This time last year I was finishing my first week of radiation. Today, I traveled to DC to begin a clinical trial for a breast cancer vaccine.
This morning, the three of us, me, my sister, and Matt, woke before dawn to set out. Matt left us at the station, where the fog was heavy. Newark was the inside of a cloud. Once on the train, we sped through the state, fog turning to liquid and dashing against the windows.
Somewhere outside Trenton, we passed a graveyard and I didn't hold my breath. I breathed deeply, imagined sucking in all those souls floating around. Maybe they would give me luck, or something, and push me away from the control arm of the study, and towards the real medicine.
What I get could be one (or none) of two promising peptides, whose aim it is to teach the body to search-and-destroy the type of cells that abounded in my tumors. (That's an oversimplification of course. If you're sciencey, read the real details here.)
A few days ago, I realized that today, my start date, was also Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. It's the kind of holiday that the churches in Jersey City (probably) have parades for, with statues and canons and things. The various international celebrations of this holiday, which commemorates the arrival of the Magi to the baby Jesus (OR the baptism of said baby, depending on who you ask) are numerous and fascinating.
We never celebrated this holiday in my house, but I feel some connection to it today. So many odd coincidences here, that hearken back to my murky memories of the details of the three kings and their arrival. Our travel to the site, through fog and rain and wind, the many modes of conveyance (car, train, taxi, bus); the wrong turns. The three dots the nurse gives me on my thigh with a surgical pen, to track any reaction to the injection. One dot gets the peptide, the second saline, the third an alcohol swipe. Three gifts, of unknown, and possibly dubious, helpfulness.
And the irony, of course, of starting this trial on a day called Epiphany. I don't, and won't for years, know if what I am getting is real. The study is blind, and I am blind. I avert my eyes during blood draws and injections, focusing on a stray thread on the nurse's lavender sweater.
After giving six tubes of blood and taking two more needle sticks, she sent Lizzie and me on our way. We inched back to the hotel on the Circulator bus, and cocooned in the hotel for a few hours. I felt a little weak, from giving a bit of blood I guess, or the nerves.
As night falls, the arctic air curls in for what they say will be the deepest freeze in decades.