See that left breast? Once home to a tumor the size of a frozen green pea and marked in preparation for radiation here in this photo (taken April 2005), my boob—and its buddy on the right side—are apparently healthy and well. My radiation oncologist—and her very cute and very nice med student from Tennessee—told me so today. Yay for that.
I always learn something when I go for cancer follow-ups, which amazes me really. Leaving my appointments every six months, I never fail to think: How did I not know that? I mean, I've been in the cancer system for nearly four years and I still don't have a full understanding of breast cancer, its crazy way of operating, its implications for all the years I have ahead of me. Here, a few tidbits I picked up today.
Fact: Breast cancer that doesn't spread to the lymph nodes can still spread to other organs through the blood. I knew this. What I didn't know is that my cancer (it didn't spread to nodes) is often as treatable as someone's whose cancer has spread to lymph nodes. In fact, 25% of women with node positive cancer will survive without any systemic therapy. Surgery and radiation alone do the trick. This is very hopeful for these women. This is very scary for me—it means just because my nodes were clean, I'm not necessarily safe.
Fact: Chemotherapy is most effective at killing a minimal spread of cancer. Say my cancer did spread through my bloodstream. Chances are it was minimal since I caught my disease early, and my harsh chemo treatments probably worked. That may be why I am A-OK right this very minute.
Fact: I only had four lymph nodes removed during my lumpectomy—all for biopsy purposes. I thought this puts me at low risk for developing lymphedema (swelling in the arm and hand area). But maybe not. Apparently, it can still happen and my risk may not be as low as I'd imagined.
Fact: It would be a very good idea for my sister to have a baseline MRI. She already gets a mammogram and ultrasound every six months due to her increased breast cancer risk, but she's been told she doesn't need an MRI. My doctor believes she should have one—just one, for comparison sake should she need another in the future.
Clearly, I'm still a student of breast cancer. Haven't graduated and received my degree yet. Don't think I ever will.