Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Over the last many weeks, many of you know that I have been going through chemotherapy. (You can read one of my posts here.) When I learned that chemotherapy was recommended after having a single mastectomy, I was stunned; we’d detected the tumors early, they’d removed the breast, and the cancer had not infiltrated my lymph nodes. But according to one of the latest, most sophisticated tests (oncotype), I was at high risk of recurrence of breast cancer at my age. The oncologist explained that the “ideal” number of rounds of chemo would be six (every three weeks), but four would be “acceptable.”
At this point, I have completed three rounds. I know that there are many women who find the treatment very debilitating, and although I was miserable and unwell, it could have been worse. But my husband and I began to rethink the decision to go more than four rounds. What was the source of our hesitation?
First, I’m reluctant to rely primarily on the statistics of the test results. It doesn’t take into account my good health before breast cancer, and we are realizing that although statistics can be helpful, it’s just another way of guessing, or of making decisions. Second, although I haven’t yet shown any symptoms of peripheral neuropathy (tingling, numbness, or pain in the extremities), it turns out that those symptoms can appear after the chemo regimen is completed. How often does that happen? It’s unclear since little research has been done to determine the after-effects of chemotherapy. And if neuropathy occurs, it may or may not disappear over time.
So, I plan to set up an appointment with the oncologist as soon as I can. Clearly, he can’t make the decision for me about whether to continue, but I want to be sure I’m understanding as much as possible about the implications. Regardless of my decision, I still plan to get the fourth round of chemo, just to have the satisfaction that I met the “sufficient” measure of treatment. I will be interested in knowing the doctor’s thoughts on the difference between “ideal” and “sufficient.”
* * * * *
My husband and I keep reminding ourselves that medicine is a science and an art. There are never perfect answers; determining long-term results is essentially a crapshoot. And we will never know the degree of long-term damage my body has incurred that will never be recovered. But at 71, I care a great deal about the quality of life, and I believe I’m ready to move on.
Life never can have “zero risk,” but I’m ready to take my chances.Published in