Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cancer chances


Someone told me recently that I was an inspiration to people with cancer because I have lived with it so long. I don't feel like an inspiration. Its just a life. Also, sometimes I feel like a cheat. My cancers were early stage - Stage I and Stage IIA. But the Stage I would have been Stage III if I was older... a weird staging system. Maybe I'm proof that cancer doesn't have to be a killer. There are many people out there with cancer and living a long time.

Betty Ford was one - she didn't die from her cancer. But in addition to famous people, normal people can get cancer and live. I have a friend who was diagnosed at Stage IV with breast cancer and now has been told, they can't find any signs of it. Can you undo stage IV? I have another friend who had Stage IV ovarian cancer, in 1980. She is now happily married.

But there are also the yucky stories. A co-worker's sister in law just died from stage IV lung cancer, three weeks after her diagnosis. My manicurist's dog (dogs get cancer too) died two weeks after a lung cancer diagnosis. A friend died in 2010, three years after her stage II diagnosis with breast cancer. Another friend's husband is fighting a recurrence of his stage IV colon cancer.

Another co-worker said to me the other day was that her theory on cancer is that once you get it, it may be 30 years but it will get you in the end.

I have to disagree with all this. Staging is tells you where you cancer is and how far along it is. But that doesn't mean it tells you what your chances are or how long you will live. Its something the doctors like to know.

Just because you get cancer, doesn't mean you are going to die from it, no matter how far along you are. I mean you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. If you are diagnosed with cancer, the doctors tell you this is your staging and then this is your prognosis. They do sometimes say 'its time to put your affairs in order' (and they have been known to be wrong about this too). But usually the numbers they say are things like 'the five year survival rate for your diagnosis is 39% or 20% or 95% or 8% or some other number between 1 and 100'. We all say 'okay I'm gonna die'.

But turn it upside down and think the other way - some people live and for a long time. This means they still don't know crap about cancer and are doing a lot of educated guessing. I am still (im)patiently waiting for a cure but I realize that I could just as easily die from something else as well. I have lived a long time with cancer and the side effects of its treatments but I still need to look both ways before I cross the street.

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