A Phone Call No. 7

“Hi, This is Dr. Rugo. Sorry to call so late, I was in clinic and couldn’t call before this.”

It’s 9 p.m. I guess I’m not the only patient who gets such detailed care from Dr. Rugo.

“We’ve got the oncotype test results back. And the results are interesting. The test showed negative for Her-2, when all the others had it as borderline. And the Oncotype recurrence score is high, 53. Without chemo, this tumor has a 25-40 percent chance of recurrence. But it seems crazy to do aggressive chemo on such a small tumor.”

I suck in my breath. If the recurrence score is less than 19, then a patient with early stage cancer may be able to avoid chemo. A score of 19 to 30 is considered “intermediate risk.” But 53. Even with my still-sketchy knowledge, I know that’s bad. And yet, it’s good. The tumor is small, it’s out and in a freezer. Thank God for the paranoid radiologist who sent me for a biopsy. If this nasty little thing had been allowed to grow for another year, I suspect I’d really be in trouble.

“I’m prepared for the fact that I’m going to have to do chemo,” I say with false bravery. Actually, I’m not prepared at all. I have an inkling that it’s going to be unpleasant, but I don’t know exactly how my body will react, how bad it’s going to be.

“Yes,” Dr. Rugo says. “I think we’re going to have to go with six courses.” Then she goes into the pros and cons of different drugs, some of which I haven’t heard of yet. She says that the cocktail she’s considering is not as bad as some others, but that she’s not sure.

“I’m going to present your case in clinic tomorrow,” she says. “I’m going to see what my colleagues think is the best course. I think I know what I want to do, but I want to get their input. This is one of those cases where there is no right answer.”

My cancer has just gone from garden variety to interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about that.


About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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2 Responses to A Phone Call No. 7

  1. Becky D says:

    Found you through a FB link on Alex Horvath’s page. I appreciate your engaging, candid style. I lost my best friend to breast cancer in 2003, so I am always relieved and encouraged to hear about women who are surviving the fight. Best wishes to you every single day and thanks for a really good read.

    • leftbreast says:

      Becky, Thanks. So sorry about your best friend. It’s a pretty scary fight, but I feel I’ve been lucky so far: caught early, great docs, good family support. Still, no guarantees, that’s the scary part! Thanks for reading.

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