggestions about what warm beverages to drink. Some of them I hadn't thought of! I appreciate the support and the thoughtfulness of your suggestions.

But this post is about flowers, of the family Oxalis, with two of them pictured here. From the beginning, I've been struck by the similarity between the beginning of these two words, oxaliplatin, the chemo drug I'm infused with, and oxalis, which is a lovely flower with three lobed leaves. I've occasionally grown oxalis, as a house plant (they are often sold as "shamrocks" in March, with their three-lobed leaves), but even that's not the story I want to tell. I just tried to look up the origin of the word oxaliplatin, and got nowhere. I do know that it's a "platinum" drug, so that explains the end of its name. I don't know about its beginning. So, here's my oxalis story.

When I was 10 and in fifth grade, I participated in the New Jersey State Grange Spelling Bee. Spelling has always come easily to me, and I had won for my school, and went to the state capital, Trenton, for the state spelling bee. "Way back then," in the 1950s, we didn't prepare as intensively as kids do for state spelling bees (if Akeelah and the Bee is any indication), but I think I did some practicing before going. As the spelling bee went on, I was doing very well. Then there were just two of us left standing on stage. My next word? Oxalis, except that the person reading the words pronounced it "oxy-lis." I asked for a definition, learned that it was a flower/plant, asked for it to be repeated (and wished later I'd asked for alternative pronounciations). With the pronunciation, it sounded most like oxygen, so I went with o-x-y-l-i-s. As you already know, I was wrong. The one contestant still standing spelled her word correctly, and won the state championship.

I was happy to win second place in the state, and to get my picture in the paper. When they asked me to say something, I said it was good that people would now finally hear of "Vincentown," the tiny town in NJ where my family was living. I didn't like being from someplace no one had ever heard of. Aren't ten year olds amazing? Like my getting second place was really going to make a difference! Anyway, I always like telling that story, and I'm pleased I did so well, and I've been fascinated by the flower oxalis ever since. And I wouldn't misspell it again, that's for sure! Lucy is a good speller, too, and it's been fun sharing this story with her as she has worked her way through increasingly difficult words.

So, there's probably no connection between this intense chemotherapy drug and these sweet little flowers. But I have better associations with the drug if I think of the flowers. Tomorrow begins Week 2 of this cycle. I'm hoping for increasingly less cold sensitivity, and increasingly more appetite and that food and beverages will taste better.

7 comments:

mikebel said...

You are a rare force of nature, and your blog has been harrowing, uplifting, funny, and sad, and sometimes all at the same time. Oxalis is also one of my favorite plants, although for different reasons. Only one word away from the state spelling championship, o-x-a-l-i-s? Wow! I better spell check my post before submitting it. The names oxaliplatin and oxalis are indeed related. Oxalic acid is a rather strong organic acid found in many plants, particularly the Oxalis genus. Rhubarb is high in oxalic acid, particularly the leaves. The word oxalis is from the Greek, meaning sour, which is the taste sensation produced by all acids. The antineoplastic agent cisplatin, the first of the platinum based chemotherapy drugs, was approved by the FDA in 1978. Later, it was found that altering the structure of cisplatin by substituting a side group derived from oxalic acid improved solubility in water. Hence the name oxali-platin, which was FDA approved in 1999. I guess that adds a new level of appreciation for the beautiful wood sorrel family Oxalidacaea.

Oxaliplatin was not in my chemotherapy regimen, although Xeloda sure was. I remember downing those huge pink pills and how everything tasted weird, like all my food had been soaked in iron filings. And brutal for me was the fact that I completely lost my taste for sweets, which is my most important food group! The good news is that it was all reversible. Best of luck to you in getting through this round of treatment. I went through pre-op chemoradiation with Xeloda. After surgery, it was five more months of 5-FU/Leucovorin injections, every day for a week, then three weeks off, then repeat.
At the time, those months loomed large and seemed like an insurmountable barrier. In retrospect, the time went by very quickly. It may seem like a long way off, but before long the oxalis will be blooming and the birds will be singing, and you will be finished with treatment. And I hope and pray the chemo will
make any cancer cells' existence so miserable they commit apoptosis. There's a good spelling bee word.

Stay warm,
Mike

Cathy said...

Lynne -
I grew up in Texas, where winters are a lot warmer, so oxalis was an outdoor plant there, year-round. My mother had them all along the border of her flowerbed, in front of the house. Thanks for reminding me of them!
Much love - Cathy

Tia said...

Aloha, Lynne!
I learned plenty from your post and Mike's response on a link between Oxalis and your chemo. But here's another thing to ponder: Is there a link between spelling ability and gallbladder cancer? I, too, was in the Scripps-Howard state finals in the '50s, in successive years in two different states, although I didn't do nearly as well as you did. As a matter of fact, the second year my parents preferred to go to a party and sent my poor older sister and her date to the bee with me. I was the FIRST person eliminated, and was psychologically scarred for life (as was my sister, too, I'm sure). This probably affected my immune system and led me to this diagnosis. Now I'm on two fancy chemos, both of which I can spell, but there's no press and no prize. Damn!
Just another thing we have in common, Lynne. Tomorrow's my Oxaliplatin date. I'll let you know how it goes. I'll be wearing and carrying a bunch of my "Life is Good" paraphernalia (Ohmygawd, did I spell that right?), and watching old episodes of "Friends."
Hope your weekend is comfortable, relaxing and warm.
Tia

Anonymous said...

Lynne,
I also have always been a good speller, and I love words. I never participated in a spelling-bee, but I like your story very much.
I'm glad you are feeling somewhat better having gotten past the first week of the cycle.
As for warm drinks - I have been drinking hot water with a little lemon juice and honey while nursing a cold. I don't know if it is theraputic, but it tastes good and makes me feel better.
:-)
Keep the faith - we're all rooting for you!!
Mary McCarthy

Anonymous said...

I also loved spelling bees...found them rather fun as spelling came easily to me. ( back then...now, as an adult and mother of three, I can't complete sentences! ha!) I never participated in a state bee...only the little nun-monitored,classroom bees in my elementary school years. I learned an awful lot from your post and Mike's post also! I love the reference to flowers...aren't we all ready for some beautiful color, warm weather and sunshine?? Gosh I just know that once spring arrives it will lift our spirits and bring new life not only to our surroundings but into our soul as well!!
I'm glad that you are getting through this tough time and able to see beyond it to the promise of the garden.
love and prayers
cori

Sandy said...

Wonderful stories, science lesson, and connections....Healing prayers for ALL of you - Lynne, Mike, and Tia! May your day be blessed with just what you need.
love, Sandy

Anonymous said...

Just read your latest post and as usual, had to add my 2 cents. In the commercial laundry business, no matter how careful you are, there are times when mystery stains appear on sheets and towels that no amount of regular washing will get out. We have our customers save them up until they get a bag full and then they send them back to us for a "salvage load". Processing a salvage load is done by running the washer on a special program and including oxalic acid to get out the bad stuff. Oxalic acid is too powerful to add to the chemicals with every load. If you would like, I'll take you to the Plant and run you through a cycle.

Jan