Roller-Coaster. Dance. Breast Cancer. What Are the Odds?
The Big “C” used to simply be a death sentence. Memory of that history dictates our visceral reaction to this diagnosis today.
But, it is no longer true.
Nor, is it yet true that, like the vaccinations that wiped smallpox off the earth in 1979 and are on their way to eliminating polio with the vaccines developed in the 1950s, do we have a cure or preventive shot (except for the new Gardasil vaccination against cervical cancer).
What we have are odds.
Judy Gordon, breast cancer survivor, describes in her book, co-authored with her husband Dan, entering the world of numbers after she was diagnosed.
In Heroics of Falling Apart: One Couple’s Breast Cancer Journey Gordon outlines both the advantages and disadvantages of this numbers approach.
After several early treatments, she was told there was a 95% chance no other treatments would be necessary. Only to be told after laboratory test results came back that she was “in the 5%.”
The Cancer Journey Is a Roller-Coaster
Gordon came to call her cancer journey a roller-coaster ride. The highs came after seemingly hopeful results. The crashes came with difficult reactions to aggressive treatments.
Judy Gordon, with a tumor found at an early stage, had reason to believe her treatments would be little more than “an inconvenience.”
An annual mammogram in 2003 that signaled abnormalities had sent her for an ultrasound.
Diagnosed in 2003, at the age of 55, grandmother to a six-month-old and a five-year-old, Gordon’s book was published in 2007.
Her father had died of lung cancer at the age of 54. Her mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 73. Her maternal grandmother died of breast, colon and liver cancer at 75.
Her doctor’s recommendation after the ultrasound: a lumpectomy with radiation was statistically as effective as a radical mastectomy.
Diagnosis after the initial lumpectomy surgery: ductal invasive carcinoma 1.1 cm, Grade III, positive pathology on lymph node tissue, Stage II. It did not have hormone receptors, but her HER2 gene over-expressed the HER2 protein.
Diagnosis after the first surgery changed the treatment recommendation to radical mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She entered a clinical trial for a treatment to address the over expression of the HER2 protein and received treatment for it.
Without chemotherapy, odds of recurrence were 60-70 percent. With treatment, this was reduced by 25%. Possibly more, if the clinical trial for Herceptin were successful. It was.
What Did She Do?
- Daily journaling
- Stripped down activities to conserve energy
- Cut out yoga, storytelling, freelance writing, book club
- Cut down on, but continued the Dances of Universal Peace
- Eventually used visualizations and Reiki massage
- Joined a cancer support group
She engaged a therapist who advised her she could no longer spend energy on worrying about the outcome. She also told her to start taking anti-depressant medications daily instead of randomly, as needed, in her attempt to reduce the medicine she was taking.
Energy was not an infinitely renewable resource and she needed to focus it on the tasks at hand on any given day.
Calling In the Cavalry
Early in chemotherapy, she realized she got too depressed if she was left alone for long hours of the day while her husband was at work.
She asked him to marshal friends and family to be with her all the time and found that all were grateful for the opportunity to help.
“If you don’t experience your emotional response in the moment, you will experience it at some future time.”
One of Gordon’s doctors told her that “patients who completely fall apart are more likely to rebuild their lives better once they are through the rough treatment times.”
Gordon learned that, despite all the advice she read or heard from others, cancer is a singularly personal journey. There are no ‘should do’s’ in the cancer journey, only the way each person needs to experience it.
Where is She Now?
Gordon has resumed her freelance writing career.
A friend in Dances of Universal Peace shows off a recent photo of Judy, with curly hair, and Dan, on a Squidoo page.
Click here to see a hereditary pedigree chart for breast and ovarian cancer.
On Thursdays we review books from or for cancer survivors and classic children’s books. Click here if you want to follow our blog in your Reader.
To you and your grandchildren’s gratitude for each new day.
Carol Covin, “Granny-Guru”