Remission, a *Pause* for Celebration
If any of you were obsessed with this zip code as much as we were, you know Shannen Doherty best from Beverly Hills, 90210 and believe that the Brenda years were simply put, the best years! So you probably mirrored our exasperation when real-life Brenda shared with the world that she was battling breast cancer. Die-hard fans may even remember when Brenda had a fictional scare in Season 1 after finding a lump in her breast. In an eerie foreshadowing of sorts, Shannen discovered she had breast cancer in the same way.
Shannen was officially diagnosed in February 2015 and began to chronicle her journey by way of social media. She’s shared the ups and downs, that special Eye of the Survivor fighter spirit that inspires us all, and updates along the way. In late April, Shannen shared the best news yet – after a two-year battle, she is in remission!
But as the tough, smart woman we’ve come to know and love (qualities shared by both Brenda AND Shannen), while grateful for the current win, she’s not taking her gloves off just yet. We think this is a realistic approach and we want to explain why.
In Shannen’s words, taken from a post on her Instagram, she reflected on this stage of the cancer battle.
“Moments. They happen. Today was and is a moment. What does remission mean? I heard that word and have no idea how to react. Good news? YES. Overwhelming. YES. Now more waiting. As every single one of my fellow cancer family knows, the next five years is crucial. Reoccurrences happen all the time. Many of you have shared that very story with me. So with a heart that is certainly lighter, I wait. In the meantime, decisions. Reconstruction which is several surgeries. Decision on taking a pill for the next five years that comes with its own set of problems and side effects. I am blessed, I know that. But for now.... remission. I'm going to just breathe. #cancerslayer”
The National Cancer Institute defines the word remission as “a decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some, but not all, signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body.”
So while remission is certainly a cause to celebrate, as our blog title suggests, more literally it’s a pause to celebrate as it may be gone for now, but it may not be gone for good.
Before we dive deeper into remission, let’s step back to recurrent cancer, or cancer as a chronic illness.
We see cancer as chronic with certain types more than others. Chronic cancers can typically include ovarian cancer, certain leukemias, some lymphomas or cancers that have spread or come back in other areas of the body like metastatic breast cancer or even prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society further explains that while most chronic cancers cannot be cured, some can be controlled for months or even years – and can go into remission. So, again, what exactly does remission mean? Well, it can mean something different for each of us.
Complete remission, also called a complete response, is when a treatment has fully wiped out all tumors that can be gauged or show up on a test or scan. A partial remission, or partial response, on the other hand as the name indicates, means the cancer has only partially responded to treatment. This type of remission most frequently means there has been at least a 50% reduction in tumors that can be gauged.
In either case, the decrease in size of tumor or even its riddance must last for at least one month before being considered a partial or complete remission and in either scenario, we do not know how long the remission will last. As Shannen described, learning you’re in remission strikes up its own kind of waiting game.
As she noted, the first five years are imperative. If a cancer will return it usually happens during this time while if it doesn’t, some doctors will consider your cancer cured in the sense that cancer as an active threat is over for the foreseeable future though cells can still lie dormant.
But like most things in life, remission is not that black and white and for our purposes this gray area may provide slight relief. If cancer returns during your first five years in remission it doesn’t have to mean you’ve lost the fight. Some cancers have a back and forth nature of weaving in and out of recurrence and remission and this could work in your favor. An on-again off-again dynamic with cancer can in many cases help you manage, or control in a sense, the cancer for a longer haul, treating it as a chronic illness.
We hope Shannen stays in remission for the longest haul possible but for now, we wait with her. For now, we celebrate this pause with her. For now, we stay strong knowing that Shannen, like each of our sisters, has the Eye Of The Survivor in any zip code she resides! #90210 #cancerslayer