Three weeks ago my oncologist basically told me, “you can repeat the carboplatin chemo that you had last year; you can search for a clinical trial for your rare cancer; you can try several other drugs” (which he seemed dubious about); “or you can do nothing.” I blogged about how I was resigned to my fate and would accept whatever happened. But then I got a second opinion.
The second doctor is a colleague of the first. The two doctors’ expertise overlaps slightly, like a Venn diagram, but their opinions could not have been more different. Dr. #1 is The Great Surgeon while Dr. #2 is The Great Clinical Researcher. Although Dr. #2 did not tell me that my cancer can be cured, she did tell me that a different chemo has shown promise in either slowing, halting, or slightly shrinking cancers like mine. Although I had already resolved to die with as much grace as I could summon, I gladly accepted her suggestion that I try this new chemo once a month for three months, for it supposedly has far fewer nasty side-effects than last year’s treatment. At the end of three months (assuming I’m still alive) we’ll conduct another CT scan to see if the new drug is doing anything.
This experience with the two doctors giving different advice is a huge lesson to me. Patients need to be proactive and not just passively receive the wisdom from our physicians. We consult Consumer Reports before we invest in new cars or washer-dryers. Likewise, we also need to do our homework while navigating difficult medical challenges. I only wish I’d asked for a second opinion after speaking with Dr. #1 three weeks ago, because time is of the essence with fast-growing cancers like mine. But it never occurred to me that his advice would differ so significantly from that of Dr. #2.
In the meantime, I continue to feel good, apart from a heaviness low down inside my abdomen. In fact, although I suffered for a decade from an obscure autoimmune condition that blighted my health, last year’s chemo treatment seems to have totally wiped out the autoimmune problem. This means that I feel vibrant and healthy for the first time in ten years. In fact, other than feeling the cancer inside me, and knowing that it has also spread to my liver, I feel completely strong and capable, and last weekend I danced for three hours straight at a party. (More on that, perhaps, in a future blog.) People keep asking me, looking perplexed, “Are you sure you have cancer?” — “I do,” I tell them. “I have seen it repeatedly on the scans and have read the CT reports, and it feels like a heavy lump inside me.” But that said, I have no complaints and consider myself a very lucky person to be alive today.
I understand that the new drug might not do anything at all, but it makes sense to me to try. Tomorrow I start the new treatment….wish me luck!