Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer - The Silver Lining

Metastatic Breast Cancer. I had never heard of it and certainly didn’t know anyone with it before my diagnosis in May 2016. It’s not the cancer you would choose if you had to choose cancer, and yet this is the cancer that chose me. I am in the very special 5% of people that get mets as their first cancer. This doesn’t surprise me, as I never got a simple cold or broken bone growing up. I’m the one who got Toxic Shock Syndrome, had an ectopic pregnancy rupture and had mono, all before I was 25. So, of course I have the crazy cancer that statistically is very scary.

I was very aware that I was at a high risk for breast cancer. In a way, I always knew I would get it. My aunties on both sides had breast cancer. Thankfully both are still alive and well, and an inspiration to me. My mom had primary peritoneal cancer. People don’t usually survive that but my mom did! This gives me so much strength. I was diligent about getting mammograms from the beginning. I went yearly. In November of 2015 I had a mammogram that was “negative” and in April of 2016 I found the breast lump myself with my fingers. I had done everything they had said. How could this be? I will say this, fight to get back up testing if you have dense breast tissue! Fight your insurance and insist on a sonogram or ultrasound. And if possible, an MRI is even better. Mammograms are not effective in women with dense breast tissue. That doesn’t mean the size of your breasts but the density. On the bottom of my mammogram results it mentions my dense breast tissue yet no other tests were done. They cleared me and yet I had cancer already.

What is interesting about metastatic breast cancer is that, unlike breast cancer, the treatment is very gentle in the beginning. I am thankful for this every single day.

It’s been a true gift to me. It has really helped my mental state from day one. When you don’t feel sick, it makes it way easier to navigate having a cancer you will never be cured of. Treatment for mets never ends, until you die. When I tell people I have stage 4 metastatic breast cancer people’s faces go blank. They always say, “you don’t look sick”. A few years ago, one of my client’s said she had stage four cancer. I couldn’t process or understand. How was she going about her day with that diagnosis? How would she be able to go on in life? She didn’t look like she was dying. I get it now.

A few years later, that same client sent me a book that set me on my path to alternative medicine that would complement the traditional cancer treatments I would be taking. It is called Radical Remission. It made sense from page one. It validated all of my feelings and I knew this would be a journey I could take. She said she wished she had had it from the beginning of her diagnosis. She ended up getting a special grant to participate in one of the Radical Remission workshop/retreats, just a few months ago. What a full circle moment!

This book tapped into how I was feeling inside. I needed to change my lifestyle first and foremost. I had serious stress in my life that was making me sick. I believe anxiety and depression, as well as not taking care of myself, were a big part of me getting this cancer. And I believe taking care of myself is a big part of my healing. The beauty of mets is the time it gave me to start making changes immediately. I didn’t have to get surgery and I didn’t have to start chemo. I can say how very thankful I am not to have had to make those decisions right out of the gate. I don't believe I would be where I am right now had things been different. This was the cancer for me. The slow progressing cancer. I hate making decisions.

One of my very best friends got a breast cancer diagnosis after me and had surgery and started chemo all in the blink of an eye. Her cancer is different. It is super aggressive. She needed to act quickly and make decisions at warp speed. It was a lot to take in and watch. We were on such different paths and both of us had to choose what was right for us based on our very individual cancers. It has been hard to watch her suffer in pain through these treatments and I understand they are completely necessary for her to live the longest life she can. I know she is on the right track and I am in awe of her bravery on a daily basis. I know for me, making those decisions would have wreaked havoc in my life and I seriously can’t imagine what would have happened had I had a different diagnosis and had to make decisions lightning fast. I needed time. I got it. I had 6 weeks before I started traditional treatment. This was the best gift ever. I got to research the things I could change before I started with my oncologist. I read books, looked online and started changing things I felt could help me heal.

I have always been a little woo woo. I knew I would absolutely want to add holistic/alternative therapy to my treatment plan. From cannabis, to therapy, to acupuncture, to light/sound frequency therapy, to having a Native American healer come to my home to perform his traditional healing practices on me, I am trying all the alternative medicines I can. This year has been like no other. I’m experiencing new things daily. These treatments make me feel better on so many levels. My healing team is like no other. That will be another blog!

This cancer is persistent. It doesn’t give up. It has challenged me to not give up. To be persistent. I have done this for others and generally not for myself. For the first time I have put myself as my number one priority. This was not easy at all! That is not something that comes natural to most women. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why so many women get breast cancer. We take on the world and try to put on our brave, independant faces. That is not good for us. Therapy has been one of the most effective tools in helping me find my way back to myself and to my core values that I forgot mattered. I’ve learned to set boundaries and look inward.

From my family and friends, to my clients and all of my health care team, I am supported in a way I never could have imagined. I have had to learn to accept help, as well as ask for it. Man, that was hard! I have learned to be easy on myself. I laugh at myself hourly. I do some silly things on my meds. I am learning to let myself sleep in without guilt. I am learning to love myself for who I am at this moment. Forgiving my past and being open to the future. My cancer has given me the gift of now. My cancer has brought me incredible intimacy. I am learning to balance out having a chronic illness while staying spontaneous and carefree. Cancer has made me realize all of those lists I used to make and cross off, don’t really matter. So many things I used to stress over are just not important anymore. My room is pretty messy these days, and I am fully embracing it. I am allowing myself to feel like an adolescent. I grew up pretty fast, living on my own at 16, so why not? It feels so good to be me. I definitely can get moments of complete panic when I think about those I will leave behind someday. I let those thoughts come and go as I lay in bed at night, just for a second. Then I get back to visualization of my tumors shrinking and my daily gratitudes and drift off to sleep. Excited for what the next day holds.

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