Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Eventually, something will get us, will end our life, if only by wearing us down and out so that the last breath takes all our energy. Cancer, the Big C, a terrifyingly unspoken word in my childhood, plagues too many people across the globe. In my immediate family, members have had a variety of cancers: niece's brain cancer, sister's colon cancer (also her paternal first cousin), mother's lymphoma. 
At the moment, breast cancer hits home as I join my maternal grandmother, mother, maternal first cousin, and maternal second cousin's two children. My breast cancer was detected early and is small, although the recent lumpectomy results showed two kinds: (1) lobular carcinoma in situ and (2) invasive ductile carcinoma. Thankfully, we killed two birds with one stone.
Poking arount the Internet, I found the following informative web site sponsored by the American Cancer Society, specific to breast cancer. 
American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2011-2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, Inc.
The site offeres definitions, classifications, incidence, demographic rates, treatment options, cure rates, mortally rates, and current research. Although I asked for 2013 statistics, the article addressed 2011-2012 information. The following paragraph summarizes pertinent information. 
Two areas in the breast can develop cancer: (1) lobules: glands for milk production, and (2) ducts: transmit milk from the lobules to the nipple. Most cases of diagnosed breast cancer are invasive, meaning that the cancer has broken through the cell wall to invade surrounding tissues; a smaller percentage are in situ, meaning that the cancer stayed within the cell wall. Of the in situ types, 83% are ductile carcinoma in situ (DCIS), 11% are lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). In 2011, predictions were as follows: 230,480 new cases of invasive breast carcinoma and 57,650 new cases of in situ breast carcinoma; total = 288,130; survival = 246, 610. Men account for 1% of breast cancer diagnoses. One in three diagnoses of cancer in women is breast cancer. Skin cancer is more frequently diagnosed in woman than is breast cancer. Women die more frequently of lung cancer than of breast cancer. Ninety-five percent of new cases (and 97% of deaths) are in women 40 years of age and older. The highest rate of diagnosis is in women age 75-79 (421.3 of 100,000 cases). The median age for breast cancer diagnosis is 61(50% are younger than 61, 50% are older than 61). Studies of racial and ethnic patterns indicated that non-Hispanic white women (n-Hw) have higher diagnostic rates than African-American women except in two areas: African-American women are more likely than n-Hw women to be diagnosed below age 40; African-American women have higher mortuary rates at all ages. All other racial and ethnic groups of women have lower incidence of breast cancer than African-American and non-Hispanic white women. Survival rates depend on type of tumor, stage of tumor, and treatment option. In general, survival statistics are as follows: 89% 5 years after treatment; 82% 10 years after treatment; 77% 15 years after treatment. These facts and figures are startling and sobering, yet inspiring and hopeful for me.
Because I previously experienced abdominal surgeries which effected functioning of core organs, this current diagnosis and treatment are substantially different and are, therefore, challenging to integrate. Previous surgeries required several days' hospitalization and weeks of recovery compared with the current day-surgery and next-day ambulatory prowess. Grateful, of course, for these differences, I don't quite know what to make of the current circumstance. Am I minimizing or denying or ignoring something important in this process that, so far, seems quite straight-forward and non-traumatizing? My experience, of course, is mitigated by clean margins and clear lymph nodes (dyslexed by me into "nymph lodes"), meaning that I will have radiation therapy and will NOT have chemotherapy. This current outcome, radiation therapy, is markedly less invasive, less traumatizing (both physically and emotionally), and less disruptive of social interactions and work tasks than is chemotherapy intervention. I am fortunate and grateful. 
For now, I have a follow-up appointment with the surgeon this week, see the oncology team next week, and soon will talk about radiation protocols and schedules. And, for now, I am fine and in positive spirits.

Ann Beth Blake
(c) September 25, 2013

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