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Facing the hard reality of cancer treatment

Sloan-Kettering physician Peter Bach, MD, has been chronicling his wife's breast cancer diagnosis and treatment on the Well blog. I linked to his essay on clinical trials earlier this month, and he has another terrific entry today on his wife's first appointment with her radiation oncologist. Here, he explains how that visit provided him with a reality check on life with cancer:

When we first fully understood Ruth’s diagnosis, I had instinctively pulled out a calendar, just as I had when we found out Ruth was pregnant. I counted the days and weeks, and the breaks in between, factored in a few delays, and concluded, “Seven months. Next summer this will all be over.”

My plan was to just hold my breath until then. Just seven months.

It had seemed to work at first. Ruth and I had tackled cancer like a to-do list, ticking off each item and moving to the next step. But we didn’t realize how the grind of symptoms and fears and steps of treatments would slow time’s passing, or how each step, although we finished it, would never be quite tucked away.

It was only after listening to the doctor’s rote description of her diagnosis and treatment that I realized how wrong my approach had been. If I kept holding my breath through this long hard year, I would end up like Shelley Winters after her long underwater swim in “The Poseidon Adventure.” Present, but quite dead.

Previously: Rolling the dice on clinical trials

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