After seeing how aggressive my cancer had become, my oncologist decided to switch my treatment over to the RICE chemotherapy regimen. This is a highly aggressive, and highly toxic form of chemo, which not only attacks and kills the cancer, it also breaks down healthy tissue rapidly. It is for this reason the RICE therapy is only given as an inpatient procedure.
The therapy was given via the Port a Cath in my chest over a 3 day period. The drugs used in the RICE chemotherapy regimen are:
Most patients are given 3 cycles of RICE, with each cycle being 14 days apart. The very next day after beginning this treatment, I began to feel the side effects. I began losing my hair, and within a few days, lost all the hair on my body. Including my eyebrows and eyelashes.
I also dropped from 160 lbs to 110 lbs in less than a week. There was almost no fat on my body, and almost no muscle mass. I looked like a skeleton wearing a skin suit.
My body wasn’t producing any saliva or mucous, and when I coughed, the incision from my bowel resection hurt. It was important to cough as much as possible though, to prevent any fluid from resting in the lungs, which could cause pneumonia.
The biggest and most dangerous side effect however, was the effect that the RICE chemotherapy regimen has on the immune system. Because non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma affects the lymph system, which is part of the immune system, that was dangerous enough. However, due to the aggressive RICE therapy, I had absolutely NO immune system!
I ended up being put in a room by myself, and labeled as neutropenic. Which means, in layman’s terms, that my immune system was so suppressed, that it could not even fight off the simplest of infections. Basically, my entire immune system was gone.
When a patient is neutropenic, they cannot eat fresh fruits and vegetables, can’t have any fresh flowers in their room, and all visitors must wear filter masks and gloves to protect the patient.
So, to counter the side effects of the RICE chemotherapy regimen, I was given all sorts of antibiotic drugs, nutrition boosters, and other medicine’s to prevent sickness and also to stimulate the rejuvenation of my immune system.
Plus, having the ileostomy made things even more difficult. Having the end of the small intestine sticking outside your body invites even more possibilities for infection. Thankfully, the nurses and nurse assistants who took care of me did an excellent job at helping prevent anything like that from occuring.
That was basically my experience with the RICE treatment. I would be in the hospital for a total of 26 days, and at times it seemed that I would never leave. I would see my oncologist shortly after my hospital release, which I’ll write about in another post. But let’s just say that he put me back on the RCHOP treatment, saying I no longer needed the highly aggressive “RICE chemotherapy regimen”.