A funny thing happened when I was prepping questions for my third visit with my oncologist this past Thursday. I realized I had never asked her my prognosis. Instead of asking the brilliant oncologist my odds, I had spent time Googling and reading online and punching my numbers and variables into a breast cancer survival calculator (yes, it exists!), deeming a 63 percent chance of survival the most accurate statistic for my situation.
So, at our third appointment on Thursday before my third chemo treatment, I asked her, “What’s my prognosis?” She said, “Well, given the size of the tumor and its aggressiveness and the fact that it has already spread to your lymph nodes, there’s a 40 to 45 percent chance your cancer could recur after you finish treatment. And though it can recur locally, breast cancer likes to metastasize to the bones, brain, liver, and lungs.”
Now, even though Dr. Megan had already come to a similar conclusion through her own amazing research skills, the real doctor’s statement elicited this response in my head: “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.”
And that’s kind of how I’ve been feeling.
See, hanging out in Statistics Land is insane. One one hand, I have a 60 percent chance of beating this. Woo hoo! That ROCKS! But then there’s the 40 percent chance I might not. Oh CRAP! I don’t like those odds!
In the three weeks that had passed since I last saw my oncologist, I spent the time getting a handle on how breast cancer works and what I can expect. I also started delving into the world of complementary medicine, a term that shouldn’t be confused with “alternative medicine” (the former complements conventional treatment while the latter supplants conventional treatment).
I’ve learned that my exercise habits, food intake, and mind-body connection can play a huge role in the long term outcome of the cancer and how long I’ll live. I just received in the mail the much-lauded book Anticancer: A New Way of Life, (thank you, BH!) written by a scientist with brain cancer who set out to bring together all of the farflung threads of evidence-based ways we can maximize our bodies and environments to fight (and prevent) cancer.
I’ve also found a great resource in the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which is ranked as the #2 cancer center by US News (Dana Farber is #5 and MGH, where I go, is #7). On the center’s website, there’s a database of herbs and supplements geared toward both providers and patients with the goal of disseminating the most up-to-date research about whether herbs work and how they interact with chemotherapy drugs. There’s even an iPhone app for the database.
All of this gives me a ton of hope, but at the same time, it is overwhelming, to say the least. I have two little kids and a big book with a lot of information that I need to digest and implement in my life. Unlike my failed health kicks of yesterday and last year and the year before that, I absolutely need to make serious lifestyle changes if I want the upper hand in Statistics Land. Laziness and procrastination aren’t acceptable anymore when the stakes are so high.