Town Hall

Fancy Hospital had its annual Town Hall meeting last week on breast cancer. Meaning, anyone could come and ask questions of a panel of experts: my erstwhile oncologist, my current oncologist, my erstwhile and very nice radiologist, a patient advocate (who lives in Des Moines) and a oncologist-plastic surgeon. I learned a few things, some of them unsettling. That estrogen-positive cancer (such as mine) is easier to treat than other kinds, but it also has a greater chance than other cancers of coming back after five years. How did I miss hearing that before? That triple-negative breast cancer is more common in African-American women than in women of other races, and that it's more aggressive and more likely to recur than many other other kinds of breast cancers. That according to one trial, five years of tamoxifen is better than 10 because breast cancer cells can learn to grow with the tamoxifen.

A man asked about Dr. Susan Love's new research effort. My old onco pooh-poohed Love, calling her an "entrepreneur," and said he was "not sure what she's doing." My current onco said that Love was encouraging patients to get in clinical trials to help the next generation. "What she's doing is great," she said. My onco also said that bone scans and CT scans and tumor markers aren't helpful in finding metastasis. It makes no difference, she said, whether you find out now or three to six months from now that the cancer has spread.

One woman was dressed in orange and spoke with an accent, maybe Eastern European. She had sleek short hair that may have been, now that I think about it, a wig. She asked about extra testing when a person is in remission. Her mammograms didn't show anything but "now I find out ... I don't have much time."

But the most shocking thing I heard was this, at the beginning: My former oncologist said that he'd gotten e-mails from some patients, asking him if there was going to be anything new at the Town Hall this year. What? He gave his e-mail address to patients? And he answered them? Unbelievable.