Well, one thing is for sure: I’m going to stop trying to practice medicine without a license. Whatever scenario I imagine, what happens is nothing like that and neither is the diagnosis or treatment or prognosis.
Two weeks ago I learned that my C-125 cancer marker has been rising well above the normal range and increasing steadily. At that time, I moved into a fear-filled place. This was it, I thought, the situation I feared most: the cancer was back. Meeting with my oncologist (he was calm but resolute) didn’t answer any of my questions because at that point there were no answers. My mind ran away with me, imagining all sorts of possibilities and fearful outcomes as well. On Friday, August 16, I published a post “Another Twist, Another Opportunity for Prayer,” in which my fears were rampant. I asked for prayer for the PET scan to be approved and actually for cancer cells to be found to explain the increase in the cancer marker. Neither of those requests were part of my conversation with my doctor or even my conversation with God; both requests came from my trying to predict (control) the outcome.
Within 20 minutes I deleted the post even though i knew the words was already out there. I just wanted to get into bed and pull the covers over my head. I didn’t want to talk; I didn’t want to think; I didn’t want to pray. I did think of Paul’s words in Romans 8:26: “…the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I felt those groanings in the depths of my soul.
On Monday, August 19, I went through the motions of the day; on Tuesday, August 20, I learned the PET was approved. On Wednesday, August 21, I was at the PET scan facility by 6 am, still numb and still unable to pray. By 1 pm that day, I was in the oncology office hearing results that honestly were as strange as anything else I had heard.
In a PET scan, growing cells “light up”; in adults, only cancer cells are growing, and so only cancer cells light up. While the existing cancer cells lit up in the scan, they were noticeably smaller than they were when I was diagnosed in February 2012. One area, however, “glowed,” although it did not light up as did the other cancer cells. (Who has cells that “glow”? what does “glow” mean actually?) That glowing area is in my neck, and my oncologist says that the “glow” allows him to move forward with treatment because this area may be the reason that my cancer marker has begun to climb; treatment can mean that the cancer won’t appear there at some later point in time.
I also applied for consideration for a clinical trial, but It’s too soon to know if a genetic abnormality exists in the biopsy cells, so the likelihood of a possibility for a clinical trial will be known when that info comes back. About 70% of cancer patients have some genetic abnormality in cancer cells; of that number, about 35% have an abnormality that has been identified and a protocol has been developed for about half of those. It will be about 2 weeks before it’s known where I fit in that equation. (Remember that I am no longer trying to practice medicine so my numbers are likely off.)
At that time, my oncologist has referred me to to another oncologist at Sarah Cannon Research Institute to see if there are any other possible clinical trials, maybe even a different chemo combination clinical trial, for which I might possibly be a candidate. By the way, clinical trials are totally free (yes!). Regardless, at some time I’ll probably be on a different chemo regime that doesn’t have the same side effects as the last one, particularly the neuropathy.
When I said, “This is good news, right?,” he said that good news would be no cancer at all, but this may allow him chance to prevent this area from developing into a bigger problem. He believes that this will allow me to continue my “quality of life,” which he sees as good—and I do also.
Yesterday for the first time I realized that the cancer that I have, unknown origin that it is, will probably be with me for the rest of my life, but it very likely won’t end my life. For me, this realization was a watershed moment. We (actually he—the oncologist) will keep aware of it and will keep it at bay with medication and even the possibility of chemo, but I realize now that I don’t have to fear that this time the cancer has spread somewhere from which I cannot recover. This may not sound like much, but with this realization I found myself feeling very hopeful about the future for the first time. I’m still living in the moment, but I am also rejoicing in those moments.
As recorded in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus spoke these words: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness….” (Matthew 6: 27, 33).
The bottom line is this: The existing cancer tumors are smaller than when I was first diagnosed; the one new area may be cause for cancer marker growth, and my oncologist is investigating options. The news is good, but it’s still weird and still complicated.
And God is still God, and He still is aware of me. My life verse is this one: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom should I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). Yes, that verse is still true for me.
I am grateful for your prayers and for your encouragement.