When I was approached about writing a piece for The Underbelly, I was a bit taken back. For me, it is hard to understand why people would want to hear MY perspective. I had never previously written anything about me personally and was not sure I would find the words. Nonetheless, I decided that I would take a chance and put myself even more out there because there was a small chance that it would help someone else.
On January 24th, 2017, my entire worldview became suddenly altered. It was a little over a week before my 37th birthday and I had just had biopsies the day before. I had not told many people that I was having any scans or testing done, let alone that I had found a couple lumps. I figured “Why worry about something until there is something to actually worry about?”. I have always maintained that perspective and it has saved me a lot of unnecessary anxiety. However, this day was different. I was sitting at home the next day, waiting for the call with the results from my doctor. I had been told that it would take 24-48 hours. Surely this call, just 23 hours after my scans, was just to check in on me. This is what I thought until the radiologist stopped me mid-sentence and said “Hey kid! I have to stop you. It is not good news”.
What? No friggin way! Not me!
…these are all things that went through my head. It was Stage I Invasive Breast Cancer. He proceeded to tell me that I needed to see a Surgical Oncologist to come up with a plan which would likely include a mastectomy. The malignant mass was located pretty much on my areola and the other lump was benign. In addition, they found another larger area that I could not feel. You see, I had breast implants prior to all of this and they were fucking fantastic. There are not many things that I would boast about, but my boobs – PHENOMENAL.
The first thing I thought was “How am I going to tell my parents?”. I never would have thought that having breast cancer would be something that I would be ashamed to tell my parents because I felt I had disappointed them. Such an odd response, but it was the first thing that I felt. The second thing I felt was “Who is ever going to want someone in my shoes?”. I know it sounds vain to admit that I thought about my dating life while I am dealing with all of this but that was my honest response. I chose to think past all of the sickness to the future beyond cancer. I was 36, single, and no children. But to add fucked up boobs and CANCER to the mix – I would really be sought after then….whew (haha). That part was a complete mind fuck for me. I could deal with all of the appointments and tests and whatever else cancer threw at me.
But a life alone? That sounded much scarier at the time.
So after I broke the initial news, I was on the hunt. I needed to find the best doctors and quickly. Within a few days I had all of my appointments set – Surgical Oncology, Plastic Surgery, Genetics, Fertility. The first appointment was with Fertility and to say that one was an utter disappointment would be a vast understatement. Until this point I had not cried. But, when someone sits across from you and tells you that your breast cancer is hormone receptor positive and that you would need to be on a medication that puts you into menopause for 5-10 years, that pretty much just shocked me to my core. Think about it – we spend all of our lives trying NOT to get knocked up and then it is no longer an option…that quickly! But I thought “Let me see about saving my eggs”. Do you know how much that costs? It was $4000 for the procedure and that only leaves a slight possibility of fertilizing the eggs once they are thawed. I had to choose to release the anger that I was feeling and concern myself with saving my life first. I could not even begin to imagine adding a child to the mix. So I immediately shifted my thinking and chose gratitude. Gratitude for it being me with this rather than one of my friends that are married and/or have children.
So after all of my doctor’s appointments, the day had come for my double mastectomy. It was March 8, 2017, and I had made my peace with the situation. Several people had approached me and offered up suggestions of people I could talk to. I was more than grateful but I needed to gather all of the facts about my situation before I compared stories with anyone else. I needed to be sure that I did not absorb anyone else’s story in the process. I know how I am and it would only have led to disappointment if my situation changed. I decided that I would meet with my oncologist after they tell me that they got it all and we would then move forward with treatment. But that day came and went. After surgery, it was discovered that my breast cancer had spread and was in 11 of the 13 lymph nodes that they had removed during surgery. What did this mean? Stage III Invasive Breast Cancer. Everyone was shocked but it was ok.
I took it in stride and kept it moving.
After some healing, the next step was getting my bone scan and scans of my abdomen, chest, and pelvis. I would see my Oncologist the next day. Through my scans, it was discovered that I have a tumor on my L2 spine and my right hip/femur area. You would think that this shocked me but, for some reason, I maintained my composure (and sense of humor). If anyone would get Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer from the start (DeNovo), it would be ME! I must say, I had never heard of Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC). When cancer spreads beyond the initial site, that is called Metastasis. The most common sites for MBC are liver, lungs, brain, and bones. I had heard of “Stage IV” and asked my doc how long I had left? Surely this was an immediate death sentence. He looked at me and said we would treat this as a long term disease. I learned that there are some patients that live 10, 15, even 20 years, and I could certainly be one of them. I would immediately begin the process of going into a medically-induced menopause using medication. I also needed to get a drip for my bones to help strengthen them because when you have tumors in your bones, you are more susceptible to breaks. I would take a pill every day until it no longer worked. I would be evaluated every 3 months – getting scans to see if there are any new growths, if the tumors decreased in size, or if the ones I have grew at all. This became my new normal! I decided to look at every day as a blessing and allowed my grit to take charge of my life. I needed to be brave in the face of adversity. I needed to make sure everyone around me knew that I was staying positive, regardless of the “terminal” sentence I had been delivered.
You know what is kind of funny? I used to think that I would die at a young age. I am not sure why? I would think that if I were to ever receive news like this, I would start smoking again, blow all of my money on frivolous things, and party like an animal until my time came. But it wasn’t until I received this diagnosis that I truly began to live. I am choosing to take every day by the balls and do as I please – LIVING MY DASH! I have started spending more time with family and friends and volunteering more, like I have always loved to do. I am fortunate enough that MBC has allowed me a new sense of calm. I was never a major worrier but this has truly altered who I am. Everyone complains but it is usually about the nonsensical things that frankly, in the grand scheme of things, DO NOT MATTER!
So I choose love, laughter, memories, and grace.
I am living my life with ease and no one can tell me that is wrong. But, if they tried, I wouldn’t listen anyway.
I hope that my story can bring some light to someone else’s life. I believe that my purpose has always been to help others. Metastatic Breast Cancer has given me more of a purpose than I have ever had in all of my life. The Underbelly’s theme for November of Gratitude, Grace & Grit would be how I would like to live out my days. I am grateful for each day I have. When it is my time, I will bow out gracefully knowing that I did my all to help those that will face the reality of Metastatic Breast Cancer after I am long gone. And I will certainly display true grit until my last breath. Until then, I will embrace my dash (the line in between our birth and death dates on our tombstone). THAT is what is most important to me!
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