The Verdict

I departed the US on December 16th with a huge, dark question hanging over me: would I need to do chemotherapy? My oncologist, Dr L, had explained that the Oncotype Dx test gives a score of the statistical likelihood of your particular cancer’s recurring, and whether chemotherapy and/or radiation will affect that likelihood. If your score is 19 or lower, chemotherapy is not likely to do you much good. 19-30, you’re in a gray zone. Given my relatively young age, I thought I’d probably opt for chemo if my score was in that range. A score of 31 or above is an unequivocal “Yes, you should do chemo.” I was waiting to know that number.

We arrived in Sydney on December 18th (local time), got through immigration and customs, and picked up our rental car. As we drove across the Sydney Harbor bridge, I called Starr, Dr T’s assistant. She had the oncotype results in her hand, about to fax to Dr L. My score was 31, an unambiguous result: I should do chemo.

That news was not how I’d wanted to start my vacation.

Over the following days, I made and received multiple phone calls and emails as I started to understand and organize what would happen to me for the next six months. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:

Dec 21

We arrive back in the US the morning of Jan 14th. Jan 15th I will have an echocardiogram and then some blood tests and “chemo teach” at Dr L’s office. Sometime that week, Dr T will put a port and catheter into a vein in my chest. There has to be a port, because one of the chemo drugs, Adriamycin, causes bad burns if it comes into contact with skin, so you can’t administer it via a normal I/V. The port needs a few days to heal, then chemo can begin: 8 two-week cycles, followed by 6 weeks of radiation. So I’ll be under treatment until mid-to-late June.

I don’t yet know what to expect from chemo – Dr L doesn’t commit one way or the other, probably because individual reactions are unpredictable. He says I could perhaps work, especially during the second week of each cycle, but I’ll probably get too tired in the last 4 to 6 weeks of the overall chemo program. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem necessary for me to pre-emptively take off the entire 4 months – “Some women have done that, and gone stir crazy.”

For a long time, chemo has been my worst nightmare. I used to think: “I have all this other health crap, but at least I don’t have cancer.” Then, when I had the biopsy in 2007, I didn’t think I would die (if I even had cancer), but I knew I didn’t want to do chemo. With this one, I kept hoping it wouldn’t come to this. But it has.

I’m not any more resigned to it now than I ever was. Maybe it will be less scary once I’m actually in it. So far I’ve survived an awful lot of shit that life has thrown at me, I guess I’ll survive this, too. But… I’m terrified. I finally broke down and cried about that the other night. It helped a bit when Brendan admitted that he’s scared, too. I’m not sure exactly why that was comforting, but it was.

A few people have told me that I’m brave to talk publicly about having cancer. Just as people have previously said that I’m brave to write/talk about other topics. I don’t see what’s brave about talking. I don’t see how I could really hide that I have cancer, so why try? It is indeed very common these days, so maybe the best thing I can do for others is to talk about it.

I have the impression that many people write about their various illnesses, including cancer. But I don’t want my life to be about cancer from here on. There is so much more I want to do. And I’m scared I won’t get the opportunity.

Dec 25

I can’t really concentrate on anything, don’t have the mental stamina to focus. It still takes so much energy, sometimes, to not be screaming with terror.

my breast cancer story (thus far)

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