Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Niece Begins Her Cancer Journey....

The voice on the answering machine yesterday evening was anxious, as my niece Vanessa, 45, asked my wife to phone her when she returned from her assorted errands. Janice - a former radiotherapist- then learned that Vanessa had just been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.  She disclosed that she's to go in for further tests next week to learn the extent and whether it has entered the lymphatic system. The specialists will then discuss the possible treatment options.

In any case, her medical specialists and the oncologist appear to recommend surgery then a follow-up course of external beam radiation (most likely electron beam because of the narrower focus) to last 5 weeks. As my wife related to her, this would be the normal procedure, in lieu of say, chemotherapy.  She also discussed all the other options that Vanessa's specialist would likely bring up at the next meeting.

And so begins a niece's cancer journey, just as I had my own last year, ending in high dose brachytherapy for prostate cancer. As Vanessa put it, the diagnosis came as a shock: "One minute you're this healthy person and there are those other sick or cancer people out there. The next minute you're one of them!"

Yes! That's how it is! Humans have a built-in exceptionalist instinct or brain dynamic that registers an individual as a healthy specimen or exception to the rule ....say of cancers, heart attacks, or whatever....until that person also gets it. Cancer is no different, and I was no different when I first received my prostate cancer diagnosis after a biopsy in July, e.g.

Until then, I had been a bit worried after seeing my PSA double in a year, but I still dismissed it as an aberration, either as a faulty lab test or because of having a different condition known as benign prostate hypertrophy. I was wrong. Thus I was led to the intimidating trial of deciding on a treatment option- basically between surgery and high dose radiation. I opted for the latter because of all the stuff, complications associated with the former that I preferred not to risk.

With my niece Vanessa, the options are much reduced because obviously the breast is a different organ from the prostate gland, far less localized. Thus, treatments usually occur in duos: surgery and chemo, or surgery and radiation. Also, neither one of the added treatments (to surgery) is a 'walk in the park'. With chemo, you're puking your guts out almost all the time, and the only thing that can relieve it and allow you to eat is marijuana. Fortunately, our state has legal medical marijuana dispensaries. Some anti-MJ halfwits on their blogs have castigated states like Colorado saying (in their dumbness) "the smoke is as bad or worse than cigarettes" - failing to note the MJ dispensaries have options besides smoking, including brownies, cookies, cakes etc. Thus, smoking need not enter into it at all, but what do these jagoffs know?

With radiation, which appears to be Vanessa's choice (for now) the delivery is over weeks, not one day as I had. In that time your skin will get red and raw from the interaction of the electrons or other particles. Yes, the bad nasty cancer cells are 'cooked' but so also are many healthy cells. No one has yet figured out a way to zero in on the bad guys and spare the healthy cells.

Low dose brachytherapy may also be an option for her, after surgery. A small cavity will then be left after tissue removal, into which a balloon catheter is place adjacent to the remaining breast tissue. The radiation low dose sources are then inserted into the balloon catheter - through various holes, by an afterloading machine, e.g. such as shown in the photo in this blog:  In this treatment, 2-3 applications would be performed over a period of 3 weeks.  The direct proximity of source to tissue may well lessen the negative effects.

As for her mood, she is optimistic and her Eckanckar spiritual system (which she shares with her mother)  also provides her with support, along with an extended family who love each other, as opposed to fighting and condemning. For more on the Eckanckar system see:

SO, no matter what lay ahead, she is ready to face it, fully prepared.

Best wishes go out to her and that her journey ends on a happy note and with minimal physical distress or stress.

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