Know Stage IV: I Am So Grateful: Dancing With Life and Death

September 18, 2017

For LBBC’s Know Stage IV campaign, on Sept. 18, members of LBBC’s 2017 class of Hear My Voice Outreach Volunteers have written about what they want other to know about metastatic breast cancer. Learn more about Know Stage IV

For Know Stage IV, Dorothy Devine writes about living with gratitude and hope.

“Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” – Bob Seger

I was told from the outset 3 years ago that my doctors knew a woman who had survived 20 years with slow-growing bone metastases, and as I moved into more contact with a community of people with stage IV breast cancer this year I was told again and again that those with bone metastases could live a long time. The other three common locations were lungs, liver, and brain – all deadly sooner, the last particularly terrifying to me. Yes, for me the challenge is my skeleton. I receive strong bone strengtheners and have broken no bones. I am so grateful.

After a year I began a new targeted treatment, a CDK 4/6 inhibitor which did not attack the cancer itself, but acted on its environment, bewildering the enzyme that signals cancer to grow. I was told that it may not extend my life, but would improve its quality. The constant lack of appetite and a couple of weeks a month of lethargy were much milder side effects than I had experienced with my initial breast cancer: baldness, considerable weight gain, debilitating weakness, and clumsiness leading to injury. I must rest and I must remind myself to eat. My cancer has not grown in a year. I am so grateful.

These things I accept with gratitude. I have no choice and no guarantees. I have now learned from my doctors that if targeted therapy fails I can go on to older therapies, such as chemotherapy, to continue to temporarily struggle with the disease. I have learned from other patients’ stories that they have survived three, four or more treatment modalities, with descending effectiveness, before they have decided to stop treatments. When will the quality of life be too low to go on? This is a momentous element of personal choice. I wish I did not have to think about this and realize I do not until it happens. I can live for the beauty I see in today. I am so grateful.

Some early studies suggest my CDK 4/6 inhibitor, after a few years, might not only stop but shrink the cancer.  Could this happen to me? There is still another type of treatment on the horizon, immunotherapy, which involves marshalling a patient’s own immune system to fight his or her cancer. Will I get a chance to be treated with immunotherapy? Will there be a cure for metastatic breast cancer in my lifetime? I am hopeful. Feeling hope feels good. I am so grateful.


Learn the facts. Support the cause. Know Stage IV.

 

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