Cancer Lesson #36: Why did my body try to kill me?
One of those “pink ribbon” stores sells a bag that says, “Of course, they’re fake. My real ones tried to kill me.” That’s what cancer is, you know, “…diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues.” (Definition from National Institute of Health, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/cancerlibrary/what-is-cancer if you’d like the rest of the explanation.)
Basically, some of my own cells turned traitor and began pillaging their neighbors. As if in a miniature Middle East, these terrorist cells attacked whatever got in their way, leaving a trail of waste and destruction in their wake. When the lymph system (a body’s National Guard) stepped in, the renegades went after it as well.
You’d think all that annihilation would – I don’t know – maybe hurt a little? But I felt fine, even after finding my lump (home base of the mutiny). A little worried, maybe, but there was no pain except for the bruising needle jabs necessary for the seemingly endless tests (see Cancer Lesson #13). After an ultrasound revealed two other masses, all three were biopsied.
Lump #1 was cancerous. Lump #2 proved to be a lymph node the outlaws had penetrated. And physically I still felt great. Oh, sure, there was that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized what was coming, and I was relieved to learn Lump #3 was nothing but fibrous tissue. But there was no “discomfort” (as those in the medical field like to call it).
However, the rebel cells, my rebel cells – those dirty, rotten traitors – had to be killed. Left to their own devices, they would surely kill me. A surgical strike was needed to cleanly incise the insurgents. As part of that same surgery (let’s call it “Operation Bodacious”), I chose to have some new neighbors moved into the vacancy the renegades left behind.
Six weeks later, the “new neighbors” (tissue from my stomach, which had “population” to spare) had settled in. With my wounds healing, it was time to bring in the big guns: chemotherapy drugs. These medicines are meant to demolish any sleeper cells the ungrateful rebels left behind, and like all military strikes, they take out innocent bystanders (hair and white blood cells). They would wreak more havoc on my body than the disease had been able to.
Still, I chose to go through the chemo regimen because I don’t want to have to have to go through cancer treatment again. This is especially important because I’ve learned that, unlike most other cancers – where patients are considered cured after five years without recurrence – breast cancer cells can lay dormant for a long time. No one knows how they do it, but they do.
There are no guarantees in cancer treatment, just as there are no guarantees in life, but chemo and hormone inhibitors will raise the odds in my favor. Kind of luck buckling a seatbelt to improve your chances of surviving a car accident. In this case, the seatbelt was drugs so potent I was warned to call the nurse if any dropped on my skin, and the possible accident is another round of breast cancer.
I called this one “Operation Stayin’ Alive.”