Today I am reaching out to all women who have just been informed that their cancer is back...and in particular - to my sister-in-law's friend who was told this week of her recurrence. I've been there - several times - and am acutely aware of the shock and devastation associated with realizing that you're not one of the small percentage who make it all the way through - a.k.a. cured.
I can distinctly remember my first recurrence - being in the ER when a doctor, who I'd never seen before, handed me my CT scan report. I had been experiencing extreme pain in my right side and told my husband that there were three doors (like in the game show) - behind Door Number 1 was appendicitis; behind Door Number 2 were kidney stones; and behind Door Number 3...I couldn't say it out loud. I read the report and knowing what I was about to go through, glibly told the doctor that I needed a new hairdo for the summer anyways. False bravado. I cried all the way home and kept apologizing to my husband for being a mere mortal.
I can safely guess that you're also looking at the survival statistics and trying to come to terms with what you read. Well, forget all of that. For a great many of us, ovarian cancer is like a chronic disease - when it pops its head up you treat it. If you've had a remission longer than six months from your original chemo, you're considered to be "platinum sensitive". Nice term, isn't it? "Platinum" refers to one of the two drugs standardly given in first-line therapy and the term "sensitive" simply means that it worked for a specific period of time. In this case, your doctor will usually offer the same chemotherapy drugs again. As long as it keeps working and produces remissions longer than six months - they'll keep using it.
Upon recurrence, a patient's care usually moves from her gyn/onc surgeon to a medical oncologist - the oh-so-brilliant doctor who I refer to as my chemo-sabe (kimosabe = trusted scout/faithful friend). Your medical oncologist is the boss of all things chemo. He's your new quarterback. My own medical oncologist told me at my first visit that "his job was to keep me alive until technology catches up". How do you like that? I loved it! He is a trusted scout in that he keeps himself up-to-date with the latest treatments/trials and uses his best judgement to guide me. He surprised me and a number of my family members by showing up when I was in the hospital recently and embraced me in total sympathy and compassion in front of all of them. Calling him a faithful friend is an extreme understatement.
So dear ladies, it's back to chemo. You know the drill. You'll know generally what to expect in terms of side-effects. With fear of the unknown aside, you will have new found confidence and courage that wasn't there the first time around.
Perhaps in the meanwhile, you've done things to improve your overall health - you've begun yoga classes or you've changed your dietary habits - if you haven't - start now. Perhaps you've slipped back into toxic relationships that have done you harm in the past. This life isn't a dress rehearsal - decide now to get help. Do a life's inventory - throw out anything that is a drag to your body, mind or spirit.
Recurrence is all about second chances. Sure, you've been thrown a curve but you've also been thrown a lifeline. As a very dear friend of mine constantly reminds me "It's only a bump in the road".