Many friends have written me the past few days asking how I am doing. It is wonderful how connected we all are in this web of humanity. Without knowing, folks are checking in with me at the time I must learn a new dance step in this cancer dance. Thank you all, and excuse me for using my blog to respond, it may seem impersonal, but it is, after all, my blog and it seems personal to me! And you know how I like to add pictures to what I have to say! :o)
I have been waiting, healing from surgery. And today the wait ends. I see the radiation doctor.
I am holding my breath.
How have I been? I’ve been going to too many appointments. I’ve been tired. Been visiting my mom and doing things that need doing in her life. Been reading more about breast cancer than I wanted to, though the information has been interesting, and provocative. Been searching for healthier ways to support my body in preventing cancer. I’ve been more anxious than I wish, given the tumor removed from me was small. I’ve been learning about recent research that shows many new potential ’causes’, or contributing factors, to breast cancer. Many are factors in my own life, such as chronic insomnia – women with low melatonin levels are more likely to get breast cancer. I have had insomnia all my life (No, I can not take melatonin, I am in a ‘subset’, as one doctor put it, of people for whom supplemental melatonin has a reverse effect.) This melatonin connection just one of several pieces of information leaving me feeling ‘damn if I do, damn if I don’t’.
As does radiation therapy. There is recent research showing, yes, woman exposed to a lot of radiation through mammograms and other sources may be more likely to get breast cancer. I began at a very early age due to breast pain, no one told me I shouldn’t, doctor’s would order the tests. Mammograms every year since I was 29. Plus many many x-rays for other health challenges.
So today is a challenging day as I go meet with the “radiation doc”. I hear he is a good guy. I hope so. My body has many existing challenges that make radiation provocative. My mind set isn’t helpful either!
It is amazing how breast cancer is talked about, researched, analyzed, studied, yet it is increasingly becoming diagnosed more in younger women. I urge young women to learn about ways to improve diet and lifestyle to decrease your risk. I would like to write a blog post just about this, but there is good information on the internet, and I am not quite ready to become a proselytizer, though I may become one!
The statistical jargon both amuses and offends me. It seems so impersonal. Increased ‘survival rates’ (don’t you love that term? Why not just say : “women who live vs women who died”) are waved as flags of how successful ‘cures’ are, yet we are talking years which often include recurrences, more treatment, years of taking medications with side effects, including other cancers and serious health problems. Yes, for an individual woman who 50 years ago might have died of breast cancer, living 5 more years, 10 more years, is HUGE. (though some of the longest living ‘survivors’ were woman who had breast cancer 50 years ago, when there was only one treatment, mastectomy). But a cure means a condition goes away and a person does not have to think of it, worry about it, and potentially die of it or a related complication ‘down the line’. One reason I support The Breast Cancer Fund is their focus on finding the causes of breast cancer. Eliminating causes and learning prevention means the thousands of women diagnosed every day do not have to have their lives irrevocably changed, and challenged. At the same time woman are counted as ‘cured’ after 10 years, new research shows more women are having their cancers return after 15, even 20 years. I know there is value in statistics, but when doctors rattle off statistics to me as I struggle with difficult decisions, I say to them “I am not a statistic”. Each woman diagnosed with breast cancer is a unique person with so many complexities that need to be understood, at least tried to be understood, by her doctors. One doctor said to me “who cares if it recurs”, to which I answered, “I do”. Later she acknowledged her flippancy. The three doctors I have seen thus far have all been wonderful in their own way, yet all have left me feeling like I am an anomaly (definition: “something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected”) due to many factors, including other health ‘issues’, lifestyle, etc. yet the more I read, the more I learn many women are anomalies in that they all have unique, challenging considerations when facing breast cancer decisions. After all, cancer is an anomaly!
I would like to be writing of spring as it tries, some days against the odds, to make an appearance. I admire the bravery of crocuses, shining, tiny, bold color sprites, opening in the sun breaks, closing tight in the cold, gray, rain. They are the center of activity for hungry bees waking from groggy dormancy. I’ve not yet decided this spring how I feel about celebrating ‘new growth’! But there is healthy, vibrant new growth and I try to imagine my body as a garden growing new healthy cells to replace the ones ‘offed’ by radiation or removed by surgery. I try to imagine any new cancer cells dying off, unable to thrive in a place that nurtures only ‘good cells’. I try to find ways to create in my body nutritious soil for healthy cells only (by treating the immune system). I have no wisdom to share about this process, the mind is as challenging to me right now as the body!
Stay tuned, I will know after today what help I may need for this next dance step. Mike has a few medical test to go through first, I will be waiting a bit longer to start, unless convinced other wise! I deeply appreciate each email, card, or phone message I receive letting me know someone is thinking of me, and will answer when I can between appointments, when the energy is there.
Note: The Breast Cancer Fund has useful educational material on their website about chemicals known to be carcinogenics and ways to reduce your risk. They have been instrumental in many studies, political action, and sponsor the annual “Climb Against The Odds”.