A little bit of cancer is a very big deal.
My wife Mona, who I love dearly, could be the poster child for early detection. Last month doctors found a tiny little lump in Mona’s breast, only about the size of a grain of rice, and a needle biopsy revealed that it was cancerous. Stage One.
She had a lumpectomy. I had always assumed this was was a simple procedure, on the order of a tonsillectomy. It’s not. It’s much more complicated than that. The morning of the surgery doctors injected radioactive dye into her nipple, then tracked the radiation to remove the associated lymph nodes. The lump was removed, and also tissue surrounding the lump. There were two incisions, one in her armpit and one in the side of her breast, each several inches long.
The news afterward was excellent: lab results showed the cancer had not spread into the lymphatic system, and the doctor is confident that the cancerous region was removed.
But it’s not over.
She will have between four and seven weeks of radiation therapy. This will be five days a week in a continuous stretch. Cancer is seldom confined to a tiny area, and this will sterilize any cells that sneaked out of the initial site.
Mona will meet with an oncologist after the first of the year. She will see this doctor twice a year for five years. She is likely to have to take a daily hormone pill. Chemotherapy is unlikely, but still on the table. We don’t know yet.
She will continue to meet with the surgeon four times a year for two years, then twice a year for three more. He will monitor the breast to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
What I didn’t know about cancer was that it is such a long-term ordeal.