Getting Ready for the Heavy Weapons of Radiotherapy

This entry is part 25 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

The time had come to commence radiotherapy. The one-hour drive into the Rand Clinic, a private hospital in the center of the notorious Hillbrow suburb of Johannesburg, went too fast. Rob and I prayed aloud in the car. Then we tried to keep up positive conversation. How much positive conversation can you think of on the way to the gallows? I wondered.

The streets of Hillbrow

It was almost a relief to spot the grey building of the hospital towering ahead of us. We drove through the litter-strewn streets and past the street vendors with their wares laid out on the pavement. We shook our heads negatively at the shifty-eyed hawkers who plied their goods at the traffic lights. Two outrageously dressed girls, who looked as if they should still be young, faces plastered with make-up, cheap jewelry hanging over black plastic jackets, seductively sauntered up and down the pavement. Their high-heeled black boots covered their knees and almost reached the hems of their diminutive skirts.

“Are those what I think they are?” I glanced at Rob’s silhouette as he concentrated on the heavy traffic.

“Yes.” 

When Rob and I had first married, we lived in a flat near here.

“How the area has degenerated through the years,” I remarked sadly. My gaze was drawn back to the building ahead, as Rob maneuvered the car into the parking lot across the street from the main entrance.

Advice of a friend

Raeleen, a friend who had been through radiotherapy a year ago, had warned me of certain things, for which I became extremely grateful. She told me that I’d be left alone in a room full of gigantic machines. “There is a heavy metal door which will clang shut as the technicians leave. “When the machines start to work, they make a hideous row.” She explained how no one had warned her, and the first time she received treatment, she got such a fright that when the machines started to work, she leaped off the treatment table in terror, causing total panic to the staff! “There’s absolutely no pain,” she reassured me. “You won’t feel a thing.”

Be prepared! This is not only relevant to scouts. It applies to cancer treatment. The more you know, the better you'll cope. Click To Tweet

“Just be prepared for being left alone, for the clanging door, for the noise,” she assured me. “You’ll be fine.”  

As we walked through the hospital entrance, I drew a deep breath, and held my head high. I can do this! Then—O Lord, help me through the next couple of hours!

A new game?

“Please could you direct us to the radiotherapy Unit?” As Rob asked the officious looking woman at the Inquiry Desk, I noticed her disinterested gaze moving from him to me. Guess the cancer patient, I thought wryly. What a fun game!

We entered the lift, and pressed 6 on the lift panel. I felt if everyone was gazing at me, instead of watching the lighted numbers ticking off our ascent. One by one the passengers got out. Everyone, except Rob and me.

I reminded myself that I was unique. They had never given radiotherapy to Shirley Corder, so I resolved to stay positive. 

Cultivate a scornful disregard for statistics. You are unique! There are no statistics about your life! Click To Tweet

Ping! The lift shuddered to a stop, the doors opened, and we caught our first sight of the room where we were going to spend a good deal of time.  Rows of identical, upright, comfortable looking seats lined the walls of a long, cheerful room painted in pastel colors. Several tables stood under untidy piles of old magazines. To my left was a smallish reception area, with a number of busy ladies ignoring the lift and the newcomers. Hesitantly we approached them.

Reception Committee at Radiotherapy

Eventually a lady glanced my way and handed me a clipboard. “Please fill in your details.” With Rob’s help I filled it in, including all sorts of apparently irrelevant information, and took it back to the counter. I gave the lady a bright smile, hoping to receive one in return. From her expression I realized she didn’t consider this to be a smiling matter. She wasn’t the only one.

Soberly I answered some further questions, and retreated with Rob to “sit over there and wait until you are called.”

In the corner stood a vending machine offering free coffee, tea, and drinking chocolate. How I longed for a cup of coffee. Surely, the fact that it stood in this room indicated I could help myself. Yet, I didn’t know what to expect. Could I drink just before the treatment? I didn’t want to do anything wrong. I looked at the frosty-eyed lady, and decided it couldn’t do any harm to ask.

A smile goes a long way

“Excuse me. Is it all right for me to drink coffee?” 

“I don’t know what you are allowed, it depends on your diet. You’ll have to ask your doctor.”

I looked in astonishment at the steely eyes, looking out through the empty window of the top half of her glasses. I realized she had misunderstood me, but I didn’t have the courage to try again.

A young clerk smiled up at me from the other end of the desk. “You’re welcome to help yourself. It won’t make any difference to your treatment if that’s what’s worrying you.”

“Thank you!” What a relief to see a smiling face. I walked over to the vending machine and poured us both some much-needed coffee. 

 

I couldn’t concentrate on a magazine, so I stared at my shoes and allowed my mind to drift over the illustration of my war with cancer. In the next room there were machines that I’d never seen before. These were the artillery, and they were preparing for my arrival. I pictured those cowardly cells hiding in the scar tissue of my breast and resolved to tell the machines where to look for them. 

How about you?

If you are facing radiotherapy (or radiation as it’s called in some countries) try not to be afraid of them, but to see them as part of the weaponry in your fight against cancer. They are not the enemy! They are there to help route out the enemy and restore you to health once again. 

How do you deal with suffocating fear? It doesn’t need to be a fight against cancer. We all have to deal with this  terrifying emotion at one point of another.  Please share your coping mechanism with me and with other readers.

 

Bringing in the Artillery in the Fight against Cancer

This entry is part 1 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

World War III

 

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy

Killing the Giant

I have always had a vivid imagination, and my journey through cancer proved to be no exception. 

One day, as I lay outside on a rug reading my Bible, I somehow found myself reading the story of the young shepherd boy, David, and the Philistine giant he faced called Goliath[1]. I read how David killed the giant with one out of five stones catapulted from his leather sling. However that wasn’t enough. He ran and cut off Goliath’s head with a sword.

I asked the Lord to make the familiar story relevant for me. A few minutes later, when Rob brought me some tea, I shared a thought with Rob.

“I have just seen something in the Bible that ties in with cancer,” I exclaimed. “I have decided to nickname the tumor Goliath! And of course, he’s dead. But more! His head has been cut off!”

“You mean when you had your operation?”

“No. That’s when he was killed. But remember how David ran up to the dead giant and cut off his head? Well the corpse of my Goliath was sent to a laboratory and sliced into thin pieces. He is not just dead. He’s had his head cut off! He has been totally destroyed.”

Somehow I really found this exciting. Up until now I had seen the cancer as a beast, a creature, a living thing which had been removed, but somehow I hadn’t thought of it as dead. Goliath, the giant serving under the authority of the enemy of my soul, Satan, was now dead. I saw any left-over cancer cells in my body as surviving enemy soldiers, in hiding. They needed to be routed.

Bringing in the Artillery

As I continued to think about the story, I thought of the Radiation (or radiotherapy) I faced the following week. I saw the destructive Radiation Machines as the heavy tanks and machine guns we were about to bring in. They would attack the actual war-zone. They were the Artillery.

Chemical Warfare

Once we were sure the artillery had cleared the local area, we would turn our attention on any enemy soldiers in hiding throughout the “country” of my body. At this step, my oncologist would poison the water supply when he injected chemotherapy drugs intravenously.

I saw how important it was that the “citizens” of the country knew not to ingest the poison, and I saw this as part of my duty. Once I started with chemotherapy, I would use my mind and concentrate on directing my own cells to keep away from the drugs. I planned to visualize the medication that was seeking and destroying the enemy snipers.

This all sounds highly imaginative, and yes, that is exactly what it was. I used my imagination to promote healing, instead of death. The more positive thoughts I cultivated, the less time was left for negative ones. [2]

Somewhere I read of an acrostic for fear: “False Expectations Appearing Real”. I determined to take up the shield of faith against all these negative thoughts and imaginations, and instead fill my mind with positive, happy, victorious concepts[3] .

FEAR is an acrostic for False Expectations Appearing Real. Please RT. #cancer Click To Tweet

Forward into Battle

Suddenly the whole nightmare ahead of me took on a more positive picture. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. War is never easy. But I could do this. Goliath was already dead. His brothers and support soldiers had been killed. Now it was time to bring in the artillery. I looked forward to getting those beastly cowards hiding behind the scar tissue in my breast and under my arm.

How about you?

What are you afraid of? How can you use your imagination to overcome that fear? Share you suggestions in the comment section below.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 19 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

 

This book is an inspirational message by Max Lucado, one of my favorite authors. Click on the image to see it on Amazon.

 

[1] 1 Samuel chapter 17
[2] ‘Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.’ Philippians 4:8
[3] ‘…His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.’ Psalm 92:4-6

What Cancer Cannot Do

This entry is part 24 in the series Victory in the Valley

 

Start at the beginning of the story

 

Now read on . . .

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy

Last chapter I listed some (and only some) of the suggestions people showered at me. Ways to fight cancer. Ways to improve my health. I became so overwhelmed by all the free advice and not-so-free treatment suggestions I didn’t know where to start.

Then, at my next visit to Dr. Meiring, I discovered he had his own ideas. Actually, they weren’t just ideas. He expected me to follow his recommendations. In view of all the information and misinformation floating around my head I was only too relieved to have someone with authority dictating what I should do.

“You are to take a shark-liver oil capsule three times a day,” he said. “Also this multivitamin, mineral and anti-oxidant combination. I believe this will give you a good balance of all you need nutritionally. My staff will show you where to get them.”

Barley Green

Later, a good friend from Durban, a distance away, wrote and sent me two jars of an expensive dark green powder called Barley Green. She explained how this powder, which she sold, would help my immune system cope with the treatment I was about to embark on. Included in the package was the name and phone number of the representative in my area. 

The jars sat unopened for a number of days. It looked so revolting! Eventually I felt guilty. My friend had paid out a lot of money for me. I reluctantly started taking it, following the instructions. It tasted every bit as repulsive as it looked. I determined to just take it long enough to prove it didn’t help.

I started to mixing it with some strong fruit juice and found as long as I gulped it down without stopping to taste or smell it, I could tolerate the ghastly drink. What we do to honor our friendships!

It was with relief that I came to the end of the jars, and decided I didn’t need to take any more as my friend wouldn’t know. A few days later, I reached for the telephone to order more. I realized it had really helped to build up my energy, and I needed to take it for the rest of my treatment. Praise the Lord for generous friends.

The result of all this advice was that I stopped reading about diet and nutrition. Each time a book started to tell me what I should or should not be eating, I turned pages until I reached another section. It was only much later that I would realize I was ignoring a major part of the healing process, and giving my poor overworked immune system even more tasks to cope with.

Spiritual advice

“Take up yoga,” came more advice.

“Channeling is much better.”

“Reflexology will work wonders for you.”

“Have you thought of trying PNI (Psycho Neuro Immunology)?”

There just didn’t seem to be an end to the things I could or should be doing to rid my body of this cancer, even where it went against my beliefs as a Christian..

Eventually I found myself suspicious of so many things.

Is it safe to use this deodorant? 

How wise is it to use perfume?

If we went in the car on the freeway, I would put the window down. The air conditioner was bad for me. 

“Oops,” I closed them again to avoid the car fumes and smell of petrol. I’d switch on the air conditioner.

Well meaning though all the advice no doubt was, I found the total confusion and misinformation I received from people, including an unsure medical world, made things so much worse.

Perhaps the cruelest advice I received, at intervals throughout that terrible year, was the best intended.

“Shirley, put your trust in the Lord!”

The words TRUST THE LORD can cause hurt in the person who IS trusting the Lord. We need to watch our words. Click To Tweet

I am a committed Christian, so why do I say this was cruel?

It implied to my over-sensitive mind that people thought I wasn’t trusting Him. It made me feel that perhaps, if I really had faith, I would not subject my body to all this treatment. Is my faith at fault? I often wondered.

Temptations

All the advice tempted me to do the very thing I longed to do. Stop the treatment and “trust the Lord.”

During my treatment period, two other people in our congregation, both Christians, did this very thing. They declared that God had healed them and stopped their treatment against medical advice. I played the organ at both funerals. 

“Shirley, what are you saying?” a friend asked me in horror when I said this. “Surely you’re not suggesting it’s wrong to trust the Lord?” 

“No, of course not. I know the Lord is with me. I also know He can reach down and heal me in an instant. But until He personally shows me beyond any shadow of doubt, that He has done so, I am going ahead with the treatment as planned.”

I stared at her wide concerned eyes.

“I can’t pretend I’m not scared of what I am letting myself in for. But I trust Him to guide me, to steer my treatment, to over-rule where necessary. Even if there are dark days ahead, I know He will always be there to show me the way.”

Trusting the Lord

One day when I was reading my Bible, I came to the well-known twenty-third Psalm.

Next time someone asked me about why I didn’t stop treatment and trust the Lord, I opened to that passage.

“David says ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,'” I read. “‘For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.1‘” I pointed to the verse so my friend could read with me. “Lynne, where will I find the rod and the staff?”

“In the valley of the shadow of death?” she read the words slowly, doubt creeping into her voice.

Thy rod and staff they comfort me. And where are they found? In the valley. Click To Tweet

I nodded. “I have no idea why the Lord wants me to go through this valley,” I said. “Nor do I understand why He needs me to pick up a rod and a staff. But, Lynne, I trusted Him with my life many years ago, and there is no going back. He wants me to go through the valley and collect the rod and staff. Then He will comfort me. He will go with me.”

I hoped I appeared more confident than I felt, yet I knew that what I said was true. I had to keep my eyes open, looking out for the rod and staff He had promised to leave for me in the valley.

When I started to feel afraid, I often went to my brown paper wall hanging of cards, and read the beautiful words and encouraging messages. One which really encouraged me was a computer message by an unknown author, beautifully printed and posted to me by my daughter’s mother-in-law.

I remembered those weak, confused cells my doctor had described to me. They were indeed so limited.

Yes, the war against cancer was beginning to hot up, but I had a wonderful family, many dear friends, and a countless army of prayer warriors throughout, not only South Africa, but overseas as well. Most important, I had the Lord on my side. The enemy might appear threatening, but “Greater is he that is in (me) than he that is in the world.”I drew a deep breath, and prepared to move into the unknown.

Would you like a gift for a friend or loved one?

Click on the image to see it on Amazon.

Primitives By Kathy Box Sign

Cross Stitch Chart and Free Embellishment Pamphlet – 1956 by Stoney Creek Collection

 

What saying or quote helps you when you look at the topic of cancer? Please share below.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 19 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

[1] Psalm 23 verse 4
[2]  1 John 4 verse 4

Everyone Knows How to Fight Cancer

This entry is part 22 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

 

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

Now read on . . .

A surprise visit

One day there was a ring at the doorbell.

“We have come to pray for Rob,” announced one of our church elders. How good that some folk had started to realize that it may be worse for the partner or care-giver. The center of attention is usually the patient.

“You know,” Rob spoke thoughtfully, after the elders left. “This probably sounds bad, but if I had to choose, I would rather be the husband. I don’t know how I would handle your diagnosis if it was mine.”

Image Anita Pepers from Morguefile.com

I stared at him in surprise. “Funny. My reaction is the same. I am glad that if one of us had to have cancer, it is me. I don’t know how I would handle it being you.” Again, the Lord had made us a team. A team well equipped to fight cancer.

What about the Children?

What about the children? No-one ever thought to minister to my two sons, or to my daughter overseas. Sadly, nor did we.

I am sure there were many times during those dark days when they needed to be able to talk and share their deepest fears. They were young adults, but we were a close family, and their mother had cancer.

The two boys were there for us both, but who was there for them? Debbie, so far away, really grappled with the whole situation, unable to be a part of our support system, and with no real friends in a new, foreign country.

Children and teenagers who have mothers with cancer need support too. Click To Tweet

I have since spoken to mothers of young children, and heard the same sentiments expressed. “My children needed support too. Oh people were very good in taking care of them physically when it was needed, but they needed counselling. They needed to know what was happening to me.

Cancer Starts with C

There is a fabulous book written by Leticia Croft-Holguin that portrays the cancer journey in a way little ones will understand.

Here’s what I wrote my review of this book in 2013:

“Cancer Starts with Cancer Starts with C” is a beautiful book in every sense. It is written for the younger child, although I admit I enjoyed it myself!C” is a beautiful book in every sense. It is written for the younger child, although I admit I enjoyed it myself!

“The beautiful illustrations turn what could be a scary story into bedtime reading. It is a book that every child will love.

“Author Leticia Croft-Holguin received her diagnosis of aggressive cancer in her ninth month of pregnancy. She wrote this book to give parents a much-needed tool to articulate and explain the unsettling concept of cancer to their children.”

This is not a cheap book, mainly due to the glossy format and abundance of colored illustrations, but if seen as part of the cancer arsenal I believe it can be of tremendous support to young children. (You can order it here.)

Talk of Cancer and Death

“I knew people got cancer,  I just didn’t think it would ever happen to me.” This was another comment I often heard. I understood what they were saying. Shirleys don’t die!

“People don’t know how to speak to me,” was another common complaint. I have to say that this was rarely my experience. Our friends were very supportive, and, as long as I looked well, they treated me like normal. The days when I looked really bad however, they often didn’t know what to say.

Nor did they want me to talk about cancer all the time. Who can blame them? Yet I needed to talk about it. I longed to share what I was feeling and hear how others were coping. I longed for someone to compare notes with, but that was one thing my oncologist was adamant about. He didn’t believe in support groups. 

“Please don’t talk negatively,” Rob often said to me if I mentioned dying. But I wanted to talk about what I was going through, and that included the possibility of dying. Was I ready to die? I knew I wasn’t. The thought of death scared me, and yet from a spiritual point of view I felt I should be. I was a committed Christian in full-time ministry. Rob, who was so supportive in every other way, became really distressed when I brought up the subject, and so I stopped talking about it—for a while.

Much advice on how to fight cancer

“I had no idea that there were so many quack ideas about how to fight cancer!” I exploded at Rob. “It is ridiculous. Everyone I speak to seems to have a cure for the disease. Why don’t they market some of them and make a fortune?”

It was difficult to sort out truth from fiction.

How do you sort out truth from fiction in the fight against cancer? Click To Tweet

“Eat a raw potato every day to fight cancer” “. . . a whole avocado pear daily. . . ” ” . . . at least three apples a day.”

“Only drink ionized water. That is very important if you want to fight cancer.” What is ionized water anyway?

“Stay out of the sun.”  I don’t have skin cancer! / “Get plenty fresh air.” How do I get fresh air without going into the sun? I live in Africa.

“You need a lot of rest. Stay in bed as long as you can in the morning and nap in the afternoon.” / “Don’t allow yourself to get lazy. Keep active even while you fight cancer.” 

“Don’t allow your mind to dwell on cancer.” / “Focus on the need to fight cancer.”

“Drink lots of milk to build your calcium stores.” / “Avoid animal  fat. Don’t drink milk.”

“Don’t eat red meat. Eat soya products instead.” / “Don’t eat soya. It contains estrogen.”

“Take massive doses of Vitamin C every day.” And they did mean massive!

“This company knows how to cure cancer.” Right – so why doesn’t the world know this?

“Use this powder twice a day” / “Drink this mixture first thing in the morning.” / “Take these tablets before every meal.”

Every person giving me advice no doubt believed in their suggestions. They meant well, but I began to dread those words, “If you want to fight cancer, what you need to do is . . .”

A Well-known book

Someone gave me a copy of a well-known health book which included a “formula” to fight cancer. It stressed the need for the following supplementation in addition to a healthy diet –

  • Beta-carotene capsules
  • Vitamin C (4,000 mg. per day)
  • Vitamin E capsules
  • Selenium capsules
  • Multivitamin capsules
  • Multimineral tablets
  • Antioxident complex
  • GLA tablets.

Who could afford all that? In any case, I didn’t want to live on a diet of pills.

Then there were the books I “had” to read and the tapes I “needed” to listen to. These only added stress to my life as I felt under pressure to oblige. (I usually didn’t, but I then experienced unwarranted guilt.)

Then my oncologist stepped into the discussion.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 19 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Looking at Statistics about Cancer?

This entry is part 21 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Why did I get cancer? The question rumbled round and round in my mind.


Image by Anita Peppers at Morgue File

  • I had three children before the age of thirty
  • ate a healthy diet with vegetables or fruit at most meals
  • I didn’t smoke
  • or drink alcohol
  • nor was I really overweight.

I learned that these were some of the factors which are supposed to have contributed to my chance of getting Breast Cancer. read more

What Is Cancer?

This entry is part 23 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

So what exactly is cancer?

I now found myself desperate to know more. I started to consume every book I could find on the subject: the Cancer Association articles, the books about breast cancer from Beulah, some which Rob found for me in the library and others brought to me by visitors. As soon as I was strong enough, Rob took me to the local bookshop and to the nearest Christian bookstore.

“This is so frustrating,” I grumbled. “Most of these books do not refer to the spiritual side at all. Those that do, almost always lean toward a belief system I can’t accept.” 

Books about breast cancer

I sensed that there was more to this disease than the physical. Surely there were things I could do on an emotional level, which would not offend my Christian faith.

Almost all the books about breast cancer I read encouraged practices which I knew to be wrong, allowing outside forces to take over my mind and body. They encouraged me to make my mind a blank, to go into a trance, to allow myself to be hypnotized. I didn’t believe I should allow any of these practices. Yet I knew I should be able to involve my mind in the healing process.

We continued to hunt for Christian books about breast cancer, especially real-life stories. I soon learned the importance—for me anyway—of checking the back page before bringing the book home. If the last page contained an obituary I put the book right back on the shelf. I needed to be positive. There were people out there who had survived, and those were the people whose books I needed to read.

So few books met my requirements. I resolved that when I was well again, I would write the book that I needed right then. Meantime I had to find ways to use my mind and emotions. But how?

I put this to one side temporarily, and returned to more pressing issues. What had caused my cancer?

I already knew that cancer was caused by the reproduction of deformed cells. It encouraged me to think of them as weak and confused. This was the opposite to the usual picture of cancer as the “Almighty Destroyer.” But what had caused these cells to become deformed in the first place?

Why had I developed cancer?

I learned that Breast Cancer is one of the few cancers which can occur in families. I was the first one in my family, and I prayed that I would be the last. My siblings were at high risk. Seeing I only had one brother and no sisters, I thought we were in the clear.

Wrong.

I discovered that what is generally thought of as a women’s problem is actually on the increase in men. An American survey states that for every 100 women, one man is diagnosed with breast cancer.

A man in America tried to enter a promotional race for survivors of Breast Cancer, but was turned away, as it was only for women. He contested this, but I can’t remember if he won his case. I hope he did.

As far as I knew, none of my ancestors had suffered from breast cancer. But my children all have to be diligent in checking their breasts regularly, my sons as well as my daughter, and my grandchildren as they grow up.

Speed of Growth

Once cancer cells start to multiply, they do so at an alarming rate. Some of them, if not arrested in time, spread to adjacent tissue, or they may even travel via the blood-stream or lymph vessels to distant organs. There they set up camp and form a secondary tumor,known as metastases.

However the incredible speed with which they reproduce is also part of their downfall.

The incredible speed with which cancer cells reproduce is also part of their downfall. See more . . . Click To Tweet

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy both rely upon this accelerated growth for their effectiveness. In each of these treatments, the machines or chemicals target rapidly growing cells. So the fast proliferation of the cancer cells actually blows their cover.

“Just as well!” I remarked to Rob as I shared these facts with him. “Symptoms only start to show up when the tumor has grown large enough to cause problems. How important it is to check our health regularly.”

I hadn’t realized, until then, that there are different types of breast cancer, as well as several stages. My tumor was Stage Two and had already started to spread from the breast. The oncologist explained that it was very fast growing, and the pathology report described it as “poorly defined.” This meant it was difficult to remove.

“According to statistics,” I read to Rob, “One out of every eleven women have breast cancer. And here I thought I was one of the elite few.” 

The statistics also said that three out of every four “Stage Two” breast cancer patients will live to be grandparents! That fact is not widely publicized.

Three out of every four Stage Two breast cancer patients will live to be grandparents! Read more here. Click To Tweet

I deliberately started to cultivate a scornful disregard for statistics. After all, there are no statistics for how long Shirleys live after contracting cancer. I am not a statistic. There is only one me.

What of the future?

Some years ago, if I survived five years after my operation, doctors would regard me as being cured. Medical experts today know this is false. Today, if there is no sign of a recurrence, medical experts will say it is “in remission.” The breast cancer cell can regenerate, so it can always come back.

Having said that, every day that passed after the surgery my chances of survival increased.

I didn’t want to know how long medical science thought I had to live. How could a mere doctor tell me that?

In the Bible I read All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139 verse 16). God knew how long my life would be before I was even born. My diagnosis hadn’t blown His plans! I certainly didn’t want to live according to a man-made measure, watching as my earthly time got shorter each day. What would I do if I ran out of days?

 

Over to you

How do you think you would react if you were told by medical professionals that you had 7 months to live? What would you do with that information? How would it affect your decision-making?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you.

NOTE:
These events occurred over 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

World War III Weapons

This entry is part 20 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Surgeon taking notes

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

World War III entrance exam

Toward the end of our session together, Dr. Meiring took me through to his examination room, and for the first time examined my breasts. He prodded and poked with big warm hands on my extremely tender breasts. I think he probably tried to be gentle, but my right breast was extremely painful. The scarred tissue at the site of the tumor bed was still raw and my breast felt bruised.

Each time he probed with his fingers I wanted to cry out. Then came the moment I was dreading. He asked me to put my left arm over my head.

“I can’t do it completely yet.” I searched his eyes anxiously. “Every day I get a bit further. I am really working hard at it.”

Dr. Meiring stepped back from the bed with an expression of annoyance on his face.

“That’s no good!” he exclaimed in disgust. “We can’t start yet. Make an appointment for next week, and get that arm up by then.”

Failed exam

Before chemotherapy commenced, I had to deal with radiotherapy. And I had to get my arm up over my head. I saw why the physiotherapist hated me having my arm in a sling. 

Why do some surgeons make their patients wear an arm sling after breast surgery? Click To Tweet

One step at a time! I can do this,” I chanted to myself aswhen I got dressed.

He told us to go home via his rooms at home and collect a supply of Tamoxifen so I could at least start that part of my treatment. “Remember,” he told me again. We’re fighting World War III here. I have no time for World War II weapons. So get that arm up!”

Rob phoned a friend, Flip, who worked in central Johannesburg, and asked him if he would please go via Dr. Meiring’s rooms and pick up the tablets, so he could take me straight back to our house.

I battled tears all the way home. I had failed. Now I would probably die because I couldn’t start treatment yet. I had let Dr. Meiring down before we’d even started. I knew I could do no more. I felt discouraged and incompetent.

“I’m never going to be able to do this in one week,” I moaned tearfully at Rob, returning to my position in front of the wooden door.

That evening Flip arrived with his wife Karen and brought the tablets for me. There were other visitors there too, and a buzz of conversation filled the lounge. 

Meeting God?

I was still somewhat subdued from the disappointment of the afternoon when I overheard Flip saying enthusiastically, “I just walked into the room and it felt as if I’d come face to face with God!”

My eyebrows shot up in astonishment. I hadn’t been following his conversation.

“Oh? Who was this?”  I had never known Flip to gush about anyone before.

“Your doctor that’s who!” he exclaimed. “You can just see God’s love shining through his eyes!”

“You can?”

“Yes you can. Shirl, this has to be the right man for you. I am quite sure of this.”

So everyone was sure. Except me. I felt as if I was facing World War III with only a sling shot in my hands. 

I remembered a joke I had just read in Sue Buchanan’s book, Love, Laughter & a High Disregard for Statistics.

There was a lawyer standing in the queue outside the gates of heaven. He noticed a certain doctor walking right past everyone, nodding at Saint Peter as he entered heaven. The lawyer felt this was wrong, so he complained to Saint Peter.

“Who does that doctor think he is, going to the front of the line and walking right in?”

“That’s not a doctor,” Saint Peter replied. “That’s God. Sometimes He likes to play doctor.”

A week later we phoned to confirm the time of appointment for my first radiotherapy session at the Oncology Unit of the Rand Clinic in central Johannesburg. I could get my arm over my head . . . just. The war was about to begin in earnest.

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Decisions about Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy

This entry is part 19 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

When my youngest, David, came home, he came straight to the point, with the impulsiveness of youth.

“He’s a Christian. You like him. Dad thinks he’s the right guy. This is the right man!”

His elder brother Stephen responded gently. “Mum it’s your decision. We only want what is best for you. But he sounds good to me.”

Why am I not convinced? I was still uneasy. His practice is so small – why? I like the man. Lord, he’s one of your children; and yet …?”

Eventually after much agonizing, I concluded that I would probably not be happy with any other Oncologist either. I was launching into a totally unknown area. I didn’t know enough about the subject to make an informed decision. My husband was sure. I decided to be guided by my family, and nervously agreed to return to Dr. Meiring the next day.

Drive to Johannesburg

The following morning, we made the one-hour trip through heavy city traffic, to the smart new private hospital in the center of Johannesburg. As we walked into Dr. Meiring’s other consulting rooms on the third floor of the impressive new hospital, I felt much more at ease. In some strange way, this felt more like a “proper doctor.” Little did I know that within two months he would close these rooms, and move exclusively to working from home.

“I have spoken to three colleagues,” he eventually said, having spent the past half hour talking “Church” with my husband. Why do I resent this? I wanted to get on with the matter at hand. After all—I was the patient. The sooner he dealt with me, the sooner we could get out of this room. 

He meticulously wrote out for me, in a beautiful script, the three options of chemotherapy that the other oncologists had suggested. As I was to learn, no two oncologists ever seem to see things quite the same way. Dr. Meiring presented me with three possible chemotherapy regimes. Well really, it was four. He took some things from each suggestion, altered one of the drugs completely, and then doubled the recommended period of chemotherapy.

“This is not the traditional treatment.” I can see that! “But I believe it is the best possible treatment for you.” He explained that he believed I needed an entire year’s chemotherapy, divided into two full courses of six months each.

More than I wanted to know

The one course of chemotherapy comprised of the drugs Carboplatin and Navelbine, both drugs not normally given for primary breast cancer. The second  would be made up of CMF – a combination of Cycloblastin, Methotrexate. and 5 Fluorouracil.  He elected to give me Methotrexate in place of the more usual because of my history of Rheumatic Fever, as he said it could aggravate my heart damage.

When I indignantly told him my heart was just fine, he retorted, “No it’s not. You take medication for arrhythmia. There is something there. The medical profession just hasn’t found it. But I don’t want us to find it during chemotherapy.”

I couldn’t think of a suitable answer so wisely kept quiet.

“The Carboplatin regime will definitely cause your hair to fall out,” he continued cheerfully. “But not to worry—it will grow back better than ever. Sometimes it even comes back another color.” 

The choice I didn’t want

All my life I had complained about my deep auburn hair. I had never appreciated being a ‘red-head’. Suddenly I liked my hair very much, and I really didn’t want to lose it.

“The CMF might not take your hair out,” he continued, “but it will make you very nauseous. We will obviously give you something to counteract this, but you could still have some unpleasant effects to cope with.”

He leaned back in his chair. “First we need to get the radiotherapy behind us, then we will decide which formula we will use first. You can think about this.”

Whoopee! What a choice. Do you want to lose your hair first, then get sick? Or would you prefer to get sick first—then lose your hair? It didn’t seem like much of an option to me.

Tamoxifen

In addition to the radiotherapy and chemotherapy he also prescribed Tamoxifen tablets daily. Initially he said this would be for twenty years. Later he changed it to “at least five.”

Tamoxifen is an anti-estrogen, which is normally prescribed to people whose tumor have a positive estrogen receptor. In other words, starve the cancer cells of estrogen and they will die.

Goliath however had been estrogen and progesterone negative, meaning that removing estrogen would not have any effect on it. However this was the one thing which all the consulted Oncologists agreed upon. I should take Tamoxifen, as a prophylactic measure, to discourage the growth of an estrogen positive tumor in the other breast.

I found it unnerving, to say the least, to read in the tablet’s insert that under no circumstances should this be used in the case of an estrogen negative tumor. Many times during my treatment I queried this with the ever-patient Dr. Meiring. Each time, he would reach for his big blue Oncology text book and make me read for myself what the latest research said.

Next on the agenda was radiotherapy which absolutely terrified me. As a student nurse I had cared for patients with horrific burns from this practice. Even though Dr. Meiring assured me this should not happen in my case, I remained unconvinced. Meantime, I faced an impossible decision. Really, which chemotherapy regime did I want first? Did I want to lose my hair first? Or did I want to get sick? How about I didn’t have it at all?

Have you ever faced an Impossible Choice?

Which of the two would you choose to have first?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Deciding on an oncologist

This entry is part 18 in the series Victory in the Valley
Surgeon taking notes

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Talking to the oncologist

As Dr Meiring, the oncologist recommended by my sister-in-law Denise, explained the various ways a malignant tumor is classified, I began to understand the seriousness of my situation. I had an aggressive, fast growing cancer, with a number of negative factors. It was far more advanced that it would have been had it been caught earlier. If I’d had a mammogram when I first requested it, the tumor would have been identified in its earlier stages. Nothing could have stopped it developing, but I had my gynecologist’s stubborn attitude to blame for facing the rigors of chemotherapy.

M.E. history

Dr. Meiring grew concerned when I mentioned I had been ill for months two years ago with M.E. (Myo-encephalitis) or as it is also called, CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). I hotly avoid the nickname of ‘Yuppy Flu’, which is lightly bandied around by those who don’t believe in this debilitating condition. It is neither ‘yuppy’ nor is it ‘flu’!

Fortunately for me, Dr. Meiring did believe in M.E.  “Chemotherapy will depress your immune system,” he explained. “When that happens we could face a further flareup of the virus. I need you to have a minimum of three intravenous drips of Polygam which will boost your immune system.” He wrote carefully on his notes. “I will try and motivate with your medical aid to pay for this. It is pricey.” 

Further tests

sonar for tests ordered by oncologist

Image creative commons

He gave me a long list of blood tests to have done at the laboratory, including tests for the Coxsackie virus which had caused the M.E. I confidently expected this to be negative, as I had fully recovered my energy and strength, prior to my breast cancer operation.

“We also need to check out your heart before we embark on the radiotherapy and chemotherapy.” He made an appointment with a cardiologist at a private hospital some miles from my home. 

“I want him to do a MUGA scan which will measure how well your heart pumps with every heartbeat, and an echocardiogram to ensure that there is no serious heart damage as a result of the Rheumatic Fever when you were seven,” he added.

He assured me that he would spend time looking at my situation, and discuss it with some of the other oncologists before he saw me again the next day. Before we left for home, he called his radiotherapist and assistant, and together they laid hands on me and prayed for wisdom, and for healing.

The decision I didn’t want to make.

We spent the hour that it took us to drive home, talking about what we had learned that day. We spoke about Dr. Meiring. Was he the right man? Rob was totally convinced.

When we got the home, we sat together in the lounge with the inevitable cup of tea, and prayed.

“Lord, is this the oncologist you want to use in my life? He’s nice, and he’s supposed to be good—but I’m just not sure.”

“I think he’s the right man.” Rob was unusually positive as he spoke. “If you are really not happy then we need to try one of the others, but really, I think we’re wasting precious time; and who will we go to?”

Who indeed? With me being in the medical field, I received plenty of advice.

“You must go to Dr. X,” I was told on several occasions. “He’s a lovely person; a truly dedicated oncologist.” Then I heard that he was so busy he never had time to sit and listen to his patients. This would not suit me. I knew, even then, that I was going to have lots of questions.

The cancer patients I had known up until this point, either in my role as minister’s wife, or through my nursing, were usually at one of two stages. They had either just been diagnosed through tests or surgery, or they were dying. When it came to the outpatient treatment, I knew no more than the man in the street; nor did I know any of the oncologists, except the one whom I had already rejected. The oncologist who took me on had to be prepared to give me time.

This is my life

This is my life! I am taking control wherever I can, I reminded myself. I needed an oncologist I could talk to, who would explain things in ways I would understand, and who would see Rob as part of our team.

“Dr. Y is the best man in his field,” I was advised by a number of people. He held down a very high position in the cancer field so was obviously highly qualified. A member of our congregation and a good friend, was exactly one year ahead of me, and this was her doctor. She couldn’t speak highly enough of him.

“He is such a nice man,” she assured me. “He listens to me, and answers my questions. However, he only speaks to the patient. He totally ignores my husband.” That was no good for me either. Rob and I were in this together. I needed Rob, and Rob needed to be a part of my treatment plan.

So we decided to listen to my sister-in-law and accept Dr Meiring as my oncologist.

“After all, I don’t need to commit myself to him if I’m not happy,” I reasoned aloud. “We can always change our minds and go to someone else if we don’t like him.”

This was easy to say. Where could I go? Would I really be happier with someone else?

Next chapter in ongoing story of cancer journey, In the Valley by Shirley Corder. #cancer Click To Tweet

Over to you:

Have you ever had to make such a decision?

Or were you automatically assigned to an oncologist?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you. 

NOTE:
These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Strategies for World War III

This entry is part 17 in the series Victory in the Valley

World War III machine gun

World War III

“I must warn you that I do not believe in fighting World War III with World War II weapons.” After a few words of introduction, the oncologist made this opening sentence.

I sensed my heart go into overdrive. What a way to start. If this was a book, the man in front of me had me hooked. Dr. Meiring leaned forward, his arms folded on the large untidy desk. His gray hair was neatly in place; the slightly crumpled jacket of his suit hung open to show a conservative shirt, with a cheerful tie.

A Friendly Room

The tiny consulting room, attached to his home in an upgrade suburb of Johannesburg, had no outside window. A warm breeze came in through the open door leading to the tiny examination cubicle. A small shaft of sunlight shone through a porthole in the roof, adding to the heat. Behind me, an assortment of medical and Christian books spilled out of a too-small book-case. A friendly room, even if rather claustrophobic.

This was the first of two comments, uttered during that initial appointment, which would have a profound effect on my life.

The other was, “When the cure makes you sick it is no longer a cure. The cure should not be worse than the disease. Then it will be time to stop.”

To my mind came the words, 

God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13.) Click To Tweet

Many times over the next year I realized God had different ideas to me of how much I could bear. I also often wondered how bad things had to be before Dr. Meiring considered it worse than the disease.

No Death Sentence

His confident manner, however, reassured me and totally won over my husband. This man saw cancer as something to be fought and overcome. He had not offered me a death sentence. By classifying it as World War III, it was a war we could fight.

weapon-999_640

He shared with us some of his family background. There were so many cases of cancer that he said,  “It’s not IF I get cancer – it’s when. The secret is in finding it before it finds me!” What an unusual approach to a dreaded disease!

That first appointment lasted the full afternoon. The three of us drank coffee together – several cups – and talked. We talked about cancer. We talked about the Lord. He was a devout Christian and expressed his encouragement over the ‘team’ that we would form. He saw my husband Rob and I, together with him, as the ‘principal players’. But he expressed enthusiasm over the ‘back-up team’ consisting of a supportive family, a united congregation of God’s people, and many other Christian friends and colleagues, all praying.

That afternoon Rob and I sensed a new friend in Dr. Meiring.World War III viruses

Simple Explanation of Cancer

“The human body is made up of billions of microscopic cells, each with its own role to play,” he explained, drawing a dot the size of a normal full-stop on the paper in front of him. “Some of these are so small that 250,000 could fit into that space. They grow and reproduce in an orderly fashion.” He continued to doodle as he spoke, sketching out a complex diagram of circles and lines.

“Sometimes, something goes wrong with the reproduction process, and a cell is produced which contains incorrect genetic information. If this cell becomes a ‘mother cell’, it produces ‘daughter cells’ with the same faulty data. Normally the defense system of the body, the immune system, mounts an attack on these intruders and destroys them. When this does not happen, for whatever reason, these cells start to multiply rapidly, and a cancerous tumor begins to develop.”

Bewildered and feeble

For the first time, I began to understand what my cancerous tumor really was; a mass of bewildered, feeble cells, incapable of carrying out their God-appointed task.

“Healthy cells know which organ they belong to, and remain within the established limits. However, cancer cells are undisciplined, and they invade adjacent tissues, even traveling throughout the body.”

This, he explained, was the reason I needed radiotherapy and chemotherapy. According to the pathology report, the sentinel gland under my arm was ‘brimming’ with cancer cells. The cancer had already spread from my breast. World War III was about to begin.

READ ON: Next Chapter – Choosing an Oncologist