A new friend commented to me that the treatments for cancer were to slash, burn, and/or poison. It bugs me that the most effective treatment and first choice is always to ‘cut it out’. I’ve added starve to the list for breast cancer, as that is one of the more effective treatments if you have positive receptors.
Slash refers to surgery. It is often the first line of defense – just cut it out. For many women with small slow growing tumors, this is the only treatment required.
Burn refers to radiation. Radiation is another localized treatment. If there is a risk of the cancer spreading locally (usually goes with the lumpectomy choice of surgery rather than mastectomy, where the surgeon cannot alway tell whether they ‘got it all’) then radiation is used to burn away any cancer cells that might remain.
Poison refers to chemo. Chemo is a systemic treatment and affects your entire body. The reason you do chemo is to try to make sure that all cancer cells in your body are killed. If there are any cells floating around, you want to make sure they have been killed.
Starve refers to hormone therapy. I’ve added this one to the list. If your cancer is hormone positive (80% of breast cancer is), then what is known is that the cancer feeds on Estrogen or Progesterone or both. So, once the slash/burn/poison treatments are complete you move on to starvation treatment that suppresses your bodies ability to produce the hormones that the cancer feeds on.
One challenge many women face is with the starvation therapies. People often see the ‘treatment’ as finished after slash/burn/poison, and don’t realize longer duration effects of the hormone therapy. The duration of the hormone therapy keeps changing. They are back up to recommending 10-years of tamoxifin for pre-menopausal women (this had been reduced to 5 years at one point). Treatment doesn’t end just because you are not visiting the hospital once a week for an infusion. It becomes a silent pill that you take every day for 10-years, all along praying that the cancer doesn’t return.
I’m not ready to contemplate the 10 years of treatment. I’m not ready to think beyond the first cycle – which for me will be poison. I’m too afraid of the spread. Doing surgery first would have meant a 4-6 week delay in the start of chemo – that is a 4-6 week opportunity for the cancer to spread.