The Funny Thing About Cancer

7 Sep

There isn’t only one funny thing about cancer, but the one that’s on my mind lately is how terrifyingly little we know.  Let me explain.

First of all, I’m back at UVM.  And I literally, could not be happier to be back.  This is where I belong.  I’m sure of it.  I love my new apartment.  I love Burlington.  I ride my bike everywhere all the time.  The welcome back I’ve received from both students and faculty alike has overwhelmed me. These are good people here. People that care.  They cared when I left.  They cared while I was gone by sending me gift packages and cards and emails and notes that lifted me up when I felt so sick.  They care now that I’m back.  I basically find myself jumping into the arms of every former classmate I see. It’s thrilling to see their wonderful faces.  And my new classmates?  Marvelous. Everything about being back here reaffirms my conviction that this is the right school, the right place for me. This reopening of a new chapter in my life is also colored by the fact that I’m now a single gal.  Yep.  Don’t kill me for holding out on you, bloggy friends, but Chris and I split back in May. It wouldn’t be fair to blab about it here, but know that I’m doing great and truly enjoying my independence and moving forward with my life.  It makes coming back to school feel just that much more cathartic.

I have new doctors too. I am both medical student and patient here.  It’s an easy commute.  I walk through the lovely light filled tunnel that hugs our medical library, past the coffee cart and into the hospital.  The infusion center I visit once every 3 weeks is right there, I don’t have to take an elevator or anything.  It’s a lovely center with big windows facing a hidden garden. I like my new doctors a lot.  I do miss my original people…especially my irreplaceable, one of a kind chemo nurse…but I’m pressing on.

Ah, but to tell you the funny thing about cancer.  Let me start with this photo.

i particularly like the toe marks

That is a picture of my shoe.  Well, it was my shoe before I took a major cycling digger in Portland, OR.  It could have been way worse…I almost rode in flip-flops.  Also I wasn’t mushed by a car and I didn’t take out any fellow riders.  That said, I skinned the hell outta my knee and sprained my foot something awful.  I’m fine (Mom…I really am) and I had an amazing time in Portland with my long lost West coast loves.  But.  I could have gotten hurt.  Cyclists snap collarbones all the time.  I could have broken my foot.  I could have gotten slightly to a lot run over by a vehicle. I could have hit my head.  And.  I’m still taking Avastin.  Hence my thrice weekly trips to the infusion center.  Avastin.  Not so bad when I compare it to Carboplatin or Taxol.  I’ve had virtually no side effects in my day to day life.  But, Avastin makes you bleed.  And it’s the kind of bleeding they can’t just reverse or fix up with medication like they can if someone was taking heparin or something. If I started to bleed, a lot, it’d be a situation.  I wear a bracelet everywhere now detailing my medical history and current medications, so that’s good.  But my doctors made it clear to me that if I got seriously hurt, it could be bad.

Now, clearly I’m taking Avastin because people believe it will punch my cancer in the face.  It will really fuck cancer’s Christmas up and prevent it from coming back to the New Year’s party.  That’s what the study I’m in hopes anyhow.  So that seemed to make it an easy decision – of course! Give me the Avastin! Kill the cancer!  But.  I have a new doctor.  And here’s where we get to the funny
thing…sorry for circling like an airliner around JFK…my new doctor thinks my cancer ain’t so bad.  In fact, after reviewing the CT scans and pathology report and whatnot, some people decided I don’t even really belong in the study I’m in. They’re letting me continue because that only seems fair, but basically they think I’ve been overtreated and continue to be.  It might be better if I stopped the Avastin.  It might not be doing anything other than putting me at an increased risk for bleeding.

So do I stay on Avastin?  I’ll only be on it until December, but I’m not going to stop riding my bike or driving my car or skiing.  I’m
careful.  But shit happens.  Plus, even my most minor scrapes heal strangely and I bruise very easily.  I’m not exactly a delicate lady so for these past few months my scrappy side has really been showing as I always have fresh and fading bruises and scrapes thanks to Avastin.  Is it worth the risk?

So, this is a new cancer reality.  This grey area.  I’m pretty comfortable with uncertainty.  I think it’s an honest state to be in.  I believe most people are really muddling through this life the best they can.  I think this is especially true with medicine, more so than any of us like to believe.  Even with cancer.  Especially, perhaps, with cancer.  I think most people hear cancerDEATH! There. I couldn’t even squeeze in more words. It’s just cancerDEATH!  Sometimes all you get is canDEATH!  But it’s tricky.  It’s complicated.  My cancer was tricky.  We took out my ovaries, my uterus, my cervix and a softball sized tumor that was cramping everyone’s style.  But what really was it?  My new doctor put it this way.  In a med school way.  My classes are pass/fail.  If I get a 70% say, on a test, I pass.  At the same time, if I get a 100% on a test, I also pass.  A 70 is not the same as a 100, but both pass.  My cancer was the 70 of cancer.  It’s still cancer…but it’s not the same as getting 100%.  I suppose overall this is good news, but I’m not taking much comfort in that.  The same pathologist can look at the same tissue in the morning and in the evening and see two different things.  So which side of caution do I err on?  If I was overtreated can I expect side effects further down the line?  If I choose now to give up on Avastin – will my cancer come back because it is actually worse than my new doctor thinks?

Muddling through yet again,

Zebra

 

*****SIDE NOTE*****  If you’re poking through old posts, that is awesome but I’m hearing that for some reason for some people the photos in my older posts aren’t working…apprently it’s just a bunch of the same (the first) photo in each post.  Sorry about that.  It’s not supposed to look that way.  Hopefully it will just fix itself because I don’t know how to fix that.  That is all.

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6 Responses to “The Funny Thing About Cancer”

  1. sheilaaa September 7, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    here’s my thoughts. i remember when you were first diagnosed and they were trying to determine what your “borderline tumor” meant and if it even qualified for the study. because the study obviously had specific criteria that you ended up fitting into. and i recall jokingly saying “so it’s sort of an ovarian cancer but it doesn’t really feel like being a total ovarian cancer.” so your new MD is correct in that 70% theory. i would consider the avastin your insurance policy. i have seen it do WONDERFUL things as a single agent for people with recurrent ovarian cancer. unbelievably wonderful things. recently, for example, we had a woman who progressed with new liver mets…CA-125 45. received her first dose of avastin and prior to dose #2 her CA-125 was 15! FIF-TEEN. incredible. what avastin essentially does is shut off any blood supply to tumor cells and it becomes necrotic and dies. in your case, with a complete resection…this is your insurance policy. to make sure any MINISCULE cells, that could never be picked up on any scan, will die. and i’d say it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing miss #3. 😉

    love,
    your irreplaceable, one of a kind chemo nurse ❤

  2. Marg September 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    I love Sheilaaa’s comparison of Avastin to an insurance policy. She is right.
    I look at it as when the dog takes a dump on the pile rug. It sits nice and high there, and you scoop it up as best you can without smearing it and it actually looks really clean. For a minute you are tempted to leave well enough alone. BUT then you do think I’d better go scrub that rug with some oxy wash or clorox, I don’t want to be walking barefoot in those dog poop bacteria. Avastin to ovarian cancer is the antibacterial shampoo to the dog
    poop.
    It scrubs out that last bit of shit.
    Love,
    Aunt Marg
    XXXOOO

  3. Neal September 7, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    ” But I’m not going to stop riding my bike or driving my car or skiing.” WTF! Avastin from what I can deduce from Wikipedia if a blood vessel production inhibitor. So what happens when you do get hurt and your body needs to repair but can’t do to the drug. STOP taking risks ….riding a bike is very risky….stop until Spring. That badly sprained ankle might be bad because of internal bleeding. Now see how long it takes to heal if you can’t repair capillaries how . If I am wrong here and my analysis is wrong forgive my harshness. But If I am right…pull that big stubborn Banchard/Kerrigan head out of you ass and stop taking risks. Data….http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19461291

    • thezebrachronicles September 8, 2011 at 10:50 am #

      I am stubborn 🙂 It’s one of my defining characteristics. Avastin does just what you say it does, but the benefit, mentally and physically, I get from exercising outweighs the risks. Exercise is good for me and it’s good at preventing cancer from coming back. I really take very few risks and am very safe while cycling and driving and any other relatively high risk activity. I promise to be careful. I promise not to hurt myself. I love you too.

  4. Barbara Call September 8, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    WEll, I just hate it that I cannot open my big mouth and say something about this situation, because I, like many, know NOTHING ~ except to say that you are
    greatly loved and I’ll bet your mom worries sick over those biking accidents, you wild thing! Barb

  5. Tony September 25, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Stubborn eh? Well in my book an educated stubborn is OK.

    If your heritage is any indication, it is not only a defining characteristic but a core competency.Pay attention to your very vasculalr kidneys and watch that protean level.

    “Liberty, according to my metaphysics, is an intellectual quality; an attribute that belongs not to fate nor chance. Neither possesses it, neither is capable of it.” – John Adams

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