Tuesday, June 11, 2019

One Year NED.

So a funny thing about invasive breast cancer - there is, at this time, no actual cure. Instead, there is the designation NED - No Evidence of Disease. Sort of like "You're in remission as far as we know." In my case, chemotherapy was indicated because the biology of my tumor showed it to be very aggressive. "A wolf in sheep's clothing," as my breast surgeon put it. There was no sign of cancer in my sentinel lymph nodes, but there was no way of knowing if cells had slipped out in my bloodstream. The chemo was for those cells. And maybe it worked, maybe it didn't, we just don't know. Still, all the cancer we definitely knew to exist was removed in my mastectomy, a year ago today.
And now I take my tamoxifen, try to eat a healthy diet and minimize exposure to carcinogens, and wait. The most common sites for breast cancer to metastasize are to the bones, lungs, liver and brain. The other day, I went to see my new optometrist to get an eye exam and make sure I had no lasting damage from the chemo. I still have perfect distant vision and very mild presbyopia for my age. He took this cool photo of my eyes and walked me through all the positives: no macular degeneration, no glaucoma, no cataracts, no chemo-induced retinopathy, no ocular metastasis. Hold up, no what? He told me that metastasis to the eye was most common in breast and lung cancer. Eyeball mets! I didn't even know that was a possibility. I'll just add that to the nightmare rotation.

Eye exams notwithstanding, there aren't regular tests or scans to see if the surgeries or chemo or any other treatments worked. You just wait for symptoms of metastasis. It's kind of like getting your house treated for termites and then after that, the exterminator just parks, looks at your house from the street, and says, "Nope, don't see any termites from here so we're going to call that 'termite-free.' But call if your house starts to fall down!"
My husband and I spent some time last night remembering the day of the mastectomy and the difficult period following. I was frankly terrified of the surgery. It seemed so primitive. Barbaric, even. And such a long recovery for both of us to deal with. And yet, we got through it. So tonight, rather than focusing on the losses and scary uncertainty of what might lie ahead, we went out to celebrate me being a year NED. We got four kinds of tacos - fried avocado and salmon tacos for me and curried tofu and blackened flounder for him.
And then, because I noticed they had one of my very favorite bourbons for a ridiculously good price, we had the Weller Special Reserve and toasted our health in every language we knew, including à votre santé, sláinte mhaith, skál! For however long we have, to our health and to life.
"I didn't battle cancer, 
Yeah, you know it battled me.
But it did not win,
I'm still standing, don't you see?"

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