Cancer is Crap: The M-Word

July 3, 2009 3:39 PM

After meeting with my oncologists yesterday we have some answers. Not great ones. Apparently, the cancer was able to grow after so much treatment – and while I’m still receiving Herceptin – because it’s very “aggressive.” Cancers in younger women often are. Thing is, when I was told that the lymph nodes in my neck were positive I assumed they were part of the same lymph node system as the original cancer, but this is not the case. And this is crucial, because this means that my cancer has moved to a new site. It has metastasized.

The M-word. More menacing even than its terrifying step-mother, the C-word.

I have metastatic breast cancer. The cancer has metastasized. Any way I try to say it or write it, it is gigantically overwhelming. C-word + M-word = so, so scary.

It means the cancer is on the move. It travels in disguise and is sneaky and strong and knows lots of martial arts and is hell-bent on killing me, like an evil cellular-level Jason Bourne that has somehow slipped past the defensive lines of chemo and Herceptin.

Basically, at the very least, it means I can never let my guard down ever again for as long as I live. Which is to say they have taken treating my cancer “curatively” off the table and are now talking about “prolonging my life.”

When you are 37 that sounds like a bum deal. Probably it sounds like a bum deal at any age. But my husband and I are still in the early years of life together and our daughter is only 3 years old. She picks me dandelions. She races into my arms. She mispronounces words captivatingly. She has tantrums and is extraordinarily affectionate, like a benevolent dictator. She needs me.

So you know what that means: I need to beat this thing. It means, get out of my way, stupid metastasized cancer.

Next week I’m lined up for a bone scan and CT scans of all my organs to see, well, whatever there is to be seen. Or not seen. Then, we attack.

I sound brave? I’m not brave, I’m scared, but I’m not going to be bullied.

They won’t surgically remove the lymph nodes in my neck because of the risks of this kind of surgery and because they feel they can effectively deal with the affected lymph nodes through radiation. Also because this needs to be treated systemically not just locally. We were originally told that they wouldn’t do chemo because it’s too soon following my last course of treatment, but it turns out that isn’t entirely true. There is a possible chemo option (oh, hateful chemo!) and a very promising clinical trial option, which we’re really, reeeeally hoping I’ll qualify for and be able to start ASAP.

Scared or brave or both, I’m going to do whatever it takes. Yesterday my friend Adam sent me a Bruce Cockburn quote: “We’re going to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.”

One kick at a time.

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