I finished my second round of chemo and had another scan recently. I got the results yesterday and as always, it was a mixed bag.
Overall, my doctor is really thrilled with my progress - Let's start with that.
This scan showed that there is still no visible cancer in my abdomen. Even better, it showed that all the nodules in my lungs, with one exception, have completely disappeared! The one nodule that is there is about 8 mm and my doctor thinks that there's a chance it may not even be cancerous. We're going to wait until my next scan and see how it looks at that time. If it's grown, then it's definitely cancer and we'll absolutely have to talk about more chemo after radiation. As it stands now, we may still consider some chemo after radiation anyway. I'll just have to wait and see what my doctor decides when we get to that point.
In addition to that one nodule in my lung, a new abnormal spot showed up in my right groin. My doctor said that it doesn't make any sense that new cancer would show up in that location at this point, so he's thinking that it may not be cancer related at all. Again, we're going to wait until my next scan and see what it looks like at that time to determine if it's anything that we need to address. For now, I'm cleared to start radiation next week.
So, again, my doctor is really pleased with these latest results overall.
Now with the end of treatment becoming more and more of a possibility for me in the coming months, I had some additional questions that needed some answering. Those answers brought some sobering truths to light.
Allow me to let you in on the conversation that ensued yesterday between me and my doctor. The following are the questions I asked and a summary of the answers I received:
1) How many women diagnosed with uterine cancer are stage 4?
A very low percentage... less than 10%.
2) Of that number of women diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer, how many go into remission?
3) Early in my treatment plan, we had discussed the statistics that I'm facing with this diagnosis. I have a 15-20% chance of surviving past five years. Does that statistic change if I go into remission?
No. So few women with stage 4 uterine cancer go into remission that there simply aren't statistics out there for that... so the reality remains the same - a 15-20% five year survival rate. However, I don't like to consider statistics that much because each individual case is so unique.
4) If I go into remission and then my cancer returns, is it true that it will be even more aggressive than before?
No, that's a misnomer. When cancer returns, in time it becomes more and more resilient to treatment. That's what makes people think it's more "aggressive". It's not really that, it's just that it eventually doesn't respond to treatment as well.
5) If I go into remission and then my cancer returns, does that automatically mean more surgery for me?
No. For you, in fact, it most likely won't mean surgery unless we find a mass that is particularly resectable. In your case, you'll most likely be looking at more chemotherapy.
Then the conversation got really... let's say, interesting. My doctor began to explain something to me that I wasn't altogether prepared to hear. It seems that my cancer is so aggressive and advanced that I should expect it to return in the future. It may be ten months or it may be ten years - there's no way of knowing. That's why we'll be doing regular check-ups all the time. The reality I have to accept is that I have a chronic disease that I'll be dealing with for the rest of my life - however long that may be. He said I'll be in and out of treatment from here forward. Our goal will be to keep me out of treatment more than I'm in treatment. However, the reality is that at some point, the cancer will return and be resilient to treatment and we'll eventually have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
Sigh... I've often joked that I have to remember that there is a light at the end of this tunnel... I just hope that it's not an oncoming freight train! As I sat looking into the confident and comforting eyes of my doctor trying to absorb all this new news, I still couldn't shake the feeling that for now the light seems much more like a freight train than ever before. I mean, what a paradigm shift! It seems far too often that I have to wrap my head around a little more of the reality of just how severe my cancer is. I knew that I'd have to learn to live with the "what if" questions for the rest of my life. I just wasn't expecting to be told in so many words that I can expect to die from this disease barring some other odd thing happening.
To be honest, In some small way I'm glad to have a framework with which to face the future. In a strange way, it's easier than facing the unknowns and questions. I'm also glad that I can feel secure in my eternity! It's such a comfort to know that I'm facing something better than this life after I die. It's all the stuff in between that I've still got to sort out. For now, I'm trying to push another reality to the front of my mind. You see, as much as it's true that I can expect my cancer to come back, it's just as true that I have beaten the odds in spectacular fashion so far! I attribute that unequivocally to the prayer of God's people and the power of his hand in my life. God has done a miraculous work in my body through the wisdom of my doctor and the advances of medical technology. It is in the face of the bleakest of circumstances that God has always worked the most amazingly, so there's no reason to lose hope that he will continue to work wonders in my future.
I know that, either way, my life is merely "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14). In fact, this is true of all our lives. Each day is a gift, not a guarantee. Tomorrow is promised to none of us. It's just that we do such a good job of pushing that reality aside. For me, there can no longer be any more pushing aside. From here on in, I have to find a way to live comfortably in the reality of my mortality and the fragility of my life. Psalm 139:16 says, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." I know God has a plan for my life, no matter how long or difficult it may be. He knows the number of my days and he has a purpose for each of them. Here's the thing, though... some days, God's truths, like this one, are a tremendous comfort to me; some days, I still have to convince myself of them. Today is definitely a convincing sort of day.
I know one thing for sure: It's going to take some time for me to process all this and shift into a new framework of thinking. For now, I'm just trying to breathe...