Tuesday, May 31, 2011

to chemo or not to chemo....THAT is the question!

The cytoxin-one of my chemo meds-as it drips from its bag into my line.

All throughout this ordeal of cancer, I have been on proverbial pins and needles:

First-How would my biopsies come back?
Second-How aggressive was my cancer?
Third-How far had my cancer spread?
Fourth-What kind of breast cancer do I have?
Fifth-With these answers, how do I go forward? What is considered to be reasonable and effective treatment for someone in a position similar to mine?

I made so many serious, weighty decisions over the last several months completely on my own with nothing more than all the information I could glean and the good sense and capable mind God gave me.

Don't get me wrong: there is no human way to compute this information and determine treatment specific to you--your longevity, your quality of life, the impact on loved ones--without emotion becoming a real factor. Despite this and despite the fact that I was teeming with hormones and facing perhaps the most critical decision of my life, I was actually able to maintain a great deal of objectivity throughout this. It was no small feat and a miracle for which I will be infinitely grateful throughout the remaining fifty plus years of my earthly stint.

It was a clarity borne of equal parts my innate Hollie-ness, the support of loved ones (especially my parents) and the divine whisperings of a Higher Power.

I cycled rapidly through the five stages of grief at each of the crazy little mile-markers of the cancer journey.

Reaching acceptance was, without a doubt, the most imperative and cathartic step in the grieving cancer.

Saying the words, "I HAVE CANCER," went from some disturbing and statement fraught with outrage to being more: "I have cancer. What of it?" It just sort of evolved into something without the sharp fangs and beady eyes the 'c' word usually tends to elicit.

I had to exercise an impressive amount of patience as final pathologies were completed and specialists were able to examine me and review my case.

The patience paid off; I got my answers. And then some:

First-How would my biopsies come back? Malignant, aka cancerous.
Second-How aggressive was my cancer?
Grade One: the slowest-growing form.
Third-How far had my cancer spread? Nowhere. It's stage one and has NOT spread to any lymph nodes
Fourth-What kind of breast cancer do I have?
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Estrogen receptive= the least aggressive form and exceedingly rare among pre-menopausal women.
Fifth-With these answers, how do I go forward? What is considered to be reasonable and effective treatment for someone in a position similar to mine?
Surgery with three options: lumpectomy, single mastectomy or double mastectomy.

We all know which of these I chose. Surgery is known as primary therapy. It's purpose is two-fold: to remove known masses/tumors and to test the sentinel lymph node for cancer in order to see how far the cancer's likely spread.

Once this has been accomplished, the next step is to see an oncologist to guage what, if any, secondary therapy should be pursued. Chemo and Radiation are the most common. They exist to sort of sanitize the cancerous spot; like taking bleach to your kitchen counter tops. It diminishes the likelihood of recurrence by killing any stray cancer cells that might have made it past the ectomy phase and the sentinel nodes.My arm with the intravenous chemo meds.

Consider it a beautifully effective insurance policy; a prophylactic measure to ensure that you did everything in your power to assure that the cancer's growth was halted and that any remnants have been destroyed.

So after most of my mastectomy recovery had passed, I finally received the opportunity to meet with my oncologist. She examined me from tip to toe and gave me glowing reviews of my body's remarkable ability to heal.

Can I get a, "Yay, Holl!?!"

At the end of our pow wow she showed me a graph of statistics.
"Everyone's cancer's different, but based on someone closest to you: some one your age, in your health with comparable tumors, we reach a conclusion regarding your secondary therapy."

The short of it is that all the factors were in my favor for not needing secondary therapy: grade 1, stage 1, estrogen receptor positive. All of these indicated a very low chance of recurrance.

But my age--my youth rather-would be the impediment. I'm 33 1/2. If I'd been 18 months older I'd be in a completely different bracket and secondary therapy would be unnecessary.

But alas, I'm young and somewhat punished for that. I chose to undergo chemo as a means of insurance; ensuring that I'd live for the fifty plus years I stubbornly plan on gracing the planet with my sardonic wisdom.

So, I'm undergoing T/C chemotherapy--four rounds to be exact. And I'm currently halfway through them!

Another "Yay, Holl."

P.S. Did I mention no nausea/vomiting? Take that, cancer! ;)


  1. Hollie!!

    You are so brave!!! I just read several posts and got all caught up with you since you had your surgery. I'm very happy to hear everything is going great! Thank you for all your encouragement to me as well. It means a lot : ) You are on your way to having all of this behind you! Yay!!

    Love-April Bhattacharya