Numbers are a mindfuck. You can’t ignore them but you’re also not supposed to read too much into them. Sometimes you want to manipulate an interpretation of that data in one way to support your arguement, other times you’ll want to manipulate that very same data in an entirely different way to argue an opposite point.
Carcinoembryonic antigens are proteins whose numbers are used in colorectal cancers as a way to see if a treatment is effective. Normal levels for carcinoembryonic antigens are 0.0 – 4.6 ng/mL. The numbers from my first test on 7/2 were 673.3 ng/mL. Today I received my first set of numbers since starting treatment and my numbers from yesterday, 7/30 are 835.9 ng/mL.
Along with that new number was a note from my oncologist, “Hi Matt. I am releasing your CEA level to your portal. It shows that it went up despite the chemo so far. However, I don’t think we need to panic or assume the worst. I remain optimistic that this treatment will be effective. We will talk via phone and go over in more detail.
Hang in there.”
So I googled. Because that’s what we do when we get get aches, pains, new information to analyze or if we have any questions about anything at all, right? Well, google tells me to listen to my doctor and calm down. There are peer reviewed studies that I’m too lazy to read any more of than the abstracts but it seems like an initial CEA flare (a prompt rise and then drop) is actually a promising reaction for overall response to treating colorectal cancer.
But still, an almost 25% spike in cancer proteins is jarring. Disconcerting. A very large increase. Regardless of what it may eventually mean once this whole big story plays itself out.
Ultimately, at this point the numbers are inconsequential. My current treatment plan is my current treatment plan and there’s no movement to modify it anytime soon. We’re staying the course. We’ll have a much better idea of what’s going on after I get my next CT scan, which is a few weeks away.
So for now, I need to just go ahead and keep believing that this treatment is working, is going to continue to work, that my cancer is shrinking and that some day in the future I’ll be cancer free. Because what other choice do I really have than to stay positive and hope for the best. These CEA numbers can go on and fuck themselves.