It’s kind of funny. Through everything, my doctor has never once said the words ‘metastatic breast cancer’ or ‘stage IV breast cancer.’ When I asked him what my prognosis was, he told me that he has had patients live ten or fifteen years after being diagnosed with same type of cancer as me. But he has never once said those words. Even now four months in, he still hasn’t.
Maybe he was trying to keep me from losing hope. Maybe he was afraid that if I knew just how much the odds were stacked up against me I might give up and stop fighting. Or maybe he simply assumed that as a nurse I could figure it out for myself.
The problem is I research everything. From the time that my family doctor told me she thought I had multiple myeloma to when it was determined that the cancer originated in my breast, I researched everything there was to read. Very quickly I realized what I had. Very quickly I realized it was metastatic breast cancer. And the more I read, the more afraid I became.
Only six percent of breast cancer is first diagnosed after metastasizing to a distant site (called de novo metastatic breast cancer). The average survival is only two and a half years and only twenty two percent of people diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer live five years or more.
I’m only 43 years old. Two and a half years would mean I would only be 45 years old when I died. My son might not even finish college before I died. My granddaughters wouldn’t even be in elementary school. I was becoming more and more terrified with each research study I read. I’m too young to die. I still have so much more life left to live.
In those early days when I was so scared a friend told me something that has stuck with me. When I told my friend the statistics, when I said god what if I only have two years left to live, the response was, ‘You aren’t just a number.’
It’s hard to stay strong in the face of such incredible odds. It’s so hard to push the fear out of your head but mental outlook plays such an important role in battling any disease, especially cancer. Everyday I wake up and tell myself, ‘you can do this.’ I am making plans for my future rather than allowing myself to think that I don’t have a future left to plan for.
It wasn’t always easy to stay positive. The first month after I was first diagnosed the pain was so intense I couldn’t even get out of bed. I couldn’t take care of myself. I had nausea and couldn’t eat so I lost almost thirty pounds in less than two months. I began to wonder if life was going to be like this, was it even worth living? I started to fall dark hole. Those first days and weeks were the hardest days of my life.
Then one day I forced myself to smile. I forced myself to get out of bed. I remember the first day I got up and walked around the house pushing a walker and I felt like I had just won a marathon. I was so proud of myself. That was the point where my life changed.
I began to push the thoughts of doubt and fear out of my mind. I’m not just a number. I’m not just a statistic. I’m a person. I’m a fighter. I’m me. When I tell my sister I am afraid she tells me that ‘we Lathens are stubborn bitches.’ She is right. We are strong and we are fighters. (Even though sometimes the things we fight for are stupid and a little crazy!)
Everyday it became a little easier to believe in myself and it became a little easier to look to the future. Day by day as I became stronger the dark thoughts slowly lost their hold on me. I moved from fear to triumph every time I went to my oncologist’s office and watched my tumor markers go lower and lower. Slowly as time passed the terrible pain started to fade and I began to live again. To really live.
In the beginning my voice of strength was merely a whisper so soft I could barely hear it but one day it yelled at me as loud as it could, ‘You’ve got this!’ Every morning when I wake up I remind myself I can do this. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Some days I look back on the old me and miss her but there are other days I look at the me I’ve become and realize cancer has awakened a warrior in me I never knew existed. Until I was diagnosed with cancer I was afraid of everything. Cancer has taught me life is too short to live in fear.
Find the strength in yourself. Life is beautiful and failure isn’t an option.
Dx 10/9/2018, invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), left breast, 1.5cm, Nottingham Grade 2, hormone receptor positive, ER+ (estrogen receptor)/PR+ (progesterone receptor), HER2- (human epidermal growth factor), BRACA- (genetic mutation), Stage IV, metastasized to bones
First CA 27.29 10/9/2018 83 (goal <38)
Hormonal Therapy 10/12/2018 Tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Apo-Tamox, Tamofen, Tamone) pills
Targeted Therapy 10/12/2018 Xgeva (Denosumab) injection
Hormonal Therapy 10/19/2018 Lupron Depot (Leuprolide Acetate) injection
Surgery 11/29/2018 Vaginal hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy
First CA 27.29 post hysterectomy 12/10/2018 73 (goal <38)
Hormonal Therapy 12/11/2018 Femara (letrozole) pills
Targeted Therapy 12/23/2018 Ibrance (palbociclib) capsules
First CA 27.29 post medication change 1/10/2019 60 (goal <38)