An extraordinary five years

I saw my oncologist last week. She gave me the results of my latest CT scan, and I asked her how long I can expect to live. She gave some context before saying “Five years would be extraordinary.” So there’s that. I wish I could really articulate my feelings about it, but I’m kind of numb. Numb and sad and internal.

Honestly, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to hear. I mean, I know the statistics. The first oncologist we went to said that statistically, I could expect to live up to a year without treatment; 18 to 24 months with treatment. So compared to that, five years is quite extraordinary. But it’s hard to compare me to the statistics since I’m not actually in the primary demographic that gets this type of cancer.

I’ve been reading a couple of memoirs by people with cancer. Right now I’m reading Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals. She talks about how strong her urge was to live and to continue her work. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me that makes it so I can’t relate. In the other memoir I read recently, the author writes about making the most out of each day. I’m working on getting there. I’m not there yet.

Some updates:

Overall, the results of my latest CT scan were good — continued reduction in size of many of the tumors, and continued calcification of tumors throughout my liver.

They’re now putting me on what they call a “chemo holiday,” which is a maintenance regimen. Instead of going in every 2 weeks for an infusion that spans 3 days, I’ll go in every 3 weeks for a 30-minute infusion of a drug called Herceptin. The goal is to keep the cancer cells dormant for as long as possible. How long that might be is anyone’s guess, but it will probably be counted in months, not years.

I’ll get a CT scan every 3 months now, and once we see more tumor growth it’ll be time to make some decisions about going back on chemo.

Also in 3 months they’ll do an echocardiogram to check my heart function (Herceptin can have an effect on this, but so far I’m doing well). They’ll also do another upper endoscopy, which is the test that originally found the cancer to begin with. They’ll check out the primary tumor site, which they can’t view on a CT scan since it’s at the juncture of the esophagus and the stomach. Then it’ll be time to make some decisions about radiation at the primary tumor site.

Now is when I say that I absolutely hated chemo and have no desire to get radiation. So I’m really not looking forward to making these decisions when the time comes. But I’m grateful to have them. Not everybody responds as well to chemo as I did.

For now, I’m thinking about how long and how short five years is. I’m thinking about how hard the last eight months have been and whether that’s what I should expect for my future. I’m thinking about what decisions I’ll make about chemo and radiation with all of this in mind. And I’m wondering how to traverse the bridge from melancholy and aimlessness to making the most of my days.