Monday, December 10, 2012

Newsflash: Cancer Sucks

Thank you all for the lovely birthday wishes.  And thank you to my husband who lied to me when he said he needed the password to our Blogger account so that he could look and try to find a way to put a bunch of photos together for a new banner on our blog but actually needed it to write a wonderful birthday post which was one of many thoughtful surprises he arranged for my birthday.

He also set up a surprise birthday dinner with a couple of my friends, which was a perfect present for me (I got an evening at a restaurant that I love but he doesn't particularly care for and got to spend a kid-less evening with my friends), even though I know he had to repeatedly restrain himself from doing something like throwing a big, people-infested surprise party, which would be right up his alley but would likely cause an anxiety-induced stroke in me.

But do you know what one of the best parts of this birthday was?

I turned thirty.

I turned thirty, which is fun in and of itself, but more importantly, I am now thirty and I don't have cancer.  Hallelujah!

Before I go on, I would just like to clarify that I do have a line of reasoning behind my goal of "Turn 30 and Be Cancer-Free," and that it is completely rational.  (Well, maybe not completely.  Maybe just somewhat rational.  You be the judge.)

This is a photo of my mom, my sister Kelli, a baby belonging to a friend of the family, and me.  (My sisters and I lived half our lives in ballet costumes, but I'm really not sure why mine is rolled partway down my torso.  Apparently eight-year-old me was a bit of an exhibitionist.)

No, my mom had not recently spent quality time in a concentration camp; she was mid-chemo therapy.  Oh, and she was thirty.

Starting to make sense?

I've spent a large portion of the past decade engaging in a kind of magical thinking:  If I can just make it to 30, I'll be safe from cancer.  

Yes, I know that's not entirely true.  Statistically speaking, the average American's risk of cancer increases each year they're alive.  And if you have an immediate blood relative with a history of cancer, that risk markedly jumps.

Yes, I know that my mom was actually thirty years and two months when she was diagnosed, so I actually have two more months before I hit the actual magical date.

I do have a couple things going for me:  my mother had a history of benign lumps before one of them actually turned up malignant, and I have had zero such lumps, zero such scares.  (My sisters, on the other hand, are another story, but I'm not going to write about that right now because doing so sets my heart to racing and brings me back to the most recent and most serious scare just a few months ago, where for the few days we were waiting for the test results I would be going about my day only to find tears streaming down my face- it seems that I lose complete control of my tear ducts when I'm terrified for the lives of my sisters.)

The other positive is that even if I were to turn up with cancer one of these days, I would have several advantages my mom didn't, one of the most important being that miracle anti-nausea drug Zofran (this pic was taken in January 1990; Zofran was FDA approved in January 1991), and the white count boosting drug Neupogen (approved April 1998).  Every time my mom went in for chemo, her white count would drop, one time going as low as 900 (normal range is 4,300-10,800), which resulted in a week-long hospital stay for my poor, septic mother.

(Confused about some of the medical jargon?  In waaaay dumbed down terms, your white count pertains to the amount of white blood cells present in your blood- white blood cells are your body's defense system, and I always think of them as eating up all the old, damaged, sick, or abnormal gunk present in your body, a picture that I'm pretty sure comes from a high school biology textbook- so when you don't have enough of those white blood cells, your body is way more susceptible to catching any nastiness floating around you.  Also, when I say my mom was septic, I mean there was an infection in her bloodstream- lack of white blood cells, remember- which causes your blood pressure to lower, which causes inadequate blood flow, which causes organ malfunction.  If you already knew all this, sorry.  You really should have just skipped ahead.)

Oh, and about that chemo therapy?  My mom also agreed to be part of a study where they were randomly assigning different chemo patients with different dosages of old, trusted chemo drugs, trying to see if a high-dosage blast over a shorter period of time could potentially bring about remission sooner.  My mom happened to draw the highest dose out of the high-dose group.  Basically what this means is that rather than giving her low levels of poison to try and kill the cancer over the course of a year, they spent three months absolutely annihilating her body with chemo.  And in the end, the study concluded that whether you use tons of chemo drugs in a short amount of time or smaller amounts of chemo drugs in a longer period- it makes absolutely no difference.  Terrific.

It was a rough time for our family.

Which I'll tell you more about tomorrow.  Or the next day.  Because I'm tired of typing today.

(I'm 30 and I don't have cancer!  Huzzah!)

P.S.  I just realized that some of you may not know, and I may have created a kind of inadvertent cliffhanger- my mom did survive, and has been cancer-free for 22 years now.  Double-huzzah!


  1. I don't know what experience Kelli had when she had lumps and told the doctor but I'll never forget how WIDE the radiologists eyes got when she found out that mom had cancer at such a young age and here I was at 19 with a lump. Because I wasn't scared enough as it was.

    I also didn't know half of the stuff about mom's chemo, I just remember hearing about how she found out and how it was on the back of her fibroadinoma, which didn't help because that's what I have and made me go into a panic mode and ask a million questions of how often that happens.

    Oh and I still remember when mom's email was messing up and you got the email saying "Steph" four different times, sorry if that scared you.

    Sorry for the book, but glad you don't have cancer sister! Or any scares for that matter!

    1. Yes, four emails in a row with the subject line, "Steph," did send me into panic mode. I'm pretty sure that was around the time you were getting a lump checked out, too.

      This may sound strange, but I'm really glad you're nursing Vada; anything that could potentially lower your risk is a wonderful thing.

  2. I'm glad you don't have cancer too! My dad's dad died of a heart attack when he was 45, and my dad felt a weight was lifted off his shoulders once he passed that age (and he's still going strong at 83). The things we internalize.

    I'm glad you had a happy birthday!

    1. Your poor dad- 45 is an awfully young age for him to lose his father. In a few years he'll be close to doubling the lifetime of his dad; I'm so glad he's still with you!

  3. Yes, Double Huzzah! I'm so glad you've reached this day, and so glad your mom has been cancer-free for 22 years.

    1. Triple huzzah! "Remission" is a beautiful word.

  4. Wow! I'm glad you are cancer-free at 30 also!! And your concern sounds pretty rational to me.

    1. Thank you. And feel free to rationalize things for me anytime.

  5. I'm catching up on a month of no internet, so be prepared for an onslaught of comments. I, too, am thrilled you are cancer-free. And that no radiologist has felt your breast and concluded, "oh, yep. You've got the bumpy lumpies." Thanks, Doc. Here's to thirty more lumpy-free years!


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