Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Good" cancer?

I keep meaning to write about the title of this blog. There are lots of people--lots of doctors--who will say there is no such thing as a "good" cancer. This is a terrible disease and you just really do not want to hear that diagnosis, ever. On the other hand, we can certainly differentiate between a thyroid cancer, which can often mean a bit of treatment and then you go on with your life; and liver or pancreatic cancers, which tend to mean that you will be fighting hard with aggressive treatments for a few months, after which it is possible you may not even be here anymore.

When I was diagnosed with my Stage II-A breast cancer, part of the doctor's first sentence was, "...and we're gonna cure you." That word, cure, stood out prominently. It was wonderfully reassuring, especially coupled with my longstanding sense that breast cancer was a "treat-and-go-on" diagnosis. In the past, I had taken note of famous women who had it, but always those who survived. Betty Ford. Melissa Etheridge. Olivia Newton-John. Jill Eikenberry (who was my age when diagnosed). I always felt like we heard that these women had breast cancer, and then they were treated, and then they stayed around--in many cases, for decade after decade. My own aunt had it and recovered. Because of all this, breast cancer seemed like a mild setback, and I was relatively optimistic.

But it's really all about your perspective. A woman in my support group was devastated by her diagnosis (she's close to my age, and her cancer is not much worse than mine) because she had known several women in her life who had breast cancer, and virtually all of them died. She felt she'd been given a death sentence. And indeed, the bad news starts pouring out once you are paying attention. Linda McCartney, novelist Carol Shields, Wendie Jo Sperber, and Columbian singer Soraya are only a few of the famous who recently died of their breast cancer--the latter two, quite young. I have heard plenty of stories, now, of recurrences and metastasis, and when I found that my own risk of that was 20% even after chemo, I felt a lot of my optimism grow dark.

At this point, the optimism and the darkness take turns dominating my views. But overall, I'm glad I chose this title. I very much hope that the 80% chance that I have no recurrence prevails; I am grateful that I don't have one of the far more serious and worrisome cancers that send people to the Wellness Community support groups on the same night as mine. It is awfully easy to come across information that is terrifying, and to focus on the dangers that might lie ahead. I like having the constant reminder that I once thought of this as a pretty easy thing, and that the odds tell me that, in fact, it really might be.


Anonymous said...

You're just the greatest kid ever!!!!!

Heidi and Sarah Face The Day said...

Hoping Tuesday goes okay for you and really looking forward to seeing you tomorrow! Perspective is everything indeed and it can swerve you from here to there depending on what person's story you hear and where you are at on any given day. I can relate so much to what you wrote about. Thanks for your perspective.

Anonymous said...

your strength is a constant amazement! yeah, i know, there've been some bleak days and even some black days, but i believe you're doing what this crappy situation was supposed to give you the opportunity to're living it close up but you're also stepping back a bit to try to see a bigger in which you're so much much more than your breasts, your body, your hair, your achievements, your fears, your whatevers. As you engage the whole experience of "the cancer" you've been learning much more about yourself and those about you who love and respect you. Not to be a pollyanna, but karmically (sp?)this is probably one of the central lessons you came to learn...and you're doing a mah-velous job, m'dear. i love you. Dad