My Story: Surviving and Thriving With Metastatic Breast Cancer
Published in the Fall 2013 issue of LBBC's national newsletter, Insights on Metastatic Breast Cancer
In 2002, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with an aggressive, stage III breast cancer that was estrogen and progesterone receptor-positive, as well as HER2-positive. After going through chemo, a mastectomy of my left breast and radiation therapy, I thought my life would again get back to normal—that I would no longer have to worry about cancer and its treatments.
Seven years later, in 2009, my world turned upside down again when I was diagnosed with a metastasis to my liver. I had to face my worst fear and find some way of dealing with it. I set out on a journey to cope with this dreaded disease and have managed, through a series of lifestyle choices, to be not just surviving with it, but thriving.
I found out quickly that the old saying “misery loves company” really does have some truth to it. I never wanted anyone to be in my shoes, but I certainly did want to connect with and draw strength from people who were. For 11 years, I’ve been part of a support group in my community for women with all stages of breast cancer. Realizing how much strength it gave me, my fellow survivor and friend, Sherry, and I started a small but powerful support group specifically for women with metastatic breast cancer called Sharing, Hoping and Empowering. The name summed up exactly what we wanted to impart. Being able to share our fears, joys, tips and support helps ease the feelings of isolation and loneliness that only someone with advanced breast cancer may understand completely.
Staying informed and knowledgeable about my disease has also helped me cope. I was a pediatric oncology nurse for 25 years, so I instinctively want to know everything about my illness. Not everybody feels this way of course, but knowledge gives me a sense of empowerment and helps me keep feelings of helplessness at bay.
As a subscriber to LBBC’s email list, I stay updated on the latest research and clinical trial information, join in on their webinars and listen to their podcasts. In April 2012, I attended the LBBC Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer in Philadelphia, Pa. The information gained and the opportunity to be together with hundreds of women with MBC was a powerful experience. I also plan to attend the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network’s annual conference this fall and, hopefully, the World Conference on Breast Cancer next June.
A significant coping strategy for me has been to do what is in my power to improve my overall health. I, alone, can make choices that make me feel better on a daily basis as well as strengthen my body’s natural defences to battle my cancer. I have done some reading and research on integrative therapies over the past few years. I have chosen to add yoga and guided meditation to my daily life, which bring me a sense of peace and relaxation. I’ve also increased my exercise. In addition to practicing yoga, I walk often and paddle with the local dragon boat team.
The biggest change I made to my lifestyle pertains to my diet. Over the past couple of years, I slowly but steadily implemented nutritional changes such as cutting down on sugar intake and increasing the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables I consume daily, to name a few. It feels wonderful to know I am doing my part to contribute what I can to my own health.
Addressing the psychological and spiritual aspects of my well-being has been just as important as maintaining my physical health. I surround myself with positive relationships and try to distance myself from the negative ones; I try to stay focused on the present and not dwell too much on the future or the past; and I try to find goodness in the things that, and people who, surround me. I begin and end each day with gratitude—gratitude for my supportive husband, children, family and friends, my healthcare team and my support groups.
My liver metastasis has been stable since 2010, and there has been no further progression of my disease. I feel wonderful. Putting all of these strategies in place for myself is how I am coping with metastatic breast cancer. I am not just living or surviving, I am thriving!
The views expressed in this newsletter article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.