Age at metastatic diagnosis (1998): 45
Current age (2015): 62
I’ve been living with stage 4 breast cancer since 1998. It took an agonizing 3 months to confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy and I got the news the day before I hosted Thanksgiving Dinner at my home for 18 family members. That Thanksgiving was like a Three Stooges movie. I told my mom about my diagnosis when we were alone, then my middle sister came in and wanted to know what was going on, followed by my eldest sister. When we opened the door to come out, the entire family just froze. My niece spilled red wine on my newly installed cream carpet and I totally forgot to make mashed potatoes.
At age 42 with my original diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer, the pathology of my tumor mirrored that of my mother’s who was diagnosed 18 years prior. She had surgery and radiation. I decided to go for chemotherapy as well, fully expecting to have the same results as my mother. Unfortunately, three years later at the age of 45, my cancer metastasized.
My son was away at college and didn’t come to our Thanksgiving Dinner that year. My mother and I drove 1,000 miles north to see him so we could drop off his car. When I told him about my diagnosis, he was mortified. I was ready for that. I said “It’s your job to graduate and it’s my job to get better.” He graduated and I am still alive, riding the mets roller coaster for nearly two decades.
I continued to work the first 10 years after stage 4 diagnosis and got involved in my local Y-Me chapter along with the 3-Day Breast Cancer walk. I believe the exercise from training for the 3-Day walk helped me stay strong for the therapies ahead of me and may have even extended my life, as did the support of my parents, my husband and my other family members.
My daughter turned 13 the day of my original surgery. One night, as I was tucking her into bed, she said “Mom, I know you have breast cancer and so did Granny. I know that I’ll get it too, and I want you to know that I’m OK with that.” Although a sweet sentiment on the surface, this motivated me to want to do something to stop the disease so that her generation wouldn’t have to worry about ever dying from it.
My interest in the science of breast cancer and advocacy brought me to many National Breast Cancer Coalition conferences and Project LEAD. I have participated in nearly two dozen breast cancer research review panels, sitting right next to researchers, statisticians, clinicians and epidemiologists, giving them the message that stage 4 needs more attention and funding.
I’ve been involved with the Y-Me Helpline and then became a peer counselor for After Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. When others ask me what treatments I’ve been on, it’s hard to remember them all. Some of them aren’t being used any more, like high dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell rescue. Luckily I haven’t exhausted all of my treatment options and I continue to try to stay as healthy as I can so my body is able to withstand what treatments may come my way.