Unique Individual: My Cancer Diagnosis

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Every individual is unique in their own way.

image of Sue McCarthy

Having been a healthier-than-average kid, teen, and young adult, I was poorly prepared to be a good patient as I got older. Not typically running a fever and rarely catching colds, my occasional flu-like symptoms vanished in a day or two.

Despite this, the American Cancer Society said I risked being diagnosed with Breast Cancer at triple the normal rate.

Having learned, when I was 28 years old, that Grandma, my mother’s mother died of breast cancer, I was 44 and with my mom, in her hospital room, when she passed away from the same illness. Aunt Mary Beth later let me know my great grandmother died of what was politely referred to as female cancer at the time, early in the twentieth century.

Five years after my mother’s death, more advanced mammograms, allowed me to dodge a bullet, and receive a Ductal Carcinoma in Situ diagnosis. DCIS is a very early stage of breast cancer, confined to a milk duct.

Choosing to have both BRCA tests, and tests for all known other genetic mutations; they tested negative.

Thinking at that time that I was out of the woods – as were my three daughters- I, nonetheless contemplated the viability of it all. Could it have been simply an unfortunate coincidence that led to four straight generations of women in my family receiving a breast cancer diagnosis?

It didn’t seem believable and it didn’t help at all with the anxiety which proceeded my diagnosis and had been a part of my life of anticipation of cancer since my twenties.

I expect that one day it will be scientifically proven that at least three generations of the women of the maternal side of my family were afflicted with a genetic mutation, yet to be discovered, as of now.

What would help me, significantly, was opting to have a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence to a tiny percentage.

The outcome of my mastectomy was good; I had greatly reduced my breast cancer recurrence risk.

Going onward, after the surgery, I believed I had done the right thing, by putting myself in the strongest position. My family and friends at the time heard me state my goal, “to live to be an old lady, and die of something other than cancer.”

The outcome of my mastectomy was good; I had greatly reduced my breast cancer recurrence risk.

However, I have concerns. Was modern technology often leading oncologists and patients alike to base their treatment choices exclusively on the latest breakthroughs? For any given patient, choosing treatments using this method might be a mistake. For a variety of reasons, the standard, cookie cutter treatment clearly works, but certainly not all the time. There’s so much we still don’t know about treating cancer. And so much we can gain by communication. Of course, patients have so much to learn from their doctors, however, likewise, doctors have so much to learn from their patients.

I have a close friend, a Stage 4 Colon Cancer patient who’s doctor recently suggested that Debbie take a break from chemotherapy treatment. She agreed, and is now about halfway through that three-month time off from Chemo or any other cancer treatment. She will have a CT scan at the end of the period.

Many would question this decision by the doctor and my friend, but it seems absolutely the right one for them. Debbie’s been a model patient, totally compliant. She is also full of faith in God.

Were there medical statistics that supported her doctor’s suggestion. I doubt very much whether Debbie knew or cared. It was a decision made simply between a doctor and his patient. Other patients might not agree with the doctor’s suggestion. They might even consider is absurd.

That’s fine. People are people. We’re all unique individuals.

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