Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Gearing Up for the Big Fight

One thing people like to tell you when they learn you have cancer is that they had an aunt, a grandmother, a colleague, or someone else who had cancer and beat it. I like hearing those stories. I like hearing about famous cancer survivors like Lance Armstrong, Kylie Minogue, and Sheryl Crow. But for some reason, people also don’t mind telling you stories about people they’ve known who have died of cancer. Now, I wonder why I need to know that?

Since my diagnosis last December, I’ve been told numerous stories of people who’ve died of cancer. And if it was breast cancer, I can’t help asking about the details. What stage? Did she get chemo, surgery, radiation? How long after diagnosis did she die? Where did it spread to? Did she suffer a lot of pain in the end?

It might sound morbid and defeatist to ask such questions, but I think it’s my way of gearing myself up for THE BIG FIGHT. I need to know what to expect if I’m going to be prepared for it -- if and when IT comes. IT being metastasis or spread to the major organs.

I’ve found some preliminary statistics for patients with my particular experimental chemo combination, put out by Genentech, the pharmaceutical company that makes one of the drugs (Herceptin). The average survival rate was three years. That was higher than the survival rate without Herceptin. Of course, that’s just an average, and I know I’m not average. That’s not just arrogance. I think my ultra-healthy diet, supplements, exercise, positive attitude, proactive involvement in my own treatment, all put me in the above-average patient category.

But the facts, statistics, science are all there. There’s a very high chance that the cancer will come back, spread to major organs, and kill me. So while I’m telling myself that I’m outside the statistics, and while I’m doing everything I can to boost my body’s defense system, I also have to use the brain I still have and face the possibility of THE BIG FIGHT.

I’ve found a cancer center in the U.S. where I’d like to be treated if the cancer comes back. I’m looking out for clinical trials. I’m still researching alternative treatments. I’m following cancer news to learn about latest developments in research into new drugs and treatments. I plan to start getting my affairs in order, whatever that means. (Must finish those baby scrap books for the kids!)

None of this means I’ve given up my positive outlook. If anyone has a chance of surviving this cancer, it’s me. But I’m optimistic, not delusional. There’s an elephant in the room. Closing my eyes isn’t going to make it go away. But if I keep my eyes open, maybe I can tame it and learn to live with it.

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