What interesting, useful and fruitful discussions you - TGB readers - have been carrying on in the comments of posts about my pancreatic cancer. Some of you have been-there-done-that with a variety of cancers and I appreciate your generosity in sharing your experiences – it enriches our understanding.
On Wednesday, I met with the medical oncologist and her team to talk about my upcoming chemo. I had been dreading the meeting since it was booked a few weeks ago.
Despite what you think from my written reports here, my upbeat, optimistic days run parallel with dark, pessimistic, even frightening ones that include horrible images that appear unbidden as I am falling asleep at night or for an afternoon nap.
My mood worsened in the days leading up to Wednesday's meeting with memories of how chemo sickened my father and wasted his body 35 years ago, which I tried to counter with the success my friend Joyce Wadler had with chemo through three different cancers.
It didn't help much and even though I told myself that there was no point in having gone through the terrible recovery period from the Whipple procedure surgery and not follow up with the recommended chemo was just stupid, my gloom persisted.
“Stupid” is the word since, as the experts keep telling me, I am in better shape to beat this cancer than 90-plus percent of patients. To recap:
⚫ Because most pancreatic cancer is detected after it has spread, only ten percent of people diagnosed are eligible for the surgery.
⚫ The portion of my pancreas that was removed, including the tumor, was “clean at the margins” meaning it has not spread from that organ.
⚫ In addition, 17 lymph nodes touching the pancreas were removed and tested for cancer cells; three were positive.
⚫ Eighty percent of patients in my circumstance who take the chemotherapy are dead from the disease in five or fewer years.
And you wonder why I'm sometimes morose about this?
On the other hand, there is what my primary care physician said when I saw him a couple of weeks ago: “Ronni, you are very healthy - except for the cancer.” Maybe that is what made the medical oncologist on Wednesday more upbeat about my chemo outcome than some others: that it will be “curative” which means, like many other cancers, it is considered cured if the patient is cancer-free in five years.
To know that, there will need to be regular checkups, tests and scans to monitor the cancer (or – best case scenario – lack thereof) which, of course, leaves me with the life I have always wanted to avoid: being a professional patient.
But what other choice is there? So in mid-September I will begin chemotherapy with two drugs – one intravenous weekly through a port permanently embedded (for the duration) in my chest, and the second drug taken orally twice a day every day, each for three weeks in a row, then a week off before starting again.
For six months this goes on which will take me to March 2018. There are, of course, potential side effects – fatigue, various kinds of sores, peeling and cracking skin but not, in my case, hair loss, or not much they say.
With the intravenous drug alone, 55-60 percent of patients are alive after three years, the medical oncologist tells me. When the second, oral drug, which is relatively new, is included that number is increased by 15-plus percent.
That's the good news. The bad news is that the cancer might come back, usually in the liver or lungs and there is little treatment then.
Those of you who have discussed your chemotherapy in the comments undoubtedly know all about this with whatever differences apply to your kind of cancer.
To me, this is all new and in my gloom, I sometimes lean toward agreeing with those people who renounce these “poisons” in favor of herbs and other “natural” treatments.
My more rational self knows perfectly well that if flax seeds cured cancer we would have heard about it and they would cost $5000 an ounce.
Like me, you have probably noticed through the years, that people are remarkably adaptable to difficult even, sometimes, severe circumstances and once I get started with this new weekly routine in mid-September, I'm sure it won't feel as burdensome as it does now.
* * *
ABOUT THE PURPLE RIBBON: For readers who have commented or emailed objections to my use of the pancreatic cancer purple ribbon, I ask you to consider this advice Albus Dumbledore gives to Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, with which I heartily agree and applies to symbols as well as words:
"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."