Survivor Begins Opdivo and Yervoy Treatment for Mesothelioma

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When I decided to stop mesothelioma treatment in 2020, my focus was on preserving my quality of life.

Toward the end of 2019, my latest CT scan had shown a new growth developing outside my ribcage. My oncologist at the time, Dr. Jackman, wanted to investigate other treatments.

We tried the chemotherapy drug Navelbine in March, but the effects made me too sick. In April I started gemcitabine, but I wasn’t able to tolerate that drug, either.

I had tried the immunotherapy drug Keytruda the year before. Unfortunately, the medication did little to manage my cancer.

Without strong results, Dr. Jackman informed me I wouldn’t be able to restart Keytruda, which led to the decision to discontinue treatment.

I felt like I was out of options.

I had told my oncologist that I wasn’t interested in hospice. Not yet, anyway. I knew it might be an option down the line, but I would face that choice when the time came.

It was more important that I enjoy my days as they came and continued doing things independently.

That’s how I planned to move ahead, until another option came along.

In October 2020, that opportunity came in the form of a newly approved immunotherapy drug combination for mesothelioma.

Getting Started on a New Immunotherapy

Late last year, the FDA approved Opdivo and Yervoy in combination for mesothelioma. In the same month, I attended my nephew Tyler’s wedding, one of my long-term goals in my eighth year as a pleural mesothelioma survivor. Not an easy feat to accomplish during a global pandemic.

When I learned about Opdivo and Yervoy, which also go by the names nivolumab and ipilimumab, I started discussing them with my primary care doctor.

Eventually, I connected with a different oncologist who understands the value of pursuing a new treatment option. On Dec. 23, 2020, I received my first infusion of Opdivo and Yervoy immunotherapy.

My Initial Experience with Opdivo and Yervoy

From my experience with Keytruda I knew a bit about what to expect with immunotherapy. Side effects can show up at any time, and they vary for every patient.

Education is crucial for patients who are new to immunotherapy. The way it affects your body isn’t the same as chemotherapy and other treatments.

Patients have to look out for inflammation reactions, which could happen anywhere throughout the body. Pneumonitis in the lungs, gastritis in the stomach and colitis in the colon are some common reactions.

Immunotherapy regularly affects hormones, too. When I was on Keytruda the doctors made sure my thyroid levels were correct.

On New Year’s Day, a week after my first treatment, I experienced severe vertigo. It was the type of symptom that I knew required a trip to the emergency department.

With my history of mesothelioma treatments, I have a pretty good idea of which side effects are stable. Nausea and other mild issues are things I’ve come to expect – what I have, I have.

More importantly, when starting a new treatment, you must be ready to identify any new or worsening side effects.

I gave the emergency department doctor the rundown of my mesothelioma history, emphasizing what was new and what had changed.

Since the doctor had a clear picture of my current treatment, I could get a medication for my vertigo that wouldn’t interact with the immunotherapy.

After taking meclizine for a couple of days, my vertigo resolved and hasn’t returned. Since then, I’ve had my second treatment without significant issues.

Embracing a New Mesothelioma Treatment Journey

The immunotherapy treatments are very similar to my chemotherapy experiences. The medication is given the same way, through a vein or port. The nursing staff made me feel comfortable, and the whole appointment took about three hours.

My second appointment was a little longer since my doctor knew about the vertigo episode. The treatment required an additional signature for safety.

Since I started Opdivo and Yervoy, I’ve had slightly more shortness of breath and a little more fatigue, but I’m used to that.

I’m excited to start my journey with this new mesothelioma treatment. Whether my cancer responds to the new immunotherapy remains to be seen. The first scan will be three months after I started treatment.

Either way, I’m in good hands with a new health care team that’s willing to listen to my concerns, investigate my symptoms and give feedback.

If the choice to stop treatment comes up again, I’ll face it head-on. Until then, I plan to keep living as well as I can and celebrating every day like a personal holiday.

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Mesothelioma Survivor

Emily Ward is a retired nurse and pleural mesothelioma survivor. She writes about her experience battling the disease as well as how her outlook on life has changed since her diagnosis.

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