Yeah, I know, we're all going to die, but now I have some kind of parameters on it. Yesterday my doctor told me that I officially have cancer again.
BY FRANCHESCA STEVENS
I guess I’m still riding that proverbial “roller coaster” of emotions. One minute I’m full of hope and the next I’m thinking about my impending death. Yeah, I know, we’re all going to die, but now I have some kind of parameters on it. Yesterday my doctor told me that I officially have cancer again.
I thought I had it beat last year.
On December 21, 2015, I opted to celebrate my birthday by having a lumpectomy to remove a small, malignant tumor from my right breast. I could have done it a few weeks later but I decided, “hey, what the heck? The appointment time was open, why not have it done then?” I even told my surgeon and everyone else in the operating room that I expected birthday cake when I woke up.
They must had thought I was kidding because there was no cake or ice cream or candles, only the relief of knowing that the cancer was gone. It was going to be all downhill from there. Four rounds of chemo followed by 16 doses of radiation. I could do that. Especially since the treatments had become so much easier to handle than decades ago.
The cancer had come out of nowhere. A couple of weeks before my birthday I felt a little lump in my breast and so I went to my primary care doctor the next day and she said it felt suspicious and ordered a mammogram. That led to a biopsy which quickly led to the lumpectomy. After that it was about eight months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and then I thought I was done.
Of course, once you have cancer, your doctors monitor your blood every few months. And things seemed to be going fine until my most recent tests revealed some suspicious activity in my body. I never felt sick or anything like that. I thought I was one of the lucky ones who had beat cancer right off the bat. But just a few weeks ago, my medical oncologist ordered a PET scan and then MRIs of my head and spine, which led to yesterday — the final diagnosis that the breast cancer had come back — but this time, in the form of bone cancer.
My medical oncologist told me that the tests show I have six cancerous tumors on bones scattered around my body: four on the spine, one on a leg bone and another near the base of my neck. Who knew? I thought that the discomfort that I had been feeling the last few months when I took a deep breath or sneezed or yawned was because of a pulled muscle — maybe caused when I was taking a heavy load of trash out or unloading a bunch of wet clothes from the washing machine into the dryer.
Turns out what I had been feeling was the tumors on my spine. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that during these recent months I was not feeling the “no big deal” effects of a pulled muscle. What I was feeling was something a lot more serious, and scary.
I guess my nurse today summed it up for me best in just two words. She offhandedly mentioned that the IV of medicine I came in to get in my arm today and the two injections in my hips were “palliative care.” No one called my chemotherapy or radiation treatments last year palliative care. But now, my treatments are meant to get control of those active little cancer cells that are circulating in my body and to keep me comfortable until the day I die. They are treatments for the rest of my life, not cures like before. Damn, this isn’t fair. It just isn’t fair.
My editor made me laugh when, after he got over the shock of my news. He suggested that I “go out and buy 450 pounds of frozen blueberries” and stuff them in my mouth. Of course, blueberries are known as one of those great anti-cancer foods. I told him I would go do that now and that I could look like one of the “Little Rascals” with a bunch of blue juice encircling my mouth and smeared over my cheeks.
It was the first time I had laughed in 24 hours. I felt like my old self — the happy Franchesca — rather than the new one I’d just become. Then he said I should do the same thing with a bunch of broccoli! I wish it were that simple.
Franchesca Stevens is an Albuquerque freelance journalist. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.