The news I got the day before my birthday was that I am in remission. It sounds like good news. It is good news. But I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant. I asked the doctor who told me very simply that my lymphoma has responded to treatment. That doesn’t sound very conclusive to me. We know it has responded (to something). What was a tumor with a length of 22 cm now sits at about 6 cm.
Everyone around me is excited. It’s the best news EVER! So why am I so ambivalent about it?
According to the medical definition, remission is the period during which the symptoms of the cancer are reduced or have disappeared. It means that there MAY still be cancer cells in the body. Which is why the doctor says I have to continue with the treatment. I’m having round 4 as I write but there is a big question here for me. Do I need to keep poisoning myself for another 2 rounds or can I simply turbo drive all the other work I’ve been doing and make myself cancer free without compromising my body any more?
As I understand it, cancer is a disease of the immune system. All of us develop cancerous cells but a healthy immune system can fight them off. A weakened immune system cannot. Mine was weakened by the stress of working around the clock, not dealing with the pains of childhood and allowing my abuser to be present in my life, and nearly losing my beloved to an aortic dissection. My diet was pretty poor too. Each week ended with blocks of chocolate and tubs of ice-cream. Lollies and chocolates were part of my daily diet. And let’s not start on the coffee or adrenalin. Let’s just say there was a lot! And I got sick often.
But it feels like my immune system is better than ever at the moment. Even though my entire body has been nuked monthly for the last 4 months, and the healthy cells have been dying alongside the cancerous ones, I seem to have been able to avoid the colds and flus that everyone around me has been getting. I attribute that to the fresh vegetables and juices I have been consuming (especially beetroot), the almost total absence of animal products in my diet and the meditation and Reiki that I have been doing daily. So this is what raises the question about my ongoing treatment.
If I can boost my immune system by diet and meditation, and a healthy immune system could fight off any remaining cancerous cells in my body, do I need to continue to expose myself to chemotherapy and its side effects? Especially when we don’t even know if there are any remaining cancerous cells. That won’t be known until I have a PET scan in August. There are 2 rounds of treatment to go in the intervening period.
Of course, those around me are now convinced more than ever that I must pursue the conventional treatment. After all, it’s working, so why wouldn’t I? And they worry that if I don’t finish the treatment, I am putting myself at risk of the tumours reappearing. And it’s only 2 more rounds. I’ve had 4 and I’m okay so what’s wrong with another 2? On the other hand, I’ve really struggled with having chemo. It goes against everything I believe in. I can feel it damaging me in other ways – hardening veins, chest pains, the fatigue etc. And it’s unknown to what extent the treatment has been effective or the effect of all the changes I’ve made which I’m sure have contributed. It was only because the success rates with lymphoma are so high and the tumour in my stomach (Sigourney aka the alien) was becoming life threatening that I agreed to proceed. Sigourney has left the building so to speak so she no longer provides the imperative.
I have 3 weeks to make a decision. For some it would be easy. Either way. My instinct says to stop the treatment but I know then the distress that will cause others. I need to back myself which means arming myself with as much information as I possibly can in that time to provide those who love me with assurance or to provide me with assurance that I am making the right decision. So the plan is to visit my naturopath and work out questions for doctors with her assistance. Also on the agenda is a visit to a GP who advocates the use of vitamins and food to boost the immune system. A GP will speak the same language as the other doctors. I will also meditate on the question. The most important thing though is that I don’t judge or regret the decision I ultimately make. And that’s the tough one. There could well be consequences either way.
And in the meantime, I will continue to enjoy being able to do the deep breathing exercises at yoga because there is no longer a large mass preventing my lungs from filling. I’m in remission.