My scans this week confirmed that my cancer has returned for a third time. Luckily, the cancer is localized to a couple of lymph nodes in my neck and the rest of my body remains clear so I am breathing again for the first time in a week. My Doctor was very upbeat in giving me the results and I appreciated her tone. And then I heard her say "we can treat it like a chronic disease", which I guess implies that the disease can be managed much like diabetes, hypertension, etc. Now this is not the first time I have heard this line. This seems to be the phrase du jour for those of us dealing with recurrent and active cancer.
I'm just not buying it and nor does it seem is the Breast Cancer Action ("BCA") advocacy group. Barbara Brenner recently wrote an excellent article on this very topic in The Source, the BCA's newsletter, entitled Treating breast cancer as a recurrent - not chronic - disease. The article discusses the use of certain words and terms by the so-called cancer industry and raises the concern that the seriousness of this illness is being downplayed, to the detriment of true breast cancer prevention. This is despite the fact that millions of women are still being diagnosed with a disease that has no cure, and who then have to endure horrendously invasive and debilitating treatment options that offer no guarantee of successful outcome.
The bottom line is this. Having something in you that wants to kill you (no matter what you do) is scary. Living with the kind of uncertainty every day that turns a head-ache into a brain tumor, or an arthritic hip pain into a bone cancer, or a cough into a lung cancer (you get the idea) really puts a dampener on things. Believe me, I am taking every piece of insurance that is being offered to me with respect to treatment but I am under no illusions as to what my likelihood is that I will ever be rid of this thing. I don't believe that what I have is a chronic illness. It's way scarier than that.