Friday, November 30, 2007
The Birth of Hope
OK, when you find out you have breast cancer, they put you on this fast-moving roller coaster and for most women, within two weeks of the diagnosis you've seen a surgeon, probably already gotten a sentinel node biopsy (wow but they hurt) and maybe have scheduled your surgery. Being a contrarian in SO MANY WAYS I went about things a little differently by doing my chemotherapy first (at the suggestion of my savvy surgeon) and then scheduling my surgery. Most women never see the radiation oncologist until after chemo and surgery. BY CHANCE I actually got to meet the radiation onc out here because he came to the breast cancer support group in October. He is THE radiation onc for this area. But he came here from the University of South Carolina medical research establishment and after doing some big studies. More than any other thing, cancer is a disease which is treated via a statistical world view. I knew I needed to "pick this man's brain." And today Jenn and I went and picked and questioned and questioned and questioned AND questioned!
By using some of the information he gave me a couple weeks ago, and expanding on it, I got a great nugget of information that feels like a real super positive piece of information that really lifts my spirits and hopes.
One of the great downers of being triple negative is the fact that something like 60% of women have a recurrence of breast cancer within the first two years after diagnosis and treatment. Cancer recurrence is not a good thing. I can reduce my statistical chances of distant or local recurrences to a certain degree, but the long term statistics for us triple negative girls is downright GRIM (and depressing!). He was able to enlighten me as to why. It turns out that the vast majority of triple negative women do not discover their cancer until the cancer is much more advanced than in my case. The tumor is usually bigger upon discovery and it is very common for the lymph glands to be much more involved. So, here I've been figuring I probably had something like two or three years left to live. What he's explained to me is that because I found my tumor at a much smaller and earlier stage, and because on my Sentinel Node Biopsy I had a very convincing negative for involvement in the lymph system (ergo, the cancer is not yet actively in my blood stream), I have something like a 90 to 95 percent chance of living 5 or more years cancer free.
Now I don't know about you, but this definitely sounds like a much better deal! Now this is definitely based on his knowledge and opinion and the uncertainties of life. He can't guarantee that the cancer won't reoccur, but I like 90 to 95 percent a whole lot better than a more than halfway chance of being dead in three years.
The radiation onc has been the single most important person so far in helping me to figure out what treatments to consider next. He has a careful decision tree with easy pros and cons. Today he was able to give light to hope. How often can someone do that?! I will not make my final surgical decision until after I've talked with the folks at MD Anderson, but I have a reasonable plan and strategy for what comes next, providing no new information comes in to change my knowledge base.
The SPEED with which a cancer patient is pushed through the chute is astonishing, and yet the doctor with some of the best information is last in the information chain. If I wasn't a contrarian, if I wasn't a information hound, if I wasn't assertively seeking and self-advocating for myself, I would have never met this man until after I had made uninformed decisions! I feel very blessed to have serendipitously met him and been able to pick his brain and benefited from his knowledge and experience. It is only an accident that I got this information. If god is in the details, then god has touched my life by allowing me to encounter this man. Today, hope was hatched in a small room in western Georgia and a doctor with the strange name of Dragun midwived it.