Is it Possible to ever cure Cancer?

Let me share my response to that night in the hospital when a group of medical experts told me I’d die within two to three months from metastatic cancer:
No, I won’t. Sorry but I don’t believe that’s true. Let’s get this fluid out of my abdomen and revisit your prognosis.
I’m still here four years later.

Will there ever be a real cure for cancer?

Statistically speaking, the numbers lead nowhere with regards to a panacea cure-all for cancer. Cancer in all of its forms, stages, intensity, aggressiveness, organ, system or body part, metastasis sites or primary tumor size and, genetic mutation, (deep breath) and what our cancer finds delicious to say “nom nom” to like hormones and cortisol to name a couple , are about as different from one person to the next as are the specifics contributing to every human being’s individuality.

Would you guess that may indeed be why a cure seems so out of reach: there’s as many kinds of cancer as the number of people diagnosed with cancer. I am not a specialist of any kind, medical or otherwise. But in the course of research and education there’s no denying that I’m lost in a sea of answers to so many different questions that I’m swimming in an ocean of data, drowning in an eddy of statistics and numerical analysis.

Throw me a lifesaving device or a piece of wood. Wood floats, as do witches, recalling the scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, where the medieval idiots guess at what would indicate if a woman were a witch or not. The one on the giant scales looking annoyed and rather silly having been disguised as a witch by the villagers by using a carrot tied to her face representing the nose a witch would have. Some days I feel like her, trying to scream out my innocence in the injustices I face as I’m asked what I may have done differently to not have been diagnosed at stage IV. Village idiots, indeed.

Let me ask this: how do we find a cure for cancer when the contributing factors include everybody’s permutation of lifestyle, environment, stress, genetics, psychosocial situation, economic status, race, nationality, religion, spirituality, etc.? Is the truth with regards to questions like “how long do I have?” found in researching and reading reports and data underlying findings from clinical and other types of studies?

I can’t say that’s possible since the relative weights of each contributing factor changes by person. Factors including not only the type and aggressiveness of the cancer itself, but the historically significant factors adding up to the moment of a human life when the words, “I’m sorry but…” are murmured. Given this set of cumulative influences, the prognosis differs for each individual, albeit sometimes ever so slightly.

Neither diagnosis nor prognosis is meaningful when you ask a doctor. A response to either intensity or time may contain the following phrase: the statistics show X, however, everyone is different. I’ve not heard one answer from an oncology, hematology, or internal medicine practitioner in which that caveat wasn’t kept in a box. I suspect it’s a CYA move to a greater or lesser degree. But I honestly believe they simply do not know, except for baseline statistical analyses with the outliers not plugged into the median mortality numbers.

Some people do not want to know how long they’ve got to live, and there’s nothing wrong with taking the ostrich/ head in the sand or cover your ears and hum “I can’t hear you I can’t hear you!” approach to a potential prognosis. And what does it really matter anyway? Other than the most frightening, or relieving, time comes that we’re told to go home and kiss everyone we love goodbye and to get on the phone to hospice. Perhaps then?

But maybe…

Even in that case each person is so vastly different in every way… lifestyles, genetics, responses to chemicals and radiation, how our immune systems can step up to the task, how damaged we were from the start and before the diagnosis, etc. Further still, the prognosis is even influenced by how one responds to the news. Again we have to weigh our ability to focus on what we can control: our psychological health; our physical health aside from cancer (such as nutrition, exercise, smoking, and drinking); our determination to live and try novel approaches without becoming brainwashed, or standing frozen like a deer in the headlights.

“This isn’t to say we’re not making progress: more people are beating cancer today than ever before. Survival has doubled in the last 40 years. And half of people diagnosed will survive their cancer for more than 10 years, an all-time high.” (Cancer Research, UK, “Why are cancer rates increasing?”
https://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2015/02/04/why-are-cancer-rates-increasing/)

Progress, yes. But what more do we really know today if indeed the rates of diagnosis have reached an all time high? Indeed a cure may be a pie in the sky. Or a pie ready to hit us collectively in the face.

PET Scans and Other Acronyms

This poem, though inspired by some disease that requires I become prostrate to the big grayish pallor of the gaping mouths of machines, represents otherwise the first of several metastatic nods to national poetry month. And, understandably very much inspired by my own internal struggles: doubts in the treatments, one that causes chemo brain, causes degradation of my body, causes me to want to seek out other therapies.

Friday makes a bad choice for any kind of diagnostic test when you’re held down by a terminal disease by the hands and feet. Like the iconic Gulliver’s Travels mind’s eye view of the giant captured on the island of little people, tied down with stakes and rope. His captors run around laughing and taunting their flannel clad prize man, kicking at the sand and pushing his chest against the ropes.

Our scan du jour, a PET Scan with radioactive contrast markers. My results, if I’m unlucky and Dr. B doesn’t get them over the weekend and send an email so I needn’t stress, will be delivered Monday at my 4:30 during oncologist appointment. Standing up for what’s only right to not have weekends for a three-month stint, my dues were paid in full and in advance. I wanted lunches and chair massages and the occasional pedicure! Weekend people get graham crackers and little kid size boxes of apple juice from concentrate. Yuck. Sugar for my pretty, bad your little cat too!?!

After my new improved appointment schedule of Monday’s around 1:00 pm for labs and onto a sit under the drip into my port whilst under the spell of Benadryl, Pepcid, and steroids. I awaken usually not feeling like I slept but merely dreamed instead that I slept. Last weekend the male nurses cheered loudly for their March madness team and the others had been called into a staff meeting. The nurse, the most competent thus far, who put my chemo in my port was not the nurse I woke up joking to, and she said nothing. I’m beginning to feel like an imposition to the lifestyle of many of these people degreed in caregiving.

God knows if my oncologist finds out I was left unattended, I think he may become annoyed and even angry. He’d come to the infusion center like a parent checking in on a child in daycare and found I’d not been given the hours 1:1 nurse coverage since I stopped breathing during the initial Taxol drip at my first appointment. He saw me alone and he could have had this nurse by the nape of the neck the way she tilted her head lightly forward as he walked behind her, the silence of the others palpable. She sat down and he said he wanted me covered specifically and no excuse. She sat for a pitiful 15 minutes, handed me the call button and motioned to press it.

I called after her to say, umm, hello? My name is Ilene not “you” or nothing at all, and you or someone in your position to resuscitate me should this no breathing thing recur should be here not not here. She said she could see me from the desk. And walked away. No one ever did come to insure my respiration continued, not for the last 14 treatments. I’m all weeks on. No weeks off, until May 28th. Then I’m free for a while of the infusion center. I’ll ring a hollow sounding bell. It won’t be the end of treatment. Just the end of this egregious protocol (that’s treatment in cancer speak). The side effects cumulatively build up as my eyebrows, underarm hair, and nasal cilia aren’t getting better. Worse. My exhaustion, my word loss, my general malaise grows day after day, week over week. And still I rise. It hurts some days more than others but I rise.

Now, for something completely different, the poem…

A Scanner, Brightly

Meditating, my elbows inside
Blood draining into my radiant body
Port standing brightly waiting
For an access pass
Checking for sugar upon my lips.
The remaining life of uranium
Available and waiting
Not like on an atoll in the pacific
Yet like in those black and white films
Cringing they watched the blowback
And wonder how the film survived the war.
Then the subtle kindness of
A starched white pillowcase
Holding me like a potato sack.
My arms akimbo to my ears
Sliding in and out of an expensive
Engagement rig dignified enough
I married this disease for life.
And what mystery you present
As you wash over my half-life body
I cannot read your name in the darkness
Behind my eyes I’m sure the stars still
Shine, face down I know the sun still
Rises. But what did it stand for?
P.E.T. me again I don’t recall:

Patience, energy, time
Pain, emptiness, taxing
Pathway, eating, through
Palliative, end of life, treadmill
Parasite, entangled, tornado
Patiently, earmarking, trade offs
Powerful, everyday, trying
Practicing, Eastern, traditions
Potential, ego, transmitter
People, envying, tools
Precious, errant, traits
Prevent, except, today
Perhaps, everyone, took off
Persons, except, those
Souls concerned about no one.

Breast Cancer Action Think Before You Pink Toolkit

As I look at the many messages portrayed about breast cancer, one might get the wrong impression. The impression that early detection prevents secondary breast cancer. The impression that if one dies from breast cancer they must have done something wrong or or have not done something right. It’s a message that pink is the color of health – the color of support, the color of good women who survived doing all the best treatments. The color of white women. The color of disease free women. The color of great corporate citizenship. I’m certain that there’s individuals whose hearts in the right place, but the companies for which they work interests lie in only one thing: shareholder value, read profits.

Profiteering on the backs of the suffering makes me wince. I’ve been a CEO. I know the impact of impressions in the public eye and their bearing on profits. This primer provides you with the necessary information to help educate and actionable things you can do to help uncover the myths surrounding metastatic breast cancer. We don’t ever stop treatments, the treatments fail us and we don’t survive, we die. We are not counted until then, and the number of us is a mere estimate that hovered around 160-170,000 every year with 40,000 new cases and we die every day.

The disbelief in our illness because we look too good to be so sick creates another paradox. I was told this evening I could work and plenty of people with cancer work. Yet if a job were available in Silicon Valley for a woman over 50 with metastatic cancer that would make her an employee who needs more than 50 sick days a year and late arrivals and early departures in a cut throat traffic heavy ugly, stress inducing environment I’d like to imagine that it would be easy and if it were I’d be able to make enough money to both survive and to pay the massive health bills and massive loss of wages for going to an office with flickering lights, noise, electromagnetism, and so on? You might think it was this very environment that accelerated my disease in the first place.

Call me a pessimist or a cynic, but 28 years of professional experience got me nowhere once I reached 47. Many women struggle with finding work that pays what they’re worth. I feel like pink washing is sort of like that. The token woman here or there who is able to hang on that long and then a company can take its due credit from her actively working for them for less than she’s worth. In this case, it’s her life. My life.

So click the link and download the documents available to you. They’re worth reading and may just move you to act on your indignation.

bcaction.org/site-content/uploads/2010/11/2012-Think-Before-You-Pink-Toolkit.pdf

And, cancer really, really sucks. I’m clearly not feeling hopeful today. But there’s always tomorrow…or not.