We hear a lot about cancer being a battle. But I think it’s really a war. It’s a war fought on many fronts: research, awareness, early detection, better detection, even better detection, and then treatment. Treatment of course is a range of thrusts and parrys, trying desparately to make the cancer yield, to give ground, and to attack each little cell until it is all gone.
And yet, for those of us fighting this disease, each cell is never gone.
In fact, every human on Earth (I’ve heard) probably has a couple cancer cells in us, lurking, malformed little creatures that don’t gain traction or find comrades, and die a normal death without us ever being the wiser. A few f-ed up cells here and there don’t matter to young healthy people. But they matter to us.
Those of us who have fought cancer worry about those little cells as they lurk.
The reason I’m in chemotherapy now, actually, is to kill those little cells throughout my body. We know they’re in my tissues, my blood, my organs, somewhere, because the surgeons took out 13 positive lymph nodes last April, and each of them had burst open, with cancer having clearly escaped. A healthy body can fight off some cells, remember, but mine was already compromised by the 13 positive nodes, the chronic pain left as a gift from my 2008 surgery, and the effort that my body was putting forth to try to heal on its own. We don’t know where they are, but we suspect they’re still there.
I got the green light to start chemo again on Monday. After a horrible, no-good day that was saved only by @Stimey at my side, I got the go-ahead to start the chemo again, at a much-reduced dose (2 pills 2 times a day), and I can keep taking it until my feet hurt when they touch the ground. The chemo leaks out the soles of my feet, remember, and the soles are hardened, blistered, peeling, and red already. I can bathe them in bag balm, rest them on chairs, and not worry about exercise for a while (absolutely no long walks, running, aerobics, dancing, or swimming), but they will continue to blister and peel, and when they are so tender that walking hurts (again), then we stop.
And two weeks later we start again.
We do this dance, this dosing-to-injury, over and over again, until we’ve completed the 18 weeks plus the days we’ve missed (including the 7 from the last cycle).
And then? I don’t know. The oncologist and her resident examined the lump just above my scars, and didn’t like it, and sent me for an immediate ultrasound and potential biopsy. The ultrasound looked normal, with the technician pronouncing it “fat,” and @Stimey and I did the dance of joy afterward.
But then my oncologist called me yesterday and sent me to see the surgeon, who would do a core biopsy to be sure. Because we can’t be too careful, apparently, we need to marshall the troops and keep marching in all directions to try to snuff out the scouts and the stray cells and even the itty bitty tumors (where, I’m sorry, the metaphor breaks down).
We have that luxury. I’m still only locally metastatic, and I am not yet on maintenance chemo, and I still have so much hope that I can go back into remission. I want to be in remission so much. I want to be just like all the other moms at kindergarten pickup.
Not the one who walks carefully to the door, stepping gingerly in my fake-fur lined slippers, trying to spare her feet without letting the children know that anything at all is amiss.
They know that we are fighting the war.
They just don’t know what we’re up against.
Here’s the link to Join the Army of Women and make a real difference in the lives of those who have cancer — and those who never want to get it.