This cancer journey of mine has been an exercise in borderlines, and it continues to be.
First, the diagnosis of high-grade DCIS: not invasive but conventional medicine believes it will become so. Then the affected area was 4.9 centimeters in size, just shy of the 5.0 cm cutoff point for mastectomy. What put me over the edge into surgery was the tiny tumor discovered on an MRI.
Most recently, I learned that based on the genomics of that tiny tumor, there’s a 1 in 3 chance of distant recurrence in other parts of the body—in other words, a high possibility that the cancer cells may have escaped into the bloodstream, which could mean metastasis at some point in the future. Chemotherapy is the conventional standard of care under such circumstances.
The two oncologists with whom I have met offered differing opinions about next steps. The first said that with radiation and hormone therapy, my prognosis is very good. She recommended against even evaluating the tumor tissue because she does not and would not recommend chemotherapy given the early stage (1a) of my cancer and the small size of my tumor (7mm).
The second oncologist requested the test (known as the oncotype test), and her assistant promptly called when the results came in: Would I come into Hartford to have a port installed? (A port is a device that is used to introduce the chemotherapy into the body.) This was before I even had a conversation with the doctor about the results and the course of treatment she proposed.
Chemotherapy is a big decision. It is a toxin that destroys good and bad cells. It compromises the body’s own ability to heal by impairing the immune system, which is the very thing that failed me from the beginning and is what my holistic doctor is trying to fortify. And the kind of chemotherapy that would be administered to me would cause me to lose every hair on my body, maybe even my fingernails and toenails. I just learned that for some women, the hair never fully grows back, leaving them with permanent male-pattern baldness.
I called the first oncologist with the news, fully expecting her recommendation to change with an understanding of the test results. It did not. She acknowledged the high score, but stood by her original recommendation of no chemotherapy for the reasons she originally gave. She also stood by her original decision to not conduct the test because of the distress a high score would needlessly cause.
I’m sticking with her. No chemotherapy for me.
When I advised my holistic doctor of the results, he said the protocol I am on now is likely to significantly reduce my risk of recurrence as long as I reasonably follow it. It’s not easy, downing 20 or 30 supplements per day and eating only vegetables and protein, and organic at that. I don’t always achieve 100 percent success, but the test results have certainly underscored the need for my continued vigilance.
As one friend said in a recent email, “There may be a 1:3 chance of recurrence for the average person but I can’t believe your chances are not better with the super healthy lifestyle you have adopted.”
Thanks, Connie. May it be so. I’m counting on it, and my holistic doctor is convinced of it. And I may never be comfortable negotiating the gray area of borderlines, but I certainly am getting to know the territory.