Coin Toss: Choices in Treatment


With the flip of a coin, I became one with logic instead of reacting emotionally.

Surprisingly, I have taken the path of least resistance. I have not made my decision through emotion. I am not the warrior fully loading all my weapons. I am not exhausting all options. It's seldom that I surprise myself, but in this case, I have ... I've left my own jaw dropped to the floor.

In sport, I have always done whatever it takes. If oatmeal and bananas are the best race day fuel, then that's what I am eating on race day. If taking non-GMO protein after an intense workout will help me recover quicker, I am on it. I have been drinking watercress, kale and spinach shakes long before various media outlets deemed them super foods. I even have creatine supplement drinks for pre-workouts so that I can arm myself with every bit of energy I need to get faster, stronger and unstoppable.

I remember that fateful Monday clearly before I even got the news: I was out on a run, one week after running Boston, and I was feeling phenomenal. No post marathon fatigue for me. I was unstoppable. I remember thinking, "Geez, today's Monday ... I wonder if I'll get the results?"

And then, my mind went everywhere, as all distance runners know. I began to imagine, OK. If it's cancer? Screw, cancer. I've got this. I'll be the poster girl for cancer ... for melanoma ... the cancer that people don't know enough about. I'll lead the war, arm myself with all possible aggressive weapons ... and like Braveheart, I would hold, hold, hold, until I had my full army ready to conquer.

An hour later, I would be diagnosed with what my doctor guessed to be later stage melanoma. I would go through the first surgery so naïve, sure that I would be all set.

"Oh, you mean it might be in my lymph nodes? It can do that?"

After the first surgery and the second set of bad news ("Yes, it's in the sentinel lymph node"), we would move my care down to Boston. Let's break out the big guns and take this monster down full force. I agreed to an experimental surgery (second one in the hospital) that was successful. It's the only reason why I was able to start jogging six weeks post surgery (I may have cheated a smidge).

We talked on several visits with my oncologist about the drug treament — my only option after the surgery. The thing is, I thought I'd be all on that. Fire it up, let's do it. Arm my army with everything you've got. I am a warrior. I am an athlete. I am gritty. I will do whatever it takes.

Instead, I found myself reacting logically instead of with emotion, heart and a kick-ass attitude. So you're telling me my only option is a 30-year-old drug that was not made for melanoma, offers nothing in terms of survival rate and if it works, it would lower my recurrence rate by 4 percent. And if it worked, I would have permanent arthritis, no thyroid function, osteoparosis and a whole other list of other side effects. Then, factor in daily lifestyle: being on this drug for one year, injecting myself after the first 30 days of daily intravenous — basically, chemo effects minus the hair loss for an entire year. Oh, and statistically, it works for three out of 100 people.

In normal circumstances, I'd say let's do it. If sucking back beet juice will take one minute off my marathon time, I am in. If eating oats and greens will hold onto 1 percent of lean muscle, I am in. Instead, my husband and I talked numbers, logic and it always came back to quality of life. What if I am in that percent it does not show up somewhere else? What if I win the coin toss?

With the flip of a coin, we chose to play defense. I go every six weeks right now for bloodwork. I am scanned every three months. I am under the "watch and wait." Somedays, I am surprised that I didn't arm myself and start firing away. When people tell me how strong and brave I am, I chuckle in my head. I didn't have it in me to arm myself and attack. I chose a role I never would have imagined myself in sport or life.

I do sometimes wonder, but I always circle back and know that this was the right decision for me. I focus on the fact that I am on the other side of 50 percent that it may never come back — not that it could come back. I have to remind myself of that every single day. But today, I am here. I am out there on the field making big plays with my family, at work, with my running. With the flip of a coin, I became one with logic instead of reacting emotionally. I am less kick-ass and less brave, but more conscientious, listening, taking in all the facts. Today, I have won the coin toss — perhaps that makes me more brave than I give myself credit.

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