In the modern view, cancer is not one monolithic disease but many wily diseases affecting first one part of our bodies and then spreading to others, wreaking havoc all the way. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to specifically define where the cancer started, where it has traveled and exactly what its genetic makeup is before there can be any discussion of what to do about it.
On the trail of a clear diagnosis, my family and I learned more than we ever wanted to know about varieties of lung cancer, how they grow and the limits of treatments. But in the process one of the many blessings under the dark cloud of worry and disruption manifested itself.
My daughters were instantly able to leave behind any remnants of early sibling rivalry and any adult tensions they might experience to unite fully in their concern, love and caring for me! They were able to work together to support each other and me and have continued to do so in the most touching and meaningful way a mother could imagine!
Over the next six weeks, one or both of them accompanied me to each and every test and consultation. If one could not be there because of other obligations, she was present at the consultation by speaker phone so they both could ask their questions directly of the experts and hear the same information at the same time from the same sources…..a strategy, by the way, that made the process of diagnosis and the treatment decisions much less confusing than it otherwise would have been.
And after each test result and consult they wrote brilliant, heartfelt emails to a long list of family and friends explaining the evolution of my medical status and the state of my spirits. This updated everyone who wished to be kept informed and spared me having to answer a multitude of phone calls and deliver repetitious explanations.
The first CAT scan, which clearly showed several tumors in my left lung and suggested worse, was just the beginning. It was followed by x-rays, a PET scan with contrasting dye, a lung biopsy and a brain MRI. Each test confirmed the one before it and added more dire information to the mix, resulting in the inescapable conclusion that I had non-small-cell, slow growing adenocarcinoma in my lung and that it had already spread to a number of my bones.
The verdict: No cure and I was not a candidate for surgery either; but there was a treatment worth considering that might shrink the tumors and slow their spread. Eligibility for this treatment, only recently approved by the FDA, falls into the new category of “targeted therapy” and which requires that the patient have a particular gene in the cancer cells that would be responsive to the treatment.
Analyzing the biopsy to search for that qualifying gene is extraordinarily complicated and takes several weeks. None of my medical team thought it imperative to start treatment immediately. So, in pursuit of my promise to myself and my family to live life with cancer as fully as possible, I went off to Alaska with some dear family members on a marvelous trip that had long been planned.
Heavy duty treatment decisions could await my return!
PEARL OF WISDOM
Diagnosing a complex life-threatening illness is a highly stressful process that takes time and emotional energy. It is wise to have a strong, dependable support team to accompany you on each step of the journey and to live your life as fully as possible while on the trail of your diagnosis!
© 2017 Joan Blumenfeld