As part of our October breast cancer awareness blog series, we will be publishing stories from our clients and who are (or have been) faced with a breast cancer diagnosis. October 13th is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
This blog is written by client Samantha “Sam” Cardona. Sam was diagnosed in 2007 with stage 1 breast cancer and again in June 2015 with metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic Breast Cancer, also known as Stage IV, is cancer that has spread outside of the breast to other organs such as bones, liver, lung or brain. She is just 49. Sam works full time and has a grown son Cj, a grown adopted son Alex, and a loving husband Frank.
8 years after my initial early diagnosis, breast pain in May of 2015 led to an MRI that revealed liver metastasis. I was in shock! I thought I had put cancer behind me, but have since learned that cancer can come back many years later. We found I had two liver lesions, a tumor in each ovary, and extensive metastasis in my bones. I knew immediately the prognosis of stage IV; incurable, terminal, and an average life expectancy of 3 years. My immediate concerns were: How will we manage the mortgage on our new house when I get too sick to work? How do I make sure my family is okay and how long do I have to live? Once the shocked passed, the grieving process started. It’s one of the hardest things I have done; grieving for my life while still trying to live, be productive, fight this disease while simultaneously making estate plans and funeral arrangements.
The day my primary care doctor told me that my cancer spread, I started the process to see a new oncologist. In the three weeks I had to wait to see her, I had a liver biopsy done and received 2nd and 3rd opinions on treatment. My oncologist, who is both caring and knowledgeable, explained that stage IV treatment is a balance between striving for the best possible outcome with as few debilitating side effects as possible for as long as possible to maximize my quality of life. In August 2015, I started a targeted chemotherapy oral drug called Ibrance. It causes me to have low blood counts but no hair loss. It has shrunk most of my tumors! The traditional chemo administered through IV will come later if the Ibrance stops working. Besides Ibrance, I have had four surgeries and radiation to my spine in two areas. Like all Lifers (those of us in treatment for the rest of our lives,) I live PET scan to PET scan. My next scan is this month – October.
At my initial meeting with my oncologist, she spoke to me not about just the cancer and treatments, but about getting my estate in order and connecting with others in the same situation. My friend connected me with BCRC 9 years ago after my first diagnosis. I immediately contacted Runi Limary, my Patient Navigator at BCRC. Runi helped navigate the initial weeks of shock and sorrow and connected me with Lotus Forum (L4) support circle for younger women with metastatic breast cancer. One great piece of advice Runi gave me was to record doctor appointments with the doctors’ permission. Frank and I did, and discovered that we benefitted from recordings because we were in so much shock during appointments that we did not remember what had been discussed. Runi also gave me the BCRC Metastatic Breast Cancer Companion. It contains the ABC’s of metastatic breast cancer. It was very helpful, but the last few pages talked about planning for what I wanted at the end of my life. Initially, I couldn’t look at those last few pages, but as I have come to terms with my diagnosis, I have found them useful. Additionally, the BCRC has helped me with treatment support to pay for unexpected medical bills soon after my diagnosis.
I am grateful for the BCRC because they are a local organization that listens to my needs, and I wouldn’t have this tremendous support system without them. The L4 support circle through the BCRC has helped me the most emotionally! Talking to people who are going through the same thing and who “get it” was what helped get me more emotionally under control. My best advice to anyone going through any breast cancer diagnosis is to go to a support circle! The BCRC offers support circles for different ages, stages, location and in Spanish!
Many things are hard about this disease. I am fatigued all the time from Ibrance, yet people tell me quite often “you look great” and “keep fighting.” It’s hard to know how to respond – and hard to not snap at people that I am fighting and just because I look great doesn’t mean I am not sick!
I struggle to help my family. They go in and out of denial and like most men don’t know how to communicate their emotions. Frank says he doesn’t want to think of life without me. Cj won’t talk about it at all, despite attempts in therapy. So, I plan since I can’t NOT plan. I have planned my estate (thanks to the BCRC who helped me get an attorney,) journals, cards, instructions on how to pay bills, set CJ up with a ROTH IRA and asked friends to watch out for my family. I want to know they will be ok.
I hope that I can remain stable with my current health condition until the next discovery of drugs to extend my life with less side effects. I hope that within my lifetime, a cure for cancer is found. I hope to see Cj married and I hope to hold my grandchildren. I am scared of pain and being a burden, but I’m grateful to my family, friends and BCRC staff – I count them as my friends; Runi, Karyn, Elaine… I love them all; family and friends. I pray for peace.
The BCRC thanks Sam for sharing her story and her experience with metastatic cancer. For information regarding metastatic breast cancer, please visit www.mbcn.org.
If you or someone you know is facing metastatic breast cancer and could use our support, please visit our website or call our helpline at 512-524-2560.
Consider making a donation to BCRC this October and give the gift that makes a real difference for the women in Central Texas facing breast cancer right NOW. Visit bcrc.org to learn more about how we can help, or click here if you wish to give back today.