In October in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness I will post a daily blog with a reflection about breast cancer. The reflections will stem from something in the play. (All quoted lines are text from the play.)
Day 13: On and Off Switches. Once you have cancer, you can never be completely sure that the “they got it all.” In breast cancer one of the most significant indicators of future spread is the presence, or not, of cancer cells in the “lymph nodes”. “If there is no cancer in the lymph nodes then there is a high likelihood that the cancer is contained to the breast area. If there is cancer in the lymph nodes then there is also a high probability that the breast cancer has traveled through the nodes and spread throughout the rest of the body. In fact you have to assume that it has, or so we are told” are the lines in the show. Once someone has breast cancer the biggest piece of news everyone waits for is if the cancer is in the lymph nodes. In many ways lymph nodes themselves serve as on and off switches. They are the gateways from the breast area to other organs in the body. So the lab tests the nodes for evidence of breast cancer. It is done in two steps. First, during the mastectomy the lab looks at lymph tissue under a microscope to see if cancer can be seen. Second, the lymph tissue is subjected to various “chemical and dye” tests. We were delighted when the surgeon told us that cancer was NOT visible in the lymph tissue looked at during Susan’s surgery – the doctor himself seemed ecstatic. The hospital even sent us a report based on that visual exam. “There it is in black and white, ‘no cancer evident in the lymph nodes.’” Now there was fine print in that report which said that the conclusion was contingent on getting the chemical and dye report, which would come later, but it didn’t register for me. I was taking my cues from the doctor. (Did I tell you I nicknamed him ‘Dr. Happy’?) “I even ran into him in the parking lot of the local grocery store, after getting that report in the mail. He gave me a thumbs up. He did seem like a man who expected the worst and got the best.” Maybe – just maybe – the “switch was off” and this journey was not going to end badly! Keep reading these blogs to get “the rest of the story.”
Stat of the Day: If there is no breast cancer in the lymph nodes survival rate is 99% If 4 or more nodes show evidence of cancer the five year survival rate is 66%.
Task of the Day: Write your story. Telling my story has transformed me. I could not have imagined the power and healing impact of telling a story that is locked up inside of me for so many years. Indeed, until I started writing it out I’m not sure I really knew how deeply impeded it was. You do not need to perform it or share it, unless you want to. Just putting it down on paper takes it from scary thoughts to concrete readable words.
Resource of the Day: A great list of breast cancer blogs is here.