A Month of Milestones and My Cancer Anniversary

I’ve made it to another March, my month of milestones and anniversaries. Over the years there have been exciting milestones to celebrate, such as buying my first house and buying a new car. And there have been tough low points like when Heidi (my rescued mini schnauzer) was diagnosed with lymphoma and my own diagnosis of de novo metastatic breast cancer (MBC) at age 38 in March of 2014.

That week in March was one of the worst weeks of my life. I was admitted to the hospital with a blood clot and learned I had metastatic breast cancer with metastases to my liver and an adnexal mass. This happened at the same time my last living grandfather was dying in a different hospital in the same town and there wasn’t anything I could do.

My world was spinning out of control. I had no idea what a future with MBC would look like for me, let alone if I even had a future to look forward to. I didn’t know if I would survive the average life span of two to three years, but life continued on and today I am beating the odds as a 10-year survivor. 

Throughout the past 10 years, I have lost multiple body parts: my breasts, ovaries, uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes. I’ve lost my hair twice.I have acquired many scars and gained the “joys” that come with menopause. I’m talking to you, Hot Flashes and Dryness. I have lost my last grandfather and my only sister. It’s been a decade filled with losses in the metastatic community too numerous to count.

There are people throughout this past decade who deserve some recognition because I didn’t get here on my own.

To my first oncologist who planted seeds of hope by telling me I had years to live, and yet confused me with another patient and added inaccurate details in my chart which continue to follow me around to this day, I am still here. I still hold on to that hope.

To my first radiation oncologist who had me in tears at my first consultation by telling me radiation would not increase my survival, I am still here more than four years later, despite your prediction.

To my second radiation oncologist who told me he was going to “F me up” and questioned why I did not have reconstruction after my mastectomy, I am still here and I am still flat. Breasts are not necessary to feel feminine, regardless of what the patriarchy has taught society to believe.

To my second oncologist, who believed in me, listened to me and treated me as if I were his own daughter, thank you.

To my third oncologist, who came up with a new and successful plan for me, even when I didn’t qualify for her trial, thank you.

To my fourth oncologist, who is brilliant and feels more like a friend, thank you.

To all the nurses, techs and others who have touched my life, thank you.

To all of you involved in my care, support and friendship, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this decade of living with incurable cancer. With many thanks to science, research and a bit of luck for getting me this far.

Without these challenging encounters, I wouldn’t have learned how to advocate for myself when I wasn’t feeling heard. I wouldn’t have discovered how resilient and stubborn I truly am. And I wouldn’t have had as much will and desire to overcome the hurdles inadvertently set before me.

If it weren’t for the negative experiences, I would never have had as much appreciation for those of you who make my life better on a daily basis. Our paths may not have crossed otherwise, and I may never have gotten to know any of you. I am more aware and prepared to take on whatever challenges may come my way, although try as I might, I may not always approach them with grace.

I have learned more about metastatic breast cancer over this past decade than I ever wanted to know. I have seen many new treatments become available that weren’t available when I was first diagnosed and have benefitted from them, with special thanks to Lynparza (olaparib) for keeping my cancer stable since March of 2020 after progression to my lungs.

There are days when I want to give up. There are days when I am sad beyond words. Most days, though, all I want to do is continue surviving, in spite of it all. It is my biggest hope to live many more decades and see a cure in my lifetime.

This is the decade that cancer made.

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