Surviving cancer is a good thing. Really, it is. I mean, look at the alternative. Still, living on and on after a cancer diagnosis comes with a little bit of a price tag.
My personal bottom line: the potential for heart disease, maybe some additional cancers and increased cancer risk for some family members. No one can promise these curses will come to life, but no one says they won’t either. And that’s why I visited today with a very nice doctor at the forward-thinking Cancer Survivor Program at Shands Hospital, to learn all about what might face me, and what I can do about it all.
My heart. In the past five years, I’ve had three treatments with the power to compromise cardiac function. There’s that toxic Adriamycin chemo drug (four doses, two weeks apart, over eight weeks time), and the radiation that zapped the area directly over my heart (every day for six weeks), and then Herceptin — the potential life-saver that sailed through my veins every three weeks over the course of one whole year. The good news is that I’m probably out of the woods with Herceptin, it usually does its damage during treatment or shortly thereafter. But the chemo drug and the radiation, these still have time, and usually, adverse reactions occur eight to ten years after chemotherapy. Enter the echocardiogram. I’ll have one in three years to start monitoring my ticker. And I’ll keep exercising and (mostly) eating right to keep in good shape. (Today’s resting heart rate: 50.)
More cancers. Sometimes leukemia comes as a side effect of chemotherapy (ironic, isn’t it?), but I’m likely beyond the risky time frame for that one. Bladder cancer isn’t entirely out of the question, however, because one of my poisonous chemo drugs was processed through my bladder, and apparently, that’s not a great thing. Skin cancer, too. My risk is higher now. Perhaps the basal cell cancer I had removed from my left arm last year can be linked to this risk. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. I should pay attention to the left side of my body, though, says my doc, because that’s where another cancer might show up.
My kids. My kiddos — both boys — are not really at risk. Of course, they can get breast cancer, it’s just not very probable. And their kids, if they have girls, are not at higher risk, either, even though their grandma (me!) had the disease. Had I tested positive for BRCA, they would have been. But I didn’t, so they aren’t.
My sister’s two girls — no one knows for sure, but they probably will be fine. Same for my mom — the risk travels mostly from older to younger, not younger to older. My sister (sorry, Tracy!) is the one who gets the short end of the stick. My having had breast cancer ups her risk, which is why she gets a mammogram every year, and why she’s already had a baseline MRI.
Am I scared by the cost of surviving cancer? No. I have every reason to believe none of this will ever affect me. And if it does, worrying about it now won’t do me a bit of good. If anything, I’m just happy to be alive and thrilled that I had the chance to sit with a doctor five years after I wasn’t sure I’d survive at all.