Dealing with uncertainty is a part of human life, and no where does that become more apparent then when living with terminal cancer. Each treatment decision takes on an exaggerated importance, and we rely upon our oncologist to provide us with information to chose the best option in light of a heck of a lot of unknowns.
Dealing with metastatic cancer is a bit like a cross between playing the Hunger Games with a Sisyphean game of blindfolded Whack-a-Mole thrown in just for fun. Almost no one wins; the only question is whether you can actually hit any or continue to hit all of the targets while blindfolded.
The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry, which tracks cancer incidence, treatment and mortality began in 1973, 43 years ago. I'm guessing that as soon as the database became live, people started complaining that recurrence rates weren't tracked. Back in those pre-internet, pre-personal computer days, doing research was a lot harder and cancer was perceived to be a death sentence, so although someone, somewhere likely voiced the need to expand the database, it isn't easy to find..
But in 1997, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) published a paper, appropriately entitled "A New Agenda for Cancer Control Research."
One of the first things I wanted to understand after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer was my prognosis. Quite simply, I wanted to know how long the median person with a similar diagnosis had to live. In cancer there are no absolutes, but I wanted to have a realistic, data driven assessment of how long I had to put my affairs in order. I also wanted to know what I could do to beat the odds and prolong my life, because I had dreams of outliving whatever the data showed.
No one has a crystal ball on how long any of us will live. But...
I've wanted to be a teacher my entire life. I love learning new things, and one of the best ways to really learn a subject is to teach it. As long as a student is motivated to learn, I have infinite patience in trying to teach new concepts and ideas. In college, however, I learned that in my chosen career, science, teaching isn't rewarded. Research is.
So I decided to pursue a career in industrial research, where, ironically, teaching is rewarded.
Part of the point of this blog will be to teach others (and myself) about living with metastatic cancer in general, and metastatic breast cancer in particular. So I'm departing from what I had planned to write about to opine on a question that was posted on my Facebook page. Fair warning, my friends don't ask easy questions, so this topic will probably be addressed again in the future.
The question? Drum roll please......"How does your prognosis change your day to day life, your thoughts and emotions?"
I've never really liked January. Christmas is over. Days remain short. Weather is cold. And worst of all, there is all sorts of pressure to make resolutions that this New Year will finally be the time when all of our old, bad habits are broken and replaced with new routines that suddenly transform our bodies into Adonis, our minds into Aristotle, and our domesticity skills into something that suddenly surpasses those of Martha Stewart in her pre-prison hay day.
After decades of working in corporate America, I became a maven of goal setting. I quickly learned that each and every goal should be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely (SMART). And I learned to under-commit and over-deliver. Fittingly, each New Year's Resolution, therefore, was to not do New Years Resolutions. And I'm proud to say that I have met that goal for many, many years.
My life, however, has changed.