Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hope in a Dark Place

Hope is hard to find in a cancer ward, especially when the news is Stage IV metastatic breast cancer to the liver. But hope is exactly what oncology nurse Meg Jewett, of the Katzen Cancer Research Center at George Washington University Hospital, has given me. I was diagnosed Stage IV breast cancer from the get go in February 2012. At first my oncologist believed I was Stage II. My breast MRI showed no lymph node enlargement, and I was young (47), so there was no reason to believe the cancer had spread. But a pre-treatment bone scan and CT showed otherwise. My liver was covered with lesions.

As soon as I received the news, I began to split up my belongings in my head and plan my funeral. It was Meg who sat down next to me, as I was receiving one of my first of 20 weekly Taxol infusions, and told me, “I know someone who is still alive 30 years later after a diagnosis of advanced cancer.”  And it has been Meg who has repeated that to me over and over again, as I’ve struggled to find hope in a dark and difficult situation.

Every week during my infusion, Meg met me with humor, and a practical yet positive approach to cancer treatment. Meg was the one who instructed me on the vitamins to take to help alleviate my building neuropathy. And it was Meg who reassured me that the side effects I was experiencing were normal and that I’d get through them.  The lesions on my liver dropped to just scar tissue after 5 months of treatment, and I was stable on Herceptin for almost 2 years.  When I finished the rounds of Taxol, I wanted to thank Meg by taking her out for a wonderful meal, but I had to settle for bringing food to her at the cancer center because she was too busy treating other patients.

In December 2013 the cancer came back, again to my liver.  And again, I dropped into hopelessness. Thankfully Meg had previously talked about her experience during the clinical trials for T-DM1 (now Kadcyla), telling me how well the women on this drug did and how easily they tolerated it.  With this progression I was terrified to go through yet another round of knock-me-down chemo.  Five months of weekly Taxol had almost disabled me, and the resulting isolation sent me into a deep depression.  As I was coming out of the examining room, after receiving the news of my progression, I saw Meg in the hallway. Wordlessly I walked over to her, hugged her, and began to cry.  Meg has become a steadying point, a buoy to grab on to in these very choppy cancerous seas.  That hug gave me a glimmer that maybe things will be ok.  I started Kadcyla December 2013.

Hope. It’s such a simple word, but yet so hard for many to give.  I not only trust Meg’s skills and knowledge as an oncology nurse, I trust her ability to always, always give me hope, even when things get really bad.  As Dr. Bernie Siegel puts it, medical staff can “deceive people into health” by simply treating them like they’re going to live. And Meg has consistently treated me like I’m going to live.  And the best part is that Meg believes it herself.  I can feel it, that she believes I’m going to live.  I don’t care if either of us is deceiving ourselves.  It matters. Words and actions matter. Believing that I’m going to live keeps me going from day to day. And every three weeks I know I’ll see Meg for my next dose of hope and Kadcyla.  Meg has become a key member of my medical team, as important to me as my oncologist. And I am sure that Meg’s continuing belief in my health has helped to keep me alive as surely as the chemotherapy has. 

Reference: Siegl, Bernie MD, “Deceiving People into Health”,

The above was submitted to the 2014 CURE’s Extraordinary Healer Award for Oncology Nursing

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    My mother has been diagnosed with Breast and I was reading some blogs about taxol chemo where I found you and was really touched and thought I should share some of the information I have. Ever since my mom has been diagnosed with breast cancer, the only thing I can think about is cancer. I have been researching about cancer, reading books, meeting people.
    I wanted to avoid conventional treatment for my mom, but have decided to go for it along with other stuff. Once her conventional treatment is over, I will take aid of non conventional things to avoid cancer to come back.

    Here are some of the things I found which provide some ray of hope. You might have read about it already, but I thought I should share these with you anyway
    1. Anti Cancer - New Way of Life book.
    2. Google "World Without Cancer". I am not sure if what it talks about is truth or not, but gives some hope
    3. On you tube, search for "Apricot kernels cancer"
    4. Check out Yeshi Dhonden on google. He was personal physician of Dalai Lama for 20 years. I have a friend whose mother's breast cancer returned as stage 4 and he is seeking treatment with him and he told me that her condition is improving. I googled about him and found the below thread,50737,2.htm?mid=581954

    5. on youtube, search for "pranayam cancer". You will find some interesting videos.
    6. There is an ayurveda hospital in India (Patanjali) run by Baba Ramdev. On of my acquaintance's wife was given 6 months to live, and she is cancer free now after 10 years and she got treatment at this place.

    All this non conventional stuff gives hope. I am not sure how much success rate these things have as there is no way to verify. Also, its possible that the only thing which is verifiable is the people who got benefit and its hard to know who did not benefit. But, none of this stuff harms you in anyway.
    I am going to try these things for my mom to make sure that her cancer does not return.

    Best of luck in your fight.