Friday, November 12, 2010

Seasons, Lab Reports, and Riding the Cancer Roller Coaster

I've lived in a number of different places in my life, but none matches the beauty of Northwest Arkansas in the fall.  In my opinion, we have had a particularly beautiful autumn this year.  I've loved seeing the leaves turn crimson, orange, yellow, and magenta.  The red maples are especially gorgeous.  I do love this season and I'm in dire need of a drive to Eureka or along the Pig Trail.

But there is something about this season that brings sadness to me, and lately I have found this feeling seeping into me even more than usual.  As I watch the maples in my front yard turn bright yellow, and enjoy the beauty of the sun shining through their lucent leaves, I feel light and happy and at peace.  Yet, I have that undercurrent of knowledge that this beauty is temporary.

Of course, we all know the parallel the seasons have to our lives.  Spring, summer, autumn, beginnings and growth that lead, inevitably, to death, dying, and decay.  So depressing, when you think about it like that.  I really hate thinking in those terms, especially not when I feel like I'm still in the summer of my life, but time tells me it's moving more towards autumn.  As much as I love autumn, I, personally, don't want to be there.  Why?  Because winter comes next.

This week, though, I've had this horrible and niggling feeling that maybe I won't get to see the entire autumn and winter of my life.  What if I don't make it to be that grey haired li'l ol' lady puttering in her yard?  And then I find myself WANTING to be that li'l ol' lady.  Suddenly the idea of getting old is not so bad.  As everyone always says, it's better than the alternative.  And suddenly, as I find myself thinking that maybe I will be facing the "alternative" golly, I want to get OLD. 

This attitude - that of not making it - is NOT like me, and when I get like this I want OUT of it. 

So what the heck brought on this not-so-rosy outlook, you may ask?  I think it has a lot to do with the results that I received from Rational Therapeutics the other day...the results of my tumor profiling.  When I read their report, and did a bit of Googling (lots of Greek to decipher), it became apparent that my tumor is resistant to just about every kind of chemo regimen out there.  The regimen they recommended is NOT a normal recommendation for breast cancer.  When I read this and it began to sink in, the possible reality of my future hit me...and not in a good way.

With a bit of apprehension, I looked forward to my appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Beck, yesterday.  I wanted to hear his take on this report. 

First of all, I was not happy to hear an apology from his sweet nurse, even though I know she was just being kind and saying exactly what I would have said in her shoes.  But medical people keep apologizing to me, and I'm getting tired of it.  When someone apologizes lately, this is what I hear:

"I'm so sorry...we're really trying to help you, but we just can't." 

I know that's not what they're saying, but that's what I'm hearing. 
This is what I want to hear:

"Well, shucks.  That didn't work?  Don't you worry about a thing.  We're going to kick this cancer's butt and you're going to be just fine!" 

Do I want them to lie to me?  Maybe...sometimes...just a little bit.

So, when I finally spoke with Dr. Beck yesterday, I wanted reassurance and positive feedback.  And I think I mostly got it.  I did leave feeling much better.  I know I'll be here a while longer.  At the very least, years.  Hopefully many years.  Many, many years.  (Okay, now I'm embellishing--none of us have that guarantee.) 

He said that the fact that the cancer did not show in my nodes was "favorable".  Favorable?  I know that's a doctor's way of covering their behind, but I wanted more than "favorable".  If I told my students their art work was "favorable", they would not be impressed.  So I told Dr. Beck exactly that.  I said I did not care for that word.  I wanted to hear "fantastic!" or "excellent!", but "favorable" just wasn't ringing my bell.  He laughed and agreed and made me happy by saying that, of course, it WAS indeed excellent news that my nodes were clear.  Thank you.  That's much better. 

Because of that fact, he said I did not need a PET scan or any other testing, for the time being.  One thing he did comment on that did not make me happy was concerning the rarity of my cancer.  He said in the 20 plus years that he has been practicing, he has only seen 2 or 3 other women with my type of tumor who did not respond to my original regimen of chemo (TAC).  And my response to that information?  I'm not even going there.

To make this long story a bit shorter, Dr. Beck decided to wait on a decision concerning what exactly to do with me.  I have one more major lab test that we are waiting on, the Oncotype DX.  This test determines several things, including the actual need for future chemotherapy and, most importantly, the possibility for recurrence.  Once these results are in (next week, we think) he will let me know where we go from here. 

They did call and set me up to see the radiation people next week.  I'm on the borderline for needing that (has to do with tumor size), so I'm thinking I will get to experience that side of cancer treatment in the near future.

So, that's where my recent melancholia has come from, I'm pretty sure.  These emotional ups and downs are tiring and I, at times, feel like I'm on some kind of sick roller coaster of emotion.  Fear and anxiety---hope and peace---fear and anxiety---hope and peace.  Up, down, up, down, up.  This is getting old.  Someone stop this ride, I'd like to get off.

Thank the good Lord, though, I AM feeling more like the perky Patti that is my norm.  The tears (once again) have subsided and I'm feeling hopeful again.  I am beginning to understand that, for the remainder of my life, I will be watching over my shoulder for that dark cloud of cancer.  But, I intend to walk in the sunshine as much as I possibly can while I'm here.  I intend to count that dark cloud as a blessing.  It is helping me realize something that I've known in my head, but never had the opportunity to actually feel.  And that is the fact that each and every day is a gift and that I need to make the most of each one.  I need to make sure those I love know I love them...every single day.  

That dark cloud allows me to see more clearly the temporariness of my existence and to give thanks for the knowledge that, though my time here is very short, when the end does come, it is actually just a new beginning. 

As these seasons change and winter creeps closer every day, I will enjoy the blessing of watching that change, knowing that spring will follow.  Refreshing, renewing and regenerating spring.  Life continues and I intend to continue along with it, being confident in my future, whatever it may bring.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.  Psalm 32:7

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