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Jan 12, 2012 10:57PM
I guess I'm more of a pragmatist, or maybe I've dabbled enough in medical fields to realize that we have to read between the lines. There are no guarantees.
When a doctor says, "I think you're going to be fine!", what he/she means is, "Based on my experience, and according to the probabilities (odds) associated with your situation, your cancer should not come back. I certainly hope that will be the case." Note the phrase, "I think", in the statement. It means you are getting an opinion -- not a promise.
When facing a life-threatening situation in ourselves or a loved one, we listen for certain words and we cling to them. Sometimes we superimpose our own interpretations onto those words. So, even if the doctor didn't say "cured", that's what we think he/she meant. Many of us depend on hope and optimism and "positive thinking" to bring us through. Our doctors know that, so they play along. We have to think the treatments are going to be worth the misery and pain. If we knew they weren't, we might not agree to go through them.
Heck, maybe doctors need to be positive for themselves, so they can sleep at night. I don't think very many young people would go into medicine if they were required to focus on the likelihood of a relapse or a recurrence, rather than on the much greater likelihood that the disease is gone and the patient will recover. Imagine going to work every day thinking that, no matter how hard you try, what you do is going to fail.
Sometimes, docs or nurses or techs will come right out and say, "This is going to cure you," or "You can consider yourself cured!". Personally, I think that's terribly irresponsible of them, knowing what we know about recurrence risks of breast cancer. Still, though, they will be correct in the majority of cases of "early-stage" BC, especially with Stage I. Seriously -- according to any available statistics, most of us who've completed treatment for early-stage BC have been "cured" of our cancer. Unfortunately, we just won't know that until we die of something else. Breast cancer can be "cured". It's just impossible to tell at this point which of us will be among the small percentage of BC patients whose cancer ends up metastasizing.
Back to the original question, though... was I "fooled"? Was I led to believe that my surgery, chemotherapy, and ongoing estrogen suppression, would ensure that my cancer was not going to come back? No. My doctors were all optimistic, but I don't remember any of them failing to acknowledge at least a shadow of doubt. The tech who did my ultrasound exam was the most upbeat. She kept saying, "I don't see anything abnormal here. I don't see anything that would suggest it's cancer." But, even she added a disclaimer every few minutes, noting that the radiologist would have the final say. He wasn't nearly as blase -- he told me things looked "pretty good"; the lump looked fibrocystic... but he was "concerned" about one of the borders, which wasn't quite right and warranted a biopsy. The rest, as they say, is history.
My husband had a completely different mindset. Like me, he is a scientist -- logical, linear thinker, comfortable with probabilities. So, when he heard the odds, he took the high side and assumed everything would be fine. Given the numbers, he couldn't figure out why my med onco was recommending chemo, much less why I was agreeing to go through it. It took some deep conversations for him to understand why I was still feeling angry and sad and vulnerable sometimes. So, I showed him the numbers and pointed out the risk of recurrence even after completing all my treatments; and he finally got it. He cried that night.
I do understand the feeling of having the rug pulled out from under you, or being told there was a prize at the end but finding out they were not telling you the whole truth. It really sux.
2008, IDC, Stage IA, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR-, HER2-