As part of our October “Metastatic Monday” blog series, we will be publishing stories from our clients and their loved ones who are (or have been) faced with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. 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.
This week’s blog is authored by Christina Duhon. Christina was diagnosed in September 2010 with metastatic breast cancer that spread to her liver. She was just 38. Christina works full time and has two adorable children and a loving husband. As an active supporter of BCRC, Christina is a volunteer, former Art Bra Model, and member of several support groups.
By: Christina Duhon, client of Breast Cancer Resource Centers
The month of October is dedicated to breast cancer awareness. There is pink everywhere during this month, pink on the shelves at the store, pink on the television, pink in magazines, catalogs, and countless other places. I remember seeing all the pink and not thinking much about it. For some reason the message about breast cancer happening to anyone was not clearly conveyed with all the pink. In my 38 years before breast cancer, I lived under the impression that you had to have a family history or have to be older to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I thought breast cancer happened to someone else.
It never crossed my mind that I had breast cancer. Even when they were doing the lumpectomy a week after delivering a healthy boy, I was certain that it would come back as nothing. I completed my surgery and scheduled the follow up appointment for 2 weeks out. I went back to my life as a wife and a mother of 2.
The Monday after my lumpectomy I got the call — the call saying that I needed to come to the surgeon’s office that afternoon. I insisted that I would be fine to keep the appointment that was in place 2 weeks out. They said that it could not wait. At that moment, I knew something was wrong; however, I had no way of knowing that in another week I would be told that I had Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer which is non-curable.
The news came after my sister, husband, and I walked joyfully into my oncologist’s office. I was coming to accept losing my hair and my breast. I was ready for the fight. Cancer did not stand a chance against me. Then it happened the oncologist told me the news, I don’t think that I initially comprehended what he had said, but I looked at my sister who had been unwavering in her confidence that I would beat this and she was crying. I knew right then it was bad.
I was completely devastated. I was terrified. I had yet to do so many things for myself and my family. I wanted to get married and to watch my children grow up. I was not ready to die. When I arrived home from that appointment, I looked in my purse for a card that I had picked up when getting a mammogram after my lumpectomy. It was for the Breast Cancer Resource Centers. I called and left a message around 6 PM on a Friday night.
Later that night, while we were at dinner, I got a call from Ray Anne from the Breast Cancer Resource Centers. I could not believe that someone had returned my call that evening. The conversation was brief. Ray Anne told me about the support groups they offer for those with metastatic breast cancer and those that are diagnosed at a younger age, the IV League and the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls. She assured me that I was not alone. She told me that the BCRC was there to help.
Over the next 8 months or so, I clung onto the IV League support group. I went every week and to every monthly meeting. I cried so much. I was comforted by women who had been living with this disease for many years and by women who were near the end of their lives because of the disease. The IV League gave me hope, love, and support. They enabled me to accept my path in life and to allow for the medication to do its work. I am forever grateful for this group and the members of it.
I qualified to be in a trial so I took 3 medications for the first 15 months of treatment. I had to take a daily pill, Everolimus (or placebo, although we think it was the real deal), weekly infusions of a targeted therapy, Herceptin, and 3 weeks on/1 week off of chemotherapy, Taxol. It was exhausting. I kept my full time job and had so much support from family. I would get my infusions on Thursday so I only had one day of work to get through before the weekend when I slept most of the time. My family came to help with the newborn overnight so that my husband and I could rest.
After the first 15 months, my body could not recover from the treatments and I dropped the Taxol for another 7 months. Finally, my blood count dropped low and stayed low so I had to drop the Everolimus and just do Herceptin. When this happened, they added endocrine therapy, Tamoxifen and Lupron, to my treatment regimen and I changed from weekly infusions to one infusion every three weeks. That is where I am now. It is a completely manageable treatment with few side effects or issues. I hope to remain under this treatment for the rest of my life and that this cancer can be treated as a chronic disease.
The hardest thing about living with metastatic breast cancer is that most people look pretty normal while they are in treatment. Family members, friends, and co-workers all seem to forget that you are living with a disease that will most likely kill you in the end. You are always in treatment and you live with a certain level of constant fear. Even though I have been “no evidence of disease” for at least 3 years, when it is time for scans or blood work, I get very nervous or have “scanxiety” and insist on knowing the results as soon as they are available.
The BCRC is an amazing organization that has been with me from my first day of learning that I had metastatic breast cancer. The fact that this organization is local to me in Austin is invaluable. It allowed me greater access to the services they offer. I wholeheartedly believe that the local support groups that they run played an important role in my ability to live with this disease and to thrive. They provided food for my family when I was too sick to cook. They provided volunteers on many occasions to help me move, to take care of my lawn, and to help me organize my house. They provided peers and friends to lean on.
It has been almost 4 years since the first IV League meeting I attended. Unfortunately I do not make it to the IV League as much as I did in the beginning. Many of the women who were there at my first meeting have passed. I now frequent some other groups that the BCRC sponsors, the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls and its sub-group, L4. L4 is a group of young women with metastatic breast cancer. We lean on each other and understand this plight like no one else can.
My hope for the future is my children — to see them graduate from college, to see them get married, and to see their babies grow up. I know the statistic may say that is not possible, but I believe. I pray that my other sisters with metastatic breast cancer get to do the same. I want to see more treatments with less side effects and better outcomes. I want people to realize that breast cancer is a horrible disease that takes too many lives. I want better understanding of what causes this disease and how to defeat it. I would love a cure.
For information regarding metastatic breast cancer, please visit www.mbcn.org.
BCRC’s Locally Pink campaign offers you the chance to make a big difference – today – for women like Christina who are living with metastatic breast cancer. This October take the #locallypink pledge by matching the cost of a pink product with a direct donation to BCRC, knowing 100% of your gift will stay here – locally – to provide breast cancer services and programs to the women in our community who need them, free-of-charge. To learn more about how you can involved, visit www.locallypinkbcrc.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.