One doesn’t pay close attention to the nuances of the treatment for cancer until one needs to. It makes sense that unless we have an unusual penchant for or fascination with reading up on amazing medical treatments, we don’t take the time to learn of the problems, the solutions, the symptoms, or the side effects. Such is the case with my best friend of twenty years.
A clinical nurse specialist specializing in geriatric nursing, my friend has a wealth of medical and other knowledge that rivals the minds of MENSA members. But she knew nothing of Cancer or of the latest treatment for Cancer…until she was diagnosed with invasive cervical adinocarcinoma. Neither of knew much before this, beyond the limited and exaggerated details of the side effects of chemo and radiation. We now, however, know a bit more. Today she goes for her first of many treatments, so in tacky form, I relay the process of one treatment for Cancer as she experiences it.
Vaness was diagnosed in December of 2005. Immediately, they took her in for surgery: to remove the offending growths, which were malignant and threatening to spread to her lymph nodes, surgeons performed a radical hysterectomy. Next she went in for a PET scan. A PET scan is a Positron Emission Tomography test done to verify the diagnoses and to enable further consideration of treatment for cancer. The PET and other tests revealed the cancer was in her lymph nodes, reaching as far up as the lungs and extending down to her vaginal area. A reputable surgeon, knowing of her case, which is in the 1 to 10 percentile of cases, called Vaness, suggesting she blow off the standard treatment for cancer and get the affected lymph nodes removed. (I didn’t know this, but we cannot have all of our lymph nodes removed, as they run our endocrine, secretion, waste and other systems.) Though she was now getting opposing suggestions/recommendations, she opted for the latter: on Valentine’s Day, she had a second surgery.
Next came the consultation regarding chemotherapy and radiation. The doctor, she said, was wonderful, taking two full hours to explain the pros and cons of chemo and radiation, those that included statistics on likeliness of each particular side effect. Compared to what my best friend and I had known previously, the rates of losing hair, for example, or losing bowel control, were surprisingly low. In addition, many subsequent symptoms are psychogenic. That is, they are brought on by the patient thinking about them coming on. If you think about vomiting enough, you will vomit.
Yesterday (approximately two months after initial diagnosis), Vaness, who had had an oncology nurse come to the house to administer an IV that runs the course of one side of the body—through the heart, etc.—was sent to the pharmacy for two medications. Glutamine is thought to boost the immune system with vitamins that help keep her strong; and Compazine, an anti-emetic, is used to combat the nausea brought on by the Amaphostine injection(s).
Today, at 9 a. m., Vaness went in for her first treatment of cancer. She will take chemo, then, on day 1 (for four days in a row), day 29, then weekly. At the same time, she will take palliative radiation treatments five days a week for ten weeks. Palliative radiation relieves symptoms and “improves” quality of life, but does not cure…as there is no “cure”.
These two treatments combined can only last for ten weeks, as they first will not cure the cancer and as they second can kill her. Such is the irony: the treatment for cancer is deadly enough to treat the cancer but deadly enough to kill the cancer patient. In another respect, however, the mind, friends, and brilliant medical practitioners have contributed to the miraculous and rare recovery of a percentage of women who live to tell about it. And, thank goodness, the percentage and number of survivors grows every year.