29 November 2010
The end of this long road is near - I hope. Other than the five years of taking Arimidex each day, my final cancer treatment plan will be 25 to 28 rounds of radiation therapy.
Today I met with Dr. Kenneth Gardner, M.D., the CARTI/UAMS radiologist who will oversee my treatment. What a lovely man, brilliant too with a wicked sense of humor. If it’s possible, Dr. Gardner and his very pleasant team seem to be the best candidates for making radiation therapy a bit more fun, and certainly very interesting. I learned much today.
In my particular case, radiation therapy is referred to as Adjuvant Therapy – designed to reduce the risk of cancer returning by killing cancer cells that may still be lingering in the body undetected. Some friends have asked why I need to continue with this step – “If you’re cancer is gone, why would you have more treatment that might make you temporarily feel unwell to treat cancer that you don’t have?” That’s what adjuvant treatment is all about. It’s very similar to an insurance policy. When you pay your premiums to the insurance company, you’re recognizing a potential risk to your home or your life that may or may not. Like insurance, radiation treatment will just increase my chances to close the door on cancer.
The name for this overall treatment approach – chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy – is often referred to as Combination Therapy. As Dr. Gardner explained to me today, two studies have shown that combining chemotherapy and radiation dramatically increases the survival rates among women who have had mastectomies. The first study, from Denmark, found that cancer grew back in only 9 percent of women treated with both therapies compared to 32 percent of women treated with chemotherapy alone. The other study, from Canada and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported equally impressive results: After 15 years combination therapy patients had 33 percent less chance of the cancer coming back and 29 percent less chance of dying from breast cancer.
I think you would agree – this combination therapy is a no-brainer for me, especially since I’m at a higher risk for recurrence. As Dr. Makhoul and Dr. Gardner have explained, my higher risk is due to three factors:
· First: I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a very aggressive cancer with a high recurrence rate.
· Second: My mass was larger than 4 centimeters. Mine was actually between 6 and 7 centimeters.
· Third: My breast cancer had also invaded the lymphatic system.
So, next Monday I’ll return to CARTI/UAMS for some special measurements, and then have the infamous blue dot tattoos placed on my right breast and neck area. WOW, my very first tattoos! On Wednesday, I’ll begin my daily radiation treatments, five days a week for about six weeks.
All of this is to say, as each month passes, I feel more and more confident that I’ve whipped this cancer for good. And while IBC recurrence rates are high, modern medicine and brilliant physician care are gradually lessoning my chances for this nasty cancer to rear its ugly head again.
And all of this makes me smile!
Posted by Stacy Sells at 10:00 PM