Are You Ever Really Free of Cancer?

Are You Ever Really Free of Cancer?There are many letters, articles, books Facebook postings, blogs, tweets, filled with personal and professional sharings of having survived cancer. When I read them I am filled with hope for the authors, and for the subjects that have supplied their clinical information for a scientific study. The projected statistical information that things are looking good for cancer patients occurs when they are told that they have an 85% … 90% chance of surviving their primary site of cancer – if they have no evidence of their disease at the 10 year mark. Most patients consider themselves almost, or are, “cancer-free” with this information. There are different barometers of where being classified as being “free of cancer” and cancer-free can be determined for the many different forms of cancer.

It was not until I was diagnosed with “a lucky breast cancer” just 10 months ago that I realized how the information given on percentages of metastasis, longevity, response to medications, radiation, surgery, or the influence of family history, lifestyle factors of stress, obesity, exercise, geographical location, access to diagnostic and treatment opportunities, genomic information, ALL, still left me looking for a “fudge factor” of luck with every clinical study that I inserted myself into. Luck and fudge factor information would not be recorded in a scientific study. In the data section, results section, conclusion section or implications for further study sections of a research report, there is no mention of luck as being a factor to be quantified and studied.

Luck is in life. There are no Google results on this statistical, orphan sounding data field as a topic.

Diagnostic information is only information that can be quantified and can point care providers and the patient in a direction for treatment. Fitting ones own clinical information into definitive data fields of the most recently published article on the type of cancer you personally have, can be tough to objectively do if you consider that you or your care providers could have unknowingly “Hawthorned” your information into a more favorable position than the authors of the scientific study would have placed you if you were formally enrolled in their study.

I ask my care providers variations of this question, what if I was enrolled in a particular study, would my cancer data put me in a cure category? Continually asking questions in search of the truth is the ultimate expression of the belief that information is power. Formulating a question that looks or sounds like what if this were the case, is a reflection of hoping. Of wanting to attach meaning and certainty to my numbers. Of not being able to accept that although there is no obvious luck or fudge data field in scientific studies … it is powerful in life and maybe a factor in science.

As much as I know the benefits of a positive mental outlook, I now realize that even with a lucky cancer, once you have this diagnosis, you have it for life. Possibly with a good cancer the safety of exploring how close you came to being a bad cancer allows a patient to look deeper into really believing that they have successfully fought cancer and will be cancer-free for the rest of their life.

Being a well seasoned adult and knowing that there are no guarantees in any aspect of living, it does take some battling of thoughts to believe that my lucky cancer, will stay lucky.

What works better for me than putting energy into suppressing a negative or scary thought is to consider that even before I was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t believe or know with any certainty that I would be cancer-free for the rest of my life.

Everyone has the potential to develop a cancer in their lifetime. For those that have had this diagnosis, just as with those that have not, we all hope to lead a cancer free life.

In that sense, we are all alike.

Juliana Adams
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