“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.” – Gertrude Jekyll
Tucker is in complete remission, so what does that mean exactly? Many friends and family ask why he has to have such intensive treatments still and why his chemotherapy will last still yet another 2.5 to 3 years, at least. Doesn’t remission mean that he doesn’t have cancer? I wish it was that easy and that is a common misunderstanding.
Remission is a complete or partial elimination of the visible signs and symptoms of cancer. Cancer may still remain hidden in the body. This is called minimal residual disease (MDR). Dr Chang describe this concept to us by comparing it to an iceberg. The visible signs of the leukemia are the part of the iceberg we can see floating above the water. The MDR is the massive part of the iceberg that is below. It was that part of the iceberg that took down the unsinkable Titanic, so the battle to eliminate what can not be seen is fierce.
Treatment will continue to kill any remaining cancer cells, prevent relapse and extend the remission period for as long as possible. Most leukemia patients that are in complete remission for a period of 5 years are considered cured. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society an estimated 245,225 people in the United States are living with, or are in remission from, leukemia.
Leukemia is a chronic disease that will relapse without continued treatment. I read a blog where one mother compared treatment to getting rid of a tree. The first part of treatment is the actual chopping down of the tree (visible/detectable signs of leukemia). The second part is killing off the roots (molecular development of leukemia).
To explain what MDR is to Tucker, I used his vegetable garden as an example. We had just planted carrot seeds into it. With daily watering and the promise of a warm week of sunshine, we looked forward to seeing the spouts pop out of the dirt. If we neglected to water the ground or fertilize it would become intolerable to new growth. Even though we planted the carrots seeds in the garden we would not get any carrots if we didn’t create an environment to encourage the growth of them.
Tucker’s body is a vegetable garden and the carrot seeds are the MDR. But rather than create fertile ground to encourage growth we want to do the opposite. We want to make sure the seeds do not want to sprout. That is why we continue the chemotherapy and endure the challenges of the side effects that go with it. So while there are still carrot seeds in the garden we will not get any carrots.
I am pleased to report the Tucker’s vegetable garden in our back yard has sprouted two rows of yummy carrots and his body remains free of any carrot sprouts.