Cancer is a complicated little bugger.
It’s just one of the many reasons I despise cancer. I like simple.
Bon Qui Qui likes simple.
You know Bon Qui Qui, of course. She’s the Youtube darling, the star of a Madtv skit who works the counter of King Burger, telling startled patrons that they can “have it your way, but don’t get crazy.” Should a customer desire more than a basic hamburger and coke, Bon Qui Qui recoils.
“We got a complicated order,” she bellows into the microphone before summoning security.
We need Bon Qui Qui to call security on breast cancer.
My sister Nancy, now 15 years into her tussle with cancer, is searching for a new form of treatment. Radiation helped, but the cancer is still there. Chemotherapy has helped, but it’s weakened her badly and the cancer has moved to her liver. Immunotherapy was a trial, and doctors abandoned it after two months with no improvement.
Her cancer, it seems, has changed. Twice.
Sneaky little son-of-a-gun.
Think about it. Your doctors perform a biopsy so they can diagnose the characteristics of your cancer, like a football coach watching film of an upcoming opponent. They come up with a plan of attack, and its effective. But the halftime locker room is home to subterfuge. A different team emerges disguised in the uniform of your first half opponent, a team with different strengths and weaknesses than the one you’d prepared to play. Baffled, you watch an apparent victory begin to slip toward defeat.
That basically what’s happened with Nancy. Breast cancer cells can have something called estrogen receptors. They can be either positive or negative. Quite frankly, I have no idea what that means because the details are too stinking complicated. What I do know is that Nancy’s cancer has changed and altered, until the cancer cells in her liver are all now estrogen receptor positive.
This is a critical development that might not been discovered had Nancy’s doctors lacked the foresight to perform another biopsy. Many times, oncologists will develop and stick with a treatment plan based on information collected in the original biopsy. With the new information from a second test, doctors can plot a more effective treatment, like football coaches changing their game plan at halftime.
Which can be complicated.
And get this. Breast cancer can also have HER2 cells that can change back and forth between positive and negative, impacting their response to treatment.
Oh, Bon Qui Qui, where are you?
There is one simple truth to all of this. Earlier this month, Nancy celebrated her 53rd birthday. She’s been fighting cancer since she was 39. Her definition of a good day is now drastically different than yours or mine. To Nancy, “feeling good” means she’s not vomiting uncontrollably while watching her hair fall out in clumps. Quite honestly, it’s not fair. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August of 2008. By November, I was cancer free. I “suffered” a little over three months of anxiety and uncertainty. Compare that to the painful plight of little sis. Quite frankly, there is no comparison.
And yet, while her estrogen receptors are 100% positive, so is her attitude. Yes, she gets weary. She feels beat down. There are times when our whole family wonders when and how this struggle will end. And we pray. We pray a lot.
When we can, we laugh. I’ve known Nancy Carnes Dotson her entire life, and I know how to make her laugh. It’s my way of taking her mind off of the sneaky, morphing, conniving enemy that’s still known as breast cancer, even though it’s now lurking in her liver. It’s the definition of complicated. And yet, we do laugh.
With Bon Qui Qui’s help, we’ll laugh our way to victory over this most complicated order.