The Rider

December 15, 2010

Alex Kip, Chapter 1: The Incredible Boringness of Three Days of Chemo

Filed under: Alex Kip — The Blog @ 6:05 AM

This is the first in an on-going series of posts that will follow Pelotonia rider Alex Kip as he battles cancer. Click here to read my initial profile of Alex, who is 23 and a Gahanna resident.

This is Alex's port

Chemotherapy is boring.

“I try and sleep as much as I can when I’m here,” says Alex, adding this is hard when the nurses at The James wake him every couple of hours to do what they need to do to help him fight the mass of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Type B) cancer in his chest.

“I have a lot of little projects that I didn’t have time to do at home that I try and do now to keep me busy.”

As Alex talks, a bag of saline solution drips down through an IV line and into the port embedded in the right side of his chest. Later in the day, a nurse will attach bags of the powerful R-ICE chemotherapy cocktail to the IV pole and connect it to Alex’s port via the IV lines.

A port is exactly what the name suggests, a small device surgically implanted in the chest of chemo patients that allows easy access – a portal – into their bloodstream. It’s so much better than getting stuck over and over again, on every visit to the hospital, by a nurse trying to find and tap a vein. Some of his friends have decorated Alex’s IV pole with a long, thin strip of cloth with a pattern of musical notes on it.

Alex is in the midst of a 3-day stay at the James for his fourth and final R-ICE treatment – and his 10th round of chemo in total. If all goes well, he’ll have a stem-cell transplant sometime in late January.

He’s wearing a sleeveless T-shirt that shows off his muscular physique, sweat pants and blue hospital socks, which are thick socks that have rows of plastic grippy stuff on the bottoms and sides.

Hospital gowns ... NO! Hospital socks ... YES!

“I hate hospital gowns,” Alex says. “They’re terrible, they make me feel sicker than I am.” But he does like the hospital socks, and has a stack of them at home.

Alex has a laptop and cell phone. What did cancer patients stuck in the hospital do before laptops and cell phones to keep their minds occupied? Television? Read a book?  Come on, that’s so 20th Century … and Alex is so 21st Century.

“I’m making a movie from the video I shot at the Ohio State/Michigan game; I watch movies on my laptop; I’m watching holiday movies right now. I just watched Home Alone and The Burbs.”

Alex made it all the way through Home Alone, which, in case you forgot, is a heartwarming Christmas classic about parental negligence. He fell asleep in the middle of The Burbs. He also listens to a lot of music, and has been trading CDs with some of his caregivers at The James.

“I love music,” says Alex, who graduated from the University of Michigan’s renowned Department of Musical Theatre in May 2010, just a month after he was diagnosed with cancer. Despite a large mass in his chest, the size of an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper and about an inch think, his only symptoms were a persistent cough, wheezing and changes to his voice that seriously affected his singing. This, by the way, was – and still is – a huge problem for Alex, who should be living in Manhattan right now and auditioning for parts in Broadway musicals. One of his Michigan friends, Darren Criss, recently “booked” a recurring role on the smash hit Glee.

“My reaction when I heard was, “Oh my God, that’s so amazing for Darren,’ but part of me wants to be out there.”

Nurse Susan Stevens makes sure everything is working the way it's supposed to be working

It seems Alex’s cancerous mass pushed against his vocal chords – and his voice is now a hoarse rasp. It sounds like it hurts to talk, but he says it doesn’t.

“Yes, I have cancer, but why take my voice away from me too?” Alex says in an ironical tone tinged with a touch of annoyance. “A lot of people with cancer don’t have vocal issues. God, that’s just rude.”

Not being able to sing – and the uncertainty about whether his voice will ever again be what it once was – has been the worst part of having cancer.

“There are times when I’ll hear a certain song and it will make me cry,” Alex says.

He was recently watching a holiday special and one of the musical guests was Rascal Flats, a group Alex knows but is hardly one of his favorites. They launched into an acapella version of I’ll be Home For Christmas – and the tears started flowing.

“It was so beautiful … and it made me think of my voice.”

This is Alex’s second series of chemo treatments. The first included six rounds of five-hour, out-patient treatments and was supposed to be enough to beat his cancer into submission. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, his cancerous mass was shrinking and the outlook was positive.

"Each new chemo treatment is scary," Alex said. "You don't know how you'll respond, but then you get used to it."

But then, on September 2, he got a call from his doctor, Pierluigi Percu.

“It was like, whoa, hold on, you’re not progressing as well as we’d like,” Alex says. “The size of my tumor was reduced a lot, but some of my counts were still up … and he said I needed the R-ICE treatments.” This was also when the possibility of a stem cell transplant was first discussed.

R-ICE is an acronym for the four drugs in this treatment: Rituximab, Ifosfamide, Carboplatin and Etoposide. Rituximab is the monoclonal antibody, a fairly new and sophisticated drug that recognizes and attaches itself to specific proteins found on the surface of cancer cells. The drug can then trigger the body’s own immune system to attack and often destroy cancerous cells.

The R-ICE drugs are powerful and can trigger adverse reactions and even allergic attacks, which is why Alex is required to stay in the hospital for the three-day cycle. The side effects include nausea, constipation and a lowered resistance to infection. Alex gets regular shots of an anti-nausea drug, but says his appetite isn’t what it should be and he’s worried about losing weight.

The need for R-ICE was a big setback for Alex.

“In my mind I was done with chemo – and now this. I was a mess the day I found out and then my girlfriend (Kate Harlow) called and said she had tickets for the Ohio State/Marshall game that night. At first I said there’s no way I’m going; I was too miserable. Then I thought, you know what, this is what cancer wants me to do, to be miserable and sulk and cry. And I’m not going to do that.”

These are some of the many cards Alex's friends have made for him

Alex went to the game and had a great time. It was just what he needed to pull him out of his funk. The mental battle is often as tough – or even more difficult – as the physical one for cancer patients.

“You can’t let yourself go there, but sometimes you do,” Alex says of negative thoughts.

Alex is handling his life-changing battle with cancer incredibly well. Sure, there are times when he goes there, but he quickly bounces back and regains his optimism and determination.

“Even when they first told me I had cancer there was never a thought in my mind that I would die, even before they told me it was curable,” he says, adding his cancer journey has changed his outlook on life. Before he was all about the fame – and landing starring roles on Broadway.

“It was all selfish, all about me,” he says. “Now, I want to sing in church and give back with my talents and hopefully I will.”

Alex is already working with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to reach out to and mentor teens battling cancer – and he has several ideas for musical shows that will feature survivors.

Visits by family and friends always brighten up the day – and Alex is fortunate to have a lot of visitors. His mom, Cindy, and a cousin stopped by last night – and they chatted and played cards for a couple of hours.

His dad shows up this afternoon with some packages, including an ornament from his sister, Liz, who is a student at the University of Kentucky, but will be coming home soon to cheer up her big brother (and visa versa).

Nick Kip is always good for a few laughs - and maybe even a song or two - when he visits his son

“It’s like mail call at Camp Dudley,” Nick Kip jokes as he delivers the mail, referring to the YMCA summer camp in upstate New York he and his each attended in their younger days. Nick then launches into the long and rather complicated Camp Dudley song – and Alex joins in…

Up on Lake Champlain there is a camp of wondrous fame.

It is noted for it’s boys, and also for it’s NOISE!

If you pass this way why don’t you stop and spend the day.

You will find that we’re the right kind way up on Old Champlain-ain-ain HEY!

Nick is the crew coach for Dennison University and has won several age-group indoor rowing championships. Let’s just say singing isn’t one of his specialties – and it’s hard to tell which voice is raspier.

“I didn’t get my musical abilities from him,” Alex says – and they both laugh.

Alex got out of The James on Friday. Soon, he’ll be back for a series of scans and tests that will determine if he’s ready for his stem cell transplant. But first, he’s off to New York to visit friends, see the sights and maybe even a take in a few shows.

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5 Comments »

  1. Stay strong, you will cross the finish line! God bless you!

    Comment by deborah — December 15, 2010 @ 7:16 AM

  2. Can’t wait to read the next installment…

    Comment by Cindi Macioce — December 15, 2010 @ 8:59 PM

  3. […] here to read Chapter 1 of Alex’s story. Leave a Comment LikeBe the first to like this […]

    Pingback by Alex and Kate’s New York Adventure « The Rider — December 23, 2010 @ 9:54 AM

  4. Hi Alex: I met your dad at the Pittsburgh Indoor Rowing Championship. We talked afterwards. My son’s name is also Alex. He graduated from U of Mich in 2005. I have a feeling you’re going to make a complete recovery. Hang in there. Larry

    Comment by Larry Kerr — January 30, 2011 @ 8:34 AM

  5. Alex, I also met your dad at the Indoor Rowing Championship with Larry (who commented above). Sounds like you have a strong and supportive family. You will beat this. I was born at OSU, so was my brother-in-law Alex (mentioned above), and my mom beat breast cancer there. All good things happening there. Will keep you in our thoughts and prayers.

    Mark

    Comment by Mark Barga — January 31, 2011 @ 10:12 AM


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