Where do we go from here????? That's a good question. Just one of the many I had going into my appointment today at OHSU. Where do we go? How do we get this stuff out of me? When will we start chemo? When will I have surgery? How long are we looking at? I had so many questions. I was going to ask all of these questions. We went in with a list. (Nick's list was much bigger than mine.) I had so many things I wanted answered. However, none of these questions were answered. Or at least not answered the way I thought or had prepared myself for. You see this cancer of mine is persnickety. It wants to do it's own thing. So, although I walked into that appointment confident that I would be leaving with a treatment plan to rid this from my body, we walked out heading in a completely different direction.
My cancer has spread. I knew this from the additional biopsies I had and my scar on my neck is my reminder. Nonetheless, it is still breast cancer. But now we are calling it metastatic breast cancer, Stage 3b. Not quite stage 4. Stage 4 means it is in the lungs and brain. Mine, thankfully, is not. However, it is traveling in my body. And the cells they biopsied from my chest wall (outside the breast) were the same as the tumor in my breast. Whatever, blah blah blah. It is breast cancer.
So, Dr. How are we going to get this out of my body?
Well, unfortunately, we may not get it out of my body. But, we will treat it and hopefully kill it. But to do this, with my type and location of the cancer, we need to take a different approach.
Endocrine therapy first. No breast surgery right now. No chemo right now. Take oral medications...tomoxifen at first. Have IV therapy with a powerful drug called herceptin. And have my ovaries removed. We want to kill what is feeding this cancer....estrogen!
Huh? What was that? No surgery? You are not going to cut this cancer out of me and get rid of it?
Basic answer, not now. We could go in and cut the tumor out, and the lymph nodes closest to it. But the cancer has already spread and what is fueling it is estrogen and the source of these are my contaminated ovaries. So...we are going to suffocate the cancer cells by starving them. No more estrogen to feed off. And this estrogen is coming from my ovaries, so let's take those out. This of course will put me into early menopause...with all of it's wonderful side effects.
Look at it like this....your yard is full of dandelions. You could get rid of just one dandelion, but the seeds have already spread. Just cutting that one plant is not going to rid your yard of dandelions. And although they don't appear harmful, they really suck the life out of your lawn. You need to treat the whole lawn, to get rid of the dandelions and all the weeds. That's what we are looking at....treating the whole me.
Coming to this decision is very surreal. On one hand, I feel a little lucky that I won't be going through a major surgery or chemo right now with all the nasty side effects, like losing my hair. On the other hand, this isn't because I am lucky. If I could cut this stuff out, go through the chemo, lose my hair, have a rough year and have this be gone. I would. However, mine will be a slower process. I can't cut all the cancer out of me. And that makes me mad. I have to walk around with this cancer in me and have it die slowly as I starve it. I will still have many of the side effects like chemo. The one benefit.... I won't lose my hair. But I am still going to be tired, nasueous, etc. Only I may look like everything is going fine.
My doctor was very honest in telling me that I can get this to a place where I will lead a very normal, long life. But we need to get there. And the road is long. My cancer is a chronic disease. Much like diabetes. I have to treat it to keep symptoms at bay.
This is just so hard to fathom. How can you not just get rid of it? Everything I prepared for told me that the process goes surgery, chemo, radiation, remission. But now, I have a whole different approach to think about. This new approach means I have to trust that this will work. Trust that all will be fine. And it will....I hope.
I do need more than hope. I need some control. So, I am going to meet with a nutritionist. Meet with a naturopath doctor. And try to supplement my treatment with a whole body approach to wellness. I think this is why I like OHSU. They aren't just about western treatments. They are a Center for Health and Healing. They are willing to seek treatments that are conventional and alternative. I will take the medications and find other ways to treat myself as well.
This all relies on trust. Trust in the doctors. Trust in my strength. Trust in others. And just as I was realizing that this evening, I opened a package I got in the mail today. It was a new devotional titled "Jesus Calling." I turned to March 1 and here is what I read...
"When something in your life or thoughts makes you anxious, come to Me and talk about it. Bring Me your prayer and petition...... Though the lessons of trust that I send to you come wrapped in difficulties, the benefits far outweigh the cost. Well-developed trust will bring you many blessings, not the least of which is My Peace. I have promised to keep you in perfect Peace to the extent that you trust in ME."
Trust. I hope to get there. But right now, this is a whole new approach to fighting this cancer that I need to process and take to prayer. And I am just here....not all the way there....yet.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God" ~ Phillipians 4:6