This was me. In the chemo chair. That first go round. Summer of 2010. I used to take with me what comforted me. Oh maybe some snacks, and some tea, maybe a blankie. I'd wear comfy clothes. Most of the time I went by myself; Hubby was working and I had the love and support of my team when I got there. Especially my Cathy. My chemo nurse. She knew I was a girl of faith, so she'd pray over me too. My Cathy.
Well here I am, just about nine years later, cancer bitch came back. It's in me bones now. I am grateful though that this time chemo is in the form of pills. I don't have to go sit in the chair anymore and get all hooked up. I am on chemo in the comfort of my home, and although the side effects are challenging, I'm still working part time and living my life.
Yesterday was my six week oncology check up since my MBC diagnosis in November 2018. I've had two great checkups in a row since diagnosis and starting treatment. My CA 15-3 or tumor markers have come down significantly. I started up at 141; the range for "normal" if you will is up to 25. My first set of labs after starting treatment I was down to 39, and now yesterday at my appointment, it was 31. 🎉 Tumor markers are substances in your blood when a tumor is present. Not everyone with cancer shows these antigens or markers in their blood. My first go round my tumor markers were within the normal range, even though I had Stage 3 breast cancer. The CA 15-3 test is not used to diagnose cancer but is used along with other tests. Once I became metastatic, meaning my cancer had spread, I did show elevated markers. This is often the case when it comes to metastatic breast cancer MBC. At this point, my oncologist uses the markers as an indication of how I am responding to treatment. So far so good, but MBC is not considered curable. I have a long road ahead, of which I'm sure there'll be many up and downs. For today I am celebrating the good that treatment is working. When you are MBC, the goal is no longer to cure the cancer. It's to give you as long PFS (progression free survival) as possible.
When I was there yesterday, I always have to go and hug Cathy. It's a weird feeling to walk back into the infusion area. Some folks are receiving their chemo in a large open room with others. Some folks are in private rooms. I was always lucky, they gave me a private room. I got my hugs from Cathy and as I was leaving I saw a very young woman of color, wrapped bandana on her head, heading into one of the private rooms. I kind of hesitated as I watched her settle into the chair and get ready for her infusion. I wanted to say something to her, I don't know, give her a hug, she's so young.
It hurt me. It really did. I'm still thinking a lot about her today. Did you know that statistically speaking women of color are usually diagnosed at a much later stage than caucasian women? Did you know their overall survival rate is much lower than someone like myself? This hurts me. It's not that I don't have great empathy for all my sisters, but these statistics are chilling.
'From 1989 to 2015, breast cancer mortality rates decreased by 39% (322,600 deaths averted) in the United States. From 2006 to 2015, all racial/ethnic groups experienced decreased breast cancer death rates. When looking closer at the data, though, it is evident that not all women benefited equally from this decline. In 2015, breast cancer death rates were 39% higher in black women than in white women.' contemporaryobgyn.net
Why is this, you ask? These may be some of the reasons:
Black women are more likely to get triple-negative breast cancer, which is very aggressive and difficult to treat.
Access to health care and proper preventive screening.
Lower quality care.
Knowledge of breast cancer risk factors and how to reduce them.
It just really got to me seeing her. I guess because I know what it feels like to be in that chemo chair, and everything that goes with it: the uncertainty, the sickness, the anxiety, the financial burden, the negative effect on quality of life., all the what if's.
Confronting Racial Disparities in Healthcare
Reducing Your Risk