I got my CA27.29 tumor marker numbers last Friday, and I was pleased to learn that they went down further to 141. That's down from a high of 850 when I started. I also had another tumor marker called CEA that was tested. The normal range for this marker is 2.5 or less, but I started at 48.1, and now the number has dropped to 7.6. It's all very good news with both numbers dropping by about 85% from the beginning. But I guess I'm getting greedy as I really wanted to see my numbers even closer to normal. Isn't it funny that just a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to have seen my CA27.29 numbers drop to 408. But now I'm sort of disappointed with 141. We always want just a little more, don't we?
There are lots of possibilities for why the numbers aren't yet in normal range, and that's why the markers alone are not used for diagnosis or treatment decisions. What I need to focus on are all the obvious signs that cancer is retreating. I need to remember where I was just 11 weeks ago.
In those early days just after my diagnosis, I was feeling pretty weak as the tumors in my lungs must have been growing pretty quickly. They caused me to be seriously short of breath and susceptible to terrible coughing jags. We were up at a friend's cabin near Lake Superior over New Year's Day, and I took a walk up to a scenic ridge that has always been a favorite spot for me. I had to stop several times on the way up to catch my breath and let my energy rebuild. It took me twice as long to reach the ridge as it normally would, but I needed to get there just to prove to myself that I could still do it. Standing on top of that ridge, looking out over the deep dark blue of Lake Superior, I tried to be positive, but I felt a bit apprehensive over what the year would have in store for me. I knew I would be starting chemotherapy soon, and I knew from past experience that it probably wouldn't be easy. I already felt pretty lousy, and I wondered if I would ever feel really good and really strong again.
I was reminded of that moment this past weekend. We were at our friend's cabin once again, and I found myself climbing that very same ridge. Even though it was a Saturday afternoon, which is usually my point of lowest energy during my chemo cycle, I didn't have to stop once. I reached the top with a smile on my face as the sun shone down on me through the pine trees, and I felt an enormous up-swelling of joy and gratitude as I gazed out at the sparkling blue lake. I realized that it didn't really matter what the numbers were, because what really matters is how I feel. I'm still not in perfect shape. I still have some weird tightness in a couple of spots in my lungs, and I still have a bit of pain where my liver was biopsied. I still have a bunch of scraggly fuzz for hair, and I still have a weird metallic taste in my mouth from chemo. But here's the truth. Even though I'm still in chemotherapy, even though my numbers aren't "normal" yet, I feel good again. I feel strong again. I feel like me again. I'm glad to be back.