People talk about “fighting” cancer, “courageous battle” with cancer, and similar terms. I don’t really see it that way for me personally. I don’t see myself as “fighting cancer”. There’s a real battle going on inside me, no question, but my role is somewhat removed as I see it.
cancer crept into me and grew slowly over time. (lowercase “c” intentional) It happened while I was in the best physical condition of my adult life. Then, somehow (I’m still not clear how), this cancer guy named ROS1+ hopped into the cancer driver’s seat. That lazy cancer that was creeping through me took off, with ROS1+ as driver, like the energizer bunny! Zoom! Whoosh! Doing donuts in my left lung and heading off to the liver land. I don’t know how that cell mutation happened, and for my purposes now, it doesn’t matter. (Figuring it out for others’ future does matter, and I hope researchers at DFCI can learn from my journey.) All I know is I was going along my merry way, climbing mountains and playing with children, when something happened. And that thing, at that time, was good ole ROS1, putting the pedal to the metal. Who knows how long I had gone merrily along my way with cancer growing in my left lung hilum, where some pretty important stuff happens, or how much longer it would have taken to show up if ROS1+ hadn’t jumped in.
Okay – the “fight” and how I see it. I believe the fight is between my medication and the cancer. My body is where the battles take place. The many doctors (radiologists, oncologists, neurologists, pathologists) at DFCI are monitoring and assessing all the battlefields, and making decisions based on those assessments – they’re the generals. (Ultimately I’m Commander in Chief, but I’m a wise person and they know what they’re doing!)
The generals sent in my first hero Xalkori Crizotinib, and she was brave! She fought back cancer and I could breathe. My poor little left lung re- inflated! Xalkori hunted down ROS1+, tied him up, and sat on him. (Sorry, just sounds like a male name.) ROS1+ cancer was still for months, a year even, until finally one night as an exhausted Xalkori slept, cancer tiptoed past the Blood Brain Barrier to my meninges. No joke, that’s how I see this! Time for the generals to put their heads together for a strategy meeting. The outcome? The next weapon! Lorlatinib. It not only protects the body like my friend Xalkori, it boldly crosses the Blood Brain Barrier, hunts down, and attacks cancer as it sneaks around and around my brain, looking for places to settle. The generals’ plan is that Lorlatinib will cause the cancer to retreat to a point where cancer is again contained and managed, never to escape again. Just weeks into the battle I can feel the battleground shaking. Lorlatinib is powerful!
Now, I’m not letting myself off the hook or being passive here – I have an important role too, just not in the heat of the battle, sword to sword. That would be too exhausting, to be in fight mode all the time. My job is to strengthen the fortress, to give the generals and the warriors the best support I can so they may win each battle, and so, I don’t see it as “fighting” – on my part anyway. My work is essential to the battle, and it is both joyful and exhausting. Believe me, I want this cancer gone, but that’s not what’s expected, so I see this as a journey. Medically, it is managing a chronic disease. I’m in it for the long haul, a marathon, not a sprint. Likely more battles such as the ones described above will occur in my body, maybe many. Hopefully a time of quiet management will come soon and last a long, long time, with the ever present sentries scanning the skies, land, and oceans of this body for cancer. I will be living life, taking the best care of my mind and body that I can, supporting the work of DFCI and its staff.