Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Relevance of Five-Year Cancer Survival

A few days ago I realized this coming March will mark five years since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer.  My mother is really excited about this.  That's because she believes once I pass this five-year milestone, I will be free from the clutches of cancer for the rest of my life.

I try to explain to her that is simply not true. I met one woman at an exercise class that went 10 years without her breast cancer returning until she felt a pea-sized bump one day in the shower. Then she had to go through the surgery, chemo and radiation all over again. 

Yes, studies do suggest chances of survival increase five years after a cancer diagnosis. But that is not a guarantee you will suddenly become completely immune to the disease.  Cancer is crazy unpredictable and doesn't abide by any timelines.

Melissa, who valiantly battled lung cancer, died five years and one month after her initial diagnosis. My oncologist tells me that estrogen-positive breast cancer can rear its ugly head eight, 10 or 15 years after the first diagnosis. I appreciate his honesty. I don't want to be under some delusion that once I get through March 2013 I can kiss all my cancer fears goodbye.

If my mother wants to believe that, so be it. Not me. I prefer to stay grounded in reality.

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