Life After a Metastatic Breast Cancer Diagnosis

This blog is written by our client Betsy who was diagnosed in 2010 with stage 1 breast cancer and again in July 2016 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.

I had just gotten back from a bucket list trip to Italy when I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. It had been almost impossible to climb the beautiful cliffs of Cinque Terre; I had been aching the entire time. My trip of a lifetime was balanced with over-the-counter pain reliever round the clock. I got home and decided to see my doctor. Through a series of frustrating appointments with several specialists, I finally landed in my oncologist’s office and learned I had bone mets from head to toe. My cancer (I prayed it was behind me) had metastasized to my bones with limited lymph node involvement. I had just celebrated my 6th year of survival from Stage 1 breast cancer in 2010.

When I was first diagnosed with Stage IV, I think I really thought death was knocking at my door. It’s too much to process. Now, I realize, with huge credit to BCRC, that this life is manageable. One of the biggest gifts I’ve received is meeting friends on the same journey and watching them take this challenge fearlessly. I can do that.

My treatment this time has been Letrozole, Xgeva (monthly injection/bone strengthener) and Zolodex (monthly injection/suppresses estrogen). I also take a low dose of pain medication 3 times throughout my day. My cancer is estrogen positive, negative everything else. I have remained relatively stable, with a few new lesions in different places that have not alarmed anyone to the point that I move on to a next phase of treatment. However, I think treatment with Ibrance is right around the corner for me. I have an oncologist here in Austin and one at MD Anderson, and I have consulted another amazing oncologist in San Antonio when I was feeling especially confused and defeated. It truly takes a village sometimes.

Mobility has increased greatly since starting treatment and I am able to move without much discomfort thanks to my drug cocktail. I try to walk as often as I can to stay mobile. I figure I will “use it while I’ve got it;” hopefully, the movement will delay the loss.

My personal and family life has changed completely since the Stage IV diagnosis. Before, I worked as a full-time middle school theatre teacher, which meant round-the-clock stressful over-involvement. I reduced to part-time and it made an amazing difference in stress management and I love my job again. Then my marriage dissolved, but it wasn’t because of cancer. It had been headed in that direction for a long time, and the diagnosis made it clear that ending it would be the best choice for both of us. Suddenly, the part-time employment needed supplemental income, so I have also added another job that can be managed from home. I have completely re-arranged my life because of this cancer. The improvements in stress relief alone may have bought me some serious time.

I have 3 amazing daughters: Hannah (18), Harper (14), and Nora (12). Like any other Stage IV mother I’ve met, my one wish is to spend as much time as I possibly can on this planet so I can be with them. All other lifetime goals pale in comparison. Their world has turned upside-down (mom has terminal cancer AND parents divorcing), but we are managing with grace, love, constant communication and loads of prayer. The support of my immediate and extended family has been immense and has been a true lifeline for me. Friends have also been unbelievably present, especially when I need to unload by talking for what seems like hours. They just listen!

The biggest challenge of dealing with metastatic cancer is staying positive in the face of a grim diagnosis. Not many people look at me with hope in their eyes; I have to become the source of hope for all who come in contact with me! I have to remind them that I am still here to experience love and joy; not doom and gloom.

And, of course, metastatic patients don’t always look like they are in mid-treatment. I don’t look like I have cancer currently, and it’s very confusing for those who don’t understand that I will ALWAYS have cancer. People really do say things like, “Wow!  You’re still here and you look fine. Do you still have it?”

BCRC is a lifeline that helps me honor the life I’m trying to preserve. They bring “community” to an otherwise dreadful experience. I was first introduced to them when Marjorie Gallece rang my doorbell  6 years ago and told me about this wonderful organization. They offer an unbelievable network of services for cancer patients and their families.  I am part of a monthly support group that answers questions and gives me realistic advice about our shared complicated medical reality.  I have received the gift of an amazing therapist through the Flatwater Foundation. She walks me through this crazy cancer and self-discovery path weekly. My daughters have all attended sessions at Wonders and Worries, the organization that educates parents and children when they face terminal disease.  I have been given legal advice about end of life changes that no one wants to talk about but I have to plan. I have the gift of the ALOE foundation that supplies spa services and massages and energy healing to terminal patients like me.  Recently, I went on an amazing meditation retreat in Colorado that was life-changing.  I went because a friend I met through BCRC recommended it. Every woman who has breast cancer must know about this organization, and every woman who has metastatic breast cancer will thrive because of this organization.

I have to thank BCRC for walking with me in this journey and showing me pathways that keep me encouraged!

If you or someone you know is facing 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 December 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.

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