"We'll get you back down to remission. I promise," my oncologist told me last week. I'd had to leave the exam room, I was so devastated by the news that cancer was rearing its ugly head again. After I composed myself, when I came back in, his words encouraged me. They planted that seed of hope I needed on an otherwise pretty uncertain day.
As I write this blog, and maybe more importantly my book, I often wonder how I'll wrap it up, what the ending will be. I'd really been hoping I could end it on my clean scan last week (followed by another and then another). But I guess my ending's a little further off, and you'll have to bear with me from week to week just a little bit longer, until that series of clean scans does come along. Thanks for sticking around with me for this roller coaster ride.
Over the last week, a number of people have asked me a version of this question: I thought your scan in January was clean--how is the cancer back again? The best I can explain it is that as sensitive as these scans are, they cannot see every cell. A couple of cells went under the radar. It's not until they regroup, divide, grow to a certain size, that they can be seen by current technology. And unfortunately, it's not uncommon for breast cancer to lay dormant for years before cropping up again. In my case, it just happens to be months rather than years.
The aggressiveness of my cancer is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is--as one doctor put it--like cancer on crack. I will have to monitor it closely for the rest of my life. But this isn't new news, and I've (mostly) adjusted to what it means to live with a chronic illness. On the other hand, the cracked-out nature of this cancer means it responds very well to chemo, eats it up like Pac-Man chasing after those little pellets. It's what has allowed me to get down to No Evidence of Disease twice already.
Today, I started on the miracle drug that will get me back to NED. Because it's a new drug for me, it was administered slowly, over ninety minutes, followed by ninety minutes of monitoring to see if I would have any adverse reactions. I didn't, unless you count the fact that it's 12:48 a.m. and I still cannot sleep because of the damn steroids. Any side effects will likely strike this weekend.
Toward the end of my treatment today, a young couple walked in with their 3-month-old son. The dad had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma three weeks before their son was born. I remember seeing them in January, when I was finishing up my last treatment and he was just starting his. She was nine months pregnant then, and he and I had exchanged half-smiles and a knowing nod--like, 'weird being the youngest ones here, isn't it?'
Today they came into the infusion room, proud to show off their son. All the nurses were oohing and aahing, and my eyes filled up with tears. I couldn't help it. It brought back a flood of memories to when Quinn was that size, and I was starting down this crazy cancer road myself.
The dad brought his son straight over and handed him to me, as if he could tell I needed it. Who doesn't need fat baby thighs and a little spit up on occasion? Instant mood-booster, trust me. We all chatted for awhile, and he said his latest scans are very promising. His words encouraged me. They planted that seed of hope I needed on an otherwise pretty uncertain day.