Thursday, April 27, 2017

Cancer It's Me -- a poem

Before I get to my poem, here are a few things that have been happening to me recently.

If you glance to the right of this page you will see my recent award. Posts for me don't always flow easily from my brain to my fingertips so to be noticed for my blog is quite uplifting. I don't just tap the keys of my computer and viola! a post appears. No, sometimes it takes days. Thank you, Healthline!

This month has suddenly turned into a busy month. My daughter who resides in Cleveland, Ohio has completed her contracted work with Cleveland Play House. Two weeks ago, she called to tell me she had been offered a job in central New York. Again she will be working for a theater company, but this time she is moving into a position with more responsibilities, an increase in income, and she will no longer be an independent contractor but a full-time employee.

Today she is flying here to retrieve her things and together we will make the 13 hour drive to her new home. Exciting for her, exciting for me with a dose of sadness since if all goes well I may lose her forever to New York.

My recent treatment went well. Platelet blood counts are in the right parameters. What was unusual about this appointment was it occurred on a Sunday. The hospital has so many patients people can now be treated on Saturday or Sunday if they do not need to see a doctor. I took advantage of Sunday and was pleased to find how quickly I moved through the familiar routine.

Now for the poem . . .
I learned this morning it is National Poetry Month, and April 27th is Poem in Your Pocket Day. The poem below I wrote and shared in January of 2014, and thought I would share again for this day and month of poetry.

When I wrote it I was tormented mentally and physically by my disease. The drugs I was treated with made day to day living difficult at times. Taxotere, Perjeta, and Herceptin have unfriendly side-effects. Today, the anguish I felt in 2014 has been lifted significantly with my continued positive response from TDM-1 and radiation. That anguish comes alive at times, but nothing like it did then-- thankfully.

Cancer It's Me

Cancer . . . it’s me.

Come later
when my life
is more complete.

Let me see wrinkles
so deep
and skin
so thin
from elasticity gone.

I beg you,
the lassitude,
the pain.

Cancer . . . it’s me.

Let me see
my children grow
to be adults,
to be on their own,
that’s all I want.

Death too soon
is death unfair.
It takes from me
and from them,

Memories missing,
pages empty,
lost to me,
by your bombardment,
hard to bear.

Cancer . . . it’s me.

Stop this game you play,
out-smarting, outwitting, out maneuvering
us all.

Unfurl your madness
unfurl your mystery
so others will know
and early steps into the darkness
will cease
because your dress
will finally look different
than other dancers
and my body
will see you
and take back what is mine.

Cancer . . .  it’s me.

Scans show your control,
reveal your destruction.
Each day
you grow.
Each day
I slow.

Stop hurting.
Stop growing.
Stop taking.
Stop stealing
my time.

Rationalization of death
does not exist.
No lessons learned.
Tragedy defines
my one day forgotten life!

Cancer . . . it’s me.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Early May Not Be Early Enough For Some of US

Anne Weston/Wellcome Images-- Cancer Cell
After I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 2009, I harbored some negative feelings toward my surgical oncologist. That wasn’t always the case though. The care she gave me surrounding my stage zero diagnosis in 2005 was wonderful. From the phone call telling me my biopsy was positive for non-invasive cancer to my care following my bi-lateral mastectomy was spectacular. I appreciated her prompt, swift action. I also liked her personally. When I fully recovered, I was left with such hope I would never have to deal with breast cancer again. After I was hit with the second diagnosis I couldn’t stop myself from looking for reasons why my cancer recurred. She was an easy target.

I had seen her a few months before I found my tiny, painful lump signaling my cancer’s recurrence. I remember how upset I was that her trained hands did not find it first. The now five millimeter lump was growing on my chest a few inches below my right clavicle. How did she miss it?

After treatment for this second recurrence ended in December of 2010, life returned to normal, again. I had not seen my surgical oncologist since she surgically removed some extra tissue, to be sure she got it all, after scooping my tiny tumor from my chest right there in her office--as I said, she was swift. Now, since chemotherapy had become a part of my life, someone else was directing my treatment--a general oncologist. My third anniversary from diagnosis was about to be reached. At the time, I was excited about reaching that milestone. For people like me with Her2neu disease, if it is going to recur, I was told, it usually does so in the first 3 years. As time moved along, I was released from seeing my general oncologist every six months to waiting an entire year. Life was good! And, then, there it was. A tiny enlarged lymph node at the front of my neck marking round three of disease and the final chapter of my life telling me I had never been cancer free at all.

When the never-ending treatments for my disease became reality, I couldn’t stop myself from going through the “what if” scenarios. What if the margins between good tissue and cancerous tissue had been bigger after my first surgery? A few millimeters apart just didn’t seem large enough. Since I did not have radiation after my mastectomy because it was only offered to lumpectomy patients, my mind kept circling back to the question: could that have stopped the progression? And, what about those dormant cells that no one has control over. Maybe those cells never awakened therefore making the infusions useless. Maybe if I had been treated for a longer time period that would have made the difference.

There are simply too many variables and no way to ever know if anything could have been done differently to stop me from becoming stage four. It is all a guessing game based on statistics gathered through clinical trials. Contemplating all the “what if’s” and my participation in the “blame game” felt justified. I thought I had been wronged. Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ wasn’t supposed to become metastatic yet that is exactly what had happened.  My mental battlefield kept telling me, well if only this had happened, I would be okay. It was absolutely pointless.

Today, the more I research and read, the more I learn. Because of that, any anger I held toward my surgeon or any of my doctors has softened over time. In those readings I have found a few studies giving researchers reason to suspect that some breast cancers, especially the her2neu type like mine, are metastatic long before a lump or other physical abnormality of the breast can be found either by the patient or a detection device. Metastasis may even begin at the initial onset of disease.

Here is a recent article about early metastasis: here by Sharon Begley @sxbegle, December 14, 2016, entitled Cancer cells spread way earlier than thought, seeding metastases that cause most deaths.

This is an excerpt:
“Earlier research had hinted that some cancer cells set out for distant organs long before a tumor is detectable. A 2008 mouse study, here led by Christoph Klein of Germany’s University of Regensburg, who also led one of the new studies here found that cancer cells reached the bone marrow months before breast tumors formed.  A 2011 study of 30 women with “non-invasive” breast cancer found that eight actually had cancer cells in the bone marrow. In about 8 percent of non-invasive breast cancers, a 2015 study  here reported, metastases develop — even though “non-invasive” means the malignant cells can’t enter the bloodstream and travel to vital organs." . .
. . . "The new studies were done in lab mice. The study at Regensburg found that in mice given the human breast cancer gene HER2, the hormone progesterone triggers the migration of cancer cells almost as soon as they form — that is, before a tumor is detectable. And these early émigrés are better at forming metastases than cancer cells that depart the tumor later.
At Mount Sinai, Aguirre-Ghiso found that a gene called p38 acts as a brake on the departure of cancer cells from still-forming breast tumors. When p38 is silenced and HER2 is activated, the combination awakens molecules that, eventually, mobilize cancer cells into the bloodstream and on to the lungs and bones.”
Frightening, isn't it?

With this new information any anger still quietly lingering within me vanished. If this proves to be true, all of the therapies I have undergone from the beginning never could have been enough to stop the one mutated cell (or cells) floating in my lymphatic system or blood stream while waiting to lay claim on a distant organ. It wasn't enough to stop those cells that had left my breast years before there was any indication of disease. Catching my disease at stage 0 seems early, doesn't it? But, for some of us, early may not be early enough.

For further reading see links below: