Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cancer and all that Goes With It

St. Agatha prayer card
Recently I was diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) [added Dec. 1, 2013: I also had LCIS, that is lobular carcinoma in situ].  Basically that is cancer cells encapsulated in the milk ducts of the breast.  But the surgeons don't want to call it 'breast cancer'.  He kept saying 'you have DCIS,' 'your condition,' or 'this is good news'.  While it is considered stage zero cancer, the urgency with which I had to make a decision about surgery told me that it was life threatening.

As I agonized over whether to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy, many, many people felt they must chime in about what they would do.  I had originally decided to have a lumpectomy, but so many, many women said they would "take the whole thing" out.  And, the more I looked at it, and the fact that I would have to have radiation therapy with a lumpectomy, I finally decided to have a mastectomy.  Then when I finally made my decision, more women were telling me they wouldn't do that.  Really?

Martyrdom of St. Agatha
Oh, and then there's the death stories...Whenever people hear the 'c' word, they must go there, apparently.  Everybody I know seems to have a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother who died of breast cancer.  Or, they have a brother, sister, father, uncle, the little girl down the street who died of some kind of awful brain or other cancer that they must tell me about, in detail.  Um, why?  Is there some sort of need to share bad news or bad stories with people?  Even if it is true that people need to talk about these tragic stories, does it have to be someone who was just diagnosed with it?  You know, it is not very encouraging, and you need a good attitude to do well with treatment.

The best part of the diagnosis though was that a friend of mine was prompted to have a mammogram done.  She had been neglecting to go, like I had been.  She, like me, had a biopsy done.  She, unlike me however, had a tumor--full blown cancer.  Hers actually was life-threatening.  She needed surgery right away.  She chose to have a lumpectomy, but she will have radiation and [Tamoxifen].  Her surgery was two days after mine and her prognosis is very good.  They got the whole tumor.

17(?)th c. image of St. Agatha, Patroness of Breast Cancer
I got my surgery done.  It was not fun, but it was necessary.  Despite all the encouraging words from my doctors, nurses, and families, I was still a little worried.  My doctor said it was a good thing we did the mastectomy because the DCIS was more wide spread than indicated in my mammogram or biopsy.  So, that was a good decision.  Also, my lab reports a week later indicated that all the cancerous cells had been removed.  There were no cancer cells in the surrounding tissue or the lymph nodes, so that is good news.  But...then come the inevitable death stories.   They never end.  I can't even be happy about my prognosis for a few days.  I still have people that feel they must tell me about how so and so had good news after their surgery but it came back and killed them just a few years later.


Our Lady of Hope
I know the majority of them are well meaning, but can't I just breath and enjoy hope for a little while?  I know my prognosis is not 0%.  I understand that.  But right now I want to enjoy the "clear" labs and normality of life--as normal as it can be right now.  I am still very sore, I still want to nap a couple of times a day, and I still can't motivate my self to get back to my pre-surgery hectic life (which has adversely affected my 12 year old's sense of self-motivation).  But, I am enjoying my kids more, if that's possible, and enjoying the few people who do fawn over me a little.   I can never thank my mother enough for being here when I needed her, for being so encouraging, and for helping me stay positive through the whole experience.

Please, if you have a friend to whom this happens, give her encouraging words, words of hope, words of support.  Bite your tongue, and don't tell the death stories, not now, maybe later.  She needs to have a positive attitude and plenty of positive words and actions to stay focused on getting well and staying well.

God has blessed me with dear friends and wonderful family.  One friend had his whole rosary group (over 150) praying for me.  My mother's church prayer group was praying for me.  Everybody that knew me at my parish was praying for me.  Their prayers and their support are what got me through this.  I am not done yet.  I have at least one more surgery to go through, but I am positive they'll be there for that, too.  Praise the Lord!