Last Friday I met with Dr. Saroha and we talked over options and ended up choosing to enter the maintenance chemo season of treatment. As we were talking about my cancer he used the word “remission”. “Remission” is a word I was told never to expect to hear. When he spoke it I was taken by surprise and did not say anything. We were in the midst of making big decisions on the future of my treatment. The word was spoken, hung in the air and then was quickly passed over as we made life altering decisions.
A few days later I could not escape his use of the word. What did he mean when he spoke it? I know what I have always taken it to mean when someone with cancer shared that they were in remission. How could this be when I was clearly told to never expect to hear such words in my case? I needed answers. Email is awesome. With a quick note to Dr. Saroha I had my answer in less than 24 hours. I thought I would share it here. I think it is helpful to understand how some of those who care for us use language and it speaks clearly to my condition. Here is his response:
Unfortunately, “remission” is not a well defined medical term and we do use it variably during discussion about cancer. There are two common scenarios that you may hear it used-
1) Cancer was treated, there is no evidence of cancer currently, patient may be cured but we won’t know for sure for a few years, so we may call it “remission” until we can call it cured or the cancer returns. This would be the situation with an early stage colon cancer that was resected and then patient may have had chemo for a few months afterwards.
2) Cancer was treated, there is no evidence of active/progressing cancer (but there likely is some cancer in the body), plan is observation (no chemotherapy) or maintenance/low-dose chemotherapy until we see progressing/worsening cancer, so we may call it “remission” until cancer gets worse (called “relapse”).
I used it in 2nd context. Although, I certainly would like you stay optimistic (rarely these “remissions” can last years and as you know, miracles can happen!).
While I certainly would have liked to have been in the 1st context I am glad we can say “there is no evidence of active/progressing cancer”. Our plan of low dose chemotherapy should keep any cancer from growing for a season. My prayer is that I stay in this stage of “remission” until someone comes up with some new treatment which will move me closer to a cure. I love Dr. Saroha’s closing words, “miracles can happen”! Amen, Amen and Amen!
At the start of this journey my CARCINOEMBRYONIC ANTIGEN (CEA) blood work results were at 124. “The CEA test measures the amount of this protein that may appear in the blood of some people who have certain kinds of cancers, especially cancer of the large intestine (colon and rectal cancer).” Normal is under 5, anything over 5 is a sign cancer could be present. In June my number had dropped to 37.4. By July my number had dropped to 3.9. Further tests in August (2.6), September (2.2) and finally November (1.6) all show numbers heading in the right direction.
Each time we do this test I say a special prayer that the numbers continue to stay low. I praise God for the way I have responded to this treatment. I struggle to know if I would find it as easy to praise God if my numbers were climbing each time the test was done. I hope I could. I pray I would see it as just another stage of life’s journey and be able to celebrate God’s presence with me as I walked through it. Yet, there is no denying numbers on the rise is a very different reality than what I have experienced up to this point.
Why is it we find it easier to praise God on a beautiful, sun filled day? God is no less present nor real in the midst of a winter storm or a rainy, dreary day. I have come to understand a piece of spiritual maturity is being able to praise God no matter what is going on in life. Can we praise God in spite of circumstances? Are we able to lift our voices in celebration of who God is even when things are not going our way? Those who are truly spiritually mature do not allow the realities of this world to effect the depth nor energy of their praise for God.
God is Good All the Time…All the Time God is Good…Miracles Can Happen!