Knowing what to expect

In my experience, fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen. When you feel helpless, you’re far more afraid than you would be if you knew the facts. If you’re not sure what to be alarmed about, everything is alarming.” (Chris Hatfield in “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”).

As the details of tests come back, you are presented with choices. I’ve noticed that all choices seem to come in pairs. You make one choice and then you are presented with the next choice. The quantified data tells you what choices you have, that is, it narrows things down, but the qualified self is who needs to make the decision. So, at times, it is the gut that decides, based upon a bunch of other information.

Today we got a couple of interesting lab results back. First, the HER2 FISH test came back negative. This is a good thing, as the HER2 treatments aren’t that great (not that any of the treatments are that great). What it means is that the type of cancer I have is the one they understand the most.

The MRI also showed something interesting. Rather than having a large 4cm+ tumor in my left breast, I actually have two smaller tumors (2cm and 3cm). I’m not completely certain how to take this information, as I now have three tumors. However, the treatment for one is the same as the treatment for the other – so from a treatment perspective nothing changes – and I don’t have a ‘big’ tumor. The MRI also showed no indication of node involvement – which means I caught it early.

Decisions come in pairs. The first choice is chemo first or surgery first. The next choice depends on the first, but either way, when it comes to surgery I will need to decide on whether I want a mastectomy or a lumpectomy plus radiation. Whatever I do one side, I’ll do on the other – symmetry matters to me.

After confirming that chemo was advised regardless of surgery choice (increased prognosis by 10% in cases similar to mine), and the chemo before or after surgery didn’t make a difference in the prognosis, but could make surgery easier, the first decision I made was to go with chemo first. My gut had been telling me this for quite some time. I just feel like this thing came out of no where and is spreading, and the only way to catch it systemically is with chemo.

Of course, that wasn’t the only decision – because every decision leads to another decision. Now I need to choose between two chemo regimes. The quantitative numbers say they have the same outcomes (they did some clinical trials on both regimes and neither was preferred over the other).

The two options look something like this:

  • option 1: doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide followed by paclitaxel (1 treatment every 2 weeks for 4 cycles, followed by one treatment per week for 12 cycles) – AC -> T
  • option 2:  docetaxel and cyclophsophamide (1 treatment every 3 weeks for 6 cycles) – TC

They are given at different intervals, but I’ve decided that the logistics of intervals is not an important variable for me. Some people chose one over the other based upon convenience of treatment (the latter option requires less visits and less infusions). So now I must choose based upon side effects, and which I think will be easier / better for me.

After the doctors appointments, we went for a walk around the arboretum. We found the perfect tree for my picture series. It is an old eucalyptus (huge tree) which hasn’t yet shed its bark for this season – so it is showing older growth now that as the weeks pass shall shed to show the underlying new growth. We also happened across the coolest giant cactus garden. I’ve never seen cacti so large! And finally, we sat in the shade on the back of Stanford’s mausoleum for enjoy a picnic lunch.

Photo Jun 23, 12 39 23 PM Photo Jun 23, 12 36 07 PM Photo Jun 23, 12 36 49 PM


  • Becky


  • That is good news about being HER2 negative – just what you asked us to pray for.

  • Are you feeling a sense of relief? This must all be surreal still. So glad to hear that the MRI showed no lymph involvement. LOTS of great news today!

    • Lots of news. Not really relief, more uncertainty about decisions. I bought a one month subscription to UpToDate, which makes me feel better. I can get good clinical advice there … makes decision making a little easier. It is the tool that many of the physicians I know use.

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