Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just Like Me

A woman called me today. She's a cancer survivor and a newly diagnosed one, as in two months ago. We've never met before, but a mutual friend of ours had given the woman my phone number, and she contacted me. "Can I talk to you? I have breast cancer," the soft voice began.

It turns out that we have a lot in common, both on the cancer front, and in our daily lives. As far as the histology is concerned (or the cell make-up), she too, is characterized as being HER-2 positive, estrogen positive, and progesterone negative, just like me. The reason I mention this fact is because the cell make-up typically dictates the course of treatment, the type and number of chemotherapy sessions, the necessity of radiation, and the overall prognosis. On the lighter side, she is my age, she has children who are about my children's ages, and she stated that prior to this diagnosis, she's never been sick a day in her life. Exercise is her antidepressant, and she watches her diet, too. Chillingly similar to my own life, I thought.

She asked a lot of good questions, most of them pertaining to the chemotherapy that she is anticipating receiving, beginning at the end of February. She'll need a port, a devise that is surgically inserted in the chest that delivers the medication to the heart. The port is necessary to preserve the veins in the forearms from the toxic affects of the chemotherapy. Similar to my treatment protocol, she will be receiving chemotherapy followed by Herceptin, for a total of 15 months of treatments.

I remember how numb I had felt when I heard that same type of information relayed to me nearly four years ago. I remember that my thoughts were a jumbled mess, and how the images of the magnitude of this disease circled around in my brain like some sort of surreal kaleidoscope: Hair loss ... vomiting ... my children's confusion ... my husband's inability to fix it ... my parents' looks of helplessness.

In a brief second, it all came flooding back to me, as if I were going through it all over again.

Today I tried with all my heart to speak to the woman in a way that empowered her. I informed her that being HER-2 positive is not the death sentence that it once was, thanks to the introduction and use of Herceptin, a fairly new drug that targets the extremely aggressive HER-2 cells. I told her that the doctors are very good at preventing and minimizing any nausea that might occur, and that she may be very fortunate and experience very little nausea. I told her that the hair loss is temporary and that it does return. Without sounding flippant, I encouraged her to take it one day at a time. I let her know that I would be more than happy to drive her to her chemotherapy treatments or doctors' appointments.

Most of all, I let her know that she was not alone, and that she would get through this. I told her that the road may seem impossibly long today, but I encouraged her to try to remember that this time in her life will not last forever. It does get better, it really does. One of the last things I said to her was that I will be praying for her. And I will.

We ended our conversation on a lighter note. Her voice sounded stronger and ready to take it all on. She was ready. I could hear it.

One day, perhaps years from now, I hope that her phone will ring, and she'll hear a quite voice on the other end saying, "Can I talk to you about your breast cancer? I've just been diagnosed, and I have some questions, if you don't mind."

After I hung up, I just sat there for a few minutes, and wiped away the lone tear that cascaded down my cheek. Completely at a loss, I wasn't sure who was more blessed by today's conversation, the woman on the other end, or me.


WhiteStone said...

One of the things that I find odd are those times when another cancer patient mentions some odd little thing that happened to her and then I remember, Oh! That happened to me. I would not have thought about it, or even remembered it at all, except that her words jogged my chemo brain. lol

Admin said...

Breast cancer survival rates are among the highest of all cancers. Studies shown that women who exercise for atleast 30 minutes and 4 times a week can decrease the risk of having breast cancer.

ce_squared said...

That was the best thing you did for her! I too was jumbled and confused when all the information about my illness was poured on me. Thank goodness for the nurses who took the time to explain everything. In particular, the oncology nurse practitioner at my onclogist's office was phenomenally helpful. It helps to understand and know you're not alone.

Bless you!

Debby said...

Oh, Karen! I'm glad that she got your number. The best thing that ever happened to me was finding my friend Mary. Knowing someone personally who has gone through it, and come out of it, someone that you can rely on for good solid facts, there truly is nothing more helpful than that. Nothing. I'm glad she had you.

PFunky said...

Karen, you are awesome! You said the perfect things to this woman...a balance of empathy and sympathy. I was also estrogen positive, progesterone negative and her2neu positive. I'm almost coming up to my one year anniversary of diagnosis (2/26) and hearing you talk about how far you've come after 4 years, it still makes me feel at ease and I know there is a strong light at the end of the tunnel!

Karen said...

Thanks for the validation, friends. Sometimes, I find myself trying so hard to say the "right" things regarding the tough cancer questions, that I second-guess myself later.

SweetAnnee said...

It's wonderful to be able to help.. and you are so right.. Her 2 Nu positive is NOT a death sentence ..with Herceptin it is manageable . I am here 2+years diagnosed in stage 4 ..and here I set on my laptop

Daria said...

Knowing one is not alone ... so important.

What a blessing for both of you ...