I started off with one of the strongest Western medicine available, and at the end of my treatment, I was in a very vulnerable position. The cancer was gone, but the first year after treatment has the highest risk of recurrence. And cancer that comes back during this time usually spreads very quickly and is very resistant to more treatment.
I decided I wanted to be as involved as I could in attacking this thing. I found about a trial at Stanford that the coordinators were having trouble finding participants that fit the critera. You had to have been diagnosed with stage three or stage four breast cancer, and you had to be done with treatment with no evidence of the disease. The hard truth is that they couldn’t find many eligible patients because there weren’t many of us who were surviving this disease. When I was first diagnosed Alan tried to find people online with my cancer, and he couldn’t find anybody. He just kept finding memorials for people. So I enrolled in the FGN1 trial at Stanford. I knew I had a 50/50 chance at getting the drug, but either way, I was determined to do it. Either I got the drug, and perhaps got help, or I didn’t and hopefully helped others.
Cheryl and Claire in an organic pasture, holding an organic tomato
— one of Cheryl’s favorite foods.
The trial was an 18-month chemotherapy treatment, but I knew right off that I was getting the actual drug and not a placebo because I had to be hospitalized because of the side effects. They adjusted my dose a couple of times because I was so sick with the side effects, and they actually asked me if I wanted to drop out. But I wound up completing the trial because I wanted to help find a treatment that would help more people than the conventional chemo.
After the trial, the doctors told me that of the six women at Stanford who were on the trial, several on the placebo had recurred and one had died. At that time the cancer had not come back in those of us who received the actual drug. I haven’t been able to track down any of the other women in the study, so I don’t have any long-term data. Unfortunately the side effects turned out to be too serious to take the drug to market, but I’m grateful I persevered and got the full treatment.
There’s no doubt that the chemotherapy is one of the major reasons I’m here to tell my story today, I’m fully convinced that my mindset played just as significant a role. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t absorb their message that I was going to die. I heard what they were saying, but I was convinced that the fatal diagnosis didn’t really apply to me. At the same time, I can remember realizing that I needed to live every moment to the fullest.
Humans are capable of two diametrically opposed ideas at the same time. I remember one morning in particular waking up and feeling totally exhausted. I felt tired on the cellular level, and all I wanted to do was just turn over and go back to sleep. But I said to myself, “You may never feel better than you do right now, so get up and get dressed and go play with that baby.” I remember feeling like I didn’t really accept this diagnosis and that I was going to make it, yet coming to the conclusion that I needed to live every moment because they might not come again.
That combination really served me well. And the take home lesson for me after treatment was that it is really important to live today and not miss today. I really learned to take advantage of opportunities… to seize the day.
What are you doing today to live this day to the fullest?
Tomorrow’s Post: Life after Breast Cancer