Another friend with breast cancer

For the past 25 years I have lived in the shadow of breast cancer. Since then, I have been both a willing and unwilling participant in the cancer story as it has unfolded in this country. It wasn't something I wanted to do; it was just timing. During those years there have been times when I celebrated progress and times when I bemoaned yet another finding that didn't pan out to be the great answer we wanted. Through it all, I have gotten the calls we survivors hate. It's either someone we don't know who says that a mutual friend told them to call – or as in the last two calls, friends have called to say they have been diagnosed. First was Suzan Bruce who I blogged about last fall when she had a hat party in anticipation of pre operative chemotherapy for what appeared to be inflammatory breast cancer. It's hard to take these calls, particularly when something happens that's either really good or really bad but the person doesn't have enough experience yet to know what it means. For example, when Suzan began chemotherapy, she was excited that the tumor was noticeably smaller after only a few treatments. I was elated. It meant she was a "responder." You learn quickly in cancer that either you respond or you don't and the results will be quickly tied to prognosis. When Suzan called to tell me that she could feel the difference in the size of her tumor, she didn't get why I was whoopping and hollering. It continued to shrink until it was all but gone by the time she had surgery. They even reassessed her tumor and decided it was not inflammatory. She is going through radiation with Zeloda right now, a series she will finish in early summer. She learned she carries the BRCA 2 gene, knowledge that caused her great pain because of her young daughter and the risk it means for her. But her response to the chemo means she has a much better prognosis than was originally thought. We celebrated. Then a month ago I got a second call from an old friend, a friend, in fact, who was part of my support when I went through breast cancer 25 years ago. She moved to another state with her family shortly after I finished treatment and we had only had sporadic contact in the past decade. Then she too was diagnosed with what the docs said was inflammatory breast cancer. I was devastated. It was one of those calls where she didn't know enough about her diagnosis to be worried yet, and at one point in the discussion, I said, "has anyone used the word inflammatory." "Yes," she said, "what does that mean?"How do you answer that question? I just said it meant they didn't want to wait around before beginning chemotherapy, so she wasn't surprised when she began chemo before all her tests were back. My last call from her came after her oncologist called to tell her she needed her to come back immediately for the infusion of another drug called Herceptin because she was positive for Her2. What did that mean, she wanted to know?I said it gave her another big gun in her arsenal and they wanted to use it quickly. And it was clearly a good move. In only a week her tumor was noticeably smaller and her oncologist was beginning to say it wasn't inflammatory, just a big tumor that was now on the way down in size. It was a good day. I am now worried about that next call. Please tell me these things don't happen in threes.