I met my new oncologist yesterday. I liked him right from the start. He's got to be the smartest person I've ever met, which is pretty reassuring, considering.
I liked how he talked about a strategy to go after my cancer. He explained that cancer is cells that have reverted to their more primitive ways. Long ago, when we were all single cell organisms, our cells started to divide and grow, look for blood sources, spread, etc. And then we evolved. Cancer cells are just cells reverting to their more primitive nature of dividing and changing and conquering. Ambitious little Darwinian beasties!
So now I'm imagining my cancer as highly-amped tiny elves setting up a little workshop in my breast that goes 24/7, trying to make something. Wholly mammoth, perhaps? Or maybe they are like the family of the Once-ler in the Lorax who invaded, cut down all the Truffula trees, and then set up a huge toxic factory making useless Thneeds... Is my cancer trying to knit Thneeds??
Anyway... a battle plan was scralled across a white board in multi-colored ink. My cancer is aggressive, large and advanced, so it needs similarly aggressive and advanced plan of attack.
Here are the particulars of what we are dealing with, so far:
Type: Infiltrating ductal carcinoma with metastatic adenopathy (translation: ductal breast cancer, which is the most common type of breast cancer)
Her-2 positive: unknown as of yet
Grade: 3 (which means it is the most primitive, aggressive type of cancer cells on a scale of 1-3)
Stage: 3 (on a scale of 1-4, which means it is large and has spread to at least 1 node; tumor measures 5 x 6 x 7 centimeters)
A big question right now is, has the cancer spread anywhere else? Breast cancer likes to travel to the liver, lungs, kidneys, and brain. While I'm not having any symptoms of bad stuff happening in these organs, my week ahead will be filled with lots of scans of these organs.
While some people might opt to remove the tumors first and then go for chemo and radiation, my oncologist made a good argument for chemo first, then surgery. He said that given a tumor this size, the likelihood that it has spread is pretty good. It may not show up on the scans if it is still microscopic, but we can't assume it hasn't been an enterprising little bugger since all signs point to it being so (hell, it seems to everyone like I didn't even have the sucker a month ago and now it is already plum size?!). So we'll start with chemo to get anything else that might be happening throughout my body under control.
Starting in a week or so, I'm looking at 4-5 months of chemo followed by a short break (2-3 weeks), then surgery to remove the lump on my breast and the lymph nodes, and then more chemo and radiation. The lost year...
Next stop: Attractive head scarves and awesome wigs.