Tag Archives: Surgery

Living with Cancer

Seven years, three months and 24 days into my cancer journey, I’ve arrived at a new way station on this indeterminate itinerary: Living with Cancer.

Oh, I’ve known since pathology reported after surgery (“carcinoma in two lymph nodes”) that cancer would inevitably be a permanent part of my life, that an outright cure was of such low probability that a lottery ticket seemed the surer bet.

But there’s always been a binary quality to my cancer, an either/or state with no middling. I was either no evidence of disease (NED), or, in the event of evidence, my oncologist and I would be gearing up, discussing and planning the next treatment. I once even described my cancer status as “between treatments.”

Not so now.

My semi-annual, July 9 PSA test came back at 0.04 ng/mL, up from 0.03 in January. And the medical plan now is to continue to just monitor this trace amount, to watch it, and to check it again in six months, come January. With a slowly rising wisp of PSA and no treatment planned — none even up for discussion – “between treatments” seems out-of-date and “living with cancer” the more apt description.

To put these nano-numbers in perspective, think of them as the coinage of cancer. I’m now up from 3¢ to 4¢. The actual (and dreaded) recurrence of prostate cancer after surgery is not even medically official until 20¢. And in clinical trials for new prostate cancer drugs, getting a prostate cancer patient below $2.00 is an achievement.

I am, in fact, where a lot of men are dying to be, and dying they are.

I concede that I’ve had to do some heavy mental lifting to wrap my head around this slow rise in PSA and to accept the fact that we’re only going to monitor it, to see how high it goes, and how fast. Later – hopefully, much later – we’ll identify and implement the next therapy, if one becomes warranted.

Heck, I may now even be in a sweet spot of cancer management: a chronic but not (for now) life-threatening disease, one that I can just live with. OK, I can hope.

When I shared my July test results with my cancer-blogger friend Danean, she spoke Truth when she said: “I’ve learned that in this whole cancer odyssey, sometimes the only thing we get to choose is how we react to things.”

And this is how I’ve chosen to react: I embrace this new phase, uncomfortably passive though it feels at times. I’m lucky to be where I am, and my test results could have been worse. And I still do all I can with diet, exercise and supplements to push back against my cancer, to keep my PSA numbers to a tad and make my cancer but a mere chronic illness.

The bottom line is that, for now, I’m neither in remission nor imminently imperiled.

I’m living with cancer, and life is good.

It seems an appropriate time to inaugurate a new t-shirt.

It seems an appropriate time to inaugurate a new t-shirt.

No News Is…No News


Life is good: Curry Reunion, Memorial Day Weekend, 2014, Cincinnati: Seven (of many more) first-cousins, yukking it up. Our family matriarch, Aunt Betty, is in red.

In the written record here over the past three years, you can find a pattern to my regular cancer check-ups: January, April, July, October. Then repeat the next year. JAJO. So you might ask, where’s the report on my April 2014 check-up and PSA test? Is something wrong? Am I OK? Or as I was asked several times at a Curry family reunion over Memorial Day weekend, “How are you doing?”

In a sentence, my oncologist gave me a bye on an April check-up.

I had, in fact, “graduated” to semi-annual, as opposed to quarterly, check-ups, after two years of being no-evidence-of-disease. And then a smidgen of PSA was detected in my January blood test; but at 0.03 ng/mL, that level wasn’t sufficient to warrant regressing to quarterlies, wasn’t enough to shout “biochemical recurrence!” In fact, “we don’t make anything of such subtle differences in a test that is not perfect,” my oncologist said in response to my alarm at January’s (barely) detectable PSA results. (Remember, the presence of PSA and its amount tell me how well I’m doing in my cancer journey. In four words, more is not merrier.)

And (my reasoning here, not my oncologist’s), an April test, whatever its outcome, most likely wasn’t going to provoke any change in treatment or its timing. Waiting until July will give us much greater clarity into what’s going on with my cancer, whether it’s actually recurred, and, therefore, what — if anything — we need to do next.

I’ve walked the road of recurrence before, for a year starting in July 2010, and every cancerian knows the marrow-deep fear of recurrence: One more therapy has been exhausted, is no longer an option, and still the embers of cancer continue to smolder on. For me, I’ve now had surgery and radiation, and they are treatments available to me no more. Thus, if January’s test results do indicate recurrence, I’ll move on down the line for the next in what is a finite number of treatments.

So in April, I escaped the anxiety that accompanies any impending cancer test and the wait for its results — only to know instead the worry of waiting, the prolonged posing of a nagging curiosity:

“Is my cancer back?”