Breast Cancer Chronicles: From Stage Zero to Stage Four in Four Months? This Is Not My Best Day...
Finding Out That You Have Stage 4 Breast Cancer
When the news that I have stage 4 breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer, was given to me yesterday, I was not shocked, but I was dazed and became more than a little disoriented. What? Why? How? When I discovered the lump in my breast in July, I was assured that it was stage 0. What followed was a comedy (not so funny, really) of errors, for which I can find no excuses. A two month delay (thank you, Lois) in surgery being performed and the corresponding tumor growth caused my cancer to become stage 2. The primary oncologist bears no fault in this. He has been extraordinary, but I did not meet him until after the surgery. In fact, I was not referred for an oncological consult until after the surgery, which I find to be a little backwards.
So, the oncologist ordered a PET scan. He said he was concerned about the growth of the tumor, and he did not want radiation started until he had a PET scan. He had a feeling...I went for the PET scan, was injected with the radioactive sugars, and was then told that the scanner was down. They tried to postpone the scan until the end of this month. More delays!
My "sister" (not really my sister) called them from out of state. I was certain that they would not speak to her because of a little law known as HIPAA, but the comedy continued. They not only spoke to her, my dear "sister" spent hours voicing her displeasure and concern and went up the ladder. The heads of the medical corporation (10 hospitals) agreed to let me go to another one of their facilities this past week.
So, on Friday, I was told that the cancer had metastisized and was present in a hilar ( part of the lung) lymph node. Even though the biopsy of the lymph nodes closest to the breast showed no cancer, breast cancer can rarely metastisize to more distant lymph nodes. Lucky me!
The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. Survival rate chart from the American Cancer Society:
Survival Rate by Stage
Stage 0--------- 93% will survive (when I had my biopsy)
Stage I---------- 88% will survive
Stage IIA------- 81% will survive (after delay of surgery)
Stage IIB------- 74% will survive
Stage IIIA------ 67% will survive
Stage IIIB------ 41%* will survive
Stage IIIC------ 49%* will survive
Stage IV-------- 15% will survive (where I am now)
*These numbers are correct as written (stage IIIB shows worse survival than stage IIIC).
No Cure For Metastatic Breast Cancer
If there is anything that I can say that may be of help to anyone else, it is this:
Do not allow anyone, for any reason, delay your treatment! Don't let them give you scheduling excuses or any other excuse. Fight with everything you have! Look at the chart! From 0 to 4 in 4 months is NOT what you want!
I know that there is no cure for what I have. I watched and cared for my mother as she died from metastatic breast cancer. She lived for 4 years after her diagnosis. She was lucky. I was told it can be as little as a few months.
My oncologist and I talked for a long time. I will be having a bone scan early next week to see if I can take Arimidex. It is designed to slow the progress of my disease, but due to many other health issues that I have, I will not be pursuing any aggressive or experimental treatment. My oncologist and I agreed that we would NOT try anything that might shorten my life expectancy more. My family agrees with this decision.
The Final Job Of A Parent
My children's godfather once told me. "If you are a lucky parent, you will have the chance to teach your children the right way to die, with dignity and grace. It will be the last and maybe best thing that you can teach." I will try to be a good teacher...
I do NOT, however, plan to go anywhere soon. As I have said to a friend:
I have places to still go, things to still do, many more people to piss off, and much more laughter, fun and joy to experience.
A Welcome and Happy Update!
UPDATE! NOVEMBER 19TH
My oncologist called this morning. He talked with other physicians this weekend. The interventional radiologist said that he is unable to biopsy the lymph node. After going through my medical history, my oncologist and the others believe that there MAY be a chance that the light up of the lymph node may NOT be metastasis, but instead due to a chronic history of bronchitis and pneumonia dating back to early childhood. With no way to tell for sure, he told me that I MUST proceed with radiation and in 2 months we will do another PET scan. He believes that we need to be cautiously optimistic, but hopeful. I am in agreement with his recommendations. I have a bone scan scheduled for tomorrow to find out if I can take the arimidex
For now, things don't look as bad as they did on Friday. In fact, things look pretty darn good...I AM optimistic! I had never planned to just lay down and die willingly.
There is a saying in Latin, attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero. He said, "Dum Spiro, spero". It is appropriate. Roughly translated it means:
AS LONG AS I BREATHE, I HOPE
I'm sticking with that!