Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cancer has me

Two in one day. I know!!

Got a phone message today saying that my aunt, who has multiple myeloma, is in the hospital. Things have been looking worse for her lately. She's survived almost 13 years so far with this disease, but it's nasty. Much worse than breast cancer (not a "good" one, for sure). I don't have details, but this is her second hospital stay in the last several weeks, and I know her current chemo has been extremely tough. So I'm feeling some concern, and it makes me reflective.

So...I guess this is kind of for her...

[ ]

Cancer has me
by one ear, like
a truculent child,
and marches me
to the window.

"Hand it over then."

All of it, turns out.

The collector, fat-faced,
Brushes each thing with listless fingers
as I thud it
on the counter

Lean brown arms and legs
(The muscles wither,
lying there--)
Breath, gassy and bright.
Clarity of thought,
a smooth skein--
the collector scuds a thumb
in the middle, leaves
a tangled heap.
A row of tomorrows,
lined neatly like dice.
The collector sneezes, and
they tumble
one into the next
and lie still.

Hardest of all, that rounded thought,
opaque with certainty,
solid as eggshell
surrounding me,
that I am safe
and blessed.

At the end, I stand
not naked
but stripped

Some things they let me keep.
I hold them
piled like smelly clothes
as Cancer shoves me onward,
a boot to my back:
Fear. Pain.
Long hours
in which to know this all.

The door behind me,
with a clang...

It’s not a cell, but
Vast white, limitless

I can’t see where
to put my foot.

But my arms open
and let fall what I held
so my fingers can pull
from under my tongue
a talisman,
now in my fist.

Cancer is on this side
of the door--with me--
But quiet now,
I won’t hear a breath
Until one day
That boot crushes my neck.

Right now, though--
this moment--
Warmth starts in my hand,
hard with victory.
I close my eyes.
I melt into whiteness.

Don't worry, I don't drink much

If you missed this news this week, you probably also haven't heard that OJ's back in the justice system or that Iran's president didn't quite get to "make it" in New York.

Basically, a new study apparently shows that women who drink alcohol regularly--even as little as a drink a day, and regardless of what kind of alcohol it is--face an average increase in risk of breast cancer of 30%. Now, as a Wired blogger helpfully points out,
Thirty percent is a big deal: Reuters points out that women have, on average, a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of developing breast cancer, so a 30 percent change ups that chance to 1 in 6.
(By the way, don't miss the photo accompanying that article. Someone has quite the gift for appropriate illustration.) Anyhoo, while the risk is substantial, I've been scouring the various articles for more detail on methodology, and I can't find it. So my personal jury is still out on this one (and thank goodness; I needed some quiet inside my head).

The articles that get into a possible mechanism for the finding generally say that alcohol is hypothesized to disrupt hormones, and this leads to the kind of estrogen imbalance that causes breast cancer. Well, my tumor was not fed by estrogen (or progesterone). But none of the articles mention whether the risk was equivalent across tumor types, although the only proposed mechanism is hormonal. That is frustrating.

The study on which my nutrition program is based, for example, showed no major benefit for women who DID have ER-positive tumors, but a big benefit for ER-negatives like me. It's clear from virtually all breast cancer studies that the tumor type is one of the biggest "it depends" factors out there. So it would really be nice if the press had covered this aspect. Even the medical press has not. We'll see what happens when the study gets published; hopefully we'll find out then.

In other news, I am very happy to see this next article. Basically, it tells me that I can forget about needing to buy sexy lingerie or plan romantic weekends: I got breast cancer, and that's a marriage boost in itself. Yay! (Noah's thrilled too!)

And finally, looks like those newsmakers in Barcelona aren't done yet (or, those who weren't invited decided to prove they still matter, too). Anyway, today's LA Times will report that childhood exposure to DDT has been shown to increase later risk of breast cancer by a whopping 400% (though the sample size is admittedly small). Since DDT was outlawed before I was born, it may not have affected me. But it is yet another reminder of how many scary chemicals we swim around in, and how much predestination is involved in whether each of us gets hit by something terrible.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Survivorship Plan

Boy, the articles just keep coming.

Noah sent me this bit from Yahoo! News about survivorship plans, a new trend (like fab shades!) in cancer care. My own oncologist did not give me a written plan, but I am clear on many things:

  • For the next year (like the last), I'll have checks every 3 months. This includes blood testing, to look for chemical markers of breast cancer recurrence, and physical exams.
  • Once a year, I have a mammogram. If anything funky is found then or at any other time, I may also have an MRI.
  • If I were to notice any difficulty breathing or other heart-related symptoms, I expect I would have an echocardiogram, since I had some of the chemo drugs that can cause heart failure. But there is no special monitoring of that because I've seemed heart-healthy.
  • After the next year, my exams will go to 4- to 6- month intervals for up to the 5-year mark. After that, they may revert to annual checks.
  • I have my nutrition plan with my nutritional oncologist, ongoing.
  • I have copies of all my records, including pathology reports and treatment records.

What I don't have is a very specific list of symptoms to watch out for. I have a mixed opinion of that piece of advice. The power of suggestibility surely has to be weighed against the benefits of knowing what to look for. If I knew that a persistent pain in the 3rd rib from center was a warning sign of metastasis, I'd be rubbing that 3rd rib constantly to assess it, and pretty soon it would indeed hurt like hell! So perhaps being in the dark a bit is good for me here.

Overall, though, it seems to me that better knowledge and awareness are being emphasized, and that is terrific. Also, the medical community is awakening to the fact that cancer treatment is emotionally and cognitively overwhelming, and realizing that we'll all have better outcomes if physicians take on just a tiny bit more of the burden of managing information (not just drugs and procedures). Based on the confusion I saw even in intelligent, thoughtful members of my own support group, this will surely help!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Clip'n'Save list of Cancer-Fighting Foods :-)

Boy, I gotta say--the information is certainly out there if you want it. Why didn't I pay attention earlier? It's not like this list of good cancer-fighting foods is boring or yucky. It even includes chocolate!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Another good reason to play volleyball

From Ode Magazine, a quick note on the benefits of Vitamin D (maximized through sun exposure) for a variety of ills, including breast cancer. :-)

Oh yeah, my in-house portrait photographer keeps reminding me I need to post the latest, for those of you who haven't seen me with hair lately. Here ya go!