This week I discovered that a cold can make you just as miserable as cancer. The big difference is while we still don't know how to cure the common cold, our bodies reliably cure themselves of it. It may take a week. Or two. Or more-- but even so, we have faith it won't last forever, by which we mean the rest of our lives. And that makes the misery more easily borne, I think.
But I can attest to the fact that the nasty cold what knocked me down after my trip to the coast with my sisters has been truly miserable to endure. I feel crappy, yeah, but also bored and peeved. Bored with how banal this crappiness is, and peeved with how it still prevents me from engaging in life. (And- OMG!-- don't get me started on how bored and peeved I am with TV! As a writer, actor, theatre person, and human being who appreciates good narrative like most of my species, I can only say: REALLY? This is it? Don't get me started...)
Now the news: Today Dr T confirmed that my most recent chest Xray does indeed confirm my feeling that the fluid build up in my lungs has improved. YAy-uh--wait! My blood work does not agree that this means that the Aremidex is working. In fact the "tumor markers" in my blood work are consistently headed in the wrong direction. This can happen at first, if the treatment is breaking up cancer cells, but it should level out and go the other direction eventually. So, Dr T says, while my symptoms are improving, my underlying condition, ie, cancer, does not appear to be responding to this particular hormone therapy...
That is disappointing. Even more so as roughly 60% of patients (with hormone-receptive advanced breast cancer like me) have some response to Arimedex-- either reversal or stasis of the disease. And those who don't, have a somewhat lesser chance of having other hormone therapies work. Not good news, my friends... and all the more mysterious, because as I have said, I feel so much better.
Dr T has ordered another CT scan this week to look at my liver and see if the current therapy has made any visible impact there. If not, he will change my hormone therapy to something else--- uh, something with starting with an F and ending in a max, maybe? Anyway it is another hormone therapy that works a different way and is delivered not by pill but by injection (just bend over, Ms Hukari, and hold...) once a month.
If that doesn't get some results from those darn tumor markers, he proposes to join it with a one-week-on/one-week-off regime of an oral chemotherapy pill whose name has also conveniently slipped my mind. It is an off-spring of the time-honored and well-named chemo drug 5-FU, but Dr T assures me it is very well tolerated in these small doses-- no hair loss, no nausea, etc. He thinks we could do this regime for, say 6 months to see if it can kick some cancer ass, and if it succeeds, drop back to the new hormone drug on its own...
It's funny how quickly we adapt to whatever routine we have and resist having it changed. Or is that just me? It is all so mysterious and precarious this life of ours, that I think we develop some kind of belief in our routine to ward off danger-- and by that we mostly mean change.
Looking around the infusion room (aka, Chemo ward) today as I got my Zometa (bone strengthening medicine which while delivered by infusion is NOT a chemotherapy drug), I noticed how patients and staff alike greeted one another with deprecating humor, like neighbors who meet frequently at the corner store might. Feeling grumpy with my cold and my news, I was not interested in small talk and wished I'd brought my ipod-- that great leveler of personal interaction with the world around one.
But as I looked around me I couldn't help but know that each of these people-- including the nurses-- all have their own battles going on-- in their bodies, their minds, their thoughts and emotions and spirit. Does this friendly frivolity deny that or make it more bearable for them? Does it dull them or awaken them to what is going on? And which would my beloved ipod do for me? Chemo in particular asks such a terrible question: How much poison are you willing to swallow and in exchange for what? For some it is the possibility of a cure, for others a lessening of pain, or of a few more months.
Perhaps that is the biggest mystery. I don't know how my fellow beings make these choices. I don't know how I will make them myself. But when the chirpy nurse bids me to "Go out there and enjoy this beautiful weather," I do not bark at her. It is beautiful out. My cold and my news do not change that. The world goes on. Most mysteriously.