I stopped chemotherapy and other treatments to fight my cancer back in November, but I certainly haven't stopped taking drugs. The latest addition isn't one I expected: Ritalin. No, cancer hasn't made me hyperactive. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm often tired and listless, and when I caught a virus a couple of weeks ago, it not only gave me the persistent laryngitis I've been complaining about, it also knocked me so flat I could hardly get out of bed to eat or use the bathroom.
Knowing that, one of the doctors at the B.C. Cancer Agency's Pain and Symptom Management Clinic recommended the Ritalin, because one of its uses is treating excessive fatigue—as well as sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy. And it seems to work! If I take it with breakfast, I'm much less likely to need a long, long nap. One reason I made it through my living wake on Thursday was taking one mid-afternoon that day. And today, sluggish as all hell when my wife got home at dinnertime, I took one and perked up to be with the family all evening.
I can't take Ritalin daily, however. The doctor suggested I skip a day or two each week—"pyjama days," she called them—or I might develop a tolerance where I'd have to keep upping the dosage. Accordingly, I took none Saturday (which was fine, I even went out for dinner) or yesterday (which was a washout, sleepy and low-energy). It's nice to know that it's possible for me not to be a complete slug most of the time.
What other medications am I on? Oh, it's a long list: domperidone, to reduce reflux and vomiting; morphine, both long- and short-acting, to counteract back and torso pain from my tumours; Imodium, to try (usually unsuccessfully) to control bowel symptoms and diarrhea; Fragmin, an anticoagulant injection to avoid further blood clots; and Tylenol and other painkillers if I have a fever or further aches.
And of course there are long-acting Lantus and short-acting Humalog, two varieties of customized human insulin made by genetically engineered bacteria. As of this month, I've injected insulin multiple times a day for 20 years, since March 1991, when I first developed Type I (a.k.a. juvenile) diabetes. Without insulin, and the associated poking of my fingers to test my blood glucose levels multiple times daily, I'd have been dead back then, age 21, when my pancreas stopped making insulin of its own.
Without insulin injections, in other words, I would never have lived to get married, have kids, write a blog—or develop malignant colorectal tumours. I may only live half a "normal" lifespan because of my cancer, but for most of human history, without modern medicine, diabetes would have killed me before I even got half this far.