At first, I ignored the signs. For months, I endured this constant, nagging, dull, pain in my back. I had low energy and was incredibly thirsty all the time. I was coughing to the point of vomiting and yet I still chose to ignore the signs my body was telling me. Once I finally started to reach my breaking point, I noticed other signs. The universe was trying to get my attention! I was listening to the radio, on my way to work, and I heard Olivia Newton John’s cancer had metastasized into her bones. That same week a girl about my age, at my yoga studio, mentioned going through treatment, and I had a client in my chair that had just found out the day before she was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. The universe was trying to get my attention and the signs just kept coming. It got to the point I could barely walk and in my gut I just knew what it was. I knew it was back! Its one of those moments where you just know. I had brushed it aside for too long and it finally hit me straight in the face. It was time to find out if I was about to face my worst fear… again.
My husband was out of town, at the time, so I went from one hospital to the next, alone and crying in pain. Explaining my symptoms and history of breast cancer over and over to doctor after doctor. First, I went to urgent care and the doctor told me they didn’t have the equipment to do a proper diagnosis so off to the emergency room I went. I arrived at St. Luke’s hospital, where they treated me as if I were a drug addict looking for a fix and sent me home with no pain medications or diagnosis. The feelings of frustration and being ignored were starting to take their effects on me. I wasn’t getting the answers I was fearful of receiving and the pain was worsening as the days turned in to nights. I went home and slept as best as I could, taking whatever medications to numb the pain along with a heating pad on my back. It got to the point where nothing would make the pain stop! I was desperate for help and went back to St. Lukes where I was again denied assistance. I wasn’t denied because of insurance or anything like that, I have that. I was denied because they simply did not care to help. Plain and simple the doctors at St. Lukes did not care. The point of desperation was so severe that I even went to a children’s hospital in search of someone that would just help me. Obviously, they don’t treat adults, but I felt as if I was running out of options for someone to just help. In the early morning, around 3 am, I went to another hospital… ST. Josephs, where I explained everything all over again. At this point, the pain level was at its max! The nurses here were amazing and let me tell you, that the moment morphine entered my veins it was an instant “ahhhh” sensation! Finally, some relief.
This was the beginning of a long night of multiple tests. I was scheduled for ultrasound, to check for cysts on my ovaries as well as any other abnormalities, followed up by a CT scan. The uneasiness of what I knew in my gut, was about to become a reality. So, when the nurses came to me with the results I was not surprised. My cancer had returned and reared its ugly head. I didn’t even know what to say or how to react to the news. I was numb and just sat back and said “okay”. All I wanted to do was call my husband as I know he was panicking. Initially, I wasn’t in shock or immediately in tears, I was just worried. I thought, where do I go from here? What am I going to do about work? Can I beat this again? Who should I tell or do I tell anyone at all? I was advised to stay overnight, at the hospital, until I could meet with an oncologist in the morning. It was uncertain, at this time, if this was breast cancer that had spread or a different kind of cancer. I was diagnosed the following day with stage IV breast cancer. For those who may not know, stage IV metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breasts to other parts of the body or has metastasized. The most common places are the bones, lungs, liver and brain. Mine has spread to the liver and lungs. Treatments depend on several factors, but the unsettling knowing, of a life expectancy being three to five years continually weighs heavy on my mind. There are many cases where men and women can live 10 years or more and I am determined to surpass these statistics. Metastatic breast cancer can only be treated not cured, but I am a fighter.
I can’t even tell you how many times I cried….. I still cry. The thoughts entering my mind, when facing my own mortality, are a constant struggle. I’ve always said “if I beat it once, I can beat it again” even though (A) there is no cure and (B) treatment is nothing like the first time! Mentally, I didn’t know what to expect this go-a-round. I thought I would lose my hair again and relive what I had experienced 4 years ago. But, this time is completely different. Looking at me, you wouldn’t know I was sick. In a way this time is harder because people don’t seem to understand what I’m going through because I’m not bald. I will be on chemotherapy for the rest of my life. When one treatment stops working, I’ll be moving on to the next, checking each one off the list of options. Each new treatment comes with their own side effects. Weight gain, weight loss, hot flashes, fatigue, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, hair loss/ thinning, bone & muscle ache, and many more. When I was diagnosed, for the second time, I thought I would never get over what I knew was going to be the rest of my life. But it does get easier as time goes on. Every day is different. Some days I am sad and feel hopeless and other days I’m me. The person I just want to be. Bubbly and happy… escaping my reality. I just try to take it day by day. I have to remind myself that I’m not dead yet! I can still make my mark on the world and I will one day at a time.