“How do you do it?” I hear it over and over again. How do you live with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and continue to live your life in a positive and productive way? We all have hard things in our lives. All of us. No one has it easy all of the time, but some people do seem to be able to weather the rough water, bumps, obstacles and tough spots better then others. What’s the difference? Sometimes I look at having cancer as trying to learn Tree Pose. In yoga, Tree Pose is when you balance on one foot and lift your other foot and place it somewhere on your opposite leg. As you get stronger and find your center of balance you’re able to place one leg higher, lift your arms higher over your head and find yourself feeling grounded and strong, just like a tree that’s been there forever. The trick is to ground yourself and to not condemn yourself when you loose your balance. If you start to fall you have to let the self-judgement go. The more you talk down at yourself for not finding your balance, the less balanced you’ll be. If you just let it happen, accept where you are that day then you’ll find your center again. It’s curious how this pose can be easier or more difficult from one day to the next. Some days it’s just hard to find that balance, that sense of calm and grounding. Living with a terminal, chronic illness is the same. Some days it’s easy, others it’s hard. There is no magic answer. I have found that the more I choose to be grateful and ground myself in the present moment, the better the day will be. If I’m in pain, I’m tired or I’m frustrated because I’m just not getting everything done that I thought I should be getting done or even wanted to, I need to let it go. Refocus on where I am at and think about what’s good about that very moment. Having gratitude and finding balance isn’t always pretty. Sometimes you just do it because you’ve made a choice to. Somedays I can’t do Tree Pose as well as I used to before cancer. I let that go too. I do the best I can. I forgive myself when I fall and I choose to try again. Sometimes, I let myself stay on the floor for a bit and study where I’m at. Sometimes I pull myself up, other times I have help and a friend reaches out.
I’m going to break the rules right off the bat and admit that this blog isn’t going to be about cancer all of the time. I like to cook, so I might share some food porn and a recipe here and there. I’m also a licensed Parent Educator and I may feel the need to occasionally hop on that soap box and talk about early childhood development. I’ve followed the rules most of my life and I’m spending the last of them trying to be much less compliant. Guess I’m a rebel with a blog.
Here’s the shortened back story. 8 years ago I had a mammogram in December. I was 43 years old. All was clear. About a month later I started having the same dream repeatedly. I’d awaken each night at the same time, agitated and afraid. I would tell myself to remember the dream in the morning. The next day, I’d remember that I’d had a dream, but could never recall any of the details. A few months later in March of 2006, I found a lump in my right breast. Turns out I had invasive, lobular carcinoma. The night after the nurse called with my biopsy results I had the dream one last time and finally remembered it the next morning. I haven’t had the dream since. I dreamt that I was lying in my bed looking up at the ceiling. There was a large, swirling black cloud that was gaining speed and intensity. With a force I could feel, it swooped down and hit me right in the chest. Actually, it hit me right where I found my lump. How weird is that? I’ve learned to trust my intuition and I’ve come to believe that somehow I knew something was going on with my body, but I just wasn’t paying close enough attention. My dog also knew something was up. He started following me everywhere. Like glue. I just couldn’t shake him. It felt like I had a stalker with four paws.
I started out by having a lumpectomy, and then a mastectomy when the doctors had a hard time getting clean margins. I decided on a single mastectomy. There was no lymph node involvement. I was a stage 1 and felt very lucky to have caught things early. I had 4 rounds of A/C chemo and then went on Tamoxifen for 5 years. The hot flashes were hell! A month or two before my 5 year check up I remember noticing that my dog was stalking me again. A little warning bell went off in my head, but I ignored it. I saw my doctor for my five year check up. We did the normal labs, he gave me the all clear and I floated out of the office. I was so HAPPY to think I would never have to see that place again. Two days later the nurse called to let me know that labs were back and my tumor markers were elevated. Que the tragic movie score. Rounds of needles, scans, and phone calls later I learned that the breast cancer had metastasized, or spread to the bones in my spine. I’d gone from a simple stage 1 to stage IV just like that.
This is where you learn that Pink is Complicated. It’s been 3.5 years and I’m still learning. It’s just not as simple, easy and happy as the color sounds. There are many different kinds of breast cancer and all of them have different treatment options. 30% of all women ( and men get breast cancer too) who are diagnosed with breast cancer will go on to develop metastatic breast cancer. Cancer that stays in your breast doesn’t kill you. It’s when the cancer travels to other areas of your body that you’ve pretty much lost the war. You’ll win battles for awhile, but the reality is that metastatic breast cancer is stage IV and there is no stage V.