onco*naut

Prefix onco- meaning swelling, mass, or tumor, specifically with regard to cancer
Suffix. -naut, meaning a voyager

When I received my cancer diagnosis a few weeks back, it felt like I had landed in a different country—a different planet, even. I wasn’t scared of my new surroundings—I was surrounded by kind and caring medical professionals who successfully convinced me that the prognosis with their recommended treatment was good—but I could tell that I was massively unprepared to be in this new place. Although I could understand bits and pieces of the language of cancer, and felt an overwhelming peace and calmness, it didn’t take me long to realize that I needed more information. I was grateful for the peace, because it allowed me to separate my thinking brain from my body, but that body was now home to a cancer tumor and I wanted it out. Pronto.

It turned out that “pronto” ended up being a surgery appointment three weeks out. At first, I was mildly disappointed. I had hoped it would be out and gone sooner than that, and I’m the world’s worst at waiting. But by the end of the first week, my intellectual curiosity got the better of me and I found myself with an insatiable desire to learn as much as I could about cancer.

I started out by watching an excellent documentary on the history of cancer so I could better understand the disease. Then I moved on to watch and read about various treatment options, including many that I’d never even heard about. And like any classically trained student, the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. My mind began to race with additional things I needed to research: in addition to tamoxifen and radiation, the two suggested post-surgery treatments that had been recommended to me, I now wanted to know more about the role of nutrition in a cancer patient’s life. As I watched and read and watched and read some more, I began to really feel like an alien, which is when I started thinking of myself as an “onconaut”: a voyager to the land of cancer. “Alien” because the more I read about traditional treatments, the more I felt strongly that I was meant to pursue something different.

It was no great surprise to me, then, that through God’s grace and providence, I stumbled across a video that detailed a cutting edge treatment for breast cancers called cryoablation. I immediately went into research mode and less than one week after discovering the existence of cryoablation for breast cancer, had an appointment with a doctor who was performing them in a clinical trial. I met with her, learned more about the procedure and its risks (virtually nil) as well as its benefits: low cost, quick, minimally invasive, faster recovery, and, my personal favorite, increased immunity to cancer cells. With an impressive success rate of 100% for tumors 1.0 cm and less in early trials, it seemed too good to be true. I wanted in on the trial and the sooner, the better. I immediately cancelled my surgery and began another wait, this time to see if I would be a candidate for the trial.

Because of some mixups with the pathology lab in Georgia, it took a few weeks, but I’m happy to say that I’ll be undergoing cryoablation for my IDC tumor on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. During the time I was waiting for the pathology results, I did more research on tamoxifen and have decided that I will be opting out of the clinical trial since participating in it would have tied me to that drug for five years. Instead, I’ll be taking a much more natural supplement that has side benefits instead of side effects. Even though I won’t be a part of the trial, I’m still excited about the possibilities of promoting its effectiveness. If just one woman learns about cryoablation because of my own experience and is able to avoid the potential risks associated with surgery, then it will be worth it.

One of the most powerful quotes I heard during my initial research about this disease was “You aren’t sick because you have cancer. You have cancer because your body is sick.” I believe this with every fiber of my being. I’m not scared of the word cancer but instead am choosing to look at this diagnosis as a wake up call to make some much-needed changes in my life. So in addition to all of the research I’ve had to do about cancer itself, I’ve now added nutrition, exercise, environmental toxins, and stress management to the list. All of these factors play a part in your body’s becoming more susceptible to this disease, and all of these are things that I’m perfectly willing and able to address. I will have much more to say on those topics in the days to come, Lord willing, but I find it a fitting “coincidence” that my personal journey to wellness and a cancer-free body has neatly coincided with Lent.

What I know for sure is this: this alien planet that I’ve found myself on is complicated, and everyone who finds themselves here will navigate a different path home. I’m just so very grateful that as I walk mine, God is before me, behind me, and beside me. May He continue to bless us all.