The mid-September sun is shining at Jennifer’s back as she comfortably sits in the recliner.
Well, sits as comfortably as she can when, for the last six hours, a blood pressure monitor has consistently squeezed her left bicep and an IV port inserted in her top right wrist has pumped chemicals of hope into her body. This is the first round of Jennifer’s Rituximab infusions, a more-aggressive measure that she and her neurologist collectively are pursuing to control this evil beast that is Multiple Sclerosis.
Medical resources describe Rituximab as a monoclonal antibody that alters how the body’s immune system works. And this treatment plan makes perfect sense considering that MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath that protects healthy nerves.
For nearly 17 years it has seemed as though Jennifer’s immune system is serving as her own worst and relentless enemy. But on this particular day, Jennifer waged a counterattack through this initial treatment that took more than seven hours.
The nurses at the University of Michigan Infusion Center set her expectations that she likely won’t notice anything different until after her third treatment. We’ll go back in two weeks for her second infusion, which only should take three hours. Then we will return every six months for regularly scheduled treatments. Simple math says the third treatment won’t happen at least until April 2015.
Even then, measurable results aren’t guaranteed. That’s how MS medicines work.
In many ways it seems those of us living with MS are rolling the dice and placing medical bets of sorts that would make the most brazen bookies in Vegas blush. It’s like we’re doubling down daily on the disease-modifying drugs that at best will lessen the frequency and severity of our MS exacerbations.
Proven medical research breaks down the odds for us all, and it’s up to us patients and our respected neurologists to determine which drug will provide the best chance of success. You’ll notice I said “success” and not winning because until there’s a cure and ways to reverse the damage already done to the nearly 500,000 people living with this chronic disease, nobody really wins.
We just continue finding ways to stay in the game.
With her seven-hour infusion, Jennifer has put a huge deposit into her account. And I watched with love and admiration of her strength to rise up and boldly place her bet on Rituximab. This isn’t to say that the Copaxone, the other disease-modifying drug she was taking for years, didn’t necessarily work. Jennifer’s form of the disease just forced her to move up with the high rollers.
When the infusion finished, we drove home and reflected on the number of other patients who were in and out of the center throughout the day getting MS-related treatments. Some were there for Rituximab, others for Tysabri.
This made us realize how incredible it is that there are so many MS treatment options available these days. When we first were diagnosed (Jennifer in 1997, myself in 2000) there only were three disease-modifying medicines available. Now there are nearly 10, and we feel so fortunate that we all have options.
Or, maybe we’re all just lucky and the odds increasingly are working in our favor. How much would you be willing to bet on it?