Monday, September 24, 2012

No Evidence of Disease

My girlfriend Diane met Stephanie last October at a free makeup event for women with cancer called Look Good Feel Better. It was one of the curious get-togethers you get invited to when you are ill. Women showed up, got a make-up kit, and listened to some instruction in how to use it, including useful tips on drawing in the eyebrows (the most visually unsettling side-effect of chemotherapy).
Diane is not normally a makeup person, but she decided to attend on the principle that there should be some kind of benefit, any benefit, from being sick. She and Steph were the only two younger women present at the event, and they hit it off immediately.
Diane, who is 33, had just started chemotherapy for recurrent cervical cancer. Her initial tumor had grown undetected while she was serving in the Peace Corps in Romania. It was surgically (robotically!) removed after her return to the States in the autumn of 2010.
Surgery for cervical cancer has a very high success rate if you catch it early, and our oncologist had been optimistic. There would be no need for chemo. After the operation, Diane would have to come in for regular checkups, and if she made it through two years with no evidence of disease, it was likely the cancer was gone for good.
Once you've had cancer, no one will ever tell you you're healthy. The best you can hope for (and it's wonderful) is the little phrase ‘no evidence of disease’, often shortened to NED. This is less comforting than what you really want: a 100% guarantee that your body is cancer-free. But for many types of cancer the detection methods remain primitive. Absence of evidence is the best you can get.

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