Five years and counting

Yesterday I had an important cancer anniversary. Five years ago, on December 17, 2014, I was officially in remission. It is the date that the last of my known cancer was removed from my body. It was a huge surgery.

This year I had back surgery on Monday December 9th. It turned out to be two micro-discectomies / micro-laminectomies. The surgeon made about a 3 in incision in my lower back, and on the L4/S1 he moved the muscle toward the center of the spine to access the impinged nerve and shaved off some disc to clear the hernia. Then he moved the L4/L5 muscle to the left away from the spine, to access the hernia there and he shaved the disc there to free the nerves.

Mostly my challenge now is just letting it heal. I need to alternate between sitting or standing (no more than 30 minutes), and laying down to give my back muscles a chance to rest. I’ll have staples in my back for another week, maybe two, and once the staples are out I need to slowly increase my activity but not overdo it. I don’t start physical therapy until six weeks post surgery. I don’t know yet where I’ll do that. I’ll need to do some research into great places for spinal physical therapy.

With my back surgery, I haven’t spent nearly as much time reflecting on the anniversary of my cancer surgery. It hasn’t been a focus of my thoughts. In previous years I have found the anniversary to be a very sombre day – not a celebratory day, but rather a day where I felt sad for all that had transpired in the year previous as a result of my cancer diagnosis. I wonder if the reason I’m not feeling that way this is that is it that majical five year mark. That is a number that is used in a lot of research. For some types of cancer, you are considered “cured” if you haven’t recurred in five years. So five years is significant, and yet it really isn’t. It is just another day.

With the type of cancer I had, the recurrence rate doesn’t really change after five years. Each year, I have the same risk of recurrence. To help reduce it, I’m now taking low dose tamoxifen (5mg). So far I have managed it OK, as long at it is working for me I’ll keep going on it for another five years. I’m also still doing lupron shots as my body is not yet in menopause. If all goes well, I will be stable on this regime for five years. Apparently, the protective effects of hormone therapy last well past the time you stop taking the meds. That being said, because of my age, I may on tamoxifen forever – who knows. As long as I’m not seeing side effects, I’m OK with it.

And so today begins five years and counting ….

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