Living with Stage 4 cancer in times of uncertainty / Corona Virus .

Well dear friends, here is my cancer story. . I found out a little over a year ago that I now have stage 4 metastatic Breast cancer. It is widespread in my liver. I thought now during the times of corona virus that it is time to write my story.

I actually found out before my trip to Scotland and Ireland. But, waited on some treatment till I got back. Was not going to give up that much planned trip. And Dr. said a few weeks would not make a huge difference.

Let me go back 23 years or even longer to talk about history. Many years ago my Aunt Pauline died of Breast cancer at 49 years old. A few years later my Aunt May died of Breast cancer at 55 years old . Then a few more years and my Mother got it. She lived another 25 or so years before it came back and took her life. So, as you can see I am not a stranger to cancer. 23 years ago I had my first round of Breast cancer. At 42 years old. My first thought was, I am going to die. Having watched my 2 aunts die from it. I had some treatment and went on for another 8 years. Then came the second round. More treatments and another 12 years before it reared its head. Now it is back and stage 4 which means in- curable. And treatments have been hard on the body. Many don’t realize that I have been living with cancer for 23 years !!

February of 2019 I had Pneumonia and that is when I found out that I had cancer in my liver. Biopsy showed breast cancer that had spread widely in my liver. No surgery as it is to widespread . No radiation for same reason. So now I have metastatic Breast cancer which is not curable because at this point it is in the lymph system and blood. I had not been feeling right for about 10 months . Getting worn out easy, having some intestinal issues, some pressure in my right side, pain in my rt side which is called referred pain because lucky for me this cancer is not so painful in itself but when the liver enlarges it can pinch nerves and cause right side pain, pressure, and pain in right arm and shoulder. As it gets worse I suppose there will be more pain and swelling from fluid . I had even mentioned to a friend right before I found out that I thought I had cancer again but did not know where and did not want to know. That was my mind set. But , I found out from X-rays for pneumonia in which a part of my liver showed up.

My prognosis now ? Unsure….. wait and see…. incurable… could be a year left of my life . Could be 10 years . No one knows as people are living longer with stage 4 cancer now. But, the death rate has not gone down much . In fact the amount of people getting cancer has gone up and the age has gone down. I am in a metastatic cancer group and am surprised at how many with stage 4 breast cancer are in their 30’s ! Also, living longer does not allways mean with quality of life. A stage 4 cancer patient is always struggling to hold it in check.

I am now already on my second line of treatment and will find out in early June if it is working or not. Scan anxiety is real and is coming up for me now as my next scan is June 5. My first treatments worked for about 8 months then the cancer grew. That is how it goes. There are a few treatment options and you go for one and it may work awhile but eventually stops as the cancer mutates. Then you go on to next treatment. How many? I am not sure. New ones coming out tho all the time . Then the last ditch effort if you still want to try the medical route is trial treatments which means going to a big clinic like Davis or UCLA or one of the others. But, what does it mean to be in constant treatment for cancer?? It means drugs with side affects. Side affects like loss of hair (which my current drug has not caused), stomach upsets, headaches, skin problems, fatigue (with most all cancer treatments this is the biggest side affect ! ), brain problems, mouth sores, heart palpitations, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and the list goes on…. and on…. And yes, I will be on treatment for the rest of my life or till I say no more. I am not going to die doing chemo. When treatment for me becomes to much that I have NO quality of life or very little quality of life then I will stop them and live without treatment for however long I have. Some people will go on and stay on treatment till it in itself kills them. Not me. I am looking for quality of life more then a few extra months.

Alternative treatments?? Well, let me just say that these are tossed out to me all the time by well meaning people. However, I do want say right now to all of these people , yes, I have done tons of research and I know about a lot of the so called cures. Does anyone ever cure stage 4 cancer??? Rarely and even then you can not really say it is cured but more like in Radical Remission. But, do you personally know someone who cured it by juicing, eating broccoli all day, doing coffee enemas, vitamin c injections, heat therapy, etc… IF you personally know some one then I might like to talk to them but believe me the cures are all over the internet and invariably lead to links to buy this , buy that, buy this series and you can learn all about how to cure your self. So, to those of you who think I am not trying hard enough , just know that I do incorporate some of these ideas into my routine, that all natural cures and clinics are very very expensive and hold no guarantees and that I personally have never known anyone cured of stage 4 cancer. Also, keep in mind that there are over 100 types and sub types of cancer and that each person is individual so one persons experience is not another’s . I get so tired of trying to explain this to people when they tell me about the auntie who got over colon cancer by drinking lemon juice, or the uncle who cured his prostrate cancer with garlic, etc… Get what I mean??? It is what we call cancer shaming. When people imply that you are not trying hard enough if you do not try all these alternative routes. Also, keep in mind that it is MY body and My DECISION to make on what I will do and what I will not do and what I feel is best for me. I want to live just as much as any of you so if you think I am not trying then get out of my life . I don’t need you harping on about what I should do. This is very important to me and I hope I am getting it across. I will never tell you what to do if this happens to you. I will only be there for you to give my love and support. If you ask my advice as someone who has gone thru it , I will give you whatever info I have but I will never say. Why don’t you do this or do that. So and so did and they got better. It is all a crap shoot . No guarantees!!

Last thing I want to touch on is living with stage 4 cancer in times of corona virus. For those of us with cancer who are in active treatment, we are very vulnerable to the corona virus.  Every day, we make ordinary decisions that could have extraordinary, detrimental results. According to an article by Statnews, researchers say that we’re 3.5 times more likely to contract the corona virus and 79% more likely to need hospitalization or to die from it.  Those statistics are sobering Staying within that range of uninfected people leaves cancer patients like myself with some difficult choices. How long can we self-quarantine? And what about our family members or friends who are going out and about, not adhering to the same strict self-imposed safety standards we are such as social distancing and rampant handwashing? How do we distance from them? How do you treat someone you love like a stranger with a touch of xenophobia?  And what about doctor’s appointments and treatments?  Do I forgo blood work and scans that’s keeping an eye on my progression in lieu of social distancing? How do I social distance in a clinic that has all kinds of virus exposure. Lucky for me my small town of Truckee,Ca. has had very few cases of the virus.

The one advantage cancer patients have going into this is being well aware that life comes at you fast, changing in a moment’s notice. When we’re first diagnosed, we think we’ll be the one to beat incurable cancer. And for a while, we do. Then it comes back and we redefine our win as being able to live alongside it as long as it’s not doing any damage. Then it does damage, and our definition changes again. Winning is living with pain that can be managed.  Winning is living with decreased lung capacity or slower brain functioning. We listen to people during this pandemic telling us it’s just a matter of time before life returns to normal and do our best not to smirk because we know it doesn’t return to the way it was. It evolves into something we call a “new normal,” a term many of us loathe.

In that respect, cancer patients are better prepared than most. We know the horrors that are on the horizon, the losses, the grief, the regrouping and the resiliency.  We know that there are some things, no matter how hard you try, no matter how many good decisions you make, you still can’t protect yourself from. We know how to live in a world that doesn’t have answers.

As a wise woman once told me, when there are no answers, there are choices. And your choices will be changed, just as you will  be changed by them.

So, I will carry on and continue to try the best I can . I am sometimes feeling overwhelmed as some of my friends may be starting to notice but I have not given up yet !!! I hope to travel more, hike more, camp more , and do the things I love . When I can no longer enjoy any of this then I will throw in the towel as in stop the treatments. I am not afraid to die. I have faith that I will be re united with my loved ones and my several furry babies that have already moved on. I have faith that a better world awaits.

Thank you to my friends and family who love me , understand, and continue to care.