The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cancer Season

It's snowing heavily as I type, the third snowstorm (unless I've lost count) of the season. This has already been one of the coldest and snowiest winters we've ever had in this part of the US.  It's also a winter we'll never forget for another reason too.

Joyce had her annual mammogram right after Thanksgiving. She was called back for an ultrasound which confirmed that there were 2 tumors in the left breast. It was, as you can expect, a total shock. 

We were in full Christmas season mode--putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the house, planning the big meal, and buying presents for the grandkids. That continued, but our perspective changed and our approach to the holiday was scaled back in many ways.

About two and a half weeks before Christmas, Joyce had a biopsy, which showed that the tumors (one was about 1/2 inch and the other 1/4 inch) were malignant (grade 3, aggressive, fast growing) and that a mastectomy was necessary. 

Before choosing a surgeon, Joyce had the presence of mind to bring her rheumatologist (she's had RA since the early 90s) into the situation and asked him for a referral. Turns out his wife had undergone the same surgery a few years before and he recommended the surgeon his wife used, who happened to be a Harvard trained physician who specializes in breast cancer. 

Joyce wanted to move as quickly as she could to get the invader out of her body. She had the surgery on the 28th of December, spent that day and night in St. Thomas Hospital, and has recuperated pretty well since then. The size of her tumors and the fact that her lymph nodes were found to be clear during the surgery placed her cancer in Stage 1, the lowest level.

The surgeon (a woman in her early fifties, and a most excellent physician in terms of experience, knowledge, skill, and empathy) explained that the "stage of cancers" system was fairly old and did not take into account the newer knowledge about kinds (grades) of cancers, etc. Remember, Joyce's tumor was grade 3, which is not good. The surgeon also said Joyce is triple negative--referring to her hormone receptors--which isn't good either (fairly rare, apparently only 20% of women with cancer fall into this category).

This past Tuesday we met with Joyce's St. Thomas Hospital oncologist (to whom Joyce was referred by her surgeon), and discussed her situation. At present, after the removal of the cancer, the oncologist said there was a 50/50 chance her grade 3 cancer would not show up again somewhere else in her body; he recommended chemotherapy to improve her chances to the point that the odds would be more like 80/20 in her favor. 

Today, her birthday by the way, Joyce had a series of preliminary tests designed to establish a baseline against which to measure her physical condition during the upcoming chemotherapy, which will be debilitating. The tests included a bone scan, liver scan, chest x-ray, and an echo cardiogram. On Monday, she'll have an IV port installed in her chest (where they administer the chemo), and on Tuesday she begins a chemotherapy regimen which will last 4 months.

We learned a lot during the past 6 or 7 weeks about cancer, stuff we earlier didn't really 
want to know. We also had confirmed something we already knew: our friends and family are the greatest. They have been right there for her from the initial diagnosis. Providing encouragement, love, and support were: our son Barry, and daughter in law Teresa, our grandkids, my brother Dave, Joyce's sisters Helen and Barbara, and her brother Larry, our neighbors Judy and Ronnie, our great friends Ed, Rae, Max, Jeanne, George, Sara, Cheryl, Charlie, Kay, and Judy H. 

As you might expect, our Christmas holiday celebration was somewhat muted this year, even though Barry and his family came down to be with us. The kids kept us all smiling and laughing which helped. And now Joyce is in pretty good spirits, considering. She's optimistic and positive about her chances and so am I. Her training in psychology has been a big help during this crisis. She's always been a fighter and is gearing up for the biggest fight of her life. Keep her in your thoughts and prayers.


  1. First: Happy Birthday, Joyce! Here's to many, many more!

    Second: Bad... worst of all possible... news. But good in the sense the prognosis is good. My ex- is a nine-year breast cancer survivor, who was also Stage 3 when diagnosed. And one of my DILs is a four-year survivor. The road is difficult but advancements in treatment have yielded significant improvement in the survivor rate.

    My BEST thoughts go out to Joyce and you, Dan.

  2. Buck, thanks for the info about your ex and your DIL; I've already passed it on to Joyce who was really glad to hear about their survival experience. Thanks for your other kind words as well. Research has led to really big advancements in cancer treatment over the past ten years and we're hoping some of those will yield benefits for Joyce.

  3. Okay Dan. I sent you an e-mail, and finally got time to come back to this post that I still can not believe I missed.

    Man, I just don't know how Pam and I would take such news. I am sure I'd be a bowl of warm jello, and she'd probably have to prop me up.

    With all seriousness, I want Joyce to know that she has our prayers. Really, all of you do. Got no advice...never dealt with it personally, and pray that I never do. All I've got is my pitiful prayers. And, I'll get Pam on it, too. She's got a better standing with Him.

    Please keep us updated (only if you want to, of course).

  4. Thanks Andy, for the comments and the prayers. I'll keep you updated.