Sunday, September 13, 2015

DAY THIRTEEN Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month - Collateral Damage

There are the cumulative effects of cancer that I don’t see people talk about too often. I think of it as “collateral damage.” As we all know, procedures – like surgery, chemo and radiation – that prolong life, can also impair life. Cancer patients must give up quality of life to gain quantity of life.

The cancer medicine, which is supposed to kill the cancer, also causes damage to the body. Over the last six years, several rounds of chemo have left mom very frail. Last year she coughed so hard that she cracked one of her ribs. When I broke my ribs a few years ago, it was because my [then] 200 lb husband came flying off a water slide full force and planted his knee on the left side of my torso. And all it takes for mom to break a rib is a simple coughing fit.

The chemo drug Doxil, which has worked very well at keeping mom’s cancer at bay, can cause heart failure if it reaches a certain threshold. It seems trite to call it a trade off – but that is what battling cancer has boiled down to – trading one deficit for another. Which is worse?

If you want to read a heartbreaking story (it is heartbreaking but very well written) go and grab Lucy Grealy’s “Autobiography of a Face.” Lucy was diagnosed at age nine with Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that severely disfigured her face. She lost half her jaw, recovered after two and half years of chemotherapy and radiation, then underwent plastic surgery over the next 20 years to reconstruct her jaw. The reconstructive operations didn't alleviate her agony over the physical mutilation which resulted in a dependency on pain medications that eventually killed her. 

So that is a depressing story, and I don't mean to do that intentionally. But it makes me admire cancer patients that they have the courage and strength, like my mom, to do whatever they can to have just a few more years here on earth with family and friends. 

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