Choices in Treatment

Choices in Treatment

Some may believe that making a choice as far as cancer treatment is easy. Suffer for a little bit and live, right?

The difficult part is walking down the path that you have chosen and accepting the consequences, whether good or bad. No matter the decision–strictly allopathic medicine, natural remedies, or something in between–the results may be positive or negative, and often not even the most experienced doctor can predict survival.

And when it comes to long term treatment like anti-estrogen therapy, the choice may be a bit more complicated. For a friend, ten years of medication only added 3% to her survival rate, which was more than enough for her to begin the medicine. On the other hand, considering I had inflammatory breast cancer, a cancer that is much more aggressive and difficult to treat, anti-estrogen therapy added 30% to my survival rate.

So if I follow all of the advice from my doctors–all based on world-wide research–my possibility of living a full life is currently at 80%.

What is often not discussed is the pain associated with these medications. I have been on Anastrozole for a few months now, and the body-wide bone pain has begun to increase dramatically. This may be possibly due to the current stress in my life, or simply just the medication itself building up in my body. Needless to say,  the pain some days can be unbearable.

So in the latest visit with my oncologist, he encouraged me to try Letrozole. This might be a better medication for me in the long run, but it will put me back to square one as far as pain. My body will have to become used to the new medicine, which means more pain in the short term. And this could all turn out to be a fool’s errand, becoming an even worse experience and leading me back to Anastrozole.

Honestly, it would be easier to quit the medication totally.

Reading The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus, I found a passage that made me reconsider that possibility:

“Sometimes the only way to set people free from the past is to create a different future that gives those all around you the inspiration and hope to set their own past on fire.”

Or as a friend told me after my most recent diagnosis, “Perhaps you were not meant to learn something from your suffering. Maybe you were meant to teach others how to live through it.”

So pain will be my companion for awhile. Some days I will break from the exhaustion, but I will not quit. And perhaps my continually rising up after defeat, even in the midst of pain, will give others hope.

 

Radical Radiation Treatment

radical-radiation-treatmentThis treatment is so rad!

I can’t help but think of that silly pun whenever I go in for my radiation treatments. Honestly, though, it is true in both the sense of “awesome” as well as “extensive.” Medical advances in the treatment of inflammatory breast cancer have benefited many of us, giving us more hope of a life.

My current regimen will take place over 5 weeks, with treatments 5 days a week. As this is technically a re-treatment to the same area of my chest, the dosage each time will be lower, adding on an extra 3 days at the end. This will make a total of 28 treatments.

Each of the daily treatments are short, generally only 15 minutes or so. I lie on the table as the machine rotates around me, pausing at set intervals to provide a dose of radiation to a certain area of my body. I hear the machine make a noise, and then it moves on to the next spot.

Certainly less time consuming than chemotherapy, which is wonderful. And while the effects of radiation treatment are cumulative–as with some chemotherapy drugs–the side effects of the radiation treatment are generally less.

Scary? In so many ways, with the potential long-term effects on my body. It is sort of the next-to-last ditch effort to kill this cancer, though, with hysterectomy and anti-estrogen therapy being the final stages of treatment. Cancer often forces us to make difficult choices in the short term, all with the desire to live just a bit longer.

Feeling ok about the treatments and trying to maintain hope that this will be a cure for me and get rid of this current cancer for good.

Still, having been a long-time science fiction fan, my mind often wanders to the many terrifying medical scenes in so many TV shows, movies, and books. Perhaps my favorite is the “New You” scene in Logan’s Run. I imagine the radiation machine going “rogue,” turning madly like a demented carnival ride and releasing deadly amounts of radiation.

Maybe that’s just me, though. Possibly one of the down sides of being a science fiction fan who must be treated with high tech medical know-how. Or simply someone with an overactive imagination.

As Julie Manning describes her own medical journey in her upcoming book, My Heart: Every Beat Surrendered to Our Unchanging God,

“Some would say this journey was courageous; however, I did not feel the least bit brave.”

Do I feel courageous? No, I sure don’t. Often I just feel tired.

Some days are better than others. I hurt every day now, and sometimes it’s just difficult to take this journey even one day at a time. But I know I am in good hands, and there is still hope for a positive outcome of all of this mess.

High Anxiety

high-anxiety

I must admit that I have never watched High Anxiety although I have attempted to do so in the past. The humor and movie references were way, way above me at that point in my development.

Still, the title is very appropriate for me these days.

While in the surgical waiting room before my bilateral mastectomy in December, I was anxious about the procedure. I did not want to have the surgery and was uncertain about my life afterwards. As a result, I found myself sobbing and bent over the trash can in the waiting room while the older men and women who sat in chairs around me just stared at this hopeless wreck of a woman.

I have never been like this.

And today, I had a similar experience before my two appointments with my medical and radiation oncologists. Weak and ill, I yet again became sick before we even drove to the hospital.

I managed to make it through my appointments, though. I found out more about the staging and biopsy results today. The cancer is officially Stage 3B, with a small margin of cancer remaining in the muscle and two positive nodes. Both doctors reiterated the high possibility of a recurrence or future metastasis of this cancer.

Before the radiation oncologist treats me, she will be researching PTEN and any related risks involving this. There are additional problems in that she will be treating the same area that previously received radiation treatment in 2004. Right now, though, she believes that the risks of the cancer outweigh any risks of the treatment itself.

Honestly, I’m tired and frustrated at this point. Anxious too and feeling alone in all of this long, drawn-out process.

Being a “brave” cancer patient can be exhausting, to be honest. That’s the real truth of it all. I admit I don’t like the current plot of my life, but I’m hanging on to the hope that is stated by Craig Groeschel in his upcoming book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life:

“I am not a quitter. With the help of my God, I am a finisher.”

May things be better tomorrow, with a new outlook and a fresh hope so that I can be a finisher too.