Why Doctors Are Rethinking Breast-Cancer Treatment

Time Magazine article on doing nothing VS. the massive over treatment when faced with any stage of breast cancer diagnosis. The article also points out how slow the medical community reacts to breast cancer in general. Very worthwhile read for any cancer not just breast cancer.


My Cancer Ate My Patience

My patience left my body and vocabulary not so long ago. It buried itself in our unorganized two car garage near the washer and dryer. It’s adverb “patiently” waiting and hiding from other eyes under some mildewed, smelly step kid laundry I refuse to wash after two years. Taken over by the comfort of its new quarters among the old mops and Christmas ornaments, antifreeze and hummingbird feeders, “patiently” or to have “patience” sagged under the weight of the now often used noun, “patient.” Three years ago my body released my patience into a hospital’s diseased ambiance where I could smell the white hot death on the oncology floor creeping up the walls.

My long term memory laid off the verb, “wait,” and the adverb, “quietly,” at the same time as my frontal lobe got rid of the adjective, “unwilling.” If you ask me for the temporary use of my body and if I’m willing to try any and all curative measures, I’d probably answer yes, I’m willing to loan you my corpus.

You see my vocabulary tricks the wiliest of Metastatic disease, which believes it plays me like a fiddle. I can outsmart it. Or at least I think I can, by speaking a new language heretofore unheard of in my mind. Now, I look down at my body sinking in the hot water of a bath, a body somewhat unrecognizable as my own, changed by the disease and it’s treatments. So why not trick it into submission? Makes sense to me.

I fired a bunch of words and I had to replace them eventually, so I hired a few that were only temporary consultants before. Words full of hope and also full of cynicism. For instance, I have ADHD, yet “attention” became a core word. All great accomplishments require everything you’ve got to accomplish the milestones to meet the goal. All else must go by the wayside either permanently or temporarily until the goal is met. “Focus” took over for those other emotions, like “acquiescence,” by people without cancer.

You might have tasted the flavor of what I am attempting to communicate during your time spent worrying before and after tests to detect early signs of cancer. This might be the only chance for a non-cancer person to have a sliver of a glimpse into how we Cancer people live. There’s no one who does not harbor some fear of hearing the words, “I’m sorry but,” start a sentence in s physician’s office. Witness a modern day woman having a routinely unpredictable mammogram…

No one questions my excuses anymore. I realized cutting open my guts and letting the weaker emotional crows fly out of my stomach, I feel justified in freeing myself of such mortal emotions like “afraid.” Post diagnosis, while I sat in bed at the hospital, still reeling under the side effects of the diagnosis and the numbing effects of pain medication, these schisms in my psyche spilt open, now scarred over. During my stay I only recall when I took walks around the nurses station glaring at them who glared at me for intruding upon their gossiping. I slowly paced myself rolling the hanging bags of Dilauded and saline solution, as salty as blood, for hydration tapped directly into my veins. What are you two looking at?? I’m not sick enough yet for you?

Now who am I to ignore “frustration;” my ire beginning to well up in my stomach like “nausea,” which I recently learned to spell correctly. No one should have to use the word “nausea” this much. “Frustration” took over for “patience” and “calm.”

Unwilling people frustrate me most of all. Unwillingness to consider an opinion, to participate in an event, to try new or different, to taste a small forkful of something. There’s also a kind if snobbery, a “my way/ taste/ qualities beat yours so therefore I refuse to consider your opinion,” to unwilling people. Someone unwilling to try a simple medication to relieve high blood pressure for instance really pisses me off, makes me Yosemite Sam jumping mad.

Notice the huge bag of pills I must take to manage symptoms, pain, constipation, nausea, in addition to the pills I took before all the cancer nonsense. It’s not that I lack empathy; I am plenty empathetic. I’m simply unwilling to hear pathetic excuses for people not taking the care available to prevent internal fires from erupting before they burn out of control. I wish my box would arrive directly from Acme, Inc. containing my new Acme Hole, just like Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck or Wile E. Coyote. If only…

But the apex of personal qualities I detest slightly more than “unwilling:” “dismissive.” To dismiss a problem with the wave of a hand, as though my thoughts in a matter mean nothing to the current wisdom behind a curative regimen. My side effects count. You cannot understand my view from the inside, but the literature gives authority through reading only. Dismissal doesn’t work for me when it takes the oncology team six vials of blood and two weeks of symptoms and patience to let them find out through reading my blood labs not the tea leave I read for them in the office. Apparently that’s for palliative oncology. Fine.

It seems the writers of pharmaceutical literature ran out of space on the twenty times folded onion skin six foot double sided map of contradictions, dosing, and possible physical side effects. Oh and the toll free number of who to call if you experience results that resemble anything besides what big pharma has allowed the public to know about the downside of treatment? The toll free number recommended: 911.

Side note: Can anyone recall the last time you worried about a toll charge on a domestic call? Did Pfizer move out of the country to Switzerland because of the quality skiing or the five language menagerie including Romansh? Just a small canton of people speak this official language of Switzerland. It’s like reading the literature included with a bottle of chemotherapy: not meant for anyone but officials to understand.

At home, depression though in treatment behaves rudely and handles difficulty with off-putting remarks. No one earns the right to refuse to answer a direct question in a relationship. If one opinion weighs more than mine, I cannot help but feel a nagging urgency to inflict physical harm, at least in more recent days. Today my simple request that The C please not to continue his negative questioning with the answers he wanted to hear built into the syntax of the question itself. His response was fully designed to rile me up. There were childish of retorts such as “it’s your own negativity bouncing back on you,” as if we’re in the third grade again and he’s “rubber and [I am] glue.”

I noticed much of the drivers of his outbursts arise due to self flagellation. He’s angry at himself, lambasting himself with frustration for things in the past and ruminating incessantly. For instance if he procrastinated and avoided dealing with an action and the fallout lands on his head like bird shit. Of course it becomes apparent to him that I am the cause. Everyone sees the cause (me) and the effect on him (negativity)?

It’s difficult to understand because of the questionable reality of the connection. This is depression at its most frustrating. The care giver becomes the rubbish bin for recycling blame.

Having cancer as well as being a care giver, I must remind myself to actually stop thinking, and just close my eyes and breathe. Neither controls my reality or my mood, though try they may through antagonism and emotionally destructive behavior. In actuality I control my sense of peace in being, no one and nothing else can unless I allow them to do so. However, the difficulty at times of making myself into a peaceful monk lies within my ability to extract my ego from the situation. I’m hurt, therefore I must defend myself.

All that defensive posturing creates an us versus them dynamic, and a fight ensues. How hard can it be to not take my own side? Very stupid. If I’d only given a moment to myself to remember that I am the only one who can imbue meaning onto anything at all and regard the facts not the fiction, I find a far better feeling of well being, and full presence of mind. But never patience.

So I have a degree in English not manners during the final episodes where Metastatic Cancer competes for my emotional range. And I’m really sorry, but the cancer ate my homework, and I’ll be late to charm school again. Miss Manners took the rest of the year off due to lack of attendance.

Fly Away Home, Blessed Body

In Memorium, Jnani Chapman

“Blessed body heal this beauty,”
Her song flowed gently —
We lived longer in her hands.
Once, all at one time
She let fly love’s bounty:
The heart’s harvest floating on
A barge atop a boundless wave.
Rivers of tears flow beyond our sight,
Farther this time — please, to not return.
Within the star white
Light of the quilted night, sewn into
A blanket of every color
By her own hands.
Swinging movements to and back
Here, to find the constant:
Love equals gravity plus motion.

Calling to us on the shoreline,
With a Cheshire smile
We wave her back in, yet
Calliope, turned to me
Whispering in the wind,
“Wish her safe passage, instead.”
Lifting our eyes to the skies
Ethereal blue air filled
With the soft silence of
Dandelion feathers blowing
And billowing in winter’s dusk.
Everywhere, time to head home.
All the better for knowing
Grace once embodied us
With the cure of her touch.

Let night shine with a million bits
Of candlelit diamond dust and
Let her spirit dance and spin in
Swirling white wild robes.
We seek the wide eyed child
Instead finding her silk sails had set
A course just above the curve
Of earth, into the horizon.
Glimmering into the shimmer
Of the red ruby crystal day
Behind the shadow of the sun.
Landing everywhere together
Touching every space, untethered
To the mystery unseen,
Now shimmering in us and in between.

A blue velvet bag opened by this single
Movement – her hand reached
Into the spaciousness above
And all stars’ light unpacked, and
Secreted away in drawer full of daydreams.
Now the seashore glistens
With the promise of night, and
Eternally luminous
With all the befores,
And all the ever afters,
Moving our millions of tears
Into a single smiling river.
“Goodnight my beautiful bodies,”
And we fly away home, laughing.