So I Didn't REALLY Have Cancer?

So now what?  Picked up The New York Times this morning to learn that the condition for which I had radiation and disfiguring surgery was not really cancer, after all.

Say what?  Doctors for many years have been treating ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which I had, as cancer, but it turns out, as I have slowly learned, that it is not cancer at all but simply a risk factor for the disease.  I met with my oncologist (do I even need one now?) last week for my annual check-up and he was adamant that DCIS required aggressive treatment because in 25% of cases, it turned into invasive cancer.

"I have women who say, but 75% of us won't get it," he told me, "but that's one in four," seeming to imply that even that is too high.

Now, in my case, there may have been more reason to treat DCIS like a true cancer because mine was the highest grade of noninvasive cancer, and pathologists were divided on whether it already actually was a cancer.  Then, two years later, when another "premalignancy" was found, that was it.  Once you have more than one of these lesions, it's pretty much a done deal.

The hang-up  -- and over-treatment -- occurs because it can't yet be told whether these precancerous or even some cancerous tumors will ever turn into malignant, aggressive cancer.  (To me, that seems where the research money should go.)

But doctors can't take that chance -- yes, malpractice enters into it -- and for that reason, they treat "precancers" like the real thing.

Officially I'm no longer a "cancer survivor" (though when I went to get on a bone marrow donor list, I was told I was ineligible because I'd had radiation and I guess that does something to your blood).  The good news is that I didn't "really" have cancer, so the worrying I've done for six years that it will come back has been pointless (boy, do I wish I'd known it then).

But the fact remains that though I didn't "have" cancer, as they're now saying, I still had treatment as though I did.  So, really, what's the difference?  I suppose I can rest easier knowing that the cells in my body really weren't rising up against, and potentially, killing me.  But, at the same time, I went through seven surgeries, over six weeks of radiation (which also causes cancer), reconstructive surgery (which failed, because of the radiation), and now it looks like I didn't need to do any of it.

I'm glad I don't have to worry about dying now, but it's a pretty tough pill to swallow.


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