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Stanford Medicine

Cancer

Beating the odds: Life as a chronic cancer patient

The Well blog today features a powerful, first-person piece from Edie Littlefield Sundby, a cancer patient who has lived much longer than the medical literature tells us she should. She writes:

When my cancer was first diagnosed, it was a foregone conclusion by my doctors that I didn’t stand a chance, and words like “palliative” slipped clinically and coldly off tongues.  “Summon your family” was the recommendation.

My family rallied — four daughters, including two who were away at college and sacrificed midterm exams, and my husband, who abandoned an entrepreneurial opportunity in Eastern Europe, taking more than 50 sleepless hours to arrive home.

The prognosis was numbing: less than three months to live.

I didn’t buy into it. And equally important, neither did my husband or daughters.

More than four years later, Littlefield Sundby is still here, living her life as a “chronic cancer patient, undergoing surgery and hours of chemotherapy and enrolling in clinical trials.” Her body continuously manages to keep the cancer under control, and she’s not entirely sure way. And neither, she writes, is her Stanford physician:

Month after month, Dr. Fisher summed up the situation in my medical chart in notes like this one: “Patient continues to do well from the treatment of her incurable cancer and is aware of the high risk of recurrence and progression.” But that’s just what he wrote on paper. Each month, when Dr. Fisher came into the exam room, he reviewed the blood lab results and smiled. “This is remarkable,” he would say, and give me a hug.

The rest of the piece is worth a read.

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