Maybe I come off as strong and optimistic, but truth be told, I’m neither.
I’ve spent recent weeks in a major funk, obsessed with the possibility of a recurrence.
This past May marked two years since bilateral mastectomy completed my cancer treatments. Recent check-ups with my oncologist and breast surgeon should be reassuring, but for some reason I can’t stop thinking, panicking, about the chance it could come back.
If it does, it’s stage IV, metastatic.
Yes, I’m terrified.
When I voiced this concern to my oncologist, he emphasized that, first and foremost, I should stop worrying.
I’m in complete agreement. This whole worry thing is taking its toll on me, but it’s not easy to shake.
Ask any cancer survivor if the fear ever goes away. I imagine there are some who let it walk beside them and don’t give in to it. They find ways to cope with the ever-present uneasiness, make it “heel” like a well-trained dog.
What’s their secret?
Is it religion? Blind trust that their remission is complete? Alcohol?
Well, probably not alcohol, but seriously, how do they do it?
Maybe I read too much.
Maybe I read just enough to make me wonder if I’m truly doing all I can to prevent the disease from roaring back when my guard is down.
Surgery removed what was left of my tumor after chemo. All margins and lymph nodes were clear. Losing my breasts was a small price to pay for the piece of mind that offered.
I’d like to believe that the treatments I’ve received did the job and that all my recent tests are adequate and accurate.
I’d like to believe that the tamoxifen tablet I swallow every morning , and will continue to take for ten years, barring complications, is all that’s needed to keep me cancer free.
I’d like to believe in Santa Claus.
As much as I love my doctors and trust their judgement, I wonder if their training in traditional methods is enough? Are there different ways to attack it? Can the two be combined for better and longer lasting results? Maybe beat it for good?
Cancer cells have to start somewhere. Somehow a normal healthy cell is mutated into a rapidly dividing beast that is seemingly impossible to kill. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy target these fast growing cells, along with healthy fast growing cells like those in your hair follicles and your gut.
But what about before the cell starts its rapid division thing? How do we put these “stem cells” out of business?
Can we stop them from growing and setting up camp somewhere else?
Can they be stopped with diet? Supplements? Voodoo?
What triggers the aggressive development of a normal cell into a cancer cell?
In my case it was probably the hormone replacement I used to combat menopausal symptoms. Too much exposure to estrogen.
Or was it all the wine I washed down my chocolate with?
From what I understand, tamoxifen blocks breast tissue cell receptors from taking in estrogen, which should prevent recurrence, at least while I’m taking it.
But what about the rest of me?
While it acts against estrogen in breast tissue, it comes with a higher risk of uterine and ovarian cancers, as it promotes estrogen in those parts, as well as in bones.
Not sure whether or not it increases risk of metastases there.
Another option, aromatase inhibitors stop your body from producing estrogen in the first place but often come with intense joint pain. I have enough of that, thank you very much, so we went with the tamoxifen.
Everyone claims that cancer thrives on sugar. What if glucose receptors can be blocked somehow? Are there herbs and cheap drugs that might accomplish this, as they do for diabetics? Even moderate to intense walking after meals aids in controlling blood glucose according to some research. Might this simple practice help thwart the growth of cancer cells?
All ideas worth pondering, but cancer is a wily beast…if you cut off it’s glucose supply will it turn to protein or fat to feed it’s voracious appetite? Can those pathways be blocked as well? Are dietary changes enough to accomplish this?
So what the heck? Is it any wonder I’m overwhelmed? Conflicting information is everywhere! Who do you believe?
Stick to a vegan diet. No, wait, keto is the way to go. Ummm…maybe low glycemic. Eat grains. Don’t eat grains. Dairy? Heaven forbid! Organic? Locally grown? Fish is good, but not THAT fish…
Sheesh. I give up!
Even if you do play by the “rules” there is no guarantee you’ll remain cancer free.
This is the rabbit hole I’ve been spending way too much time in and it may quite possibly be sucking the life out of me.
So instead, I’ll try to stay up to date on the latest research, treatments and results, but will no longer let them consume my every thought.
None of us will get out of this life alive and it would be nice to avoid the inevitable as long as possible, but what is life without joy?
There is a lot to be said for enjoying the life you’re given, with the people you are blessed to enjoy it with.
So, clawing my way out of this very dark place, I’ll take a lesson from my brother-in-law, who recently lost his own battle with cancer. Despite a grim prognosis and often debilitating treatments, he truly LIVED his last years, a rebel till the end.
The best I can do is to eat as sensibly as possible without going to extremes, keep up my exercise program while adding restorative activities to reduce stress and, damn it, I’ll have a glass of wine now and then. Maybe a couple!
Alcohol may not be great for cancer prevention, with current research showing that even moderate consumption increases risk, but they say it’s good for your heart.
Hmmmm…probably in more ways than one.
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