Category Archives: Christ

Never Give Up. Remember Mark Twain’s Words, “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.”

 

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Survival can be summed up in three words – never give up. That’s the heart of it really. Just keep trying. -Bear Grylls

I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron – Isaiah 45:2

Cancer Statistics Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean

If you are on the journey of cancer yourself, or you love someone who is on the journey you are bound to catch yourself looking at “survival prognosis statistics,” and they will scare you to death.

In 1974 my mother was told that the survival prognosis for her breast cancer was 5 years post diagnosis.  She lived 4 years and 11 months.

Today they still define the life prognosis of cancer patients in terms of 5 year survival rates.  So when they say, “You have a 90% five-year-survival rate,” it appears to say that 90% of the people with your type of cancer only live 5 years.”

It appears to say 90% of the people diagnosed with that type of cancer this year will need to have their estate in order within 5 years from the date they were diagnosed.

It appears to say that more people are making it to 5 years, but we still can’t seem to get past 5 years for most of them.

If that was accurate, it would mean that despite 32 years of research, cancer treatment is not helping patients actually live any longer post diagnosis than it did 32 years ago.

If that was accurate, I wouldn’t bother with cancer treatment at all. If I only have 5 years, I’m not wasting 3 of them in a doctor’s waiting room.

Fortunately that isn’t accurate. The statistic is misleading, and the news is better than that!

The Five Year Survival Rates means  90% live “at least” 5 years post diagnosis. It does not mean “only” five years.

Even better news

The 10-year survival rate for all people diagnosed with breast cancer is only 6% lower than the 5 year survival rate for all people diagnosed with breast cancer.

Or in other words approximately 84% of all breast cancer patients will live at least 10 years post diagnosis.

The 15-year survival rate is only 5% lower than the 10-year rate.

At least 79% of all breast cancer patients will live at least 15 years post diagnosis.

79 out of every 100 breast cancer patients have made it at least 15 years.

I have friends who have made it a lot longer than that, they were diagnosed at stage 3. I plan to follow in their footsteps.

Other Things to Consider That May Ease Your Mind

The people who don’t make it often have other health issues that complicate the situation. Those who are elderly and/or already in fragile health in general always have a harder fight than the healthy. That is a very sad reality of the world.  Some are the people fall into those categories where it was already in an advanced stage and in distant parts of the body before it was discovered, some suspected or feared it was there and tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away, and by the time they officially diagnosed it, it was in major organs. So, don’t avoid it, meet it head on and deal with it .

Don’t Give Up –

Even if you are one of the people whose breast cancer was not discovered until it was at a highly advanced stage, and had already spread to other parts of your body and invaded major organs of your body, don’t give you.  Approximately 26% of people in that situation live “at least” five years. Not “only”.  That means over 1/4th of people diagnosed with the most depressing ratings in regards to cancer still beat it.   Never think of it as five year as  “only”.  Think of it as “at least.” If you can beat that 5 year mark, maybe you can beat that 10 year mark, and maybe that 15 year mark.

Every day, month, year you make it, is a day, month, year the research has improved.

Never Give Up!
Never Forget They Mean “at Least” not “Only”!

 

Winding Roads

 

winding-roadThis is post 2 regarding my journey with breast cancer. I share it in hopes that others as new to this experience as I am now,  can read it and know they aren’t alone, and maybe realize what to expect if they are a little newer to this journey than I am.

The MRI was scheduled for Tuesday, October 18th The biopsy was scheduled for Friday, October 21st.

No one could tell me what to expect to be done on that Friday, financially speaking or medically speaking.

So I waited.  Cancer is a lot of hurry up to wait.

The MRI

I was sent to a wonderful center for women that was set up by a former breast cancer patient, who happens to also be a medical doctor.  The center founder went out of her way to make the experience as non-traumatic for patients as she could and I am grateful.  The technician was sweet and carefully explained the whole process, though it wasn’t my first MRI.

For those who may be reading this who have never had an MRI and are afraid of it. Please don’t be afraid.  There is nothing painful about it.

It involves the use of magnetic power, so remove anything metal, and if you have pacemakers or anything metal on or in your body be sure the MRI tech knows.  The machine I was placed on was built especially for breast exams.  You lay on your stomach, your breasts hang down into little cups built into a table, your legs are positioned slightly up behind you, you’re given ear plugs and ear phones (with music if you want), and told not to move.  It is open on both ends, to ease that closed in feeling. I am claustrophobic, but this didn’t bother me at all.   They didn’t strap me down.  I was only warned that moving would mean having to start over.

The machine makes a lot of funny noises, and they vary in volume and type. Some of it sounds like loud church bells, some of it sounds like a jack hammer, some of it just sounds like a motor running.  The music didn’t drown it out totally, but it did help a lot.

Some older places may still use the lay-on-your-back-and-get-moved-into-a-tube form of an MRI, but again, nothing painful to them at all.

MRI RESULTS – I have no clue what the MRI results are.

My MRI was late in the afternoon on a Tuesday. The MRI was meant to provide more info to my surgeon before my biopsy that was scheduled for the first thing Friday morning. However, I was told the MRI results would probably arrive on Thursday or Friday afternoon. I reminded them that the doctor wanted them before he did the biopsy, and they thanked me and said they’d get them to rush the reading.

Thursday I got a call that they had not received the official, full MRI results yet, but that from what they had seen my left breast looked “very busy,” and that they were concerned it looked “very busy,” and that they were going to need to do an ultrasound on the left side the same day as the biopsy. I asked, “Are you telling me the cancer is in the left?” They replied, “Well, we can’t say that of course, but it looks very busy, there is a lot of activity in there, it doesn’t look like what we would expect a normal breast to look like, so we want to do an ultrasound on the left breast on Friday, just to make sure.” Make sure of what?! I never got an answer to the what.

I was asked if I had taken any aspirin. I responded that I hadn’t. Remember that. It matters later.

Plan of Action for Friday  – Arrive at 8 AM, do a biopsy of the right breast, wait while they took in another patient, do a sonogram of the left breast.  At this point, I still didn’t know if they meant to do a biopsy and lumpectomy or just a needle biopsy or what.

Financial Plan for Friday
When I asked how much money I needed for Friday I heard, “We don’t know.”   That was the official answer, though a little more wordy.  “We don’t know what the biopsy will cost up front, but you’ll have to pay $100 + 20% for the sonogram.”  To which I replied, “Well, how much is that?” To which they replied, “We don’t know.”

My family had helped me with the first round of expenses on this journey, and my daughter set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for more of it. People were kind and generous, and amazing, and wonderful, but it takes days to transfer money around, and we didn’t know if it would make it into the accounts by Friday or not.  So, our family plan of action was, if they asked for more up front than we had Friday we would simply reply, “You should have told us what to plan for when we asked the first four times.”  I still like that plan actually.

Friday!

Son, daughter and son-in-law meet me in the lobby, and so does the technician who is going to do the ultrasound.  She says we have a new plan. We’ll do the left sonogram that very morning, and good news, the MRI is in, but no one has had time to read it yet.

She does the sonogram, marks a ‘cyst’ that concerns her in the left, and says it is “just a cyst,” though it looks suspicious.  I’m not sure how to take that, but decide the surgeon will know.

The Biopsy Itself

My surgeon is very professional, but also very charming, and he carefully explained every step of the process as he prepared for each step, from the first rubbing of alcohol on the area where the local anesthetic would be applied, to the last moment.

He asked me again if I had taken any aspirin, and I told him, “No,” because I hadn’t taken any for several days.

I was prepared for incredible pain from the insertion of the needle to administer the local anesthetic, and was joyfully surprised. I’ve had shots, cat scratches, iv’s, and blood draws that really sting. I cannot bear a pain killing shot at the dentist office, but this felt like a very light, pinch.  Nothing more.

He warned me there might be a feeling of pressure.  There was, but no pain. None.

An aspirin a day might not keep the doctor away.

I was not in pain, but I was bleeding a little more than my doctor expected so he asked me about aspirin again, and I told him that I hadn’t taken any since Monday. He chuckled and looked at his technician with a brow lifted and she said, “I asked if she had taken any. I didn’t ask if she had taken any this week.” I had no idea aspirin has a blood thinning capability for over a week. Now I know.

He made her redo the dressing on the biopsy sight, and asked for a pressure bandage, but she was out, so he told me to put pressure on it, watch it, not to do any reaching or lifting, or anything with that arm.

Then they sent me out to the lobby to sit and wait a bit, and as I was talking to my family my daughter noticed I had blood on my sweater. I thought she meant “a few dots of blood.” She meant, “a lot of blood.”

My daughter scooted me off to the lady’s room and we discovered I was trailing blood all over the lady’s room, and looked like I had bathed in cranberry juice.  I was perfectly dressed for a Halloween horror film.

There was no pain, but a lot of blood.

My daughter calmly called the nurses and they packed it off, and fetched the doctor again.  He pondered putting a stitch in, and they all decided that a better bandage, and more pressure probably would do the job. When they had it under control the doctor joked that the good new is everyone stops bleeding… eventually, and then he joked about leaving to go make a blood donation in my name. That reassured me and let me know that he wasn’t worried.  He did tell me to call if I got home and was concerned. The nurses fussed over me longer, taped me up like a mummy and waited to see if it seemed to have stopped.

Preliminary, unofficial MRI results
While everyone was watching my little “Jason” scene, they told me that they hadn’t officially read the MRI report yet, but they did “skim read,” the results of the MRI and Sonogram, and the preliminary results looked good in that department.

When they felt the bleeding was under control they sent me home.

Aspirin really is a great blood thinner. A really great one.

Apparently, handling my old truck was enough of the reaching to start it going again, but I didn’t notice that until I started to wash the sweater and realized I had already bled through the new dressing.  Looking down, I also saw that the top and side of my washing machine had blood all over it. It looked like someone had committed murder in my laundry room. The blood stains below are where I bled on the washer, while I was standing beside it.

 

 

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I let the kids know the situation, just in case. If I bled to death that night I didn’t want anyone arrested because I took an aspirin 4 days ago.  I also called the doctor’s office and received instructions to lay down, apply pressure, monitor and if necessary go to an ER. It wasn’t necessary.

On a side note. I’ve sworn off aspirin for awhile.

If you are wondering, I haven’t felt a single bit of pain from the biopsy procedure. I kept expecting things to hurt after the local wore off. They never hurt.

Post Biopsy

More waiting.  The biopsy was Friday morning. They told me it would be “a couple of days.”  So I tried to mentally prepare for as late as Wednesday.  I knew weekends didn’t count.

Saturday – Fine
A little worried about what the results might show, and still wondering what “busy” meant.

Sunday –  Fine
My youngest grandson’s birthday party was at a local park on Sunday evening, and I had a wonderful time. I was relaxed. I was able to answer questions and talk about everything with full confidence it was all going to be fine.

Monday – Full Blown Panic Attack
I have no idea what triggered it, but suddenly, on Monday, I was terrified of the results, terrified of long term survival chances, terrified of finances all over again, and convinced they were going to tell me it was a stage 4 cancer.  I have no idea why this happened that day.  Maybe I was tired, maybe I let my spiritual guard down, maybe I’d just had one too many people remind me of the doctor they knew that had been wrong. (Some very well meaning people did that, with the best of intentions over the weekend, though must were equally on board with reasons to be optimistic).

Tuesday – The results Are In
I talked to my daughter on Tuesday, and confessed to the panic attack. She eased my mind. I spent some time talking to my best friend at work about the whole situation, and she also eased my mind. I was going nuts wondering what the results were, but telling myself I’d hear Wednesday, and not to give into the urge to call and nag the doctor’s office.

I’d made my favorite stew in a crock pot and realized I was out of cracker, so I decided to swing by the store during my lunch hour to grab lunch. The call came while I was standing in the middle of the cracker aisle at United Market Street at 19th and Quaker Ave.

My doctor was kind as he delivered the news, having no idea that I was not in the privacy of my office or home.  He told me he had the results, and that it wasn’t good news.  I braced myself, expecting the words that followed to be stage 4, spread everywhere kind of news.  He quietly explained that the pathology reports comes in 2 parts. The initial result and the detailed result.  The detailed report would come in a few days, but at this point they knew the following:

It is an aggressive, malignant cancer, that is probably estrogen based.
The lymph node is confirmed to be cancerous as well.

I asked, “Just that one, or more?”

He said, “Just one.”

I asked, “Is the left breast clear?”

He said, “Yes, it is.”

I asked, “Is it attached to the chest wall?”

He said, “No, it isn’t.”

I asked, “Do you think it has spread beyond that node and the breast itself?”

He said, “We did find a cyst in the liver, and may want to biopsy that some day to find out why it is there, but at this point, we do not believe it has spread beyond that lymph node.”

I said, “I know that you can’t really stage it until you get the full report, but based on what you know so far, from all the tests, am I looking at a stage 3 or a stage 4?”

He said, “Oh, you are definitely a stage 2.”

TWO! Not 4! Not even 3!

So, I asked him what he recommended for treatment, he told me that he wants me to see the radiologist/oncologist before I decide anything.  He feels I need input from the man who has to fight the battle against the cancer cells themselves, but he said generally it will probably come down to choices of doing something to shrink it first, then doing some form of surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy) to cut out the cancer, or doing some surgery and then radiation and chemo. I asked him, “If I was in your family, what would you tell me?” He said, “Exactly what I just told you. If you were my wife, or my child, or my sibling, I would tell you that you have to decide what you can bear to live with. Some women choose to try to save as much of the breast tissue as they can, some want to get rid of it all so they can avoid radiation and chemo and never have to think about this again.”

I said, “But they’re wrong aren’t they? Medically? My mother had 2 radicals, and still died of breast cancer. You don’t get to just cut them off and forget them do you?”

He said, “No, you don’t. There will always need to be some treatment post surgery, and cutting them off won’t guarantee you’re free for the rest of your life. It doesn’t work that way.”

I said, “If I opt for a lumpectomy, can you get it all?”

He said, “I have to know the margins.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

He explained that to me. I won’t explain it here, because I might explain it incorrectly, but what he said sounded totally logical to me, and the answer to the margin question will be in the final biopsy report.

The next part of the journey

I saw my general practitioner just an hour after the surgeon called.  This was due to an insurance requirement related to referrals.  They wouldn’t let the referral to the oncologist come from anyone other than the primary care physician, but he also wanted to make sure I understood things.

I appreciated that.  He is a wonderful Christian man, and he was very optimistic. He used the phrase that it was a good thing we caught it early. I told him I didn’t feel like we had, and that I felt like a fool for not having had a mammogram more recently than I had. He smiled and said, “It is stage 2.  I have lost patients in their 30’s because they found what you found, and chose to try to pretend it wasn’t there. By the time they admitted it might be cancer, it was too late to help them. You are a stage 2, and your oncologist and your surgeon are not just two of the best in the entire state, they work together as a team better than any team I’ve seen.  They care about their patients. They want them to survive. They invest in making them survive, and so do I.”

So, today. I’m at peace. Impatient, but at peace.

My next doctor visit is to meet this amazing oncologist. Our appointment is next Wednesday.

On a side note. I used to work at the Health Science Center, and I still work at the university. I know a lot of brilliant scientists and brilliant doctors, and brilliant researchers.  They all love my doctors’ plan. Those who know my doctors and the centers all say I’m in great hands.

One day at a time, the road winds, but that’s okay.  I’m still traveling. 

Measuring up

BlueberriesIt was between 11 PM and midnight, and the store was almost empty.  Walking past the produce section we passed a small group of people, frowning, looking with disgust at a woman who was frantically gathering blueberries off the floor while trying to stop her daughter from throwing more on the ground.   The little girl appeared to be around the age of 7 or 8. She was well dressed, clean and smiling, but she was also not making eye contact with anyone, apparently oblivious to her mother’s frantic attempts to stop her from waving her hands wildly in the air, and gazing off in a way that I had seen often on children with special needs.

As I pondered whether it would be more or less embarrassing for the mother if I stopped to help her pick up the blueberries and offered to pay for them, the whispers of disgust from the women who were watching them grew louder, and they began to shake their heads in disapproval as they leaned in to talk to one another like football players in a huddle, their eyes cutting to the mother and daughter from time to time.

That was when Matthew 7:2 sprang into my mind:

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

 I wondered if they were asked, would they want God to use the rotted, rusted cup of wrath they were using when He judged them?  Would they want him to see a child temporarily out of control and blueberries on the floor and blame them? Or would they want him to judge them with the shimmering crystal of a mother’s love. A mother whose love lead her to stay with her special child, despite the difficulties that come with special children?

I wondered, is she a single parent? Is she married, with a spouse who works round the clock to pay for medical bills and therapists so that her precious daughter can have better opportunities in life?  Is she shopping late at night because that is the only time she is free to shop, or because she knows it will be less crowded?  Did she want blueberries today? Or will she feel obligated to buy something she didn’t want to buy, because her daughter knocked it off the shelf.

I wondered what kind of parent I would be if I faced whatever struggles her daily life gave her.  Then I wondered about the women who were judging this poor woman.  People often respond to the suggestion that they be kinder to others with the statement, “everyone has problems,” and I suppose that is somewhat true, but some people definitely have bigger problems than others.  All parents occasionally deal with a child who is misbehaving, but not all parents deal with a child who is locked in their own universe, incapable of even knowing that what they are doing is annoying others.  All parents have to shop for food at some time or another, but not all of them are alone in the world, trying to carry the burden of day to day parenting responsibilities alone.

This was on my heart when a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook that showed a child who was clearly out of control on a bus.  I don’t know the age of the child in the video, but I’d guess between 3 and 5.  He was loud. He was rude. He was smart mouthing the woman he was with.  He was kicking and grabbing and hitting at her.  The thread exploded with comments about lack of discipline. I am not a big supporter of spanking, but even i thought that was what the boy needed.

The venom of those in the thread toward the woman shocked me though.  Everyone assumed she was responsible for the boy’s actions.  Everyone assumed she had not tried to teach him better.  I suggested that might not be the case.  Perhaps she was a foster parent, dealing with behavior taught to the child by someone else, and forbidden by law to spank a child. I pointed out that on that bus there were few ways the mother could discipline the child, short of a spanking.  There were no toys to take away, no room to send him to, no “time out corner.”

I have no idea if the child was out of control because that woman never taught him to respect elders or because she married a father whose first wife had not taught the child respect, or she was fostering a child removed from a neglectful or abusive situation. I don’t know if she was abused as a child, and therefore swore never to raise a hand against a child.  I don’t know.   I just know that judging her was not helping her.  Judging her was not going to teach the boy to behave. Judging her was not going to change her actions on the bus that day.  I also know that my savior said, “judge not.”  I don’t remember a clause that said, “Unless it really bothers you,” or “unless you or someone you know could do it better.”

Maybe this woman on the bus deserves a medal for loving a child who appears to be difficult to love.  Maybe this woman on the bus deserves a hug and a handshake for not losing control and reacting in rage.  Maybe this woman on the bus, who everyone assumes is a bad parent, is really a remarkable parent whose love is going to change a child’s life.

Maybe we should all stop pouring from the cup of wrath, and start using the crystal measures of love and mercy.  A prayer would have helped either of these women.   A hug or a kind word might have helped them.

Whispers and public condemnation will not help them.
Love can change the world.  Christ proved that.