Starting with the meeting with my oncologist at 9:30 yesterday and walking out the door finally at 4:00 after three other appointments, ending with my internal medicine specialist, I was exhausted but relieved. Knowing that the cancer is progressing is not good news, of course, but having an oncologist who is both straightforward and encouraging is most welcome. She always reminds me that I am not just a statistic, nor am I that number on the lab report that says “poor prognosis,” but I am a whole person; and that’s who she treats: me, the whole person, not the CTC number 8 or the rising tumor markers or the bright spots on the scan.
With patients now having access to their reports, which many sit and pore over in the quiet of solitude, it is easy to panic at the sight of a negative change in tumor markers or other disease measurements or the bright spots on a scan. But the fact of the matter is that these are all pieces that need to be assessed together with many other factors outside the test results and lab reports. We are all individuals with our own vitality and our own special attributes that can affect the outcome of our treatment in spite of any summary report or averaging of numbers.
I do look at the reports, the scans and the numbers, like the average time of survival for someone with my test report being ten months, and I listen to the professional opinions of those who are trained to deal with all of this information. I hope for a lot, I read a lot, I try to understand it all, but in the end I rely on the expert advice of those who are working together on my case to achieve the best possible outcome. I believe they are sincere and that they want me to live as long as possible. I know they understand that this is my goal, as well. We are all on the same page. That is what is important to me. When I speak with the physicians and other medical staff who comprise the team that is taking care of me, I am confident that they are working together as much as they are all working with me.
That is what gives me the best advantage in my own PFS, progression free survival, and OS, overall survival: the two gold standards in treatment of metastatic cancer. As long as I know this, I avoid studying the single number, the rising tumor markers and the bright white sparks on the scans, and, instead, I stand back to look at the big picture. And, I see myself as part of that big picture and not as a sum of the test results. I’m the part of that picture that may be more important than any single report or even all of them combined. And, alongside me is my husband, my caregiver, my hero. His love and support make me strong, and he always reminds me of the big picture. Never failing to reassure, to soothe and to cajole, he helps me keep it together even during those moments when strength seems to be shattering into fragile pieces.
Progression is frightening, to say the least, but I choose to see it as a transition that I will navigate with my medical dream team and my hero husband. That’s how I choose to think of it, and choosing how I think is at least one way of asserting my belief that I still have options to exercise despite a disease that too often buries our personal choices.
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© 2004–2012 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.