Friday, January 11, 2013

Breast Cancer and Termites

I'm such a teacher. I want to make things easy to understand, so I spend time thinking about analogies that make complicated things seem much simpler. For the past few weeks, I've been working on a breast cancer analogy that I really think will work to explain where I am right now and why I'm not comfortable with words like "gone" or "cured".

Imagine that you are sitting on your back porch one day and notice that one of the wooden beams has something that looks like a bug trail running along it. You call the exterminator, and she confirms (yes, she...the one exterminator I've ever had was a woman named Leesa) that you do, in fact, have termites. She does a bit of probing and finds that there is a nest of termites in the wood of the back porch, and there are trails of termites marching around in the beam leading toward your kitchen. You know that termites, left untreated, can destroy a house completely, so it's time for action.

Feeling aggressive, you have your back porch completely removed, as well as that offending beam leading to the rest of the house. While the demolition team is at it, you tell them to go ahead and take off the front porch as well, since termites could show up there someday and you might as well be symmetrical.

Next, you're told that you there could be some termites, either individually or in groups, that walked away from that nest on your back porch and are hiding somewhere in your house. Leesa tells you that she has this termite poison that she can infuse throughout every wall of your entire house. It'll peel the paint and make the house stinky for a while, but it's pretty darn good at killing termites. So you let her come every other week for four months and poison your walls. It's okay. You'll just repaint when it's all done.

After that, she reminds you that although the back porch is gone, there is still that wall where the porch was attached to the house. Her next line of offense is to carefully use a blow torch to do a controlled burn of the wood that's left. That'll get any termites that survived the poison and prevent new ones from growing. After 28 straight days of gradual burning, the wall may always look a little darker, but it's better than termites.

Finally, Leesa advises you that your termites liked eating bread. You must now go for five years without ever having bread in your house, because there might still be that rogue termite somewhere. She cannot actually check every wall and every beam, so you just have to trust that all of these things you've done have actually removed the termites from your house. She tells you to call her if you notice anything odd about your house so she can look more closely, but you're basically on your own now.

Throughout this whole process, you've learned a lot about termites. You found the scary fact that 30% of houses that go through this will eventually have termites again. (This is called metastatic, or stage IV termites.) Unfortunately, the famous termite research foundations are spending more than 95% of their money on looking at porches. Don't you wish they would spend some more time and effort figuring out why, even after all you've done, you might still get termites again? And figuring out how to prevent that?

I hope this analogy is as clear to you as it is when I think about it. Should I give a list of what all of the termite treatments were really called in regards to my cancer treatment, or did you figure it all out?

Quiz on Tuesday.


  1. My first question for clarification was about the bread. My cancer cells are/were estrogen-receptor positive, meaning they grow on estrogen. I am now taking a drug called Tamoxifen that blocks all estrogen in my body (thus I'm in menopause) so that any cells that may still be around will have trouble growing.

    1. I loved your blog, your termite story really clears what is breast cancer is all about.

      actually there is a way to prevent termites from coming to your house. This is the most tragic secret in medicine.

      A very good study comcluded in 1998 called "the national surgical Adjuvant breast and bowel prooject" proved that in high risk women tamoifen can prevent breast cancer by 50% and ER positive cancers by 70%. It is approved by FDA for breast cancer prevention. Tamoxifen in premenopausal women do not cause endometrial cancer , it does not increase blood cloths significantly ( not more than birth control pills) . It does not cause menopause but can cause menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and dryness of vagina.
      Houses next to you like your sisters and daughters are high risk for termite infestation, if they can talk to their physician and get rid of bread for 5 years, they will decrease their chances of infestation by 50% and with the same termites as your by 70%.
      Your primary care physician is not likely to tell you this, this prevention is the least trained preventive method in primary care. the ball for breast cancer prevention has been dropped by first line physicians
      Postmenopausal women even have other choices for prevention like Raloxifen and Arimidex .
      Talk to your neighbours you can save their houses

  2. I am awful at figuring out how to keeps disappearing on me! Anyhow...Kaitlyn said she thought she saw you out the other day and asked if I had seen Hamorah Shari at the gym again and to tell you hi! She misses you are Religious Ed so much! I am happy to read that you are doing so well, and I LOVED your analogy.

    1. Give her a hug from me. Miss her, too, and so glad she's enjoying Hebrew Day School. I've been out and about, so maybe she did see me. :)

  3. How long did they say you would be on the Tamoxifen for I know the standard was 5 years and now my Oncologist is saying for me to be on it for 10 years?

    1. Hi Lexie,

      I started tamoxifen in August as a 5 year thing. In December, a new study came out showing a slight benefit to continuing for 10 years. I've yet to meet with my oncologist since the study came out, but will ask at my next appointment (Feb. 1). The reading I've done online indicates there's a lot to consider.

      I hope you're doing well.


  4. Shari...
    What an excellent analogous explanation. Termites. Love the clarity and the simplicity.

    To Lexie.... Re tamoxifen for ten years..... That's the ATLAS study and it has caused quite a stir. I was in San Antonio when it was presented. Bottom line, everyone should be weighing out their own circumstances with their doctors.

    If memory serves me (I am chemobrainfog so take that with a grain of salt)... the benefit of taking tamoxifen for ten years is actually not seen until the 10-15 year period.

    Lots and lots to digest with breast cancer diagnosis and NONE of it is easy.....


    1. Thanks AnneMarie!

      Feel free to share, not because I have any reason to promote my blog, but because the teacher in me wants people to understand.

      I've been following you on Twitter for a while and enjoy your perspective.


  5. so funny! i just wrote something similar, re cancer house, on my blog, it's very easy to compare the two i've found. you've got a great spirit. thanks so much!