Been up since early morning hours searching breast cancer mortality rates on the internet, because suddenly last night I got it in my head that this thing is going to kill me. Well, no, I don’t think it was sudden or just last night, but it was something I’d been keeping under wraps and not telling myself about.
But yesterday I had a meeting about some breast cancer trials I am eligible for, and I got to spend a long time sitting and talking to someone who knows a few things, and to think up and ask some questions that I don’t seem to have time for in a doctor visit. I was talking about the thing that has most alarmed me since my diagnosis, and that was the day my surgeon told me that they had removed eleven lymph nodes and that they had found cancer in all of them. She didn’t have the pathology report at that time because it hadn’t been completed, but she had called the lab and they had given her this summary over the phone. I’m not sure if we ever got to actually revisit the complete pathology report or not. We might have forgotten that we hadn’t done that. And I don’t know what further secrets it might have held.
But yesterday, the lovely woman I was talking to explained to me that finding cancer in all the lymph nodes did not necessarily mean that cancer had taken up residence and was growing in them. It could just be that the cancer cells were circulating in the lymphatic system. I’m pretty sure she said this to reassure me, but honestly it did the opposite. I’d much rather have a cancer sitting and growing in one place than have the cells circulating, anywhere. Aside from everything else, there had been the PET scan that I had afterwards, which had shown no further cancer. But a PET scan doesn’t show cells floating around. And the type of cancer I had was lobular, which is a cancer that grows in stealth mode, in rows of cells rather than clumps, so it’s harder to diagnose, and it is impossible to estimate its actual size through a mammogram or ultrasound. Only an MRI can actually do that.
Then I also remembered how fast this cancer seemed to be growing before surgery. From a barely palpable lump on the bottom of my breast in mid-November, a month later I could actually feel it growing into the nipple. And the weight loss. No matter what I ate, every time I stepped on the scale I weighed less than the day before. I guess I was actually fueling that rapid cancer growth at the time, because after surgery the weight loss stopped and reversed. Even while on chemo I gained a little weight, and since chemo I have been gaining more. It is true I have been stress eating. And perhaps I have unconsciously been reassuring myself through weight gain that I don’t have cancer? Who knows?
Anyway, there were two trials I was presumably eligible for. One of them I am just not interested in. It involves taking a certain anti-inflammatory daily for two years, but I’m not going to do it because during all that time you can’t take any other anti-inflammatories, like Motrin. I’m going to be having surgery again in that time period, and I am going to need my Motrin! The other trial, however, is a dietary approach. No, it isn’t a vegan diet. It is a weight loss diet. Apparently women who are thinner at the time of diagnosis with cancer are less likely to have a reoccurrence. So this study, being conducted as a coordinated effort of several major cancer research centers, is designed to see if post-diagnosis weight loss can also have a positive impact on prognosis.
Fun, huh? With all the technology and drama (and money!) in cancer, here we are coming back around to the same old thing-that-cures-everything: diet and weight loss.
I was struck, however, by the placing of these two studies side by side. One was an anti-inflammatory drug, because by reducing inflammation in the body it is thought to reduce the chance of cancer reoccurring. (This also reduces the chance of heart disease and a few other chronic health problems as well.) The interesting thing is that the diet and exercise program has that exact same effect: reducing inflammation.
How about that?
The study of course, like all studies, has an active participation group and a placebo group. In this case, the placebo group is directed to eat ice cream daily, while exercising your arm lifting the remote control. Just kidding, of course. They are never going to instruct you to do something that will actively harm your health. The placebo group actually does receive some helps, but the active group receives a lot of helps, and active coaching. Now, I know myself. I’m a bit of the rebellious type. I get really annoyed when my Apple Watch tells me to breathe, or to stand up. I could fully see myself getting annoyed by someone who wants to call me every week to discuss my food and exercise. But really, only if I wasn’t compliant and didn’t want to be compliant. In this case, I do.
I also agreed to donate my blood and part of my tumor (which they apparently keep forever) for research. I’m not sure why they would even have to ask about that, or why they hadn’t asked before. If there is anything I have that has any minor likelihood of helping to understand this disease, to help prevent or cure it, then have at it. And there, that’s another motivation to be compliant with this study. I have sometimes detected a slight bit of self destructiveness in me, but this isn’t just for me. This is for my daughters and my granddaughters, and for yours as well. I always want to save the world more than I care to save myself. And in this case, that desire might actually do me some good!
It will be awhile before I hear back about which randomized group I have been placed in for this study, but I have already taken the hint and I am cutting out the crap and focusing on a healthy diet and exercise. I have kids who I know would be really angry at me if I didn’t do everything within my power to prolong my life. I have grandchildren I want to see grow up. I myself have things yet to do with my life.
As far as my internet research goes, I was trying to break things down a little further than the basic 5 and 10 year survival charts, which don’t take into account all the different varieties of cancer types and substages. I wasn’t really able to do that. There are lots of statistics and they become like flies buzzing around in my brain. But I found none where my chances of surviving 10 years or more were not considerably greater than my chances of not surviving.
So I have decided. I will live.
Today’s small celebration: I have enough hair now for it to be messy!