The news about my pancreatic cancer is good in every possible way.
My Whipple surgery removed the cancerous mass. The cancer cells were contained within the mass. Tests like the CEA and CA 19.9 show no sign of cancer in my blood.
Unless you knew my recent history (or saw the large zipper on my tummy and port [aka the alien] bulging from under my chest) there would be no way to associate me with cancer. I am fully asymptomatic.
I said this was good news. That’s selling it short. This is the best possible news. It deserves capitals: BEST POSSIBLE NEWS.
And yet I’m not jumping up and down. I’m not over the Moon.
My chemo continues. Radiation and more chemo will follow. The insurance company feels there’s justification to continue this therapy as does my oncologist… and me.
In 2017 pancreatic cancer is still among the worst diagnoses possible.
According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is 7%. These low survival rates are attributable to the fact that fewer than 20% of patients’ tumors are confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis; in most cases, the malignancy has already progressed to the point where surgical removal is impossible.
In those cases where resection can be performed, the average survival rate is 23 to 36 months. The overall five-year survival rate is about 10%, although this can rise as high as 20% to 35% if the tumor is removed completely and when cancer has not spread to lymph nodes. – Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research
My Whipple was the ‘resection’ they’re describing. Only one of my lymph nodes, adjacent to the mass, was cancerous. But you can see, even then it’s only 20-35% in five years.
My surgeons and oncologist all believe I will beat these odds. And yet how can the odds not enter into your thought process?
The Hirshberg Foundation also says:
While pancreatic cancer survival rates have been improving from decade to decade, the disease is still considered largely incurable.
My doctors don’t seem like the kind to promise more than they can deliver. In their business honesty is the only policy. My cancer was found early. Their treatment was thorough and leveraged technology only available the last few years.
I want to be excited and ecstatic and jump for joy. On the other hand there’s more chemo next Thursday.
For the rest of my life I will be monitored carefully. Blood work and cat scans will continue forever. If the cancer returns we’ll find it early, again. Hopefully.
Can I be cautiously optimistic?
Blogger’s Addendum: I tried to clarify some of this blog post on Facebook. Here’s my conclusion. The cancer has removed much of the naivete and innocence from my view of life and death. The genie’s out of the bottle.