My Experience with Intraperitoneal (IP) Chemotherapy
Most stories about cancer don’t begin with the word “luck.” But mine does.
As luck would have it, a little more than two years ago, I came across a New York Times article titled “Effective Ovarian Cancer Treatment is Underused, Study Finds.” That treatment, called intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, consists of pumping large doses of chemo drugs directly into the abdomen via an abdominal port, along with the usual doses of chemo administered via a chest port. The article noted that even though IP chemotherapy is proven to add 16 months or more to women’s lives, for a variety of reasons, fewer than half of ovarian cancer patients at American hospitals receive IP treatment.
Incredibly, a month after first learning about IP chemotherapy, it went from being an interesting footnote in my life to the process that quite possibly saved my life. After confirming that my abdominal pain was not a hernia, my primary doctor referred me to Roswell Park, for what turned out to be Stage II ovarian cancer.
That was my second stroke of luck. Roswell Park is one of the only hospitals in the area that offers intraperitoneal treatment for ovarian cancer patients. Additionally, Roswell Park is staffed with gynecologic oncologists, who specialize in surgically removing (called debulking) all traces of ovarian tumors.
So, when my oncologist recommended IP treatment for me, I knew it was the right thing to do. Dr. Akers explained that the treatment would be grueling: 18 consecutive weeks of IV chemotherapy, along with six sessions of IP chemotherapy administered every three weeks.
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IP treatment was, indeed, grueling. For each IP session, I was in a room with no other patients, lying still in a hospital bed that needed to be set at a certain angle in order for the chemo to reach all parts of the abdomen. After receiving prep drugs and IV chemo came the part I hated most: the Foley catheter, which is inserted into the bladder to drain and catch urine during the procedure. And, for just a little more “fun,” I also received some drug that immediately made me feel like I had intense hemorrhoids for a few minutes. Fortunately, after that, I usually fell asleep for the next two hours while the IP chemo was administered. Afterwards, the nurses rolled me on both sides, so that the chemo bathed all parts of my abdominal cavity.
And then there were the post-chemo days. Some women have pain, nausea, and extreme bloating for a few days after IP treatments. Luckily (again, there’s that word), I did not. However, I needed to take steroids for three days after each of my IP treatments. When the steroids wore off, things got tough. I was weak and exhausted and had other side effects, including mouth sores, loss of some finger- and toenails, allergic reactions to the IV chemo drugs, and neuropathy in my hands and feet.
Having gone through all of this, would I recommend IP treatment to other ovarian cancer patients? You bet I would.
Every time I walked into Roswell Park for my IP sessions, I said that IP surely stood for “Important Person.” I was treated by the most amazing and caring people. Because the IP procedure is so specialized and time-consuming, I usually had one particular nurse who assisted me, and I grew to adore her (in spite of that damn Foley catheter). And, when my side effects became severe, my doctor and the Roswell Park pharmacists knew exactly what to do to help me through the process.
And so, I will end this story with the same word I used to start it: luck. While it is never lucky to have cancer, we in WNY are lucky to have Roswell Park to offer life-saving treatments not available at many other cancer clinics and hospitals. Today, because of the IP treatment I received at Roswell Park, I am back to being healthy, active and cancer-free.