This is more difficult than I had thought—or than I had hoped. As I write this, a colleague with triple-negative breast cancer is on life support in a Florida hospital after a massive stroke that might have been triggered by the spread of her cancer.
When another colleague who has battled cancer heard the news, she wrote to me, “This is such an insidious disease.”
Insidious is right. Menacing, sinister, dangerous. Interestingly, one synonym for insidious is subtle. And one of cancer’s many challenges is that it is hardly a straightforward disease, with a definite path and a clear outcome. Chances are great that you will survive and get on with your life, as most women do, changed by the experience, often for the better. There is always the chance, though, that it will return, that it will kill.
How can you tell where your path leads? Even with the markers we get from doctors—no signs of cancer—the fear of recurrence is there, and it is real, because recurrence is real. It gets less common after three years for TNBC and increasingly less common after that. But it is real. It never goes away.
And, even though we think we know our bodies, it is easy to lose trust in that knowledge when cancer struck the first time and we tried to talk ourselves into the fact that it was nothing. So is today’s headache really a sinus problem? Is that bone pain actually because of too much exercise? Is that bruise because of lifelong clumsiness that causes me to run into most things in my path?
In the last conversation I had with Linda, she said she was doing well, the treatment was working and she was going on with her life. She had been diagnosed a year and a half ago. She was on my list of people with whom I needed to reconnect. I did, in fact, “friend” her on Facebook just last week, so she knew I was thinking of her. But I never got around to sending the “How are you?” email.
She read my blog and I could often see she was on the site. I wish there were a way to quickly say “hi!” to my individual readers; I suspect that is coming.
Linda was working on her doctorate, which she expected to finish this spring or summer. She had a great academic future ahead of her, as a woman with significant professional experience. One question I wanted to ask was whether she had a job lined up, as she probably did. I was eager to follow her new career, as it was one I shared, and I had encouraged her to get the Ph.D.
But now I have to settle for hearsay—they think the stroke was cancer-related. They don’t know.
They do not expect her to live.
So I mourn the future she should have had, but celebrate the rich past she left behind. And, once again, I am left looking for answers, wondering exactly what happened here.