Friday, March 20, 2015

Why I'm 100% sure

Doin' my favorite thing:  Coffee-shopping :)

Its a gorgeous day and I'm spending it well.  Had my Zoladex shot at the hospital.  Then we went to the Burger Stand to watch the KU game.  I stayed for about 20 minutes then ran down for a Restorative Yoga class and then ran back up to the Burger Stand to catch the last part of the game.  Then I went home, made some lunch, took a nap, and now I'm coffee-shopping at La Prima Tazza.   Enjoying the beautiful weather through the big windows and open door, and people watching.  Tons of people out tonight.

I've had some people comment about my last post and my restored faith in chemotherapy being the right thing to do in my treatment plan.  However, I realized I did not expand at all as to why exactly I've restored my faith.  Its not just blind faith.  I've thought about it long and hard after my meltdown, a.k.a. "bout of doubt".  

So I'll just explain, summarize, and paraphrase what I understand about this whole process.  I'm not going to consult any sources so it may not be a clear and completely accurate picture.   But here it goes.

So my chemotherapy is considered "neoadjuvant chemotherapy".  It's primary purpose is to shrink the tumor down before doing surgery.  The goal is to preserve as much of the breast tissue as possible, so that its a lumpectomy surgery, as opposed to a mastectomy.  The doctors kept saying, I'm such a high candidate for a lumpectomy that this is an option likely to have the most success.  In addition to that, chemotherapy is considered "systemic", which means it treats the entire body, as opposed to other options which are more localized, treating just the area of the tumor.  That will be the next step actually. After surgery will be 6 weeks of radiation therapy, localized just in the breast tissue where the tumor is located.  Then after the radiation therapy, I'll be put on a hormone pill that regulates my estrogen levels, because my tumor is 50% estrogen positive.  This is all for the purpose of preventing a recurrence of the cancer.  After 5 years on the hormone pill, if there is no recurrence, then I'm considered "healed".

The part about my age too is a large reason for the chemotherapy.  Obviously, chemotherapy is really hard on the body and they have chosen a very aggressive regimen because I'm young, strong, and can handle it.  They want to shock my system ("Shock and awe") and kill all the cancer cells that may be lingering around waiting to coordinate another attack.

One of my big concerns at the beginning of this journey was that my cancer had spread to other parts of my body.  It was legitimate enough of a concern that my oncologist ordered more tests to look: the bone scan and the CAT scan.  No metastatic disease was found.  Metastasis is the term for when cancer has spread from its original place to another place.  Breast cancer has been shown likely to spread to specific places:  lungs, bones, ovaries, and brain.  Well, the bone scan ruled out bone cancer.  The CAT scan ruled out lungs and ovaries.  But they never did a brain scan of any sort.  So its something that I worry about occasionally.  But the good thing, is chemotherapy is systemic, so if there happens to be anything there, we are treating it.  Plus, cancer cells would have to go through my lymph nodes, because its spreads through the lymphatic system.  There is no evidence at this point that my lymph nodes have been effected.  The oncologist examines by feeling my lymph nodes at every appointment and nothing feels tender or enlarged.  Plus my sonogram didn't show anything to be concerned about and nothing lit up on the CAT scans either.  

But like I said in my last post, cancer cells were probably floating around in my body as long as 10 years ago.  In fact, I'm fairly certain I read somewhere that EVERYONE has cancer cells floating around in their body.  But often times your immune system takes care of those and flushes them out before they can do any harm.  When a cancer tumor actually forms, it is a result of a genetic abnormality, or your immune system not working properly as a result of stress, or poor health habits, or some sort of environmental variable.  But, that's the thing about cancer.  There's so many unknown things about it.

So anyway, the reason I'm 100% sure:  the alternative to chemotherapy is doing surgery now, which would have to be a mastectomy due to the size of the tumor.  And I would not receive that systemic shock value that would decrease my chances of recurrence in the future.  There's no guarantee that I won't have a recurrence, but this is the best option for preventing that.  Shock and Awe.  There are definite concerns associated with chemotherapy.  Its just plain hard.  Even on my good days, there's just a haze of "yuckiness".  My relationship with food is completely different.  I don't like to eat anymore.  I don't really get hungry.  Eating is no longer a recreational activity.  Its essential fuel for my body to heal.   Chemotherapy is killing good cells as well as bad, which is why the side effects are so difficult.  The good cells in my skin, my digestive system, and my hair:  the fast growing ones, because the tumor is also made of fast growing cells.  

But I am 100% sure.  Its actually a good thing I had my meltdown earlier this week and freaked out about whether I was doing the right thing.  Otherwise, I would not have thoroughly thought this through.  Now I can move forward with renewed purpose.  Acceptance.  Gratitude.  Healing.

I keep thinking back to the C.S. Lewis quote I posted about way at the beginning of my blog.  My "house" is being torn down to the foundation and rebuilt.  When I come out of this, I'll be healthier than I've probably ever been.  Taking care of myself will no longer be on the back-burner.  And everything will benefit from that.  My husband.  My family.  My students.  My happiness.  I'm getting an upgrade on my life!  :)  

I realized this morning that I'm halfway done with the first regimen.  The 8 weeks of A/C.  I've been reading a lot about the Taxol portion, looking ahead at the next regimen.  For many breast cancer patients, the Taxol is a lot easier with the side effects.  I hope this is true for me!!!!   There will still be a lot of fatigue, unfortunately.  Radiation therapy produces fatigue as well.  So that's something I'm just going to have to get used to.  Just got to take care of myself, and sleep when my body says to sleep.  I have trouble with that sometimes.  I've definitely had to make adjustments.  I have some friends from out of town going out tonight to a live music show which starts at 11pm.  There's not much I enjoy more than going out to see live music.  But 11pm.  No way.  Not unless I bring a sleeping bag with me and prepare to "ker-thunk" at any given moment.  Oh well.  I'm getting an upgrade.  Its going to be worth it!!


  1. Thanks for this post. Sorry I got worried about you. :)

  2. I'm so happy you have restored your faith back to 100%! My last post was kind of long and I apologize if it sort of rambled...I know how damaging it can be to have doubt and it's so important to have none. I hope I did not come across the wrong way--I was trying to put what you read in a better light and give you some alternative ways to counter the doubt...sometimes with text the over-analysis kicks in.

    I will say I think you are right in that the experience made you more sure of your treatment plan in the long run. That's the nice thing about logic...if doubt sneaks in and you think it through, usually you end up reinforcing your original plan/thought. :) And that class sounds like it was awesome to not just provide emotional/mental support but to give you stuff to help too! That's awesome!

    I have read that a cancer cell is just a cell whose switch is stuck in the "on" position. It's interesting you mention estrogen...that's what they doctors are trying to control in me also. I think I've just decided I dislike hormones.

    And hey, maybe when this summer when you don't have school stress you can go to a late concert. If you felt up to it, you could have like a game night so if you got tired you could sleep but you'd still get to see everyone. But you know what you should REALLY do...Grapes and Paints. I don't know how much it is or all their locations, but it so much fun...and you can schedule it so it's during the day.

    And for the record, I find your positive attitude and outlook inspirational!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this post and the last one.
      I am disgruntled with hormones too. I've always been suspicious of being "imbalanced". This all confirms that, I guess. Maybe.
      Grapes and paints looks super fun. I might have to organize one of those. Perhaps a post-chemo celebration, or something. :) that will be this summer.