A friend called my husband and told him about a neat Newsweek article on msnbc.com (and I also noticed a blog comment about it, too):
It's exciting to see so much research and innovation being devoted to this type of cancer. I had to fight back feelings of envy while reading about the featured neurosurgeon from Houston with glioblastoma, who has been without a recurrence for 18 months (twice as long as I went). His treatment involves a vaccine that is unavailable to me, because my tumor site was "contaminated" by the chemo wafer that they put in my brain, and a vaccine cannot be made from it. (Although the wafer was the state-of-the-art approach at that point.) I hold it as my emotional "trump card" - something positive to consider if my MRI next week shows any new tumors that call for more surgery. The newly removed "fresh" tumor might be usable to make a vaccine (assuming I have the right gene receptors for the vaccine to work, as described in the article).
As with all reports of promising developments, the good news is placed in the context of contrast with the grim realities.
"More than two thirds die in a year...", it quotes from the Central Brain Tumor Registry. (Not sure what the Central Brain Tumor Registry is. Is it like a gift registry? Do I get to pick out the china pattern for my hospital dining?)
More than two thirds die in a year. The anniversary of my surgery is coming up on Tuesday. If I make it that far I'll be in the lucky 33 percent who see their anniversary. I hope that today's technology will keep me going beyond that point, until the next promising development becomes available. And then maybe that can keep me going until the next, and so on.
The article also attempts to describe the challenge of glioblastoma with an analogy to marble cake: "Glioblastomas are among the most lethal tumors, because they are resistant to both chemotherapy and radiation. Worse, they send out microscopic tentacles that seed other areas of the brain with individual tumor cells. Even if a surgeon can remove the main mass of a tumor, he cannot possibly excise all these scattered cells. It would be like a chef trying to remove the marbling from a marble cake—and get every last crumb. These additional cells generate new malignancies, sometimes within weeks of the initial operation." Such statements are disheartening until I remember that this is "arm of flesh" talk. Even though it might be based on available science and history and therefore seem to be easily reliable information, it is counterproductive to the exercise of faith.
It's like when I was going through infertility treatments and my brother was learning about embryology in medical school. His comment, as we both discussed our increased understanding of how the conception and gestation processes work and what challenges they face, was that "it's a miracle that anyone is ever born." It's true. Having looked at reproductive science from a closeup view, it was staggering to me to realize how the life process, from its earliest beginnings, is already subject to death. Birth itself is a miracle. Each day of life is a miracle, cancer or not.
So here I am, not only still alive as I approach a milestone that puts me in a statistical minority, but I'm still able to do more than just maintain a heartbeat. I feel like Rush Limbaugh, doing so much "with half my brain tied behind my back."
This month our church magazine, the Ensign, features a little blurb that I wrote during my "brain on steroids" days following surgery. (You can see it on http://www.lds.org in the Gospel Library section - Ensign December 2006 issue, in the "Questions and Answers" article.) Next Sunday, the 17th, I am scheduled to sing Messiah again at the Artisan Center Theater in Hurst, Texas. (And it's free, so come and hear me if you're in the area.) Unless my MRI on the 13th forces me into an emergency craniotomy, and as long as I can finally get over my cold, I'm looking forward to a dream performance.
This is much better than what "the arm of flesh" would have predicted at this point. It's a miracle, made possible by the faith and prayers of many on my behalf.
Makes me want to get a marble cake and celebrate.