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New Year

Posted 12/31/2015

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  On this last day of 2015, it is impossible not to think a lot about the past year, the coming year, life after or with cancer. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are always marker moments, and we all pause and reflect upon our lives. With cancer in the personal equation, we likely think more and longer and incorporate at least some sadness and anxiety into our consideration.

  I met this week with two especially lovely women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer, are moving through treatment and beginning to think about life afterwards. They both asked me: "How do I do this?" and "How different will life be?" and "Will I ever feel like myself again?" If you are ahead of them in the cancer calendar, you know some of the answers: you do it by putting one foot in front of the other and letting time pass; life will be different, but may even turn out eventually to be sweeter in some ways, and you may never again feel exactly like your old self, but a new one will emerge.

  People who are living with advanced cancer face even more difficult challenges. When you know that life will be shorter than you had hoped, it tends to sharpen one's focus. You know the old adage about no atheists in foxholes. It would be worded somewhat differently for cancer patients, or others who are facing a lethal illness, but the sentiment holds. I don't mean that everyone becomes a believer, but that everyone surely thinks about it

 I know a very lovely woman, Amy, who gave up her yuppie lawyer (her term) life to go to divinity school and then learned that she had Stage IV breast cancer. She is thoughtful, articulate, writes beautifully, and I am confident that she would be happy to share her recent blog with you. Here is the start and then a link to read more. I recommend reading more and reading her often.

Here we are again. Another trip around the sun. Another winter solstice, when those of us in the northern hemisphere can look forward to the days slowly getting longer again. We are in the deep midwinter now, though the coldest, snowiest days are still ahead. It’ll take a few months for those extra rays of sunshine to warm the soil and wake up the plants. Forgive me if this is too facile an analogy, but living with cancer is like experiencing seasons, including the “flywheel effect” of not seeing results until later. I had that great scan in October, but I’m still bald, I still have neuropathy, my stomach still hurts, and I still get slammed with fatigue, diarrhea, and other random annoyances. I’m still getting the heavy chemo that brought me that beautiful scan. I will have one more treatment, then wait three more weeks, then get another scan. If that scan shows “no evidence of disease,” then I’ll drop the heavy stuff and seek stability (and some sort of longevity) on the two antibody drugs that I also get. I’ll still be getting infusions every three weeks, but it will be easier to tolerate. And my hair will grow back. Of course the major difference between the seasons and this cancer roller coaster is the intervals are impossible to predict. I saw a post last week about a young woman with metastatic breast cancer who died recently. Four months ago she was “NED” (i.e. she had “no evidence of disease.”) Another woman with a diagnosis similar to mine had no evidence of disease for two years on the same two antibody drugs that I get, but her cancer has come roaring back and is making her very sick. Most likely, something like that will happen to me. Not yet, but at some point. I don’t know what will happen, or when, or exactly how; however, I can be sure I will die from some cause at some point, and it won’t necessarily be this cancer. I always wear a seat belt. I look both ways before crossing a street. I use a hand rail on stairs. I got rid of a pair of shoes that were a bit too large and tended to make me trip. I had my first colonoscopy. -

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