For whatever strange reason, hearing that one singular word last week (remission!) was peculiarly hard for me to absorb. Sure, the CT scan showed great results, so logic would say I should just breathe in the good news, revel in it and joyfully celebrate. This whole journey has been so peculiar from the outset. It’s hard to emotionally stand down, take a step back and ease up.
After my oncologist happily declared my remission, we went on to discuss next steps in the treatment plan. Steps which are above and beyond the ongoing schedule of infusions that I continue to receive every three weeks. We discussed other tools in the weapon arsenal, one of which is radiation. Given the outstanding results of my CT scan, my oncologist felt the discussion should continue with a specialist in radiation oncology. So she set me up for a consultation appointment with the radiation oncologist who is also a member of the ‘tumor board’…a weekly gathering of highly skilled physicians who provide a forum for discussing complex cases that require an integrated and multi-disciplinary approach to treatment.
Hubby and I met with him two days ago. Turns out, he’s very familiar with my case (and has been following it for quite some time) because it was thoroughly reviewed and discussed with the tumor board months ago. And given my history with cancer, which my entire medical team thought we’d licked eleven years ago, he pointed out some unknowns.
First, there’s considerable question (and no way of knowing) whether or not my cancer is an actual recurrence from eleven years ago. The possibility exists that there might have been ‘rogue cells’ left behind which have since migrated to a new location and thrown out a new twist in the form of a gene mutation…making this a much more aggressive cancer now. The migration scenario isn’t impossible, but it’s also not terribly likely given the scope of multiple surgeries I endured all those years ago. However, the fact still remains: there is no way of knowing for sure.
Second, although the cancer was found in the axillary tissue adjacent to and tucked up around a swollen lymph node, the swollen node proper did not have cancer cells present. So, one might presume that the cancer had traveled no further, although the pathologist reported that there was ‘likely lymphatic invasion’ based on his findings that the adjoining tissue had cancer ‘percolating throughout’. Which leaves the possibility that the cancer could have already attacked nodes which would no longer be detectable on the scans. And we already know that scans don’t catch all cancer, especially microscopic in nature. I found that out eleven years ago at the very beginning of my cancer journey.
As hubby and I listened to what is UNKNOWN about the particulars of my case, I felt oddly assured. The mighty fight is going to continue, even after six hard rounds of chemotherapy and a host of bizarre and annoying side effects. Even with an excellent CT scan result, that one singular R word, remission, rings awkwardly in my ears. I would love to be convinced about remission with absolute certainty, but the fact of the matter is…I feel no certainty about this. Cancer is a nasty beast.
Oh how I would love to grab that word ‘remission’, knowing confidently that it has been firmly affixed to my medical records. But there’s an unease that I can’t deny. A discomfort, an intuition…and it’s screaming at me: ‘Tread lightly! Eyes wide open! Insidious enemy lurking! Don’t let your guard down!‘
Which brings me to the second R word. Radiation.
I’m going for twenty five rounds of it, five days a week for five straight weeks. Based on the brazen return of this enemy, and with the use of a linear accelerator (doesn’t that just sound so freakin’ awesome?!) we’re going to blast the hell out of the whole damn lymph node playground. There will be no percolating allowed.
Remission and Radiation. Radiation and Remission.
Those two R’s go hand-in-hand, clearly. The third R?