Sunday, July 11, 2010

What I Know So Far, Part 3

I don't want to say this isn't a big deal, because it kind of is, but... hm. I'm not sure how to put this to have it come across right. I don't want to say "I don't want your sympathy!" because I'm not, like, anti-sympathy or anything, but... You don't have to feel bad for me. I mean, sometimes I feel guilty because my life is pretty frickin' awesome. My family rules. I love my job. We go to Disney World. We have a Jack Russell terrier that doesn't bark unless we tell him to. Seriously. It's ridiculous. This is just kind of the universe's way of telling me I gotta pay my dues. ;)

Anyway, one of the good things about this is that I certainly won't have to worry about finding something to blog about for the next several months! I'll be giving regular updates about what's going on and my reactions to it as my treatment progresses. I've added the tag "new adventure" to mark the posts in the series.

So, to summarize my path results:

What I thought was scar tissue was a malignant tumor. Malignant means that it's growing, which is bad. I'm not sure what the effective difference is between "malignant" and "invasive." Invasive means that it's growing out into the surrounding tissue, but... well, it has to be growing in order to do that! I guess maybe you could have a malignant tumor that was in sort of a protected area ("encapsulated" is the word for that) and was growing, but hadn't spread out past it. So I think maybe invasive is like one step worse than malignant. (Mine's both, so, that's not good either way!)

There was evidence that the tumor had just started to send its cells out through the blood, lymphatic, and nervous systems. This is how cancer spreads throughout the body, which is REALLY REALLY REALLY BAD. That's why breast cancer can kill you. I mean, if it just messed with your boobs, you're not gonna die. It's when it attaches to something you actually need to survive and gets in the way of necessary body functions that you have serious problems.

Quick note on the lymphatic system. I think it removes waste from cells and... well it takes care of it somehow; I don't know really. But I think maybe that's the more common route for cancer to spread. I'm not sure, but I remember from doing a bit of internet research during my first occurrence way back that if your cancer is at a stage where it can spread, they'll often do a... uhoh, I can't remember what it's called...

STOP! Google time. ;)

Aha! A "sentinel node biopsy." See, this is where it's cool to be an English teacher, because I know that a sentinel is like a guardian, which makes me think of the monster that guards the entrance to the World of Adventure, which is one of the stages of the Hero's Journey, which is just cool. And I know what a node is because of World of Warcraft - it's a particular spot where a mineral will appear.

Anyway, so what I think this means is that even if the cancer gets into your lymphatic system, before it can move to another part of your body, it has to get past the guardian spot. In the case of breast cancer, it's up in your armpit (the "axilla"). So a sentinel node biopsy is where they take out some of those and check them to see if the cancer is there. But removing lymph nodes means that section of your lymphatic system doesn't work as well, which might make the limb that extends from it swell up. It's called lymphadema, and it really sounds pretty miserable.

So what I'm hoping is that because I'm so young, we can kind of skip that test and go right to chemotherapy. I mean, I've heard that chemo is pretty nasty too, but it's temporary. There's no cure for lymphadema - ever.

The way that chemotherapy works is that your body is flooded with chemicals that kill anything that's growing (specifically, it targets rapid division). Now stuff I need - my heart, my lungs, my brain, etc. - mostly, they're not growing. But the cancer is. So these chemicals are good at killing cancer cells. Some of the normal parts of your body that have rapid cell division (and are therefore harmed while you're getting those chemicals put in you) are your hair follicles (which is why your hair falls out), your digestive system (which I think is why it can make you nauseous), and your bone marrow (why it makes you tired).

I'm going to pause there because I've already gotten pretty wordy, but to sum up so far - I think chemotherapy will probably be necessary, but I'm hoping that based on what we already know, and my age, I can dodge a biopsy up in my armpit and go right to the chemo.

Image thanks to


cupcake said...

I've been cheering you on from NC, girlfriend. Thanks for the updates, and please know that there are people out there who are on your side, sending you happy vibes and prayers.

Mrs. Chili said...

I'm vibing, too. Try to hold still every once in a while and feel all our good energy coming at you.

Since you mentioned it, I have been thinking here about "sympathy." I think we, as a society, tend to equate sympathy with "pity," and I think that's where we cheapen the value of sympathy. I tend to think of sympathy as being the state of congruent emotions - that I'm feeling some version of what you're feeling (keeping in mind that we can never really know for sure what we're each feeling) - and that's what I'm after (or, at least, that's my intent when I "sympathize"). I'm not at all good at "pity." To me, it feels like acting out a superiority complex, and it's icky.

Anyway, I am endeavoring to feel along with you, and I am grateful that you're giving us the opportunity to share the adventure.

ms.understood said...

I thought this post was so interesting in the way you wrote about sentinal node biopsy. I loved how you explained sentinal as a guardian. If only English teacherw wrote all textbooks! Sorry that you are going through all this. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Clix said...

Thank you all so much! Things really are going great here - well - it's interesting, anyway. The car's going to set us back a nice chunk of change, but since our annual pass to Disney expired, we haven't been pouring our money away & can afford to get it fixed ;)

Chili, I absolutely agree about sympathy and pity. And I definitely am not interested in pity. But... while I don't want to say that I don't want sympathy... I don't need it any more than I normally would. I think it's good to have sympathy in a general sense for people - kind of along the lines of understanding and compassion. I think that's a good thing to extend to everyone, no matter what's going on in their lives. :)

PS - is this one any easier to understand?

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