Monday, March 29, 2010

Breaking You Down, to Build You Back Up

One day in 6th grade, we were learning about weight training in gym class. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Deal, explaining that weight training, by definition, destroys muscle fiber so that it can build itself back up again to be even stronger.

At some point early on in my cancer experience, I began to apply this same paradigm to my treatment. I tried to accept the idea that I had to be broken down to be built back up. Chemo, radiation, transplants - these actions wipe out your system, debilitate you in order to debilitate the disease and give you the rest of your life to be stronger and better. Thinking about it in this way was a means of coping with the intensity and toxicity of treatment.

But I have always had questions about this basic premise. It seems counter-intuitive. Cancer patients are gearing up for a fight, so why deplete their system to such a degree that they feel demoralized, weak, and not at all like the warriors that their friends, doctors, families, and society as a whole, call on them to be. Diminishing all your body systems in the hopes of also diminishing the cancer in the process seems...inelegant. If I'm being completely honest with myself, this slash-and-burn approach has always felt wrong. Especially in light of the fact that my cancer has consistently responded well to treatment, I have often questioned the principle behind the aggressive nature of our approach.

I find myself questioning it most heavily now, as I weigh my options for the next steps in this fight against cancer, especially in light of my recent scans which showed no measurable cancer. I have suppressed this concern in favor of adhering to the standard medical protocol. I have, and continue to put my trust in my doctors to prescribe the best known treatment for me. I believe them when they say that even though they can't see it, they know cancer remains, because of the nature of how lymphoma behaves. Even as I follow their advise and acknowledge that my hunch should not prevent me from proceeding with treatment, I just can't help but feel uncomfortable with the aggressive nature of the standard course, and question whether there are limits to how much you can be broken down before you can no longer be built back up.

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