The Big C

daffodilI seem to have fallen into a pattern alternating sad and happy posts on this blog. I promise this won’t continue indefinitely.

The complex reality is that a lot of sad things have happened this past year and those things have heavily influenced the way I now view and navigate the world. Living these experiences has changed me, and my life, but not in ways that I would have expected. If anything there is now more meaning and more value and more beauty.

There is no easy introduction to this subject: I have the cancer.*

This is the part where I pause, you look concerned and we both feel awkward and don’t know what to say.

cancer particlesI’ve discovered there’s a coming out process with cancer. You can’t simply drop the c-bomb on someone. Although, I have inadvertently done that with a few people I mistakenly thought were in the know. And now, for some, this blog will be the c-bomb (sorry). My coming out process usually involves a thought out piece of writing or a coffee date. I hope if you are finding out via this blog that you will consider this the former in lieu of the latter.

There’s also no good way to tell someone. Eventually you just blurt it out, and they look awkward and shocked and there’s that moment of awkward silence as you both stare past each other trying to think of something to say.

This is the part where I tell you not to worry. In my case it is not serious. In fact, I’m very very lucky. I have stage one ovarian cancer. I’m lucky because while ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate that is because it is not usually discovered until it is stage three or four.

General image not sex cord stromal

General image not sex cord stromal

In my case it was discovered early as part of a series of tests that were trying to discover why I was having fertility issues. It looks like an early stage of sex cord stromal type, which is good because it’s not epithelial – which is not so good. Also good news, after a battery of diagnostic tests including: blood tests, CT, tumor marker tests, more ultrasounds than I care to think about, and some minor surgical staging tests it has continued to be a stage one diagnosis.

Now we’re both feeling a bit more relieved we find ourselves at another awkward pause while you’re not sure if you should ask about what happens next. Am I going to lose my hair? Spend huge amounts of time in hospital? Be in agony with chemotherapy? No. Probably not.

histologyThe primary treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery. With stage 1 cancer of this type it’s not recommended to move to surgery too fast. At first this seemed counter intuitive. My reaction: WTF it’s cancer, get it out! However, in stage one the cancer cells are still converging into a tumor. So long as the histological grade of the tumor remains low, meaning it’s not affecting the tissue around it, it’s better to wait a bit until there is a clear pattern to the tumor formation. If surgery is done too soon there is a 40% chance of remission. Surgeries done a bit later have more success.

There are other ‘complicating’ factors for me like that small issue of wanting to try to have a child. I have a better chance of conception before any surgery is preformed.

Ironically, while the cancer is the thing that seems to freak people out the most when I let them know what has been going on with me this past year, so far it has the least impact on my day-to-day life. That will change. But not soon.

Next steps for me include more tests. Always. More. Tests. Making decisions around family planning. Then exploring cancer treatment options.

There will be some tough decisions ahead. Cancer treatment, even in Ontario, even with benefits is expensive. The average cost per course of cancer drugs is now over $75,000, and over half of the newer cancer drugs cost more than $20,000 per year. The reality for most cancer patients is that care decisions are balanced with financial decisions. I am one of the lucky ones, I have reasonable coverage, chemotherapy is not likely to be terribly onerous for me and does not seem to have a strong statistical variation on my five year survival rate. Overall, I’m early stage and my prognosis is extremely good.

Some amazing people have offered some financial support. At this point my recommendation is to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society or another well-recognized cancer charity.

*Note on pronunciation: “cancer” must be proceeded by “the”, “cancer” should be pronounced Kaaaann-Tzarrrrr preferably with a heavily nasal tone.

The links I’ve provided in this post are from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Full disclosure: I currently work for the Canadian Cancer Society.

The views expressed on this blog and on my social media channels are mine and mine alone and do not reflect those of my employer.

CanadianCancerSocietyLogoThe Society is a national, charitable, volunteer based organization whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of those living with cancer.

It’s an amazing organization. We raise money for research. Last year alone we invested $45 million in research. And, it has paid off. The Society was founded 75 years ago and at that time about 25% of people would survive their cancer diagnosis. Today, 60% will survive. That’s incredible! I’m fortunate to be in that 60%. Early detection saves many lives.

Beyond research one of the biggest benefits the Society has, for everyone – not just employees, are our community services. Including education workers, Smokers’ Helpline, advocacy (this is what I do), transportation programs and more. The most useful service for me going through this experience has been their Cancer Information Service where I can find all kinds of information on my cancer, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, supports and more.

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