Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cancer and Kudzu

I have neglected a lot of things the past few months during chemo, this blog included. The physical battle is only eclipsed by the mental and emotional war. I did my best to get done what needed to get done but many times things just didn't happen. In early April as I dragged my weary body out of bed to help my kids get ready for school I noticed, for the first time in months, my six year old daughter's shoes. They were blackened with dirt and her toes had literally busted a hole through the front of them. I got teary eyed as I stared at those shoes, how long she had been wearing them like that without me even noticing. I mean look at them, how did I not see something right in front of me completely falling apart. Clearly it's been a rough few months and a lot has gone undone - but here is my blog update at long last. 
My final chemotherapy treatment was on Monday, April 13 -- hoorah!  Chemo was the first phase of my 3-phase treatment process. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in December 2014, that's pretty serious and the best way to treat that is chemo, surgery, radiation. That entire process must be completed in order for me to have the best odds of long term good health.
Two weeks after my eight agonizing rounds of chemo ended I had a PET scan and the results were good. Very good. My oncologist shared with me word for word the report from the scan and all of the cancer that showed up on my initial PET in December seemed to be gone. There was no "apparent" cancer on the scan. So if this news was so good, why do I still have to have a mastectomy (breast removal)? Remember, chemo was just phase 1 of my treatment plan.  It is super that phase 1 went so well, but we still have to complete the entire process.
Also, the phrase no apparent cancer is important and should not be misinterpreted as cancer free.
Cancer cells are invasive and deceptive. Although we know a lot about cancer, specifically the treatment of cancer, we haven't figured out how to stop it from invading our bodies to begin with. We treat cancer, we don't cure it, but what we really need to do is prevent it to begin with.  We Race for a Cure, but we need to Race for a Prevention...but of course it is tough to prevent something when we aren't completely sure how it originates.
So that gets me back to my explanation of why I still have to have surgery even though the PET results were good.  A scan does not show 100% of every cell in my body. It cannot. For purposes of this very inexpert explanation let's say that a PET scan detects 95% of all the cells in our body and tells us conclusively that those 95% of cells are normal.  Considering we have a kabillion cells in our bodies, that other 5% unaccounted for is considerable.

Let's think for a moment of cancer as kudzu. Everyone knows about kudzu, right? The green weedy vine that runs amok across the Southeast covering hills, valleys, trees, and even homes if left unattended. Let's imagine your yard is covered in kudzu and that kudzu is choking out all of your beautiful plants and nice grasses and it's running up your porch onto your roof about to completely cover your house. So you call a kudzu expert to come and help you rid your yard of the nasty weed. The kudzu expert tells you the best way to fight kudzu is to first spray a weed killing chemical on all the kudzu. That should kill the kudzu back, but it's growth will out pace the use of herbicide sprays. Therefore, the second step is to cut all of the kudzu out of your yard - get rid of every inch of kudzu you can see digging deeply to the root. At that point, in the event there is still some tiny amount of kudzu left in the yard, the kudzu expert recommends covering your yard with a special radiation based kudzu killing agent. This three-pronged attack is the best strategy to rid your yard of kudzu...but as the kudzu expert walks out your front door with a pocket full of your money he hollers over his shoulder, "but we make no guarantees that the kudzu won't come back."
So it is with cancer.  And that is why the chemo, surgery, radiation attack is my best defense against this dangerous, elusive foe.
Next Friday, June 5 I will undergo a mastectomy of my right breast, the one that was full of cancer. They will also remove any lymph nodes that show a presence of cancer cells - please pray that none do! Once I heal from the mastectomy, I will undergo radiation.  Radiation will zap any bad cells just in case the first two punches didn't knock them all out.
For those wondering why a mastectomy and not a lumpectomy. A few reasons: I was diagnosed as stage 3, I had two tumors in my right breast one of which was pretty large and the second of which was pretty deep, and I had two different types of cancer. 
Surgery will put me out of commission for several weeks. I won't be able to lift my arms, drive, or get out of bed without assistance so please pray for Jason because he is about as good of a nurse as I am!  It will be tough but we will get through it for better or worse. Then radiation will last 33 rounds, five days a week (M-F). My body will need about three months to heal from all of that then I will have reconstructive surgery in November.
So to those who were hopeful that this journey was over for me after the good PET results, please know we still need a lot of prayer and support.  The road is long.