This week was my TWO YEAR survivor milestone and 33rd birthday! So let me start this blog post with a couple distinguishing points of reference regarding some cancer terminology.
First, many people don’t know this but a survivor milestone is actually the anniversary from the date of one’s “diagnosis”. You are considered a “survivor” even if you still have cancer. The fact that you are “living” makes you a “survivor”. I thought it would be measured from the time you were “cured”, but I guess there is no “cure” for cancer so you’re referred to as a “survivor” from the time you are diagnosed.
Which brings me to another area of common question – the difference between cancer “cure” and cancer “remission”. Doctors almost never use the term “cure”; rather, they usually talk about “remission”. Complete remission means that there are no symptoms or signs that can be identified to indicate the presence of cancer. However, even when someone is in remission, there may be microscopic cancer cells that cannot be identified by current techniques (e.g., mammogram, MRI). This means that even if a person is in remission, they may, at some future time, experience a recurrence of their cancer.
Doctors often refer to 5-year or 10-year cure rate for breast cancer. What they really mean by this is a 5- or more year remission rate. The longer the remission time lasts, the greater the possibility that the cancer actually has been cured, but there are cases of cancer recurrence many, many years after remission begins so the worry never goes away.
When I was first diagnosed, I was borderline stage 2B / 3A (on a scale of 0 – 4). At that time, my oncologist gave me a 40% chance of beating the cancer – or a 60% chance of not. The grim prognosis was due to certain high risk factors, including the type of cancer, fact that it had already spread to my lymph nodes, my young age, HER2+ status, grade 3 tumors (3 is the worst; not to be confused with “stage”), etc. After chemo and surgery, I had a small amount of the cancer left, and at that time my oncologist improved my prognosis (I don’t recall the percentage but I think it was 10-20%). Anyway, so now I’m considered in remission. 🙂
I had my annual MRI last month and everything came back clear so that was a huge relief. I have my 6-month mammogram in a couple weeks. I understand MRI’s pick up more detail than mammograms so I questioned why I had to have a mammogram so soon after my MRI but they said a mammogram looks at things differently and both scans are important. So we’ll wait and see.
Well, I don’t have too much more to say. Well, except that yet another one of my friends has recently been diagnosed. She has a blog too. You should check it out (read her About Me section): http://laurarenegar.wordpress.com/ I thought I knew all there was to know about breast cancer after being so ingrained in it for the past two years, but I learned quickly from reading her blog that I don’t.
Oh and one last thing, a couple posts down I whined about no longer getting flowers (in my post about the differences between life as a cancer patient and life as a survivor)……well, Mom got me flowers for my birthday. 🙂 Thanks Mom! I love you!