This is FEC chemotherapy. Well actually it isn’t because this is just the E bit of it, F and C come in a few extra syringes. There are lots and lots of syringes and they arrive in sealed biohazard packaging. The chemo-nurses wear special gloves and aprons when administering these drugs, they pair-up to check the information on every syringe is exactly what’s on the patient’s drug chart and they also double-check the
victim patient they’re about to push these things into is the person named on all the paperwork. With Armageddon safely underway inside said patient, spent syringes and associated paraphernalia goes off for secure disposal. It’s a bit like USAMRIID (http://www.usamriid.army.mil/) without the military personnel.
FEC stands for 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), epirubicin and cyclophosphamide. 5-FU is one of the oldest chemotherapy agents and has been around for over 40 years. Epirubicin (affectionately known by staff and patients as the red devil) has been in use since the early 1980’s and cyclophosphamide is a nitrogen mustard. If you’re wondering whether nitrogen mustard is something to do with mustard gas you aren’t far off. It’s also been around for 40-odd years, fortunately as a chemotherapeutic agent and not for widespread production of WMD’s. Each drug works in a slightly different way to interrupt cell division or induce cell death.
Info about side-effects can be found here http://www.cancernet.co.uk/chem-fec.htm. There are some additional side-effects that don’t get published in the patient guides and your oncologist will tell you about them if you want to know. You have to ask the right questions e.g. Are there any other risks I should be aware of? Are there any side-effects that cause serious or long-term issues (and more importantly is there anything we can do about them)? Knowledge can be a blessing and a curse. I like to know but as the saying goes ‘if you might not like the answer, don’t ask the question.’
Chemotherapy strikes fear in most people and not without good cause. Poisoning our bodies is a drastic thing to do. But the reality is that it’s the best solution currently available to us for a variety of cancers and often the only solution when dealing with particularly aggressive forms. Hold on to the thought that oncologists aren’t Thomas Wainewright. They don’t set out to hurt, harm or poison other people. They’re doctors and they’re trying hard to cure or treat us with the best possible tools in their toolkit.
There’s no denying some of the side-effects are crap but I can assure you dying from cancer is altogether crappier.