Part 2: “You’ve got cancer:” What I did.

UnknownWhen I was diagnosed with invasive, stage 2-3 breast cancer, I was stunned. So this is where   a lifetime of healthy eating, exercise, and devotion to polyphenol-laden teas will get you. I soon found myself stumbling in a dark night of indecision, ignorance, and frustration. A wrong turn could mean death; a right turn, recovery;  somewhere in the middle lay a life that I did not want to live.

When my children were in grade school,  one of the mothers at my son’s elementary school became a good friend. Unlike the blond, black velvet headband set, Robin was an offbeat, independent, creative photographer who saw the world through a lens of hilarity, darkness, and optimism.

From Robin Gneiting exhibit

From 2006 Robin Gneiting exhibit: talent extinguished way too soon.

Then she got cancer.  She tried every treatment available from accepted to experimental. Perhaps knowing the worst, she gave herself a gourmet-catered, blow-out party complete with a band, dancing until dawn, and unlimited eats and bar.  Less than a year later, she lay on a hospital bed in a coma.  “It wasn’t her,” a friend said after visiting her.

I told myself this would never be me either.  I  soon became victim to the “top doc” syndrome. That’s when contacts – friends, family, friend of friend – magically get you an appointment impossible for most patients without “connections.” What a system! . For me, it was  the office of a famed oncologist. A few days prior to the appointment, a young man telephoned, and asked me if I  wanted him there to record the meeting. .Did I need a translator? Obviously. At the appointment, the  brilliant cancer doctor gave me a cancer treatise and  rapid fire treatment plan. Or I think so. Upshot: I should start heavy duty chemo yesterday.  I went home, put the tape in a drawer and never saw her again.

And the tumor kept growing.

I asked the nice oncology nurse  who she would recommend if her mother got cancer. Without hesitation, she said  Dr. W. I made an appointment.  Dr. W, spent half an hour citing studies. i returned for a follow-up  He too advocated chemo. I asked for other options. He mentioned one.  I asked what he suggested. “It’s your decision,” he said. I asked him again.  Same answer. What about all those studies? Same answer. Finally, in desperation, I asked him what he would advise his mother. “I can’t answer that,” he snapped as I burst into tears of frustration.  “And,” he said, gathering up his pen and clipboard,” I don’t have time for this.” I stumbled out of there in shock. . Since everyone told me to stay away from alcohol, I went home and had a few glasses of wine. Sorry, tea cup.

And the tumor kept growing.

Next stop, the cancer surgeon.  In the rabbit hole of cancerland, he was empathy personified.   I  agreed to “hormonal therapy,”a nice Orwellian turn of phrase for estrogen-draining pills. These “aromataze  inhibitors,” sound like a gentle type of anti- perfume, right?   I soon had fiery joint/muscle pain that made walking akin to knives in my legs.  I tried a pharmacopea of other pills, which included such side effects as dizziness,  hair loss, loss of balance, forgetfulness, depression, exhaustion, insomnia.The empathetic surgeon took the  lump out. I had  radiation.  At the final session, the radiation nurses handed me a “diploma” signed with upbeat messages by the staff. Could I leave cancerland now? .

Not quite. The radiation oncologist gave me a stern and scary lecture when I hesitated  taking post-radiation medication for the next five years. I filled the prescription.  Shortly after, I went to New York where I lost my balance and fell hard on my face  in front of the lions at the NY Public Library,  I went to a fancy drugstore to patch up my face and threw the pills in a dark drawer when I got home. Enough.

I decided to take my chances. That was four years ago.

Do I think that the more tea/ less cancer science is a fraud? Not really, although a lot of these studies are either on mice or don’t control enough for lifestyle. (Do people who drink tea get more exercise, eat better?).  I say drink tea because you like it, not because it is “good” for you. “Just think how much worse you would have had it without all that tea,” said a  tea vendor.

That’s good enough. for me.



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