Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pat's post . . .

Martha note: This came to me from WMRA community member Pat Churchman, along with a note that said, "I'm hoping this might be helpful to women, but it also might be too personal. What do you think?"

As a woman, I thought yes, it would be helpful -- or, rather, yes, it would be helpful !!!!!!!! And I thought its helpfulness lay in the fact that it is so personal. So thanks, Pat.
Cancer…just the word strikes terror in one’s heart and soul. One in eight women have a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer in the United States. Since I’m 77, I’ve beaten the odds for a long time now. I responsibly had my yearly mammogram back in February. It came back negative, no problems.
One month later I was reading the book “Ice-Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole” when I casually reached up and touched my breast. There was a small lump I didn’t remember and there wasn’t one on the right side. As soon as possible I made an appointment with my doctor for an opinion, which was, “Yes, it looks suspicious. Go to the Women’s Health Focus and have it checked out.”
A diagnostic mammogram there showed a suspicious-looking little place. That was followed by a sonogram where a doctor also inserted a tiny piece of metal in the vicinity of the likely cancer, in case it needed to come out. Step by step the day approached til I was being asked whether I wanted to have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy. When we first started this process, I felt sure it had been a much smaller lump, but it was still only 2 millimeters in width and right under the surface. A doctor had determined that the lymph nodes weren’t affected yet, so I opted for a lumpectomy. The day came. The operation took place. The doctor took two lymph nodes just to be sure they were clear. Later examination revealed that they were indeed clear. My daughter drove me home. Friends brought a wonderful supper, which I had trouble eating because of the tube that had been down my throat. Day by day I healed.
The next step is to determine whether one will follow up with radiation or chemotherapy, another word that strikes terror in the heart and soul. The Women’s Health Focus offers classes on meditation and relaxation, and women who go to appointments with the befuddled patients to take notes and answer questions and be a friend. My tumor indicated that opting for either radiation or chemo would be responsible, but doing nothing, according to the consent form I am to sign states that I release the hospital from any liability and the risks and benefits of my treatment are that “Without treatment your disease may not be controlled, your symptoms may get worse and death may occur.” I didn’t actually see any benefit listed there. Seems like it actually just indicates the risks. We all realize we will die, at some future date, but not now and not by this malady, something later, more benign, quicker perhaps.
Since I had decided on the radiation route, the next step is to go and have one’s self marked, so they’ll know exactly where to aim the radiation. You must lie completely still with your arms over your head while they mold a sand pillow around your impression and align everything up for the radiation to have the maximum effect.
Ordinarily, I would get claustrophobic when told I have to stay completely unmoving for an indefinite period of time, but it seemed to my practical self that the option to run screaming from the room wasn’t a particularly helpful one and would only lead to having to start over and prolong the inevitable action.
With that thought in mind, I managed to calm myself by repeating to myself “God be in my heart” as I breathed in, and “And in my understanding” as I breathed out. The doctor came in at one point to have a look and say something about the length of time radiation will take. I thought to say, “You will probably say ‘I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on’ when you see me next,” but he’s probably heard that before and I didn’t want to stop my compulsive mantra.
Five days a week for five weeks and then a few more days at the new hospital cancer center and then it’ll be over. I can do it. I’ve proved it to myself. The next session won’t be nearly as lengthy.
A friend lent me the book “Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber, an MD and PhD holder whose friends discovered his brain cancer while he was in a CT scan and they were studying brain functions. A note on the cover says, “Why the traditional Western diet creates the conditions for disease and how to develop a science-based anticancer diet.” He feels that sugar is particularly destructive, but his recommendations are too lengthy to go into here, except to add another cover comment: “life with cancer can be enhanced by changing diet and exercise and living not in fear but fully.”
Martha addendum: I sent Pat a note asking her what she'd learned from all this and she wrote back:
I think the main thing I learned is to trust God, at least in this. I haven't been very trusting because of all the terrible things that have happened to my family. I know. I know. Lots of people, probably most people, have terrible problems and there's no reason to think I should be particularly blessed. So far, just taking it a step at a time, I didn't panic and run away because God seemed to be supporting me. That gave me the confidence to think that will be true each time I climb up on the table and lie there in the hands of kindly, unknown technicians who disappear behind protective barriers while they zap my spot which may or may not have any cancer cells left. It dang well won't have by the time this is finished!
 Martha addendum #2: If I may, I'd like to add a dignified "Go Pat!!"


  1. Today, when we see 5 year survival figures of 96% quoted for localized breast cancers, those figures actually fall precipitously when one figures in the 60,000 annual DCIS diagnoses. A truer look at cancer survival rates would be the 77% five year survival for women whose cancer has spread locally and the dismal 5-10% five year survival rates for those whose cancers have metastasized beyond the original region.

  2. Wonderful post. Inspiring and encouraging.

  3. I second Martha. Go, Pat! Your post really conveys the surreal nature of getting that feared diagnosis. I loved reading about your experience, and hope I'll be as cool and dignified as you when my moment(s) of adversity come. All the very best. Stay well.