I was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 1990. I was 35 and my only child was in kindergarten. I wanted to see her grow up – go to proms, graduate from high school and college, meet the love of her life and dance at her wedding. In 2009, out of nowhere and totally unexpected, an x-ray for a back injury revealed the breast cancer had metastasized to my bones. In the time it took for my PCP to call me with the news, one part of my journey ended while another began. As part of my coming to terms with this new chapter in my life, I started this blog. While my intentions were good, my last entry was made in 2012 – shortly before my daughter’s wedding at which, of course, I danced, danced and danced some more – the last on my original wish list of things I wanted to live long enough to see or do.
Although I let the blog fall by the wayside, the fact I’ve continued paying to keep the Web site supports my theory that subconsciously, I knew I would resurrect it someday. That day is here. My daughter and son-in-law became parents in October and I’m now the nonni of my precious grandson, Brandon, Jr. I take great joy in my belief that life really is like a circle and I am part of a circle that now has another piece. The fact that part of me will live on in my daughter and in my grandson gives me great comfort and peace as I walk this journey with metastatic breast cancer. I like to think we become stars in the sky – shining forever through those we leave behind.
I’ve done a lot of thinking in the past 5 ½ years – not only about having stage 4 breast cancer, but of how I can best advocate for and teach others about the disease. I was as ignorant as many others thinking all those walks and buying everything from yogurt to cars for the “cure” surely meant there was a cure. The reality is the dirty little secret of all that pink and fundraising is that shockingly little of the money raised actually goes to research to cure stage 4 breast cancer and that despite over 25 years of “pinktobers,” there are still more than 40,000 women and men dying from breast cancer in the U.S. every year. That number has not changed considerably since breast cancer became the cause du jour.
I belong to an on-line support group for women and men (although no men post) with stage 4 breast cancer. I can’t even count how many women have died since I joined the group in 2010. Women of all ages – young and old, many with small children, many with adult children and grandchildren, many married, many single. Metastatic breast cancer does not discriminate. As sad as many of the posts are, the truly heartbreaking ones are those written by women who are saying goodbye to the group. They are at the end of their journeys and write one last post – usually to thank the group for its virtual support and to say goodbye. Some believe in heaven or some sort of after-life and tell us they will see us on the other side. Some don’t believe there is more and their good-byes are achingly sad and so, so final. In the end, many are simply done with the job of working at staying ahead of the demon we cannot catch, let alone beat. They fought the good fight and are done – in a way, freeing themselves to let go. I think the shock of knowing there is nothing else to try comes as a relief to some who cannot imagine having to try one more treatment – complete with side effects that are often worse than they ever imagined. They are not giving up. They are just giving in to the reality of metastatic breast cancer – the fate that is inescapable.
Recently, tweets such as #MetsMonday and #DontIgnoreStageIV have been tweeted to help get the word out to the Twittosphere that metastatic breast cancer is real, is terminal and still affects up to 30% of women and men originally diagnosed at an earlier stage. It needs to be addressed with awareness and most importantly – funding for research. I am new to the world of Twitter, but I’ve come up with another tweet, #DontForgetBCMets, so on Mondays, I will tweet #DontForgetBCMets. Please help me spread the word, remember my metsisters and brothers for whom the journey has ended and honor those who walk each day like it’s the best day of their life – regardless of what may come tomorrow.
Don’t Stop Believing!