Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The "R" Word

Valentines Day 2012 is the first time I officially heard the "R" word.

That word?


At my doctor's appointment today, I asked if I was in remission and he said YES!

I asked if I would ever be considered cured.

That answer was a little more complicated.  Once you have cancer, you are never really considered "cured."  Though, my status will officially be remission for about 3 years, then it will change to "cured."  But, in cancer terms, there is no cure.  Not really.  It's never 100%.  But, being "cured" means that the cancer is less likely to recur.  However, as my doctor said, he's had patients end up with breast cancer again 12 years after being "cured."  CURED is not a word they throw around lightly.  Because, there is no cure for cancer.


For now though, I was so excited to hear the word REMISSION!  There is no trace of cancer in my blood.  There is a special blood test that is done on cancer patients called a Tumor Marker Test.  That test, along with other blood work ups, can show the presence of tumors in the body.  All of my blood tests are coming back completely normal now, meaning there is no indication of any cancer lurking.  The blood tests aren't 100% accurate, of course, but doctors can watch trends over time in blood work of cancer patients to ensure that treatments are working.

I finished chemo in October and, after my hysterectomy in January, I began taking a cancer drug called Anastrozole.  This is an oral cancer treatment, a little pill that I take every day.  I'll have to take it for the next 5 years (at least).  That is how long it's shown to be effective.  In 5 years, I may take nothing or I may be switched to something different.  It depends on what advances are made in the next 5 years in treating cancer.  Those are decisions to be made later.

Anastrozole (also known as Arimidex) is one of two main drugs prescribed for cancer patients after chemo.  Anastrozole is the drug prescribed for women to treat breast cancer who have already gone through menopause.  Since all of my lady parts are gone, I am officially menopausal.  Anastrozole is used to further decrease the amount of estrogen your body makes.  Since my body apparently likes to take estrogen and use it to make cancer, this is a good pill for me.  Women who are pre-menopausal often take Tamoxifen.  Tamoxifen counteracts estrogen in the body by making sure that estrogen doesn't help cancer to grow.

Neither drug is completely effective against cancer.  But, the odds are good.  Anastrozole is 1-2% more effective than Tamoxifen.  It's not a huge amount, but I have rotten luck so I'll take whatever edge I can.

The side effects of these drugs are pages long.  Every thing you can think of COULD happen. Fun stuff like cataracts and hot flashes. Luckily, after a month of taking Anastrozole, I'm doing well and tolerating it.  I do have some definite aching in my joints and overall soreness.  It's hard to say if that is a side effect of the cancer drug or not.  It could be leftover from the chemo.  Or it could be a result of sitting around like a lump for the last 9 months.

Whatever the reason, I still look like I'm about 70 years old when I get up from a chair or start walking.  It's a super sexy look.

Time will tell if the cancer is really gone from my body completely or just hiding somewhere.  For now, I'm very optimistic and I so much like my new word:


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