On Wednesday, I had my first appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Hansen. I had one of my favorite nights the night before. Angie, Brylee, and Sophie came to spend the night so we had a girls night with all the fixins...chips, 7 layer bean dip, candy and yes, coke! After everyone left, Brylee and I settled into our usual sleepover arrangments; her on the chair and me on the couch. At 4:30 I was awoken by a tug on my shoulder with a little voice saying.."gramma, wanna watch some shows?" So for the next 4 hours, we snuggled on the chair watching all her favorite Dora shows. Then we got dressed and with several heavy sighs, headed to the hospital.
I was prepared to start chemo as evidenced by the calm acceptance that accompanied me on the drive that morning. With each heavy sigh, my anxiety dissapated. With it went the fear of losing my hair and the effects of the other changes my body had undergone. I was okay with it as the worldy pressure of what my appearance would be lost its meaning. I felt the love and prayers of all those who support me lift the burden of fear that has lingered in the shadows of my cancer. I felt like me again...strong, determined, resilient, and hopeful.
Dr. Hansen came in and explained more in depth the purpose and reason for the chemo treatments. The room was crowded with Angie and Sophie, Katie, my sister Amy, and my parents. Crowded with the people I love the most. We had misunderstood the results of the blood work so as he clarified it, the gravity of cancer seeped through as we all listened intently to his explanation. He explained that because the cancer cells had the ability to penetrate the lymph nodes, it had been carried through my blood stream. The blood work indicated that it had not metastisized in any organs. Nonetheless, it is present. The purpose of chemotherapy is to kill the cancer cells that had penetrated blood cells. He stressed the higher risk of recurrence because of the triple negative but felt confident that the chemo and radiation treatments would be successful. Then he explained a clinical study that was being performed in an effort to treat triple negative. With typical breast cancers, a hormonal therapy is given orally for 5 years to prevent reacurrence. Triple negative cancer does not respond to the hormonal therapy which leaves the individual vulnerable during the first critical 5 years. This study is to test a drug that hopefully, triple negative cancer will respond to and as the result, reduce the risk of a recurrent cancer in another primary organ. The drug was approved by the FDA but the approval was reversed due to the high cost of the drug. Dr. Hansen informed me that I met the criteria to participate in the study and explained what this study could mean in the future for those suffering with this cancer. As he spoke, I thought of my four daughters, and five grand-daughters, my sisters, and all the women that I love and knew that participating in this study would create meaning to my own battle with cancer. As the nods of approval on the faces of my family resonated with my own, I agreed to be in the study and immediately felt the heaviness of the earlier explanations lift. Consequently, I had to have a few more tests completed prior to beginning so my chemo was postponed. Participating does not change the chemo treatments, it just adds an additional drug to it. There is a need for 4 thousand participants to complete the study. Right now there are about 1200 participants across the nation. Half of the women will receive the drug and half will not. I will find out on Monday which group I will be in. The plan is to then start chemo on Friday. While I am not excited about the side effects of the treatment, I am excited to be a part of a study that could potentially make a difference in the lives of those who follow me in the fight against cancer..specifically breast cancer.
As I met with the women in my groups this week, I was reminded of a valuable life lesson that has shaped my life over the years. We were discussing the heartaches and disappointment that are so often part of our earthly existence. Over and over the question was asked how to move past the pain associated with those experiences. My response was (and is) this. In the midst of our disapointment and despair, we have to assign a new meaning to the experience; one that focuses on the good that was present during that time. We have to look at that picture that has come to remind us of the pain and see the faces of those present...the smiles, the laughter, the bond of family that resonates in the eyes of each individual. It is the only way to heal..to make sense of a senseless wrong or disability..or illness. For me, I feel like being able to participate in this clinical study gives a new meaning to my cancer and as a result, I feel peace. As I walked out of the office and looked into the faces of those sitting with hats covering the starkness where the bounce of curls had once been, my heart overflowed with compassion and a desire to somehow reach out and comfort.
For each of you my friends. If you have sadness or memories that plague you with the pain of the event, I hope you will have the courage to assign new meaning to that time in your life so that peace can replace the sorrow. As you have each so kindly said to me...I am here, hoping and praying that hope will be a part of your hearts and that your love and support of me will be part of your healing as well.
Gratitude and love always...Cyndi