Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Thursday, February 9, 2012


So in my infinite naivety, I thought that cancer was an absolute science.  Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4.  Did you know there is a Stage 0? I sure didn’t.  The answer to the only question most of us know “What stage are you in?” is the most perplexing question posed to me, other than “Why didn’t you just have a mastectomy?” How does one explain the layers of questions and answers fraught with imperfection, medical research, and psychological aspects that get weighed into our decisions regarding cancer treatment, or any other treatment for that matter? 

I’ve decided I need to hire my own staff just to field questions that exhaust me, even when I pose them to myself, at 4:00 a.m. when I am cursing my brain for not shutting down.  I can see it now, me, in cuddly flannels, snoozing on a floating cloud like a new born baby at wee hours of the  morning, while a staff of spokespersons surround the cloud with microphones in hand, fielding the  hundreds of questions by mobs that doubt my decisions or question my sanity. In my vision, I am there, thumb in mouth, rocking on a wispy cloud, blissfully snoring like a lovable cartoon character.  

In reality, the cloud bursts, I fall through, and the questions are storming any vision of peace I may have hoped for, if only in my own mind, while I shake myself off, pull myself up by the bootstraps, and am left dizzy and confused. That’s cancer.

Stage 1 can mean at least 50 different things.  How do I tell you, I’m a Stage 1, at the far end of Stage 1, with a lymphovascular invasion that was excised but could have still caused malignant cells to slip into my bloodstream? I simply can’t. 

So as a society, we go about our business and we rest assured when our friends or family are an early Stage. That is the comfort zone that science brings to all of us; a sense of….relief from a truth that most of us don’t really need to know, or even want to know.  Because, life as we all know must go on, no matter what pain and disease, fears and illnesses permeate the lives of our loved ones.  But I will share with you a harsh truth.  Stage 1 can kill you in the end, and Stage 4 that is known to kill you can potentially outlive a Stage 1 patient by 20 years, if they have a metastatic recurrence.  That’s cancer. 

Cancer is me, being told yesterday by my oncologist, “Your numbers for distant recurrence (i.e. metastasis) are very very low! That’s great news!” While I hold back the tears and scream in my head, “Low! Five to fifteen percent recurrence is low??”  I would wager to bet if we looked at statistics of our heroes who have been deployed into Iraq and Afghanistan that show the possibility of mortality as 5-15% as being low, (I truly don’t know the numbers), that you ask any parent if there was a 1% chance their child could die in combat if that would be low enough for them….and I guarantee that no parent in their right mind will shrug that 1% off as no big deal.  So you give me a 5-15% chance of possible metastatic recurrence and I’m sure and blazing fires of hell not going to jump for joy.  Then again, the doctors see so much worse, truly. They see people with no hope in site and so, on that note, I am humbled, yet....I am selfish. I want a 0% recurrence rate.  That simply doesn’t happen when it’s cancer.  No sirreeebob.  No 0%.  That's cancer.

As luck would have it, my line in the sand was anything under the number eleven (out of 1-100).  Eleven is not the percentage, just a number that I will have my spokespersons explain when I hire one. Eleven and above was the decision in my mind to take the chemo, even though many with an eleven could have opted out.  For those that have lived through the wildest roller coaster ride ever created which cannot be outdone or even simulated by the Gods of Magic Mountain, eleven is the number of my Oncotype DX score.  For those that don’t know what that is "Onco WHAT?", that's perfectly okay.  In my book of abbreviations, that’s T.M.I.

Just know, there I was, on my almost two hour drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic to Stanford, and I said “eleven” that’s my line in the sand.  Then I said (to myself, not out loud), "Just watch it be an eleven…I bet money it’s going to be an eleven just to mess a little more with my head. That would be just my luck."  For those that don't know, gray areas and sitting on a fence with your pants down, sucks. There is no nice way to say it.

I sat in my little backless gown with my red Superman underwear, which I only wear to doctor appointments and while flying, and the nurse said “Congratulations! Great News! You have a very low Oncotype DX score!”  I didn’t get excited.  I sat there for a second, not wanting to know the answer to my next question.  I sucked in my breath, I let it out.  I looked down at my fingers.  I looked at my unpolished boots, wishing I had polished them before wearing them to my appointment. I looked at my  unpainted chipped fingernails from shelving too many library books, and then I looked up. Slowly, oh so very slowly I asked the question that I did not really want the answer to.   “What’s the number?”

"It's an eleven." She said.

Chemo starts in two weeks.  This is cancer, after all.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

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