Breakthroughs and blessings

by Karen on February 2, 2015

get-attachment.aspx - Version 2For the past few years, my doctor has been keeping an eye on promising research into a new class of cancer drugs. At some point, she mentioned it to me, and I scribbled a few details in a leather journal in which I keep odd bits of information – books I want to read, passwords I need to remember, my kids’ friends’ phone numbers.

So when she told me last month that one of those drugs had been FDA-approved, I vaguely remembered our earlier conversation. When she told me it was specifically indicated in women with advanced ovarian cancer who have one of the BRCA gene mutations and who have been treated three or more times with chemotherapy, I was incredulous.

That was a very specific subset of women. And it described me to a T.

Now, this doctor – who has been my oncologist since I was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago – sees a lot of patients with a lot of different types of cancer. From our conversation last month, I gathered that exactly two of her many, many patients fit the criteria for this new drug. Yet she was on top of it.

She is always on top of it. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 34, she was on top of it. When I developed ovarian cancer at age 45, she was on top of it, and when I experienced recurrent ovarian cancer at age 51, she was on top of it.

Just as this pesky inclination to develop cancer is in my DNA, I think a feisty, uncompromising desire to fight it is in hers.

Because I’ve battled cancer, people sometimes praise my toughness or my courage or my fighting spirit. But I’m not that tough. In fact, for the past three days, I’ve been fussing over a tiny little crack in the dry skin on my right thumb. (Blast this cold weather; it hurts!) My biggest act of courage is putting my life in the hands of the true fighters – this doctor whom I love and the many other physicians and researchers who battle on the front lines every single day.

Sometimes they must feel like they are hacking away at cold, hard stone with nothing to show for it but dust on their hands and rocks at their feet. But every now and then, they catch a glimmer of pure gold. And I guess that’s what keeps them going. That glimmer and the hope that one day, perhaps in the not too distant future, they will strike the mother lode – the vein that holds the promise of a cure.

So, as I curse my sore thumb every time I pop open the pill organizer full of this ground-breaking new drug, I’ll try to remember to breathe a prayer of thanks. Thanks for the breakthroughs in scientific research. And thanks for the blessing of a good doctor.


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