Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chemo #3, Gut Instincts

I went to have another blood test to see if I could get my chemo today. Just before the nurse took my blood, my friend asked me what my gut instincts told me. I said, “The white blood cell count will be just under the threshold, but the doctor will give me an injection and let me have my chemo anyway.” The threshold number is 3. The result said 3.6. My instincts were wrong. But then the nurse realized she’d made a mistake and took another reading. It was 2.6 – just under the threshold, as I’d predicted. The doctor gave me an injection and let me have my chemo. Exactly as I’d predicted.

I’d like to pat myself on the back now for all the times my instincts were right, even though the doctors were telling me otherwise. From the very beginning of this whole cancer experience, when I was massaging the lump in my breast because my gynecologist said it was a clogged milk duct, I kept thinking something was amiss. Cancer didn’t even enter my mind, but I thought it was definitely something other than a clogged milk duct. Lucky for me I pursued it. Unlucky for me, we didn’t find out in time to give me a chance of cure.

And since last December, when I had sharp pains throughout my chest and tenderness around the skin cancer area, I thought there was something wrong. I just didn’t have the medical knowledge to connect the dots. Since I started this new round of chemo three weeks ago, the tenderness on the skin has decreased considerably. So that wasn’t a figment of my imagination either. That was cancer. And the sharp pains – also gone. That wasn’t just damaged nerves from radiation. That was cancer. My instincts were right.

And when we got the results of my MRI last month, my instincts said cancer. My doctor said no, Tony said no, my friends said no. They were all being positive, bless them. I was being realistic and my instincts told me it was cancer. I was right. But I really wish I were wrong.

I’ve talked to so many women now who had mammograms and clinical exams and were told they were clear for cancer but later found out that the scans and doctors were wrong. In many of these cases, the women had a gut feeling that there was something wrong, despite the doctors and scans saying everything was okay. I’m a very scientific person. I believe in facts and evidence. But my instincts have been right so many times when they disagreed with doctors and scans, that I’m now a big believer in gut instinct.

So for all the women who are reading this Blog, here’s my advice:

Nobody knows your body better than you do. Your doctor probably sees you once a year, and you’re just one of hundreds, thousands of patients she sees in a year. Trust your gut instincts. Get second, third opinions. We’re not talking about buying a new house or interviewing for a new job here. We’re talking about your life.

Two years ago, if I’d ignored my gynecologist and sought a second opinion and had a breast ultrasound, chances are extremely high that they would have found my cancer in the early stages and I’d be looking at a 100% chance of cure instead of 24 months of life left.

I hate preaching, but if I find out that any woman I know is diagnosed with late stage breast cancer, I will consider it a personal failure on my part. So nevermind you. Do it for me. Get screened regularly and trust your instincts.

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