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Cancer is Crap: The Narrow

By Leanne Coppen September 24 2018

Rethink is proud to republish the original blog posts of Leanne Coppen first featured by Chatelaine. Leanne passed away in 2011 from metastatic breast cancer and we are honoured that her friends and family have allowed us to share her words here on the Rethink blog.

Still exhausted and weak but now capable of being vertical for short periods. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you — your words carried me and comforted me. As did my mother, my dearest friends, my family, and my incredibly incredible husband. Everyone managed to hold me together, distract Georgia, feed and water me (despite my protests), prop me up, tuck me in and generally get me through. Their care and your messages reached me through the fog of fear and pain and reminded me that when I fall I can stay down for a while. And then I can come back up swinging. I’m not lacing up my boxing gloves just yet, but at least I’m eyeing the ring again.

My husband on the other hand seems to be in full swing. Today he woke up and left the house early for an unscheduled confab with my oncologist. By 10:30 I was having a CT scan of my brain, by noon, bloodwork, and a couple hours later, chemo. It’s the one we were holding in reserve, vinorelbine, and my oncologist made special arrangements to get it administered today so that I can still go to Detroit tomorrow. And I am going to Detroit tomorrow, oh yes I am. If I have to be carried into the car and out again at the other end, I’m going.

My uncooperative and obstinate cancer may not respond to this chemo — given its history of response to standard treatments — but then again, it may. Even if it slows down just a little bit, it will be worth it.

This chemo may also get me disqualified from the Detroit study, but then again, it may not. My family, my oncologist and I all agreed that we have to take that chance; I simply can’t go another 5 weeks without trying some kind of treatment. Some kind of something.

So, even though I am typing this with one hand and only one eye open while lying down in a vegetal state with an excruciating, pounding headache, I am actually feeling better. All is not lost. There is action, so there is hope.

And best of all? The CT scan showed that my brain is CLEAR!!! I was warned not to get too excited since an MRI will be required to be sure that there is nothing evil lurking in the neuro-spaghetti, and of course those pesky “auras” and headaches still need to be explained… but don’t get too excited about a clear brain scan??? That’s a tall order, given the shortage of good news around here. How about just being incredibly relieved and grateful that today at least I don’t have to reckon with cancer in my brain. Today, and maybe a few more days. Maybe lots more days.

Yes, I can hope, and I try to. But yesterday I met with my cancer shrink whose horrific job it was to tell me that I also need to recognize that this cancer is crashing through every obstacle we put in its way, and the reality is that maybe nothing — no treatments or trials or anything we can throw at at it — will stop it from killing me. My amazing cancer shrink who by the way I truly believe is one of those rare people who is doing what he was put on this earth to do (he really is that good at it.) Unfortunately this is what he was put on the earth to say to me yesterday.

Not that I hadn’t already recognized it and begun to wrestle with it on my own, and with my family and friends. But when your shrink tells it to you… ouch. Holy Moses, it’s real. It’s moments like those that you realize this isn’t one of those nightmares you get to wake up from. It’s moments like those when the world freezes and you feel like you have just glimpsed the way the whole thing works but it doesn’t matter anyway because all you want to do is love the people you love and live the life you love living… except maybe you won’t get to do that anymore.

What do you do at a moment like that? I just cried big fat gigantic splashing tears, and when they slowed down enough that I could look him in the eye I said, “My god. I’d really f**king hate to have your job right now.”

So this is where I am. This is where my family and I have to live right now: on this razor’s edge, this impossibly narrow place right smack between the terrifying reality that perhaps nothing can stop me from dying from this cancer, and the slim shiny hope of a clear brain scan and a meeting in Detroit.

And so far, the only way I have found to stay sane while living in this narrow place is to say it to myself every day, several times a day, and many times throughout the night:

but what if it works?