"I make choices every day to embrace the love in my life and enrich the relationships I deeply cherish."
Today, it’s all about Bonus Time! Five years after my initial diagnosis and aggressive, thorough treatment for early stage breast cancer, my cancer returned with a stage four metastatic vengeance. It appeared in my axilla and spread to my lungs. I slowly understood the approach to treatment was different with MBC. There is no cure, and the focus was on quality of life as continuous treatment would be required to prolong my life.
I was fortunate to meet the criteria of a clinical trial. I started immediately in August 2014. After a year of dose tolerance adjustments, I am currently at the lowest dose possible to remain in the study. Amazingly, there has been no new growth in the past two years. I have not lost every follicle of my hair, gained or lost excessive weight or experienced difficulty with my mobility. In other words, I look perfectly ‘normal’. My outside physical self does not remotely reflect what’s happening within my body.
For me, today, therein lies the fun and has been one of the keys to my daily journey to set off and seize the day! My diagnosis has given me the permission to live a life that I otherwise may not ever have had the courage to live. I sold my home of 21 years and live carefree in a townhouse unit. As it was way past time to buy a new car, a year to the day of my diagnosis, I asked myself, ‘Will this be the last car I drive? Why not a luxury high performance convertible?’. I travelled to the Big Sky Country of Montana with both of my children for a vacation and time together we never really had. After continuing to work in an extremely stressful, hostile work environment, I accepted the direction of my medical team and took a leave, which ultimately led to early retirement…at age 54. I’ve had fun in the Aruban sun for my daughter’s 21st birthday and accompanied my 27 year old son as he experienced Paris for the first time. Last month, I journeyed across the country, alone and participated in a 39.2 mile fundraising walk. I walked every mile. Sometimes, whether I am enjoying aspects of my life as a whole, or a single smaller specific event or moment, I am smacked with the gut-punch reality that I am living with MBC and it will end my life at some unknowable time . Whoa….
I have discovered, looking ‘normal’, or at least ‘not sickly’ presents tremendous opportunities for conversation, education and awareness around the facts of MBC. I am so grateful for this temporary time to show others that ‘This is What Stage Four Metastatic Breast Cancer Looks Like’ – for me – right now. It has a serious impact on their perceptions. It challenges what, if anything, they previously knew. Just as importantly, it has changed my own perception and understanding of what this is. I know this is temporary. My healthy looks will be gone with any one of the monthly trips I take to Dana Farber and the discovery the cancer is on the move and new treatments must be considered. I know this is a window of time in which I get to go and spin the wheels of my fun and fabulous new ride and simply see what I see…almost incognito…No one knows….Until I inform them.
I have a new freedom. I think of the serenity I hope to embrace when the treatments are no longer effective on the cancer or beneficial to the quality of my days. I am also a recovering alcoholic. I was just under two years sober when my cancer returned. While my initial thoughts were to end my sobriety and simply ‘drink and be merry’ to the end, my clear choice became to value the quality of my experience. Returning to the days of the end of my drinking, would be a complete waste of my life. I make choices every day to embrace the love in my life and enrich the relationships I deeply cherish with my son and daughter and the army of supportive and fun-loving friends. Although some days are easier than others, I strive to live in the moment of today, to be where my feet are now, rather than project into the unknowable uncertainty of what my cancer will do tomorrow.