I would have posted earlier except my web-hosting company had some sort of catastrophic issue that took down the internet. Apologies to those of you at home who were sitting on the edges of your seats.
On 8/15/08, I met my current surgeon. I had been through two other sets of doctors since early July who seemed to be confused/misinformed/unable to explain what about what was going on. Mammograms were clear, except for a strange looking lymph node in my armpit. Biopsies showed conflicting results and I bounced around like a pinball for six hellish weeks.
On August 15th, the surgeon dashed my hopes that this was all a big mistake. She believed that I had Stage IIIA breast cancer — an 8 cm tumor with a spread to at least one local lymph node. Surgery later confirmed her quite educated ninja-like guess.
Stunned, devastated, all those words don’t even begin to touch it.
I asked her what my odds were that day, because that’s all I knew to ask about cancer. I’ve since learned a lot about these survival rates — they lag behind current treatment protocols and include everyone with my same diagnosis regardless of other health factors. I’ve also learned that five years is kind of a random amount of time – certainly not a guarantee – especially in these days of early detection. Cancers caught earlier still progress on the same schedule, making the five-year mark less significant. Suffice it to say, I was not one detected early. Also, my survival depends largely on the unknown nature of the cancer I have; whether our current medicines work on my specific biology. Access to excellent medical care was essential as well.
As we gallows humor types like to say, the only way to know you’re cured is to die of something else.
Still, we sat at that table and she told me that 67% of people with the same staging survive for five years beyond diagnosis.
Ever since then, I’ve been fighting the tyranny of the oppressive flip side, the 23% never far from my conscious mind.
So much has happened since then and I’ve lost friends to this awful disease. Other friends persevere through conditions and treatments that sound medieval to me. But we’re all doing the same thing – whatever we can to stick around for as long as possible.
Without dancing on graves or ignoring the reality of this disease, I’m choosing to celebrate my five years. My “all-clear” from the surgeon today. My officially joining the ranks of the 67%.
As my surgeon was leaving the exam room I said, “This is five years, you know.”
She said, “I know. I knew you’d be fine. Just because you doubted it, doesn’t mean I did.”