Sunday, June 02, 2019

A few thoughts on cancer terminology

Apparently today is Nation Cancer Survivor Day. Who knew? Between that, and some tweets I’ve been reading about the annual ASCO conference, I’m deep in my head about cancer terminology, mostly of the non-medical variety.

Survivor - I’ve never bought into that term. Cancer was a phase in my life way back then, but just a blip in this thing we call life. I think back to that phase, and I think about it as “welcome to thirty-something.” I think back to NYE 2004, when I was toasting the new year with several of my closest friends. Within 6 months, one was pregnant, two couples divorced or divorcing, and then me with cancer. Yeah, welcome to thirty-something. Yet we are all survivors - we are all still here! When it comes down to it, to quote Melodime:
the days you're living could be very few 
and you don't know when it is time for you 
to kiss the clock and finish breathing 

So look around, and everyone you see survived something. Maybe it was there a-hole ex, maybe it was giving birth, maybe it was just surviving their daily commute - because statistically, that’s a more likely thing to kill us than cancer. Actually keeping a baby alive the first year is a pretty huge accomplishment, as my job involved all the ways that could go wrong. So why do I deserve a day more than anyone else?

Warrior (n): “person engaged or experienced in warfare” 
 I really am not a fan of the warrior mythology. First, because I’m a pacifist at heart, so I don’t like to think of myself at “war.”  But I think it puts us up on a pedestal and it really hard to live up too being a “warrior” when you can hardly get out of bed. Or the sight of food makes you nauseous. If these words are meant to make us feel better, I’m not sure how that works.

A corollary to the warrior term is all the cancer gear. I see people posting picture of their kicking cancer t-shirts or other “warrior” shirts, and I just can’t. Obviously, to each their own, but that is not me. The closet I got is a shirt that says “Not Today.” And it’s purple, because purple is awesome, not because someone decided it’s the hodgkins ribbon color (and a couple other cancers, too). But I did also pick up a new crazy Hawaiian shirt. This one has flamingos. I wore Hawaiian shirts to chemo last time. They are fun and allow for easy port access.  So, don’t buy my any cool cancer shirts, but crazy Hawaiian shirts are ok.

Strength - OMG, if I had $1 for everyone who has been “amazed by my strength,” I’m not sure I’d still need a job. I don’t feel strong. In fact, right now I feel kind of weak, between probably not eating enough and this annoying pain behind my sternum when I breath deeply. Maybe it’s innate in me, but I’m just someone who has always rolled up my sleeve and done what needed to be done. I’m not sure what other choice I have here?  I’m about to get a bit of circular logic here about fighting,  but seriously, what else would I do?  People amazed at someone’s strength sell themself short,  because if the tables were turned, I bet they would just do what needed to be done, too. We all have it in us. I am not any better than anyone else. You are not weaker than anyone else. We all just want to stay this side o the rose bush a little longer (or hopefully,  a lot!)

Cure - I read something earlier with the following quote “Even the word 'cure' has a slippery definition. Does it mean being cancer-free for five years? Ten?” This one really hits me hard. I remember Dr. Aksentiejvich telling me that because it was a blood cancer, cure was more like 10 years, instead of 5, like most solid tumors. That is something I remembered well, 10 years! I even debated with my current oncologist back in 2014 about it. I wanted to be done, and I convinced him to release me from follow up. Do I think that would have made a difference now? No. This was found with a CT scan for other reasons, and he wouldn’t have been ordering annual CTs at 15 years.

Anyway, so I guess I was never cured. It’s like that one cell must have gotten left behind. And yes, per the pathology, it is a reoccurrence of a “remote” history. I guess this is why I can never donate blood. Lifetime ineligible based on having lymphoma as an adult. So, is there a cure? Will I ever been cured? Or did I just manage to get 15 years of progression free survival? And can I hope for more this time?


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