Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stupid Oncology

When I started this blog, I had read a bunch of other cancer patient blogs and they all seemed so bitter and angry.  I swore I would never post one of those blogs.  Well, I lied.  I am coming to realize that anger and bitterness are part of the journey.  They aren't parts that I would like to linger on, but they exist nevertheless.  This is one of those posts.  Be prepared.

I had my first visit to the cancer centre today.  The staff were so warm and friendly.  Absolutely lovely!  Actually, it was to the point that Mike told me, "They must reserve all the friendly medical staff for cancer centres!"  I couldn't disagree with him.  In all my experiences in hospitals and clinics, I have never met a nicer group of people on the whole.  Not a single bad vibe flowing through that place.  And I know why.  The reason is, once you get into that doctor's office, life changes.

My oncologist, a woman, (How cool is that?  That means that ALL the doctors I've had through this are strong, educated, intelligent, powerful women!  I love it!), did a quick physical exam to see where I was at with my healing from surgery, then we sat down for "The Chat".  She let me know my options for treatment.  Poison or more poison.  Those are my choices according to the medical world in most of western society.  I can either do 6 months of chemo, with side effects ranging from nausea to neuropathy to infertility, or I can do a clinical trial with the exact same drugs but with the chance that I would only be put on for 3 months.  Only problem there is that they are giving a daily dose (or placebo, depending on which group you get put in) of an aspirin type drug which the patient will have to take for 3 years.  That means, if I wanted to do this trial it would mean putting off trying to conceive a child for the entire length of the study.  I turned it down.  If I am not rendered infertile (the chances are very low, but there nonetheless), I would like to start trying to have kids as soon as Mike is done school.  The more I think about it, the more I want kids.  They kept saying to me today that it is so rare for them to be dealing with a patient that is of childbearing age who is right in the middle of creating their family.  I've also been thinking that it might not be that bad if Gwen were an only child.  She is so amazing.  She is so beautiful and lively and full of personality and curiosity.  It is a joy to be around her (except maybe when she's teething...).  But, my heart does want more kids.  At least one.  It makes me feel weird to think about growing a child in my body again.  What if the effects of the chemo aren't gone by the time we conceive?  What if the child is co-existing with cancer cells?  My body is a battlefield at the moment and, by the looks of things, will continue to be for at least the next year.  Should I be introducing a child into the aftermath of that battle?

This is all for a 20-25% reduction in the chance that the cancer will come back.  The doctor did say that I could potentially be completely cancer free right now.  The goal of the treatment is to stop the cancer from coming back if it does still exist in my system.  If I don't have treatment and there is cancer floating around my lymphatic system, with the possibility that it is in my blood, then in 3 years I could end up with a bunch of cancerous growths in different parts of my body that could kill me.  According to the oncologist, I have a 40-45% chance of that happening.  If I put my body through hell and do the chemo, that number reduces by 20-25%.  Basically, I have a 1 in 2 chance of the cancer returning right now and if I do the chemo I have a 1 in 4 chance.  I don't like either of those odds.  The question is, do I do this for not much of a reduction?  When I asked the doctor if she would do this in my situation, she hesitated then said, "I am asked this question a lot.  It is very hard to answer.  In your case, because you are so young and healthy, I would do it."  I do feel like she was honest with me.  I don't think she would have said that if I was 70 years old and my health was failing to begin with.

I keep praying for discernment, for the right information to come my way to make this decision easier on me.  I don't like putting toxic things into my body.  I don't like taking drugs if I can prevent it.  Chemotherapy is the mother of all toxic drugs.  My whole being is fighting against this.  I don't want to do it, but what choice do I have?  Don't I owe it to myself and to my family to give myself the best possible odds?  1 in 4 is better than 1 in 2.  Not only that, but I have looked into some alternative therapies and, quite frankly, I just can't afford it.  Anyone have $80,000 they can spare for alternative treatments?  It all makes me frustrated and angry.  Not to mention, the drugs that they want to give me have been used for decades!  One of them was patented in 1957.  Can you honestly believe that there have been no better drugs or therapies found to treat cancer since 1957?  How much money do the pharmaceutical companies make off of chemotherapy again?  Oh yeah, was it several BILLION per year?  Why, in this capitalist society, would the pharmaceutical companies care about giving us a better, less toxic treatment when they have a treatment that sort of works that makes them multi billions per year?  Scientific research is controlled by money.  If you don't have the money, you can't do the research no matter how talented you may be or how incredible your new discovery may be.  I am not blind to the way this world works.  It's sad, but true.  There are some people out there that care more about making money than finding a treatment that will work better without filling us cancer patients with poison.


  1. Hey,
    While this isn't a book on dealing with cancer and is probably not the happiest of reads, it is really interesting and provides a good "history" of cancer and the advancements made (or lack thereof).

  2. You can bet your bottom dollar that there is a rival phama corp that would love to develop and patent something to outstrip the competition. Don't bother going down the road of conspiracy nuttery with regards to cancer treatment. It's not a sound line of reasoning. That's the thing with science, all science, it's often slow, but it's always progressive and self correcting.

    Shortly after Marlow was born a friend we had met at prenatal classes redeveloped breast cancer. She has been fighting the good fight with joy and optimism, appreciating every day with her husband and daughter Charlotte with a depth of appreciation I simply can't fully understand. I know this is a passing phase of the grumps and that you'll return to your positive and powerful nature in no time. Stay strong and eat your greens.

  3. You hit it on the head with "a passing phase of the grumps". I hit the lows as well as the highs. I'm fortunate enough to have much more high than low :) The grumps tend to pass quickly.

  4. It is good to sound off and express how you feel - the odds are no better now that they were for the last 50 years - sad but true. Unfortunately, everyone has financial interests and drug companies have to make their research money back in the drugs they market. However, you best option at the moment does seem to be take the drugs that will improve your chances. Remember there are many people who do come out of this cancer free and we believe in a miracle working God. So keep positive too.