They say that if you don’t have a reoccurrence five years post treatment, you’re cured of that cancer. That ‘cure’ is costly; the price amounts to a lifetime of check ups at least and a likely legacy of ‘complications’ from the treatments, if you live.
The good thing about having one cancer after another is that, according to my specialist, the chance of a third cancer is ‘extremely unlikely’. So you only have to wonder if what you’ve got will kill you, not if a third cancer appears.
I was relatively young when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At 38 I never suspected that a cancer could be around the corner, let alone making a home in my body. I had surgery, a radioactive implant and radiotherapy; my surgeon was happy to give me a promising prognosis. If the cancer does not return in five years, you’re cured.
It wasn’t as simple as that. The ‘treatments’ I received were as brutal as the diagnosis; the disfigurement of the body being the the least of it. The isolation in a lead line room while I was radioactive was unexpected but bearable. A burnt nipple and sore throat from the carelessness of the technicians were mistakes that one accepted with tolerance and grace. A rib ruptured spontaneously – it was explained away as ‘things that happen’ to patients undergoing radiotherapy. A whole season came and went and as I drove my car out of the hospital carpark after my last treatment, I felt I could leave that episode behind.
The surgeon failed to explain that due to a routine, exploratory surgery to determine the spread or otherwise of the cancer, the lymph nodes under one arm were removed. That arm will thereafter be impaired and unable to circulate lymphatic fluids. Two lymphedema resulted in my arm, restricting use, causing pain, swelling and fatigue. I was condemned to wearing compression bandages from my fingers to my shoulder during waking hours or I risked an arm so heavy with swelling that it threatened to dislocate itself from the shoulder joint.
I tried to be philosophical – hey I’m still alive – until a tumour appeared in my neck. A thyroid cancer as a result of the radiotherapy. My throat laid open for hours while my thyroid and all the tumours were removed. Diagnosed too late, two sessions of nuclear treatment failed to eradicate the cells which had escaped into my lungs. I live with that; my doctor said their growth is slow and something else will probably kill me first.
After treatment I felt extreme fatigue for a number of years: eventually a severe sleep apnea was diagnosed and after sleeping with a machine did not help, further investigation found that I had Type II Diabetes. The links to sleep apnea with surgery, and thyroxine (a hormone I have to take as I no longer have a thyroid) to diabetes were not lost on me.
My limbs and the sight of one eye is now under threat from the Diabetes. Life goes on but the cruelty of cures continues.