“I could’ve implemented my bucket list, backed away from writing contracts, outlined my end-of-life wishes and prepared my children for my possible, impending demise,” writes a woman with ovarian cancer. “Instead, I signed a four-book publishing contract and started a full-time career as a fiction writer.”
It’s been said that late stage or “terminal” patients with cancer should have immediate, frank discussions with their oncologists about their prognosis. I understand the practical reasons for such advice, but I’m not so sure I agree in other respects. Here’s why. No one knows with absolute certainty how our bodies will react to treatment. The statistics don’t lie, I understand, but they also allow for a slim margin some might chalk up to miracles and others to giant leaps in modern medicine.
My oncologist didn’t tell me the stage of my ovarian cancer when she gave me my diagnosis. In fact, she said it was highly treatable. Notice she didn’t term it highly curable. I didn’t catch the difference at first. I discovered the metastatic stage 4 diagnosis on my patient portal page right before being admitted to the hospital for my port placement and first round of chemotherapy. It was shocking, scary and stressful. I don’t recommend it.
However, in retrospect, I embrace my oncologist’s can-do attitude from the moment she gave me my diagnosis. She emphasized all the treatment options available to me, regardless of staging. She pointed out that new drugs and treatment protocols were constantly being developed. The longer I stayed alive, the more I had a chance at those new treatments. I decided my job was to actively participate in my treatment. Show up for appointments. Take medications as prescribed. Eat well. Exercise. Communicate about side effects. Pray. And live well.
The sad truth is I could’ve done all those things and still succumbed to the disease. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of the gynecological cancers. Depending on which statistics you believe, my five-year survival rate was somewhere between 19 and 30 percent. I’m now in year six. I don’t know why I’m one of the women who has made it this far. Why am I not platinum resistant? Why did the frontline chemo and surgery result in a period of no evidence of disease (NED) for me and not for other women? Researchers point to molecular makeup of tumors, genetics and other health issues. Maybe those factors played a role. I don’t know. So far, I’ve survived two recurrences with the third NED period lasting almost two years now.
The point being I could’ve had that get-your-affairs-in-order discussion with my doctor in January of 2016. I could’ve implemented my bucket list, backed away from writing contracts, outlined my end-of-life wishes and prepared my children for my possible, impending demise. Instead, I signed a four-book contract and started a fulltime career as a fiction writer.
The only step I did take was to prepare a medical directive and a living will. It was the responsible thing to do. We should all do it. Anyone can be struck by tragedy at any moment. The fragility of life is no secret.
I’m not trying to ignore grim reality. Nor do I embrace the always-be-positive “I’m going beat this thing” mentality. Nor am I in the “God’s got this” camp. Yes, I pray and ask my church family to pray for me. I believe in the power of prayer. But I also ask myself why God would decide to answer my prayers and not those of the couple in the pew next to me whose daughter died of metastatic breast cancer a few years ago. Did they not pray hard enough? Part of God’s plan? I refuse to suggest a layperson like myself knows the answer to a question that stumps many learned theologians daily.
I’m simply saying make room for miracles and modern medicine. Live every day with all your heart. Make the most of your time, however short or long. That’s good advice for all of us, cancer or not.
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