*This is a long version of my experience on Orkambi*
This is a post I keep starting, but can't seem to get myself to post. To be honest, my Orkambi journey started torturous at best. As much as I wanted to gripe and complain about the sickness that came with this new pill I knew I was unbelievably lucky to have the ability to even try this medicine. I know how many people with CF would love the opportunity to try this medication that was already in my hands and that none of them wanted to hear me complain. At the same time, when I felt as sick as I did, it was hard to feel grateful and lucky for a medicine that I wasn't sure could ever help me. And so I kept quiet and internally kept note of the changes, both good and bad, going on in my body. I am just finishing four months of Orkambi now and feel I have a clearer picture of what Orkambi means for me and my disease.
I started Orkambi feeling cautiously optimistic and well aware that the first month or so would be tough. However, I had no idea what the next several months had in store for me. My symptoms were not that unusual and many people that start the medicine experienced the same side effects. Some of the symptoms that came with this little pink pill were shortness of breath that was so extreme I had trouble walking across the room. In fact, there were times I felt like I was suffocating while sitting still. I had fevers, chills, aches, streaking of blood in my mucus, a cough that never stopped, but didn't feel productive, which meant I hardly slept. I was mentally prepared for these side effects, but I wasn't prepared for how long they would last. I was warned by fellow Orkambi users that the first week is the hardest and the worst of it was usually gone by a month. My symptoms seemed to get worse as time went on and as I passed the first and second month with no relief I started to lose hope that this medicine could work for me.
The physical aspect was tough, but the mentl aspect felt torturous. I dropped from 40% lung function (fev1) to 29% and despite the passing weeks, my numbers wouldn't budge. I worried endlessly as the weeks passed that I was harming myself rather than helping. I was so tight, coughing was not super productive and my exercise consisted of walking in slow motion around the house. I worried that my lack of movement and my tight chest meant that more mucus was pooling in my lungs and that I would end this Orkambi journey worse off than when I began. I felt like I was sicker than I had ever been in my life and I knew I was doing it to myself by taking this medicine. I kept waiting for a sign that things may improve, that my body was still okay, but nothing seemed any better.
And then one evening 2.5 months of worsening symptoms I broke down and cried. I had decided in the morning I would call the doctor and tell him that I just couldn't do it any longer. Physically, I was tired and mentally, I was terrified I was hurting myself and I don't have a lot of lung function to spare (at 29%). Orkambi didn't seem to be the right medication for me.
That night I went to bed and slept through the night for the first time in months. I didn't cough once! The next morning my shortness of breath had miraculously disappeared! It was a complete transformation. It was all I needed to stay on course and continue using Orkambi. My next clinic visit my lung function was 35% and although that was better than the previous 29%, it still wasn't to baseline. Regardless, I felt a huge sense of relief that at least my lungs were moving in the right direction.
During the fourth month I suddenly starting seeing all the changes in my body I had secretly hoped would happen. I started coughing up old putrid plugs from my lungs. Sinus plugs were coming out at an alarming (yet wonderful) rate. I could climb stairs and even run in the yard with my daughter. My mucus lightened in color and was much less copious compared to years past. My mucus came up easily and I started to feel stronger and more sure of my body. my morning cough has completely disappeared. I am starting to see my weight steadily climb despite starting at a healthy weight to begin with.
Clinically, I am not sure my lungs seem much different, but I feel like I just came off a round of IVs. I am in extreme awe of how well I feel without needing a hospital stay and weeks of IVs. I feel amazing and I have done nothing to work for it, no oral meds, no hospital stay, no prednisone, this hardly feels like real life. Orkambi may be considered a marginally beneficial medication and yet I feel stronger, healthier, and my lungs feel clearer. I may not gain lung function or see a huge change clinically, but I am taking something that is making my body work more like it should and that is amazing!