I don’t like cancer, but cancer likes me

Back in September, I wrote about how hard it must be to be a person with metastasized cancer.

Now I get to find out.

At this stage of the process I keep saying Stage IV like it’s on a scale of one to ten or one to a hundred, instead of being at the bad end of a very short scale.

I found out late Friday evening that the tumors in my liver (discovered just a little over a week before, and biopsied on Thursday) are metastasized breast cancer. The oncologist wants me to start chemo this coming week.

The good news is that it is metastasized breast cancer, which makes it much more treatable than if it were primary liver cancer. The sheer number of drugs available gives me lots of options for new side effects, hopefully one of which is shrinking of the tumor.

If it gets small enough (original measurement on the largest tumor was 9.4 cm or 3.7″), there are various options for more physical intervention, such as implanting radiation pellets directly into the tumor, inserting liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze part of the tumor, inserting electrical probes to kill part of the tumor with heat, and possibly resecting the liver.

Statistically, however, the average lifespan of a person with metastatic breast cancer is 24 months. Note the “average”, as my doctor assures me that there are people who live as long as 10 years. I personally know a woman who is doing very well at just over 2 years, so damn it – she’s blowing the average for me!

Seriously, the tumors and lesions are very aggressive, as it has been just under 11 months from my last chemo treatment to diagnosis at a large size; and although there is currently no evidence of metastases to my bones, lungs, lymph nodes, or brain, there is in fact the possibility that there are cells in one or more of those places that haven’t grown into a tumor large enough to see.

We can’t really establish a prognosis until we start treatment and get our first scan showing how the cancer responds to the chemo. If it doesn’t respond well to the initial drugs, we switch drugs and do more scans until we find one that helps. Oftentimes, a tumor may respond well to a drug for a time, but will develop a resistance to it, so you have to change to another drug. If it works to the point where the tumor(s) are shrunk enough, then the more direct treatment gets going. So even though it might not look good at first, we may eventually find a drug that really socks it to the cancer and it will look better quickly; or alternatively, we could happen on a really profound response to the first drug, but not have much success with future rounds. What this means is that there’s no such thing as “you’ve got 6 months to live” – that kind of drama is reserved for medical shows on TV.

While I’m not assuming anything at this point, Brian and I are taking steps towards dealing with such things as living trusts, making sure we both know what sort of end-of-life care I want, and that I want my ashes scattered on his new wife when he remarries.

For those of you whom I have not told in person, please know that this has all happened so fast that just keeping our families and a couple very close friends updated has been tough. For all the same reasons that I started this blog originally, it will be of use now, as I try to keep everyone up to date with this latest, er, bump in my life.

7 Responses to “I don’t like cancer, but cancer likes me”

  1. 1 David S.
    March 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Well, goddammit, I’m sorry to read this news! I will continue to send good thoughts your way. I’m glad to see your humor remains intact – the part about the ashes made me burst out laughing (mixed with a little crying).

    My recent adventure with blood pressure control has reminded me of the fragility of life, especially as we “get on in years,” and your post has driven home again the importance of embracing every moment.

    Take care,

  2. March 22, 2010 at 7:46 am

    We’re thinking of you & sending positive thoughts!

  3. March 22, 2010 at 10:52 am

    I’m devastated to hear this news. Thank you for sharing and I’ll continue to think and pray for you dear friend.

  4. 4 Kevin
    March 23, 2010 at 5:36 am

    Hi Julie,

    I love you dearly my best lunch buddy. Let me know when we can do that again! If you or Brian need anything, let myself or Darren know, and we’ll make is so. I have the urge to write something very negative about cancer but this isn’t the place for those types of words, so I’ll refrain 🙂

    Take good care and let’s set a date sometime soon…


  5. 5 Lynnette
    March 23, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Oh Julie! Not again. I will continue to pray that you and your wonderful sense of humor and take on life will beat this beast! Grrr!!! Know you are in my thoughts all the time. Love you!

  6. 6 Kristin R.
    March 29, 2010 at 10:45 am


    I am so sorry to hear that you have to deal with this. It is so frustrating, heart-breaking and scary! I will be praying for you and Brian as you make decisions about your care and treatment. If there is anything I can do, please let me know. I would be happy to bring meals or a good book over.

    Much love,

  7. 7 Margaret Stonich
    April 1, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    Dear Julie,

    I have never met you. Carrie forwarded your blog to me and she mentioned that she has sent you my blog about round 3 of my battle with cancer. My heart goes out to you. I love your sense of humor and your total honesty about your situation. I can tell you are a very strong person. It sounds like you have a great support system but if you need to talk with a fellow warrior please feel free to contact me. Carrie has all my contact information.

    God Bless you,


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