Monday 27 January 2014

Treatment decisions

One of the first things my husband Terry said after my oncologist told us last summer that the average lifespan for women my age with stage 4 metastatic cancer was 4 years was, "A lot can be discovered in 4 years." He's an optimist. I am not. I'm not a pessimist though either. I'm a realist. A pragmatist. I needed to have all the information and then I need time to reflect and come up with a plan that will be best for me. (Sounds like I'm also a narcissist)

The first time around chemo was not good to me, as it often isn't. I was given aggressive types and doses because I was deemed to be young and healthy and my body could take it. I ended up with two blood transfusions, a case of pneumonia, severe bowel issues and a couple hospital stays. When my 12 rounds were completed I was so glad to have that behind me. I understood then why some people refused to undergo chemo and I rather cockily said if faced with that decision again I would turn it down as well. Easy to say when you really don't think you're ever going to be faced with that decision again. But suddenly I was.

Because there is currently no cure for stage 4 metastatic cancer (there is for other types of stage 4 cancer but that's another blog) doctors don't recommend aggressive treatment. The goal of treatment this time around is to slow down the spread thereby giving me more time and to relieve pain so the time I do have left is as comfortable as possible. It's not as high a dosage or harsh a drug, but it's still chemo and I was still scared. For about a week I did research on alternate methods of treatment. I talked to people who were doing holistic treatments and I read success stories online that included a variety of homeopathic ingredients. People were being cured it seemed by everything from tea to marijuana. At the end of one long day of research I was convinced that I could be cured just by a drastic change of diet. During this time there were also a lot of discussions with my husband. Always supportive, Terry said the final decision was mine but I could tell he was worried about what that decision would be.

Then one day I got a call from a dear family friend. She was the same age as me and had been diagnosed with cancer as well. It wasn't the same type as mine but it had metastasized in several of her organs. She was doing chemo as well as any other kind of medical intervention she could learn about. Doctors had given her less than a year when she was first diagnosed and here we were talking, five years later. She was blunt and had a long list of questions I was to ask and procedures I was to demand of my oncologist. I had known this woman most of my life and respected her greatly. She had always been an active, physically-fit person who ate well and took good care of herself. Before we hung up she said something I'll never forget. "If a good diet and exercise prevented or cured cancer, I would never have gotten cancer." She was right. I thought about other people I knew who had been diagnosed with the same cancer as me and they were also people who had lived very healthy lifestyles.

The truth is we don't know why some people get cancer and why some don't. Why some people can smoke and drink and never get it and others who never imbibe do. We know there are some triggers and some things that make people more predisposed. I had been feel terribly responsible for my own diagnosis, almost like I had deserved it, because of the lifestyle choices I had made, but I decided right then I wasn't going to do that to myself anymore. After that call from my friend I was 99% sure that I was going to go the chemo route again, despite my fears and anxiety of what the effects would be. Then my oncologist told me that without the chemo my survival prognosis could be as little as 9 months. I looked at Terry and we were both at 100%.

I know that might not have been the choice for everyone and I know there are alternate treatments that really are working for some people. I also know when people send me links to articles about other options they are truly trying to help me and I appreciate that. Knowledge is power and the more informed I am the more I am able to question the doctors and take control of my treatment path. I respect everyone's individual right to choose the treatment that works best for them. And I hope others do the same for me. For me, and my family, chemo was the choice we were making.

One small silver lining in my decision to undergo chemo was that because of the type of cancer I had I was eligible for oral chemo. It's a pill I take every day and will for the rest of my life as long as it is shown to be helping slow the growth and spread of the tumours. It gives me the freedom to travel and the side effects so far have been minimal. I admit, there are nights when I can't sleep from the pain of the tumours that have spread through my bones when I question if I made the right choice. I wonder if I am being aggressive enough (should I insist on the IV chemo that may kill more cancer cells as well as more healthy ones?). I wonder if other natural remedies would have made a difference. I won't really know until March whether this chemo drug is doing any good.

In March it will be 9 months since my doctors first told me the cancer had metastasized. I know a lot can happen in a short amount of time but I'm feeling pretty confident that I will be here in March to get my next scan results. Then, being the realist I am, I'll ask a million questions, I'll gather all the information and I'll make another plan. The one thing I am positive about is that Terry will be optimistic the results will be good.

Until next time........carry on!

PS--Thank you to all the people who have supported me and this blog since it launched last Monday. The feedback and the comments (which can be found on this page) have been so overwhelmingly positive. I encourage people to use the comment section to continue to share your story and ask questions.


  1. Brave, strong, inspirational, best of friend, amazing mom, wonderful wife...that and so much are very loved Cindy:)

    1. Thanks, Pam....I'm lucky to have such great people in my life like you!

  2. So very true that anyone can get cancer, regardless of their lifestyle. It is, in my opinion, a crap shoot. One should never feel responsible no matter what they ate or drank, whether or not they exercised daily, or where they lived.
    There are treatment options both traditional and natural, that are available for each situation. And for sure,not all situations are the same. One treatment might work for one person, while it has no effect whatsoever on another. It is important to respect the decision of the person receiving treatment. Most often there has been a lot of research, soul searching and a lot of questions asked before coming to a final decision.
    Be well Cindy- keep on keeping on!

    1. You make excellent point, Barb...thank you for sharing and please continue to do so. One thing I've learned from the start of this is there was so much I didn't know about cancer and treatment. It's amazing to me that two women can be seated side by side with breast cancer but each have a different treatment and prognosis. I hope you continued good days as well!

  3. Thank you once again Cindy, for sharing your thoughts (some of which I can certainly relate to) and for being the wonderful person you are to keep us informed and educated. I look forward to next time...and wish you a very good week!

    1. Thanks, Betty! I appreciate your words and your experiences as well....please feel free to share any time!

  4. You continue to amaze and strengthen me Cindy - you are a very loud voice in my cluttered head that continues to silence the demons. thank you for your unselfish sharing....keep kicking ass! xx

    1. Thanks, Vicki! Your support and encouragement has been awesome!

  5. maggie.danhakl@healthline.com17 June 2014 at 23:36

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    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
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